Thessaloniki city since the beginning of its existence always played an important role in the region due to its location and access to the sea. Ships from Syrian, Aegean, Phoenician and other harbors were visiting Thessaloniki to do business with products from their lands. This is the reason Thessaloniki was influenced by many different cultures and religions.
ANCIENT TIMES TO ROMAN TIMES (316BC to 330AC)
Thessaloniki was founded at 316B.C. Based on Strabon’s tradition the city took its name by the King Kassandros who had married the step sister of Great Alexander who was named Thessaloniki and gave the city her name to honor her.
In June 22nd 168 BC the Roman’s won a big battle against Macedonian’s and took over Thessaloniki and other major Macedonian cities (Veria, Pella etc.). The Roman consul Aemilius Paulus was authorized to administer partly the city. After the unsuccessful riot of the Macedonian’s in 146B.C. to take over the city, the city lost any autonomy that it had left and was fully administered by the Romans. The Romans then separated Macedonia into four regions and made Thessaloniki the capital of one of them.
Since that period Thessaloniki started to grow rapidly and many important buildings in its center were build under a buildings plan. It was also during Roman times that “Via Egantia” road was build which was passing through the city’s center and connecting it from the West with Rome and from the East with Constantinople.
In 44 A.C., after the assassination of Julian Caesar , Thessaloniki was awarded with the title “Civitas Libera” meaning “free city” and it started having more autonomy. In 50 A.C. Apostle Paul arrived in Thessaloniki and started preaching Christianity.
In 305 Galerious moved to Thessaloniki and made it his capital. This is the period that many historic monuments that exist even until today were build (Rotunda, Hippodrome, Galerius Arc etc.). In 306 St. Dimitrios died for Christianity and since then the city become even more associated with Christianity.
BYZANTINE ERA TO MIDDLE AGES (330 to 1453)
At the 11th of May 330, the Byzantium Empire started with the opening celebration for the Constantinople city. Thessaloniki was considered to be the second most important city of the Byzantium Empire after Constantinople both in terms of size and wealth. In 379 the Roman Emperor Theodosios organized from Thessaloniki the war against the Gothic troops and build the city’s walls to protect it (part of which are saved until today).
In 380 Theodosios became Christian and announced Christianity ad the official religion. In 390 after the death of the leader of the surrendered Gothic soldiers , who were the guards of the Emperor at that time, Theodosios gave an order to kill approx 7000 of Thessaloniki’s citizens inside the hippodrome independent of gender and age.
Starting from the middle of the fifth century many tribes tried to occupy and conquest Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki, was invaded by Slavs, Avars, Huns but unsuccessfully.
In 860 the Byzantine Thessaloniki missionaries Cyril and Methodius who were born in Thessaloniki created the Slavik alphabet in order for the Slavs to be able to learn about Christianity in a language that was familiar to their dialect. Until that point Christian books were only written in Latin, Greek and Jews. Cyril and Methodius then translated the gospel into the Slavic language and together with their students started preaching Christianity to the Slavs and the people that inhabited in the north Europe in general.
In 904 another big event in the history of Thessaloniki took place. The city was taken over by Saracen pirates for 10 days. During these days a lot of Thessaloniki’s citizens were killer or treated with violence and based on historics the Saracens took with them 22000 citizens to sell them as slaves in the slave markets in the East. The pirates left after stilling also most of the cities wealth.
Almost three centuries later a similar catastrophe for Thessaloniki was repeated. In the summer of 1185 the city was invaded by the Normands this time both through the main land and the sea. The Byzantium army defeated the Normands in the winter of 1185 and obliged them to abandon the city.
In 1204 when Constantinople was conquest by the forth Crusades, Thessaloniki had the same destiny and become the capital of a small Frankish Kindom. In 1224 Thessaloniki changed again hands after the victory of the despot of Epirus Theodore against the Frankish Kingdom. Despot Theodoros astablished then Thessaloniki as the capital of the state.
In 1230 after the defeat in Klokotnitsa Thessaloniki became a vassal state of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire and it stayed as such for approx 16 years. In 1246 it was taken back again from the Nicaean Empire and in 1261 after the reformation of the Greek Byzantium by Michael Paleologos it was ruled again by the Byzantium Empire.
