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Travel: Saloniki's Treasures - Greece 4/25/2019

Updated: Jan 13, 2021

Date : April 25th/2019

Place : Saloniki's Treasures

The modern Met hotel, where we stayed for our first and last night, may rate itself a 5 Star* Spa hotel, but we thoroughly disliked it, would barely rate him a 4- Star, thus had checked out of it, first thing in the next morning. Instead we checked into the  historical (1860)

Right in the city center's restaurants heart , and also close by the water edge.

We were much happier with the hotel, its location and its great breakfast

Maria - our great upbeat, energetic, most knowledgeable private Greek Tour Guide, who was recommended by Saloniki's Jewish services website, welcomed us, with a big grin, as we walked out, from the impressive Saloniki Jewish museum.

An owner of a Tourism service, with 20 years of experience, and past coordinator of all Mano Shipping tour groups to Saloniki, Maria knew her profession, and the city's ins and outs, as well as is known by every one in the business, judging by the friendly greetings and hugs, showered on her, as we toured the city's sites

Easy Guide & tourism services Guide Services  -DMC

26 Al. Ypsilanti Str., 57013, P.O. box 141 Thessaloniki, Greece

tel:    + 30 2310 698884 fax: + 30 2310 689716 mob: + 30 6932 560004

Skype: maria.kyriakidou.alex  e-mail:

Following up on Maria's advise we started the day at the Jewish museum, which closed at mid -day, like many other sites that day, due to the "Good Friday" extended weekend.

The Jewish Museum (must visit)

Opened in 2001 in a city center's renovated building, it was built in 1904 by the Italian architect Vitaliano Poselli (the old "Bank of Athens") and is one of the few Jewish buildings to survive the great fire of 1917 and the former office of Jewish newspaper L'Independent.

The museum traces the city's Jewish heritage through the 15th-century Sephardi immigration, up to the Holocaust period, recording the history of 35 published printed papers, and 55 existing synagogues up to the 1917 big fire and after - the only 35 remaining ones..

Though not formally documented, Jewish presence in Saloniki may have been since 149 BC with migration of Jewish from Alexandria Egypt. Also Saloniki is mentioned in the biblical Isiah and Joel books.

Known for their textile expertise, Jews were big suppliers of the Ottoman army needs, as well as successful in other trades.

We were most impressed by the ground levels monumental stones and Hebrew inscriptions,rescued from the great Jewish necropolis, a place of rest to 500,000 Jewish graves, that once lay to the east of the city walls, and now is the Aristotle's U site. The tombstones on display are relics which were destroyed and looted during German Occupation and later were used as building material by civilians and many of the city institutions, mainly for the Aristobles University (95,000 students  the largest in Balkan and most important in Greece)

Accompanying these weeping stones, are also a series of photographs showing the cemetery and visitors as it was in 1914.

The cemetery which operated about 500 years, was established at the end of the 15th-century, when the expelled from Spain and Portugal Jews arrived in Greece, 

For many years the cemetery was the communal lamenting and social gathering place to many Jews, spread throughout the many neighborhood and affiliations of the city, as it provided a place to assumable as a larger community and opportunities to safely interact freely.

Half a million grave-stones, all destroyed by the Nazis.

Saloniki's synagogues,

Had maintained the great tradition of bearing in their name, the place of origin of the congregation members (Ashkenaz 1376, Majorka 1391, Provincia 1394, Italia Yashan 1423, Guerush Sefarad 1492, Kastilia 1492-3, Aragon 1492-3, Katalan Yashan 1492, Kalabria Yashan 1497, Sicilia Yashan 1497, Apulia 1502, Lisbon Yashan 1510. Portugal 1525, Evora 1535, Lisbon Hadash 1536, Otranto 1537, Ishmael 1537, Sicilia Hadash 1562, Italia Hadash 1582, Majorka Sheni 16th cent., Katalan Hadash 16th cent., Italia Sheni, 1606, Mograbis 17th cent.)

Monastirioton Synagouge - Worth a visit

This last traditional synagouge we visited, was founded (1925) with a donation mainly from Ida Aroesti to the memory of her husband Isaac, but also by funds from families: Camhi, Joseph Nahmias, Massot, Barouch, Halevi, Israel, Calderon, Faradji, and Meir.

( Aroesti - a great grandson is a known  Israeli football player )

Most of its members were families from Monastir in Yugoslavia who had settled in Saloniki after the Balcan Wars (1912-1913) and World War I (1914-1918)

An architecturally eclectic early 20th c dtructure. A decade before the city came under Greek rule,  the mosque was built by Italian architect Vitaliano Poselli in 1902 for the city's Dönmeh community - Jewish converts to Islam descendant followers of the alleged Mashich Shabtai Zvi..

When the entire Jewish population was deported to the death camps, the Synagogue was used by the Red Cross as a warehouse, thus avoiding destruction by the Nazis.The Greek Government which considers it as one of the historical monuments of the city has provided funds for its restoration/maintenance, and it has been serving the remains of the small (1000) Jewish community from after the war.

An architecturally eclectic early 20th c structure. A decade before the city came under Greek rule,  the mosque was built by Italian architect Vitaliano Poselli in 1902 for the city's Dönmeh community - Jewish converts to Islam descendants followers of the alleged Mashich Shabtai Zvi.

