Thessaloniki truly is indestructible. A large fire that destroyed the old town made of wooden buildings happened in 1917. After the war began the reconstruction and the city grew rapidly in the 1920’s due to immigration of many Greeks, refugees from Asia Minor. At the beginning of the Second World War in Greece, on 22 April 1941, German troops occupied Thessaloniki, and it remained in their hands until 30 October 1944. In 1978 the city was hit hard by an earthquake, which made the most damage to the old protected buildings. These monuments were being restored the following years, and in 1988 they were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. All this was crowned in 1997, when Thessaloniki became European City of Culture.
The city was founded around 315 B.C. by Cassander, the Macedonian king, and named after his beloved wife, Thessaloniki, half-sister of Alexander the Great. The modern look city owes the most to the disastrous fire from 1917, which blew to bits most of the old houses along the labyrinth of Ottoman trails, including the entire Jewish quarter, leaving 70,000 people, nearly half of the population, homeless. The city was rebuilt over the next eight years by the plan which has been prepared under the supervision of the French architect and archeologist Ernest Hebrard, with long avenues parallel with the coast, as well as the dense side streets, with trees which protect from the sun. Thessaloniki has a lot of history, the Romans conquered the city in 168 B.C, and then Venetians bought it from Byzantines in 1430, but lost it in 1432 when it was conquered by the Ottomans.
It remained in the Ottoman Empire until 1912 and the First Balkan War, after which it belonged to Greece. After the World War One Thessaloniki was occupied by the English and French troops who turned it into theirs most important military base in Southeast Europe. Thessaloniki front was established not far from here. Their signs are everywhere. Since then some have become touristic icons, such as the White Tower, and some are hidden between two buildings, lost in the culs-de-sac or squares. White Tower is the most famous symbol of the city, and was originally built as a part of the city walls. During the Ottomans’ rule, it was used as the prison and in 1826 under the order of Sultan Mahmud II there was a massacre of prisoners, whose blood leaked down the walls and the tower got the name the Tower of Blood. In 1912 the tower was whitewashed as a gesture of cleansing thus acquiring its present name. It is located on the promenade by the sea, south of the Archaeological Museum.
While you’re here make sure you visit the Municipal Archaeological Museum which is considered one of the best in Europe. It features a large collection, including the remarkable valuables in the form of the tomb of Alexander the Great’s father – Philip of Macedon, which was discovered in Vergina in 1977. On the Dikastirion square is the archaeological site of an ancient Greek marketplace, which was later converted into a two-leveled Roman forum. The Forum was the heart of the ancient city, and it was discovered by workers in the ‘60’s.
In the Upper Town, next to the wooden houses from the Ottoman period and the remains of city walls from the Byzantine period, is Aristotle’s Square, the most important town square. In the Thessaloniki there are several churches that are among the most beautiful in the Orthodox world: Hagia Sophia, the Twelve Apostles, the Church of Prophet Elijah, Saint Pantaleon. Zejtinlik is a cemetery of allied soldiers – Serbian, Italian, English and French, where in the First World War more than 21,000 soldiers were buried. It is still visited today, and touching notes and gifts show that the relationship with the distant past can still be alive and stratified. The cemetery was built in the area which was, in the 1916, the main military field hospital of the Serbian army. The cemetery was established within its framework, which eventually grew into today’s complex.