Many years before the villas of the countryside district, there was another area of Thessaloniki that was famous for its luxurious mansions and wealthy residents. That place was Urendjick, which in turkish means “little paradise”, and today it’s called Retziki or Pefka. That is where what’s left from Djeck Abbott’s famous estate lies today, known as Delasalle grove.
Already since the 17th and mainly the 18th century, there was a community of European ambassadors and merchants from Thessaloniki, that had formed in Retziki, who had their summer homes there. Among them, the Abbott family, that had land in the area until the Napoleonic wars led its residents away. The most famous member of this family was Djeck Abbott, one of the most fascinating personalities of the ottoman empire and among the three wealthiest people in Thessaloniki. In 1825 Djeck Abbott reclaimed his granfather’s land in Retziki and turned it into an enchanting resort once again, with works that cost him 1.000.000 turkish pounds.
In Djeck Abbott’s estate there were about 300 different species of trees and plants. There was also Djeck Abbott’s house, about which there is no information and also a two-story fortress tower that still stands today, although it’s in critical condition since no restoration has taken place. Lately there have been coordinated efforts to save this unique monument and turn it into a folk museum.
In this idyllic place it was that Abbott used to invite the European ambassadors and merchants with their families every Sunday, for drinks at the small square underneath the cedar and chestnut trees, among fountains and marble statues. One important person that visited the estate was the famous American writer of “Moby-Dick”, Herman Melville, who visited Thessaloniki in 1856.
But the most important day for Djeck Abbott in Retziki was when Sultan Abdul Mejid visited in 1858. It is said that Djeck bought all the carpets of Thessaloniki and covered the road along the way in a distance of 7km. He also constructed a turkish bath for his high visitors, costing 25.000 francs, which was turned after 1902 into a chapel of St. Therese and lies on the highest point of Delasalle grove.
According to the story, all of Thessaloniki was invited to Retziki. There were choirs and orchestras along the way. “The Sultan arrived at the entrance (where the Delasalle’s primary school entrance is today). He put his right foot on the carriage’s step. But he sky was cloudy. A blinding lightning, followed by a terrible thunder … (silence!…). These fenomena were interpreted as bad omens by the Sultan, who immediately put his right foot again next to the left one and refused to climb down!!” Abbott begged him to at least have a coffee and he lit a brazier with a fire made of banknotes. The Sultan asked if “coffee is tastier when it boils with money or with coal” and he gave Abbott a tax exemption. He then left, without ever setting foot on the estate.
A big fire at Thessaloniki’s french district and the harbor in 1856 destroyed a large portion of Abbott’s property. That was the reason he had to sell his estate in Retziki. So the estate changed owners until in 1902 it was bought by the Fréres de la Congrégation de Saint Jean-Baptiste De la Salle, who had settled in Thessaloniki since 1888 and ran a French school. Initially the Fréres used the estate in Retziki for summer homes and for their rest every Thursday afternoon. They also bringed their students from Thessaloniki for daily excursions. They took care of the gardens and animals.
In 1968 Delasalle college was transferred in Retziki. Of the 56 acres that the Freres owned, 30 were transfered to the municipality of Pefka in the 90s. Today the Delasalle grove lies next to college’s facilities, open to the public. In the recent years there have been some maintenance works, however there still are many actions to be taken so that this place of historic, cultural, religious and environmental value is fully taken advantage of.