Many cities are situated on famous rivers or seas, but Edessa, in northern Greece, was founded on waterfalls.
Edessa sits on the edge of one of the easternmost outcrops of the Pindus mountains, where streams and rivulets jump through thick greenery and fantastically shaped rocks. Water has been its defining feature since the very beginning, as evident in its Greek and Bulgarian names. Both Edessa and Voden mean Water City.
The earliest Edessa, however, appeared at this particular spot not because of the waterfalls, but because its location on the ancient route crossing the Balkans east to west was more important. The Ancient Macedonians were the first to settle here, at the foot of the hills, in what became their first-ever capital city. As centuries came and went, ancient Edessa grew and prospered. Its inhabitants were unable to cope with the constant Barbarian raids that ravaged the region in the 4th-6th centuries AD. Later, however, they abandoned the city and would not return for the next 500 years. This time, the settlers chose for their new home the top of the hills, by the streams and waterfalls. The upland location provided security, and the abundant water sources were crucial for withstanding sieges.
Modern Edessa with its traditional houses seen from the ruins of ancient Edessa
In the following centuries, Byzantines and Bulgarians, Normans and Serbs fought for control of Edessa, with the Ottomans taking the upper hand in the 14th century. The city had a vibrant, multinational population of Greeks, Bulgarians, Turks, Pomaks, and Vlachs that by the late 19th century lived in beautiful wooden houses and used the abundant water as a cheap source of energy for pre-industrial rope and cordage production. Tensions within the community grew nonetheless, as both Bulgarians and Greeks claimed ownership of the town that was still part of the Ottoman Empire.
In the first decades of the 20th century, Edessa changed dramatically, as a series of wars made the city a part of Greece. After an exchange of populations, Edessa's inhabitants were now predominantly Greek, and the import of cheap industrial goods made the primitive mills by the waterfalls redundant.
Today, Edessa is quiet and blissfully overlooked by international tourists. The ruins of its ancient predecessor stand among the lush greenery at the foot of the hill. Water gushes through the centre of the city, flowing by beautiful old mansions, a 14th century church, an Ottoman bridge and a mosque, and a pretty railway station, a rarity in Greece. Then it rushes through a tranquil garden of mighty plane trees with the inevitable – and inevitably excellent – restaurant. Much has changed, but one thing stays the same: the water still fills the air with its freshness, chaotic and deafening, yet soothing, noise, before tumbling into the abyss. Edessa's fairy-tale waterfalls are best experienced on a hot day, and at dawn, when the rising sun turns them into gleaming columns of water.
Edessa's main waterfall appeared, supposedly, in the 14th century after a lake, located on top of the hill, overflew
Edessa's old centre was extensively renovated and revamped in recent years
Rivers, canals and bridges define central Edessa. In summertime, they are fertile breeding ground for mosquitoes
The ruins of ancient Edessa are witness of the time when the city was important for its strategic location rather than its abundant water
Boasting a restored medieval church, Holy Trinity Monastery is another site of interest near Edessa