Thessaloniki, capital of the region of Macedonia, is situated in northeastern Greece at the head of a bay opening into the Thermaic Gulf. The city stretches over 12 km in a bowl formed by low hills. It is the second most populous city in the country and an important centre of commerce and industry, with a port matched only by that of Piraeus.
The city was founded in 316 BC, and named after the daughter of Kassandros, a general of Macedonia and father to Alexander the Great. It emerged as a strategically important military and commercial outpost of the Roman empire, conveniently located on the Via Egnatia that ran from the Adriatic coast to Byzantium. The Roman emperor Galerius chose it as the capital of the eastern empire. Under Byzantine rule it continued to prosper, and for centuries was second only to Constantinople as an economic, cultural and spiritual centre. After a series of attacks by Goths, Bulgarians, Epirots and Normans, the city was reincorporated into the restored Byzantine empire in 1246. However in 1423, following persistent assaults on the city by the Ottoman Turks, Thessaloniki sought protection by ceding itself to Venice. In 1430 it was captured by the sultan Murad II. The Turkish occupation was countered by strenuous efforts to preserve the Greek language. An influx of Jewish immigrants, fleeing Spanish persecution, served to abate the dramatic decline in population after the war with the Ottomans.
The city remained under Ottoman control until 1912 when it was captured by Greek troops in the First Balkan war. The following year the terms of the Treaty of Bucharest formally ceded Thessaloniki to Greece.
In 1917 devastating fire broke out destroying thousands of homes. The resulting housing crisis was made worse by the arrival of refugees from Asia minor who had been expelled by Atatürk’s regime. The city had to be reconstructed and expanded to accommodate its enlarged population. It was built on a meticulously planned grid system, and is notable for its broad streets.
The waterfront, which includes the main squares of Platia Elefterias and Platia Aristoteleous, spans the distance between the White Tower in the east and the port to the west. To the north lies a university campus and the site of the International Trade Fair which is held every year. Bordering the centre is the old Turkish quarter of Kastra, just within the surviving city walls. There are rail connections to and from Athens and into other Balkan countries. A regular coach service operates between Thessaloniki and Athens. There are connections by sea with the islands of Lemnos, Lesos and Chios, with seasonal connections to the Sporades, Cyclades and Dodecanese island groups. The airport lies 16 km outside the city and is served by a number of domestic and international carriers.
Thessaloniki’s major exports are chrome, manganese and both unprocessed and processed agricultural goods. The busy industrial sector has several steel works, petrochemical plants and oil refineries, and produces alcoholic drinks, carpets, textiles, flour, soap and bricks.
Places of Interest
The Archaeological Museum is considered one of the best in Europe, and houses a collection of artefacts mainly excavated from the tomb of Philip II of Macedon. The White Tower museum contains an exhibition of the history and art of Byzantine Thessaloniki.