I'm delighted to have a new client, Today's Growth Consultant, who've asked me to write city guides on a number of destinations that I've had the pleasure of getting to know.
Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city in terms of population and importance after Athens, has been a settlement since at least 300BC and for much of its chequered past has been known by many names, perhaps most famously as Salonica. A bustling portside metropolis, it has always been a cosmopolitan centre of trade, tourists and transients from all over the world.
Its status as a very significant port city has also always secured its standing as an important business destination. Apparently, the current recession that Greece is suffering has reduced the number of drivers on the road as they try to reduce their gas bill, but that information is hard to square with an average day driving, or walking, down one of the hectic main streets.
Despite its lengthy history, Thessaloniki is a young city in several different ways. Relatively few historic buildings and monument survive, apart from a few exceptions which prove the rule, like the iconic White Tower on the seafront. This is down to the Great Fire of 1917, which destroyed a large proportion of the city and forced an extensive process of rebuilding. Earthquakes haven’t helped Thessaloniki to retain traces of its ancient past either, particularly the tremors of 1978. It’s also home to the largest student population in Greece. This injection of teens and twenty-somethings has contributed to its fantastic café culture and nightlife, as well as happening art, music and theatre scenes.
Three Things That Everyone Must Know About Thessaloniki
In 1977, Manolis Andronikos made a discovery that most archaeologists can only ever dream about when he excavated the intact tomb of Alexander the Great’s father, Philip II of Macedonia. Uncovering spectacular riches of gold and silver antiquities, comparisons have inevitably been made with the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the tombs have been housed in a brilliant subterranean museum complex. It brings out the inner Indiana Jones in pretty much everyone, as you round one dimly-lit corner after another to uncover a sunken mausoleum or case of treasures.
Salonica was once the most populous Jewish city in the world. It also has the tragic distinction of being the Jewish community that suffering the greatest percentage loss of its citizens during the Second World War, with over 96% of the Jews of Salonica murdered by the Nazis. A small community of 1500 remains today, and the Jewish Museum in the centre of town is a simple but evocative two storey collection of artefacts celebrating the vibrant, large community that once prospered in Salonica.
Thessaloniki is the gateway to the huge, world famous beaches of Chalkidiki. It’s a stunning peninsula of three fingers of land, Kassandra, Sithonia and Agion Oros, fringed by fragrant pine forests and surrounded by calm azure water. Kassandra is less than an hour’s drive from the centre of Thessaloniki, traffic permitting, although locals will generally tell you that it’s worth driving a bit further to get to the better beaches. Though many areas are heaving in high season, there’s enough shoreline to ensure that a secluded spot of paradise is always just around the corner.
Phileas French for Today's Growth Consultant