unseen Thessaloniki

I was always drawn to what others overlook. Living in Thessaloniki for the last 18 years, I started discovering aspects of it that were unknown to most people, even locals. These unknown stories of the city led me to create a series of images, where I present these hidden aspects, in my own way.

I chose nine locations in Thessaloniki and the greater area. They are places which everyone knows, but at the same time, they do not. In the images that I created, I highlight each location by creating a different story, using elements of surrealism. The location is the main protagonist, while human presence acts complementary.

Along each image, there is a text with information about the respective story. This way “unseen Thessaloniki” surfaces and waits for you to meet her.

countryside district

This is the Salem mansion. It is located in a part of Thessaloniki which was known as the “Countryside district”, outside the city’s walls. Until the mid 19th century there were only some small houses and fields there, thus the name. By the end of the 19th century the rich Greek, Turks and Jewish merchants from the city started moving there and building their glorious mansions. During the first world war, many of them were used by the army and after the second world war the whole area had lost its splendor and was left to decay until the 60s when most of the beautiful historic mansions were demolished and ugly appartment buildings took their place. However, a few of them were saved and some were luckily restored to their prior beauty. Others though, are still facing decay and neglect.

pasha’s gardens: the throne

Just behind St. Demetrios hospital there is a green park, unknown to most. The park has been given the name “pasha’s gardens” probably because of old stories saying that this was the place where Safulach pasha came to rest, although there is no historical evidence supporting this. The gardens date back to 1904 and they cover an area of 1000 square meters. Inside them lie remnants of some old stone constructions that are considered a sample of fantastic architecture. That is the arcitectural style that is best known from Gaudi’s works in Barcelona.There is no evidence about who made these structures and for what purpose. The mysterious shapes and symbols that are found, the tunnel that leads to nowhere have led some to believe this was a meeting place for ottoman masons. Others say that here was the end of Thessaloniki’s catacombs. According to another myth, all the stones used in the buildings were struck by lightning and human sacrifices used to take place here at some point in the past. The fact that the gardens are located close to old and newer cemeteries, explains many stories connected to them. It is considered an energy site and there are those that claim it is a geomagnetic focal point.

lighthouse pier

During the ottoman domination this area belonged to a Turkish bey. After the Minor Asia catastrophe in 1922, Greek refugees came and settled here. Because the refugees came from different regions, they disagreed over the name they should give their new home. Eventually there was a draw and “Peraia” was the winning name. The area is dominated by its long beach, which in past decades was a major attraction especially during summertime. People from Thessaloniki would take a boat and come here to take a swim and relax. These days it’s not such a popular destination anymore, but still remains a beautiful place by the sea, worth a visit.

Pavlos Melas camp

At the end of the 19th century, while Thessaloniki was still under ottoman domination, large barracks were being built outside the city’s walls.  One of them was the cavalry’s barrack in the Pavlos Melas camp’s area, which was built between 1890 and 1905. In 1912, the camp was named after Pavlos Melas, an officer of the Greek army who is considered a hero.  In 1931 the camp’s area was extended. The older part of the camp is considered an historical site since 2003, because it dates back to the last years of the Ottoman empire and it is considered one of the first organized camps on greek territoty. It is also a place where many historical events from the recent history took place, with buildings that were built after 1830. During the german occupation it was a german base and a place of executions. Every time there was an uprising or a hit from the resistance, the Germans picked prisoners from the camp and executed them for retaliation. The camp stopped being used from the army some years ago and has since then been abandoned. The Pavlos Melas camp was recently  given from the Greek army to the municipality of Pavlos Melas and its citizens. The camp’s buildings are now waiting to find their new use, as the citizen’s demand for a metropolitan park is imperative.