In the mid-17th century the Sephardic rabbi in Smyrna - Sabbatai Zevi claimed to be the Jewish messiah, and in the process gained many Jewish followers in the Ottoman Empire, about 1700 families in Saloniki. Dönmeh,  the publicly Islamic crypto-Jews ancestors had “converted” along with their "messiah" to avoid punishment by the sultan, but kept a mix of both religions onward.

The Donmeh were shunned by the other Jews who considered them apostates and by Muslims who did not see them as pious enough. They managed to become a powerful ethnic group in Saloniki both economically and politically.

After the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-22 and the Treaty of Lausanne, the Dönmeh  along with the other Muslims living in Greece were “exchanged” with Christians in Turkey.

Ironically, this religious status had saved them from Hitler's death machine.

After Donmeh left the city the mosque housed the Archaeological Museum up to 1925. Today it serves as an art/culture exhibition center.

Other Jewish sites:

Jewish Holocaust Memorila (Menora) in remembrance of the 50,000 Greek Jews exterminated at Nazi concentration camps, is located on the U campus, at the southeastern corner of Eleftheria (Freedom) Square,

Old Railway Station-  from where Jews were stacked into livestock carriages and sent off to the extermination camps.

In addition to synagogues like Etz Hachayim were Paul visited and which was destroyed  the old mansions, shopping galleries, banks and other buildings of unique architectural style, once belonged to prominent Jewish families.

Those that survived the Nazi German occupation, like Modiano (wealthy Jewish Banker) large indoor 1922 Market and Villa -now a housing the folklore Museum, Casa Bianca - wife of Dino Fernandez Diaz - owner of renown 1912 mention of this Jewish entrepreneur , Mordoch family vila, Baron Hirsch Jewish district, established in 1892 to house Jews displaced by a fire  or Hiersch Hospital, Allatini Villa and Mills, Capangi (converted to Islam) family villa , Latini  Family  summer house of bricks and tiles

where Sultan Abdul Hamid was held by the Young Turks, are just some of the few worth seeing/visiting.

Also the beautiful single story suburban style house, with a small garden are known as Uziel Complex of 28 homes built in 1927 for entrepreneurs Hazan and Uziel.

Salonica, City of Ghosts:  Christians, Muslims, and Jews, 1430-1950

by Mark Mazower

Other sites we passed by /visited in the city:

Roman Forum - Ancient Agora Archaeological park

Fascinating outdoors large two-terraced forum complex dug up by accident in the 1960s (half is still unearthed) which includes treasures from antiquity such as parts of the Roman Via Egnatia, Roman bath, and small theater used for gladiatorial games.

Galerius Palace, Rotunda and Arch

Impressive early 4th-c AD monuments. Roman Emperor Galerius commissioned these two structures as elements of an imperial precinct linked to his Saloniki palace, of  which substantial remains were found to the southwest. The Rutanda served a a polytheist temple, a Christian basilica, a Muslim mosque, and again a Christian church.

The triumphant arch built in 298 AD and dedicated in 303 AD to celebrate the victory of the tetrarch Galerius over the Sassanid Persians at the Battle of Satala and capture of their capital Ctesiphon in 298.

Byzantine Walls and Trigonioiou tower  -

The views of the city from a top the walled hill are spectacular.

The Impressive fortifications that still surround part of the modern city center has adjacent medieval masterpiece Tower of Trigonion built in the second half of the 15th c which  was used as an armory and an artillery tower.

For the price of a drink, one can see the city from the water, sailing off the  front of the White Tower, Boat leaves every half an hour.

White tower - Notable Landmark of the City

This most commonly known monument (with museum located inside it) on the waterfront, was built in 15th century in order to replace an older 12th century Byzantine fortification that the Ottoman Empire reconstructed to fortify the city's harbour sometime after Sultan Murad II captured the city in 1430. The tower became a notorious prison and scene of mass executions during the period of Ottoman rule.

Grand statue  of Alexander the Great on his legendary horse located in Nea Paralia right by the sea next to the White Tower

Atatürk’s home and museum where he was born. Many people are shocked to find out the father of modern Turkey was born in Greece.

Running into Israelis

As we were paying the bill at the sea food neighborhood restaurant, we had dinner at (n'MovPra Restuarant  030 2310268826) and which we were told,  it attracts only local Greeks, an Israeli couple with 2 daughters walked in. 5 minutes of conversation with Raanan and his lovely wife Mira revealed, that he is the owner of the Gourmet Sandwitches Kyosk by the Habima, at the corner of Shderot Ben-Zion and Rothschild, right in our TLV neighborhood, and that I know his brother Gabi -the owner of Epi - the blind Pekingese dog.

And who could imagine that on the way back, and right by our hotel, we run into Anat and Shai, acquaintances from TLV we met through our mutual dear friend Pnina.

6 degrees of separation in the general population shrinks in the Israeli orbit, to only one.. what an amazing coincidence.. though considering the thousands Israeli who left abroad, sooner than later, there is no way we would not run into Israelis we might have known...

We offered  Anat and Shai to join us for tomorrows day trip and hoped they would.

To be continued....


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