Thessaloniki, also known as Thessalonica or Salonica, is the second-largest city in Greece and the capital of Greek Macedonia, the administrative region of Central Macedonia and the Decentralized Administration of Macedonia and Thrace. Its honorific title is Συμπρωτεύουσα (Symprotevousa), literally “co-capital”, and stands as a reference to its historical status as the Συμβασιλεύουσα (Symvasilevousa) 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. Furthermore, the Thessaloniki Metropolitan Area extends over an area of 1,455.62 km2 (562.02 sq mi) 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. Thessaloniki is the 2014 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, while in 2014 Financial Times FDI magazine (Foreign Direct Investments) declared Thessaloniki as the best mid-sized European city of the future for human capital and lifestyle.
From antiquity to the Roman Empire
The 4th-century AD Rotunda of Galerius, one of several Roman monuments in the city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site
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; some scholars hold that the First Epistle to the Thessalonians written by Paul the Apostle is the first written book of the New Testament.
Thessaloniki lies on the northern fringe of the Thermaic Gulf on its eastern coast and is bound by Mount Chortiatis on its southeast. Its proximity to imposing mountain ranges, hills and fault lines, especially towards its southeast have historically made the city prone to geological changes.
Since medieval times, Thessaloniki was hit by strong earthquakes, notably in 1759, 1902, 1978 and 1995. On 19–20 June 1978, the city suffered a series of powerful earthquakes, registering 5.5 and 6.5 on the Richter scale. The tremors caused considerable damage to a number of buildings and ancient monuments, but the city withstood the catastrophe without any major problems. One apartment building in central Thessaloniki collapsed during the second earthquake, killing many, raising the final death toll to 51