Explore northern Greece for its history, cuisine and shopping - all mixed up as moussaka
Issue 22, July 2008
by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff
Just as people can't hide love or a cough, cities can't hide their history. Thessaloniki is no exception. This part of the Thermaic Gulf was making history centuries before 315 BC, when the Macedonian King Cassander founded a city there. He christened the new settlement after his wife, Thessalonike, the daughter of Filip II of Macedonia, who was herself named after one of her father's victories.
The layers of Thessaloniki's millennia-long history are clearly visible to the unaided eye. The centre's straight streets, built after the Great Fire of 1917, connect the crumbling Ottoman ruins, the Roman Arch of Galerius and one of the oldest churches in the world, Aghios Demetrios. One of the city's main thoroughfares begins from the promenade, passes by the White Tower - which isn't actually white - continues past the Ottoman houses in Ano Poli, and ends at the fortress and the Chain Tower.
In Thessaloniki, however, hedonism usually manages to get the upper hand over history. Teenagers gather near the equestrian statue of Alexander the Great on the promenade to show off their skateboarding skills, rather than to dream of following in his footsteps. Most of the thousands of visiting Bulgarians don't come here for Aghios Demetrios's Byzantine mosaics. They come for the shopping – extra virgin olive oil, genuine Zara clothes and fake flowers from IKEA – and the food, especially the fish.
Of course, the province of Macedonia's capital contains enough contrasts to remind you that you're still in the Balkans. Shoppers at the chic boutiques on Tsimiski Street jostle past beggars and street dogs. In front of Starbucks you can spot stooped old men selling salep, a syrup still served up the same way it was during the Ottoman Empire – from metal tanks.
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