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A few words about Thessaloniki:
Thessaloníki (ΘΕΣΣΑΛΟΝΙΚΗ in Greek)
or Salonika, is the second-largest city of Greece and is the
principal, the largest city and the capital of the Greek region of Macedonia.
It is also the capital of the Thessaloniki Prefecture and the capital of the
EU region (or, synonymously, Greek periphery) of Central Macedonia. The city
is also known variously as Selânik, Salonika or Salonica. The metropolitan
area has a total population of around 1,000,000, and lies in a bay of the
Thermaic Gulf at the head of the Khalkidhikí peninsula.
The city was founded around 315 BC by Cassander, the King of
Macedon, on or near the site of the ancient town of Therma and several other
local villages. He named it after his wife Thessalonica, who was also the
sister of Alexander the Great. She gained her name from her father, Philip II
of Macedon, to commemorate her birth on the day of his gaining a victory
(nike) over the Thessalians.
After the fall of the kingdom of Macedon in 146 BC, Thessaloníki became part
of the Roman Empire. It became an important trading centre on the Via Egnatia,
a Roman road that connected Byzantium (later Constantinople, now Istanbul)
with Dyrrhachium (now Durrës in Albania). The city was made the capital of one
of the four Roman districts of Macedonia, and was ruled by a praetor. It had a
sizeable Jewish colony and was an early centre of Christianity. On his second
missionary journey, St Paul preached in the city's synagogue, the chief
synagogue of the Jews in that part of Macedonia, and laid the foundations of a
church. Opposition against him from the Jews drove him from the city, and he
fled to Veria.
Thessaloníki acquired a patron saint, St. Demetrius, in 306 AD. He was the
Roman proconsul of Greece under the anti-Christian emperor Maximian and was
martyred at Sirmium in modern Serbia. His relics are still housed and
venerated in Thessaloníki.
When the Roman Empire was divided into eastern and western segments ruled from
Byzantium/Constantinople and Rome respectively, Thessaloníki came under the
control of the eastern (later Byzantine) empire. Its importance was second
only to Constantinople itself. After a revolt against the emperor Theodosius I
in 390 against his new policies condemning homosexuality formed by
Christianity, 7,000 - 15,000 of the citizens were massacred in the city's
hippodrome in revenge - an act which earned Theodosius a temporary
Repeated barbarian invasions after the fall of the Roman
Empire left Macedonia depopulated, and Thessaloníki itself came under attack
from Slavs in the 7th century. They failed to capture the city but a sizeable
Slavic community nonetheless established itself there. Saint Cyril and his
brother Saint Methodius were born in Thessaloníki and the Byzantine Emperor
Michael III, saying that "the inhabitants of Thessaloníki speak Slavonic quite
well", encouraged them to visit the northern Slavic regions as missionaries;
their adopted South Slavonic speech became the basis for the Old Church
Slavonic language. In the 9th century, the Byzantines decided to move the
market for Bulgarian goods from Constantinople to Thessaloníki. Tsar Simeon I
of Bulgaria invaded Thrace, defeated a Byzantine army and forced the empire to
move the market back to Constantinople.
The city was occupied by the Saracens in 904 and by the Norman rulers of
Sicily in 1185, with considerable destruction and loss of life on both
occasions. It finally passed out of Byzantine hands for good in 1204, when
Constantinople was captured by the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Thessaloníki and
its surrounding territory — the Kingdom of Thessalonica — became the largest
fief of the Latin Empire, covering most of north and central Greece. It was
given by the emperor Baldwin I to his rival Boniface of Montferrat but in 1224
it was seized by Michael Ducas, the Greek Despot of Epirus. The city was
recovered by the Byzantine Empire in 1246, but, unable to hold it against the
encroachments of the Ottoman Empire, the Byzantine Despot Andronikos
Palaeologus was forced to sell it to Venice, who held it until it was captured
by the Ottoman ruler Murad II in 1430.
Thessaloníki, renamed Selânik, remained in Ottoman hands until 1912 and became
one of the most important cities in the Empire, with a large port being built
in 1901. The founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Atatürk, was born there in 1881,
and the Young Turk movement was headquartered there in the early 20th century.
The city was extremely multicultural; of its 130,000 inhabitants at the start
of the century, around 60,000 were Sephardic Jews, whose ancestors had been
expelled from Spain and Portugal after 1492. Some Romaniotes Jews were also
present. The city's language of daily life was Ladino, a Jewish language
derived from Spanish. (See Expulsion from Spain). The city's day off was
Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. Turks, Greeks, Bulgarians and Albanians made up
the bulk of the remainder of the population.
Thessaloníki was the main prize of the First Balkan War of
1912, during which it was successfully captured by Greece (October 1912). King
George I of Greece was assassinated in Thessaloníki in March 1913. In 1915,
during World War I, a large Allied expeditionary force landed at Thessaloníki
to use the city as the base for an offensive against pro-German Bulgaria. A
pro-Allied temporary government headed by Eleftherios Venizelos was
established there, against the will of the pro-neutral German King of Greece.
The majority of the town was largely destroyed by a single fire in 1917 of
unknown origin, probably an accident. Venizelos forbade the reconstruction of
the town center until a full modern city plan was prepared. This was
accomplished a few years later by the French architect and archeologist Ernest
Hebrard. The Hebrard plan swept away the Oriental features of Thessaloníki and
transformed it to a European style city.
One consequence of the fire saw close to half the city's Jewish population,
their homes and livelihoods destroyed, emigrate. Many went to Palestine. Some
stepped onto the Orient Express to Paris. Still others found their way to
America. Their numbers were quickly replaced by refugees from another disaster
a few years after the war, when huge numbers of ethnic Greeks were expelled
from Turkey in 1922 following the Greco-Turkish War. The city expanded
enormously as a result. It was nicknamed "The Refugee Capital" (I Protévoussa
ton Prosfígon) and "Mother of the Poor" (Ftohomána), and even today the city's
inhabitants and culture are distinctively Anatolian in character.
Thessaloníki fell to the forces of Nazi Germany in 1941 and remained under
German occupation until 1944. The city suffered considerable damage from
Allied bombing, and almost the entire Jewish population was exterminated by
the Nazis. Barely a thousand Jews survived. However, Thessaloníki was rebuilt
fairly quickly after the war. In 1978, it was badly damaged by an earthquake.
Thessaloniki became the Cultural capital of Europe for 1997.
The city has two universities — the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, the
largest university in Greece (founded 1926) and the University of Macedonia.
In 2004, the city hosted some of the football events of the 2004 Summer
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