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Encyclopedia > Salonika
The White Tower
The Arch of Galerius
Map showing the Thessaloníki prefecture
Map showing the Thessaloníki prefecture

Thessaloníki (Θεσσαλονίκη) is the second-largest city of Greece and is the principal city and the capital of the Greek region of Macedonia. The city is also known variously as Selânik, Salonika or Salonica (Σαλονίκη, Солун, Solun). It has a population of around 1,000,000, and lies in a bay of the Thermaic Gulf at the head of the Khalkidhikí peninsula. Its coordinates are 40°38N 22°58E.



Ancient times

The city was founded around 315 BC by Cassander, the King of Macedon, on or near the site of the ancient town of Therma. 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, 7,000 of the citizens were massacred in the city's hippodrome in revenge - an act which earned Theodosius a temporary excommunication.

Middle Ages

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 Methodius were born in Thessaloníki and the Byzantine Emperor Michael III, saying that "all the inhabitants of Thessaloníki speak Slavonic quite well", encouraged them to visit the northern Slavic regions as missionaries; their 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 dialect of Spanish. The city's day off was Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. Turks, Greeks, Slavs and Albanians made up the bulk of the remainder of the population.

Modern times

Thessaloníki was the main prize of the First Balkan War of 1912, in which it was successfully captured by Greece. 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 Prosfigón) and "Mother of the Poor" (Ftohómana), 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.

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 Olympics.


Thessaloníki is still a major port city and an industrial and commercial center. The city's industries produce refined oil, steel, petrochemicals, textiles, machinery, flour, cement, pharmaceuticals, and liquor. The city is also a major transportation hub for the whole of southeastern Europe, carrying trade to and from the newly capitalist countries of the region.



Archaeological sites

  • Agia Paraskevi, Thessaloniki, Archaic cemetery
  • The Ancient Agora of Thessaloniki
  • Monastery of Latomos at Thessaloniki


External links

  • Municipality of Thessaloniki (http://www.thessalonikicity.gr/)
  • Prefecture of Thessaloniki (http://www.nath.gr/)
  • www.saloniki.org Thessaloniki (http://www.saloniki.org)
  • Athens 2004: Thessaloniki Olympic City (http://www.athens2004.com/en/Thessaloniki)

  Results from FactBites:
The Jewish Community of Salonika (1595 words)
In 1430, Salonika was occupied by the Turks.
In addition to the rabbinical schools in Salonika in the 16th century, there was a Bet Midrash for secular studies where medicine, natural sciences, astronomy, and other subjects were taught.
In October 1944, Salonika was recaptured by the Greek and Allied forces.
EJP | News | France | Sarkozy: “My roots are in Salonika” (595 words)
Sarkozy’s mother is from the Mallah family, which originally came from Spain like all Jews of Salonika, northern Greece, and left with the expulsion of the Jews by King Ferdinand.
The grave of Mordohai Mallah exists till today at Stavroupoli where it was transferred from the old cemetery just before the Germans walked in the cited a during WWII and destroyed the Jewish cemetery.
At the event the wife of the president of the Jewish community of Salonika David Saltiel, Lucy, who was born from the same Mallah family, was also present.
  More results at FactBites »



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