THESSALONIKI – Thessaloniki’s Deputy Regional Governor Voula Patoulidou spoke with The National Herald about the historic city, tourism, culture, and the improvements in infrastructure to this must-visit destination.
TNH: Thessaloniki is one of the Balkans’ and obviously, Greece’s, most important cities – but non-Greeks, and even Greek-Americans who are not from there do not know it well, indeed, it is almost Greece’s tourism secret – why should visitors want to go there?
Voula Patoulidou: With the moves we have made for the promotion of Thessaloniki, we will stop being ‘secret’. Americans love Europe and Greece. The messages from the U.S. market are optimistic, with the direct air connection between the two countries being the key to the increase in demand.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, there will be nine flights a day from the United States alone, a number that corresponds to 63 flights a week, while it is possible that there will be direct flights between the major airports in the United States and Thessaloniki.
It is characteristic that at the end of March, according to data processed by the Institute of the Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises, active air bookings for travel from the United States to Greece have reached 70% of those in 2019. We expect a strong influx of tourists and Thessaloniki will play a leading role.
American and Greek-American travelers who choose Europe for vacation have a particularly keen interest in cultural tourism. The abundance of archeological sites in Greece, in combination with its rich history, ranks it among the top choices. Thessaloniki is an ark of culture and civilizations. It produces culture and moves with strength and versatility, having a restless soul and great creative potential. Its inhabitants create and often pioneer in the cultural movements of Greece.
TNH: Tell us in detail about Thessaloniki’s cultural life and night life.
VP: The main feature of Thessaloniki is multiculturalism. If you are in the center, whichever direction you follow, you will find the footprints of all the cultures that the city knew. The cradles of the preservation of our cultural heritage, the museums of the city, gather the cultural and cultural documents of our course through time.
The Archaeological Museum (www.amth.gr) presents the culture of Macedonia from prehistoric times to late antiquity, while the Museum of Byzantine Culture (www.mbp.gr) houses exhibits of exceptional historical and religious value, the heritage of our Byzantine ancestors.
The permanent collection of the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art (www.mmca.gr) exhibits important works by Greek and foreign artists, while the State Museum of Contemporary Art (www.greekstatemuseum.com), one of the most important of its kind, includes the famous Kostakis collection with works by artists of the Russian avant-garde. The core of the collection of the Telloglion Foundation for the Arts (www.teloglion.gr) is the donation of Telloglou, which includes works of art from various cultures as well as works by important Greek and European artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. It is also worth visiting the Jewish Museum (www.jmth.gr), the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle (www.imma.edu.gr), the Folklore Museum (www.lemmth.gr), the History Center of Thessaloniki with its rich historical archive of the city, the Cinema Museum (www.cinemuseum.gr) which includes rare material of films and current affairs, the Museum of Photography (www.thmphoto.gr), the War Museum (www.warmuseumthessaloniki.com), which presents important war exhibits from the Balkans but also the two world wars, the Olympic Museum (www.olympicmuseum-thessaloniki.org), and the Water Museum, which is housed in an old pumping station of the Thessaloniki Water Company. Finally, the facilities of the Science Dissemination Center & Technology Museum/Noesis (www.noesis.edu.gr) include a Planetarium, a Simulator, and a Cosmotheatre.
Nightlife is a big part of Thessaloniki. We are extroverted and we like to have a good time. In combination with the flood of young people from the three universities that rank us as the largest student campus in the Balkans, every night in the city is a… party!
The gastronomic identity of the city is famous and recognized by UNESCO. In conclusion, visitors to Thessaloniki will have plenty to see and do!
TNH: Jewish-Americans are the exception to the previous question – they know about Salonika. What is the city doing to invite and attract them?
VP: It is no coincidence that she is called ‘The Mother of Israel’. Thessaloniki is a place of pilgrimage for the Jews of the Earth. For more than twenty centuries it has been a refuge for many generations of Jews. The modernization and prosperity of the city was directly linked to their development. The Jewish community remains alive to this day despite the persecution it has suffered. It is an important part of the city’s identity and the project of the Holocaust Museum will be a pivotal moment for Thessaloniki.
TNH: The region is also beautiful and filled with places of interest – tell us about those attractions. Also, is an expansion of ferry service planned?
VP: It is a big city with many graces! One of the trump cards of the city is that in a short time you can find yourself on a nearby idyllic beach or a beach in Halkidiki, Mount Olympus, Mount Athos, the treasures of Vergina, and travel to the islands. Thessaloniki is connected to the islands throughout the summer. Not only with those of the North Aegean. We have ferry services starting from Thessaloniki to the Sporades, Cyclades, and Athens.
TNH: Recently, the Thessaloniki Tourism Organization participated in the SeaTrade Cruise Global exhibition in Miami – tell us how the organization fits into plans for economic and tourism development, and what initiatives are being planned to tell the world and the Greek-American community about Thessaloniki.
VP: We have done an impressive opening on cruises. The trip to Miami was a success. We had extensive contacts with executives of large companies that are already mooring their cruise ships in the city and we discussed with them issues related to marketing, facilitation practices, and further development of the destination with extra arrivals as well as the main goal of making Thessaloniki a base port of these large multinationals, something that will have multiplier positive effects on arrivals and overnight stays in the city.
TNH: Please update us about the great infrastructure projects that will transform the city, especially the Metro. Industrial development contributes to the vibrancy and energy of a city that visitors experience – tells us about such recent projects and about progress regarding investments, and what Thessaloniki is doing to attract more.
VP: The truth is that some projects have been delayed. The pandemic slowed us down. Now we are making up for lost time. A great effort is being made to enable the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport and the Attiko Metro to deliver this project at the end of 2023.
There are other major projects that aim to change the face of the city, mainly by transport. For Thessaloniki, the implementation of a project program of 5 billion euros is underway, which concerns the city and the wider area. Various highway projects better connecting the port of Thessaloniki with those of Patras and Athens, the railway connection with the port, the suburban railway line to Western Thessaloniki, are some of them.
I can assure you that in the coming years Thessaloniki will experience great moments.