In 1342 an anti-aristocratic party is formed in the city, named the Commune of the Zealots, composed by sailors and poor citizens. For 8 years Thessaloniki was independent from the rest of the Empire and had its own government. In 1350 the Zealot’s movement was overthrown by the Emperor Ioannis Katakouzinos with help from the Turks and the city returned to its previous state.
In 1425 Despot Andronicus consigned the city to the Republic of Venice in an effort to protect it from a Turkish invasion.
OTTOMAN PERIOD (1430 to 1912)
In March of 1430 the city was invaded by Sultan Murad II and was taken over by Turkish. As with most of the invasions in Thessaloniki’s history the city was once again despoiled and devastated after the invasion. Many citizens were killed, others were obliged to change their religion and become Muslims and many other become slaves in the slave markets of the East. The city remained under the Ottoman’s for almost 500 years.
In 1492 the city started to show again signs of recovery. An important contribution to this was given by the 15000-20000 Jewish who were forced to leave Spain and the West Europe. The Jews got the permission from the ottoman’s to move to Thessaloniki. Many Turks also moved to Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki started to grow again and regained its important trade role. Emphasis was also given in becoming an important financial center. Thessaloniki’s street views and the buildings were influenced from the East and not Byzantium. Many important buildings from the Ottoman period survived until our days. Some of them can be also visited as Museums. During this period Jews comprised more than 50% of Thessaloniki’s population (which in 1895 was 120000) and the city was a mixture of many different nationalities (Turks, Greeks-25000, Bulgarians, Spanish, Jews, Venice etc).
During Ottoman period emphasis was also given to the city’s infrastructure. The first trump service started in 1888. The same year Thessaloniki acquired its first train service which connected the city with Belgrade. The city walls were torn down in an effort to expand the city between 1866 and 1889. In 1896 the train service expanded and Thessaloniki was connected with Constantinople. In 1897 a French company built the first port. In 1908 some of the city’s streets were illuminated by electric lamps.
During 1904-1908 Greeks and Bulgarians were on war in order to gain parts of the land that was until then belonging to Ottoman Empire (known also as Macedonian Struggle). From the side of Greeks a lot of strategic decisions were taken by the Greek consulate in Thessaloniki (now known as the Museum of Macedonian Struggle). This war ended in 1908 with the rebellion of the movement of “Young Turks”.
LATEST HISTORY (1912 – today)
In 1912 the Balkan War started with Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia fighting against Turkey. At the 26th of October 1912, Thessaloniki was surrendered by Tahsin Pasha to the Greek army.
In 1917 another tragic event took place which destroyed almost all of the city’s center. This time it was a great fire that started accidentally by an unattended kitchen fire at the city’s old town. The fire vanished the city’s center leaving almost 72000 people homeless (1/3 of the city’s population). Most of this population were Jewish and the city’s unemployment rate increased to approx 70%.
After the defeat of Greece in the Greek – Turkish War, Turkish and Greeks exchanged population. Due to this 160000 Greeks came to Thessaloniki while the Turkish who were living in Thessaloniki returned back to Turkey.
During the Second World War Thessaloniki’s Thessaloniki was bombarded several times and its Jewish population (approx. 47000 people) was killed or sent to concentration camps in other parts of Europe.
After the Second World War and until today Thessaloniki is being rebuild and trying to regain some of its past significance. In 1988, Unesco added many of the city’s Byzantium Monuments into its Heritage list and in 1997 the city was celebrated as the European Capital of Culture. Currently a lot of emphasis is given on its cultural perspective as a means of respecting all of its historic periods and attracting Tourists. A lot of efforts are also being made to improve the quality of life of its population. Currently a metro line is being build. The area by the waterfront (Nea Paralia) is being renovated. Bicycle lines that are crossing the center have been established. There is a plan for the creation of a big metropolitan park moving outside from the center city’s Exhibition center. Another plan is to connect Thessaloniki’s Forest National park (Seich Sou) with the White Tower. Furthermore, several historic buildings and monuments are renovated and some of them are becoming Museums. In 2014 Thessaloniki will be the European Youth Capital.