byzantine watermills

The archeological park of byzantine watermills lies in the area of Polichni. In the past people would come here for small getaways, as the area was remarkably beautiful (water, trees, fauna and flaura at their best).  Today five watermills and a press have been saved and they have been named “monuments of the byzantine and post-byzantine era”. The watermills are part of a 12-watermill system that was developed in byzantine times along the stream, which sprang from mountain Hortiatis and ended up in Thermaikos gulf. In 1996 the municipality of Polichni began efforts to upgrade the area, which was filled with waste over the years, aiming to turn it into an urban park with an archeological and cultural character. According to a study that was made by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, this area is a habitat for rare species with over 194 different native plants.

train cemetery

The train cemetery has been in N. Ionia, Thessaloniki for at least 30 years now. Thousands of abandoned train wagons lie still like ghosts, on ten abandoned train tracks. It is considered the biggest train cemetery in Greece and it is said that wagons started being left there between 1960-70. Up to this day this is where wagons go when they can no longer be used. Somewhere among them are even some antique wagons from 1895 that used to travel between Thessaloniki-Instabul (JSC– JonctionSalonique-Constantinople) and even vehicles that were taken as trophies by the Germans during WWII. Sadly, no one cared to highlight all this heritage somehow. On the contrary, the trains were left unguarded and those that survived the years and the raging nature, were taken apart piece by piece to be sold illegally as scrap. Recently the greek railway company stated that they are going to sell all this material that has been abandoned, not only in Thessaloniki but all over Greece. However the trains are still where they were once left, under the mercy of time, the weather and people. 

lake Koroneia

Lake Koroneia (or Lagada) lies some kilometers outside Thessaloniki and during the last years it has faced serious drying issues. Before it started losing its water it was the fifth largest lake in Greece. Lake Koroneia – as well as the neighbouring lake Volvi – has been characterized as an internationally important wetland (Ramsar) and special protection zone for wild birds, natural habitats and wild fauna and flora.

It’s a beautiful wetland that has been drained by thousands of illegal boreholes and infected by nearby factories that turned waters into toxic mud. After the 80s the water levels started to fall gradually. Millions were spent in both greek and european funds for the lake’s salvation, but most of them ended up in a bottomless pit. 

In the summer of 2007, 30.000 birds died and in 2008 the lake dried out. For a long period no migratory bird would come to the lake, instead they went to lake Volvi, where the food was not enough. In 2014 during the fall and winter seasons, as well as during the spring, the heavy snow and rainfall brought water to the lake, which was 2 meters deep in some spots, and covered spots that were previously completely dry. After almost 10 years the lake became once again home to thousands of wild birds. 

zeitenlik

zeitenlik, which means “olive grove” in turkish, lies near Lagada st. about 1.5 km north of Vardaris square. It is the biggest military necropolis in Greece since the end of WWI. Here are buried more than twenty thousand soldiers from the Entente forces, French, British, Italian, Russian, Serbian, but also some Bulgarian prisoners of war, who all lost their lives in the battles of the Macedonian front between 1914 and 1919. The only tomb that stands out is in the british sector and it belongs not to a man, but to the only woman that is buried here. That woman is Katherine Harley,  a British nurse with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals (SWH), who served in France before coming to Greece to help the Macedonian front. In late 1915 she helped establish a hospital in a disused tobacco warehouse in the town of Gevgelia and later she established a motorized ambulance unit – The Transport Column. After the end of the unit’s function she went to the recently liberated town of Monastir (today Bitola), where she acted independently, providing assistance to the inhabitants of the town. On 7th March 1917 Katherine Harley was with her daughter, when the shell hit in the street, shattering the window glass, which pierced her head. Even though she was a civilian at the time of her death, her body was moved to Zeitenlik with great honors and the presence of Prince George of Serbia and General Milne, the commander of the British forces. On her grave it is written: 

“The generous English lady and great benefactress of the Serbian people, Madame Harley a great lady. On your tomb instead of flowers the gratitude of the Serbs shall blossom there for your wonderful acts. Your name shall be known from generation to generation.”

Delasalle grove

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. 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. 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. According to the story, all of Thessaloniki was invited to Retziki. 

“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. 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.