04/03/2021

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The cultural identity of Thessaloniki: Multicultural as always

THESSALONIKI-Alexander the Great overlooking the Mount Olympus

Rounis Aristeidis

Student at the Department of Balkan, Slavic and Oriental Studies, University of Macedonia

 

 

Located in the heart of Northern Greece, Thessaloniki holds an important place in the economic and political development of Southeastern Europe (SEE). Built inside “Thermaikos” gulf, it is at the centre of attraction for those wishing for a better, standard of living, where they can consequently fulfill their dreams. However, the city is also viewed mainly as a cultural centre of the “Balkan neighborhood”, as it has been referred to as the “mother” of immigrants and refugees, over the centuries.

 

To begin with, it is worth mentioning that the city is an urban centre, where various cultural groups exist, and hence display their own culture into the community. At this point, it is important to consider the term “Culture”. The word itself can be defined in various ways by many. This term may suggest, the language, the religion, the tradition, the history of a nation. Huntington in his work “Clash of Civilizations” had chosen to give the negative perspective of the co-existence of people. Nevertheless, there is also the opposite opinions. In other words, cooperation between people of different nationalities and cultures could occur somewhere, for instance, inside the society of a city.

 

An exact example of that is the cooperation of Greek and Armenian refugees from the region of Anatolia during the second and third decades of the 20th century. Both regional groups, quite oppressed by the Ottomans, made every effort to ensure food security. Noteworthily, these cultural groups currently live extremely harmoniously in Thessaloniki. Furthermore, during that time in the city, if someone frequently observed the streets, they could meet local Greeks, Turks, Jews, Slavs and Western Europeans. The identity of the city had already been multicultural. This is due to the fact that it was one of the most important commercial centres in the Balkan Peninsula, due to its port and geographical location.

 

Moving on to the current situation in the city of Thessaloniki, a “mixture” of diametrically opposed individuals is observed, opposing their language, religion and customs. On one side there is the Greek population, which is largely religious with Christian Orthodoxy as the predominant religion. Suprisingly, there are, of course, some people in this population who describe themselves as atheists. Furthermore, there are those of different religions, races and nationalities that occupy areas in the city. For instance, we can mention the Muslim immigrants or refugees, who often socialize in the area across the New Railway Station to “Aristotelous” Square and the “Aghios Demetrios” and “Olympiados” streets in the main city square of Thessaloniki. In this instance, we can also refer to the Africans and the Asians who are usually involved in wholesale and retail of merchandise in the area. Moreover, other nationalities such as the Jewish and Turkish populations frequent this area aswell. In contrast, Albanian and Slavic people often lodge there. They are those immigrants which arrived in Greece after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Finally, the Armenian community has a significant presence in the city, ranging from ten to twenty families that have been noted at the beginning of the 20th century, and where recently, there has been a slight increase its population.

 

In conclusion, it is worth emphasizing that Thessaloniki has a rich history, which cannot be simply summarized in the lines of a text. It is moreover, a majestic line of history that drives the researcher to the culture of the members of the societies who shape it. The story of the “Bride of Thermaikos”, continues to spread and become lost in the cultural mantle over the centuries, consisting of different linguistic sounds and religious traditions.

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