Package tours neglect precious sights and stories of Aegean port harbour
by Bozhidara Georgieva; photography by Anthony Georgieff
"Then suddenly the sea appeared – immense quiet blue space, an abyss of water and sky united behind the tall silhouette of the island of Thassos, it, too, bathed in transparent blue. To the right, the barely visible outlines of Mount Athos were fading away. To the left were the swampy valleys of Sarıbaşan and the marshes of the Mesta River, absorbed by haze, and the dark spots of the Keramoti greenery. In the middle, at the foot of the hill, Kavala was spreading, a giant amphitheatre of white tightly-packed houses looming in a blinding contrast with the inky blue of the sea. Kavala, with the geometric outlines of its pier, with the ancient Roman aqueduct, with the jagged Venetian fortress; Kavala, with its huge tobacco warehouses, with the steep streets, with the beaches, the port, the quays and its boats; Kavala, a city of wealth and misery, where tobacco turned to gold and the workers' labour – to curses, a city without greenery, a city of white stones under a sky of fire and blue."
This was how writer Dimitar Dimov described Kavala in his seminal novel, Tobacco (1951). At the time, the city and Aegean Thrace were under Bulgarian administration and the population was swollen with Bulgarian clerks and soldiers, teachers and priests, and entrepreneurs. The latter were here because of the tobacco which was grown, processed and traded in Kavala and its environs.
A lifetime later, Kavala is a different place. The city has grown. The tobacco warehouses, once on the outskirts and now incorporated into the central part, lie empty, the result of a mid-20th Century shift in the industry. Some of them have been turned into museums and exhibition spaces. If the Kavala inhabitants curse today, they do it because of unemployment, not because they toil under some ruthless tobacco manufacturer.
The Bulgarians crowding the streets of Kavala are different, too. Some arrived in the good old times when the words "Greece" and "crisis" were never used in the same sentence, and menial jobs were ten a penny. The majority of Bulgarians in Kavala now, however, are tourists.
The city was among the first Greek destinations to become popular with Bulgarians in the 1990s, with Thessaloniki, Alexandroupolis and Komotini in the same pack. Kavala is close to the border and cheap, as international tour agencies did not – and still do not – find it interesting enough for package tourism.
As Bulgarian interest in places like Alexandroupolis and Komotini faded away, eclipsed by opportunities to travel and have fun in more distant and more interesting Greek towns and islands, Kavala keeps its appeal.
There is nothing strange in this. In spite of being one of the busiest ports in Aegean Thrace, Kavala has some good beaches – four of them have Blue Flag certification – and decent hotels. The city is picturesque enough and, if you look at the steep streets, the aqueduct, the houses and the looming silhouettes of Thassos and Mount Athos with your nostalgia glasses on, you could easily decide that the city has indeed not changed that much since 1944.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers