Thessaloniki, often referred to internationally as Salonica, is the second-largest city in Greece and the capital of the geographic region of Greek Macedonia, the administrative region of Central Macedonia and the Decentralized Administration of Macedonia and Thrace. Its honorific title is Συμπρωτεύουσα (Symprotévousa), literally "co-capital", and stands as a reference to its historical status as the Συμβασιλεύουσα (Symvasilévousa) or "co-reigning" city of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, alongside Constantinople.
According to the preliminary results of the 2011 census, the municipality of Thessaloniki today has a population of 322,240, while the Thessaloniki Urban Area (the contiguous built up area forming the "City of Thessaloniki") has a population of 790,824; making it the fifth largest and most populated city in the Balkans and the second most populated city that is not a capital, after Istanbul. Furthermore, the Thessaloniki Metropolitan Area extends over an area of and its population in 2011 reached a total of 1,104,460 inhabitants.
Thessaloniki is Greece's second major economic, industrial, commercial and political centre, and a major transportation hub for the rest of southeastern Europe; its commercial port is also of great importance for Greece and the southeastern European hinterland. The city is renowned for its festivals, events and vibrant cultural life in general, and is considered to be Greece's cultural capital. Events such as the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair and the Thessaloniki International Film Festival are held annually, while the city also hosts the largest bi-annual meeting of the Greek diaspora. In 2014 Thessaloniki will be the European Youth Capital.
Founded in 315 BC by Cassander of Macedon, Thessaloniki's history spans some 2,300 years. An important metropolis by the Roman period, Thessaloniki was the second largest and wealthiest city of the Byzantine Empire. Thessaloniki is home to numerous notable Byzantine monuments, including the Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as several Roman, Ottoman and Sephardic Jewish structures. The city's main university, Aristotle University, is the largest in Greece and the Balkans.
Thessaloniki is a popular tourist destination in Greece. In 2010, Lonely Planet ranked Thessaloniki as the world's fifth-best party city worldwide, comparable to other cities such as Dubai and Montreal. For 2013 National Geographic Magazine included Thessaloniki in its top tourist destinations worldwide.
From antiquity to the Roman Empire
The city was founded around 315 BC by the King Cassander of Macedon, on or near the site of the ancient town of Therma and 26 other local villages. He named it after his wife Thessalonike, a half-sister of Alexander the Great and princess of Macedon as daughter of Philip II. Under the kingdom of Macedon the city retained its own autonomy and parliament and evolved to become the most important city in Macedon.
After the fall of the kingdom of Macedon in 168 BC, Thessalonica became a free city of the Roman Republic under Mark Antony in 41 BC. It grew to be an important trade-hub located on the Via Egnatia, the road connecting Dyrrhachium with Byzantium, which facilitated trade between Thessaloniki and great centers of commerce such as Rome and Byzantium. Thessaloniki also lay at the southern end of the main north-south route through the Balkans along the valleys of the Morava and Axios river valleys, thereby linking the Balkans with the rest of Greece. The city later became the capital of one of the four Roman districts of Macedonia. Later it became the capital of all the Greek provinces of the Roman Empire due to the city's importance in the Balkan peninsula. When the Roman Empire was divided into the tetrarchy, Thessaloniki became the administrative capital of one of the four portions of the Empire under Galerius Maximianus Caesar, where Galerius commissioned an imperial palace, a new hippodrome, a triumphal arch and a mausoleum among others.
In 379 when the Roman Prefecture of Illyricum was divided between the East and West Roman Empires, Thessaloniki became the capital of the new Prefecture of Illyricum. In 390 Gothic troops under the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, led a massacre against the inhabitants of Thessalonica, who had risen in revolt against the Germanic soldiers. With the Fall of Rome in 476, Thessaloniki became the second-largest city of the Eastern Roman Empire. Around the time of the Roman Empire Thessaloniki was also an important center for the spread of Christianity; the First Epistle to the Thessalonians written by Paul the Apostle is the first written book of the New Testament.
Byzantine era and Middle Ages
From the first years of the Byzantine Empire, Thessaloniki was considered the second city in the Empire after Constantinople, both in terms of wealth and size. The city held this status until it was transferred to Venice in 1423. In the 14th century the city's population exceeded 100,000, making it larger than London at the time.
During the 6th-7th centuries the area around Thessaloniki was invaded by Avars and Slavs, who unsuccessfully laid siege to the city several times. Traditional historiography stipulates that many Slavs settled in the hinterland of Thessaloniki, however, this migration was actually on a much smaller scale than previously thought. In the 9th century, the Byzantine Greek missionaries Cyril and Methodius, both natives of the city, created the first literary language of the Slavs, the Glagolic alphabet, most likely based on the Slavic dialect allegedly used in the hinterland of their hometown.
An Arab invasion in 904 resulted in a short term capture. The economic expansion of the city continued through the 12th century as the rule of the Komnenoi emperors expanded Byzantine control to the north. Thessaloniki passed out of Byzantine hands in 1204, when Constantinople was captured by the forces of the Fourth Crusade and incorporated the city and its surrounding territories in the Kingdom of Thessalonica — which then became the largest vassal of the Latin Empire. In 1224, the Kingdom of Thessalonica was overrun by the Despotate of Epirus, a remnant of the former Byzantine Empire, under Theodore Komnenos Doukas who crowned himself Emperor, and the city became the Despotat's capital. This era of the Despotate of Epirus is also known as the Empire of Thessalonica. Following his defeat at Klokotnitsa however in 1230, the Empire of Thessalonica became a vassal state of the Second Bulgarian Empire until it was recovered again in 1246, this time by the Nicaean Empire. In 1342, the city saw the rise of the Commune of the Zealots, an anti-aristocratic party formed of sailors and the poor, which is nowadays described as social-revolutionary. The city was practically independent of the rest of the Empire, as it had its own government, a form of republic. The zealot movement was overthrown in 1350 and the city was reunited with the rest of the Empire, governed in the 1350s and 1360s with the rest of central Macedonia by Demetrios Dukas Kavasilas.
In 1423, Despot Andronicus, who was in charge of the city, ceded it to the Republic of Venice with the hope that it could be protected from the Ottomans who were besieging the city (there is no evidence to support the oft-repeated story that he sold the city to them). The Venetians held Thessaloniki until it was captured by the Ottoman Sultan Murad II on 29 March 1430.
When Sultan Murad II captured Thessaloniki and sacked it in 1430, contemporary reports estimated that about one-fifth of the city's population was enslaved. Upon the conquest of Thessaloniki, some of its inhabitants escaped, including intellectuals such as Theodorus Gaza "Thessalonicensis" and Andronicus Callistus. However, the change of sovereignty from the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman one did not affect the city's prestige as a major imperial city and trading hub. Thessaloniki and Smyrna, although smaller in size than Constantinople, were the Ottoman Empire's most important trading hubs. Thessaloniki's importance was mostly in the field of shipping, but also in manufacturing, while most of the city's trade was controlled by ethnic Greeks.
During the Ottoman period, the city's population of mainly Greek Jews and Ottoman Muslims (including those of Turkish and Albanian, as well as Bulgarian Muslim and Greek Muslim convert origin) grew sunbstantially. By 1478 Selânik (سلانیك), as the city came to be known in Ottoman Turkish, had a population of 4,320 Muslims, 6,094 Greek Orthodox and some Catholics, but no Jews. Soon after the turn of the 15th to 16th century, nearly 20,000 Sephardic Jews had immigrated to Greece from Spain following their expulsion by the 1492 Alhambra Decree. By ca. 1500, the numbers had grown to 7,986 Greeks, 8,575 Muslims, and 3,770 Jews. By 1519, Sephardic Jews numbered 15,715, 54% of the city's population. Some historians consider the Ottoman regime's invitation to the Jews was a strategy to prevent the ethnic Greek population (Eastern Orthodox Christians) from dominating the city.
Thessaloniki was the capital of the Sanjak of Selanik within the wider Rumeli Eyalet (Balkans) until 1826, and subsequently the capital of Selanik Eyalet (after 1867, the Selanik Vilayet). This consisted of the sanjaks of Selanik, Serres and Drama between 1826 and 1912. Thessaloniki was also a Janissary stronghold where novice Janissaries were trained. In June 1826, regular Ottoman soldiers attacked and destroyed the Janissary base in Thessaloniki while also killing over 10,000 Janissaries, an event known as The Auspicious Incident in Ottoman history. From 1870, driven by economic growth, the city's population expanded by 70%, reaching 135,000 in 1917.
The last few decades of Ottoman control over the city were an era of revival, particularly in terms of the city's infrastructure. It was at that time that the Ottoman administration of the city acquired an "official" face with the creation of the Command Post while a number of new public buildings were built in the eclectic style in order to project the European face both of Thessaloniki and the Ottoman Empire. The city walls were torn down between 1869 and 1889, efforts for a planned expansion of the city are evident as early as 1879, the first tram service started in 1888 and the city streets were illuminated with electric lamp posts in 1908. In 1888 Thessaloniki was connected to Central Europe via rail through Belgrade, Monastir in 1893 and Constantinople in 1896.
Since the 20th century
In the early 20th century, Thessaloniki was in the center of radical activities by various groups; the Bulgarian Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, founded in 1897, and the Greek Macedonian Committee, founded in 1903. In 1903 an anarchist group known as the Boatmen of Thessaloniki planted bombs in several buildings in Thessaloniki, including the Ottoman Bank, with some assistance from the IMRO. The Greek consulate in Ottoman Thessaloniki (now the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle) served as the center of operations for the Greek guerillas. In 1908 the Young Turks movement broke out in the city, sparking the Young Turk Revolution.
In 1915, during World War I, a large Allied expeditionary force established a base at Thessaloniki for operations against pro-German Bulgaria. This culminated in the establishment of the Macedonian Front, also known as the Salonika Front. In 1916, pro-Venizelist Greek army officers and civilians, with the support of the Allies, launched an uprising, creating a pro-Allied temporary government by the name of the "Provisional Government of National Defence" that controlled the "New Lands" (lands that were gained by Greece in the Balkan Wars, most of Northern Greece including Greek Macedonia, the North Aegean as well as the island of Crete); the official government of the King in Athens, the "State of Athens", controlled "Old Greece" which were traditionally monarchist. The State of Thessaloniki was disestablished with the unification of the two opposing Greek governments under Venizelos, following the abdication of King Constantine in 1917.
After the defeat of Greece in the Greco-Turkish War and during the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, a population exchange took place between Greece and Turkey. Over 160,000 ethnic Greeks deported from the former Ottoman Empire were resettled in the city, changing its demographics. Additionally many of the city's Muslims were deported to Turkey, ranging at about 20,000 people.
During World War II Thessaloniki was heavily bombarded by Fascist Italy (with 232 people dead, 871 wounded and over 800 buildings damaged or destroyed in November 1940 alone), and, the Italians having failed to succeed in their invasion of Greece, it fell to the forces of Nazi Germany on 8 April 1941 and remained under German occupation until 30 October 1944 when it was liberated by the Greek People's Liberation Army. The Nazis soon forced the Jews into a ghetto near the railroads and on 15 March 1943 began the deportation process of the city's 56,000 Jews to its concentration camps. They deported over 43,000 of the city's Jews in concentration camps, where most were killed in the gas chambers. The Germans also deported 11,000 Jews to forced labor camps, where most perished. Only 1,200 Jews live in the city today.
The importance of Thessaloniki to Nazi Germany can be demonstrated by the fact that, initially, Hitler had planned to incorporate it directly in the Third Reich (that is, make it part of Germany) and not have it controlled by a puppet state such as the Hellenic State or an ally of Germany (Thessaloniki had been promised to Yugoslavia as a reward for joining the Axis on 25 March 1941). Having been the first major city in Greece to fall to the occupying forces just two days after the German invasion, it was in Thessaloniki that the first Greek resistance group was formed (under the name «Ελευθερία», Eleftheria, "Freedom") as well as the first anti-Nazi newspaper in an occupied territory anywhere in Europe, also by the name Eleftheria. Thessaloniki was also home to a military camp-converted-concentration camp, known in German as "Konzentrationslager Pavlo Mela" (Pavlos Melas Concentration Camp), where members of the resistance and other non-favourable people towards the German occupation from all over Greece were held either to be killed or sent to concentration camps elsewhere in Europe. In the 1946 monarchy referendum, the majority of the locals voted in favour of a republic, contrary to the rest of Greece.
After the war, Thessaloniki was rebuilt with large-scale development of new infrastructure and industry throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Many of its architectural treasures still remain, adding value to the city as a tourist destination, while several early Christian and Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1988. In 1997, Thessaloniki was celebrated as the European Capital of Culture, sponsoring events across the city and the region. Agency established to oversee the cultural activities of that year 1997 was still in existence by 2010. In 2004 the city hosted a number of the football events as part of the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Today Thessaloniki has become one of the most important trade and business hubs in Southeastern Europe, with its port, the Port of Thessaloniki being one of the largest in the Aegean and facilitating trade throughout the Balkan hinterland. On 26 October 2012 the city celebrated its centennial since its incorporation into Greece. The city also forms one of the largest student centres in Southeastern Europe, is host to the largest student population in Greece and will be the European Youth Capital in 2014.