There are few cities that have the cultural, historical, and culinary offerings of Thessaloniki and are also so close to areas of great natural beauty and historical significance – and yet, what it has in common with 200 other cities that are not their nations’ capital is that there is sometimes a struggle to rise above being ‘city number 2’.
The Vice Governor of the Region of Central Macedonia and President of the Thessaloniki Tourism Organization (TTO) Voula Patoulidou shared her thoughts with The National Herald about why Thessaloniki is one of the world’s great cities to visit.
Voula Patoulidou: Thessaloniki is like a ‘novel with many layers.’ That is how I describe my city. Any place you stand, wherever you find yourself, when you bring a historic memory to you mind, a story will appear before you in my city. A story worth remembering, preserving, and promoting.
The slogan of the city describes who we are: “Many stories, one heart.”
Thessaloniki is its people, our culture, our traditions. Our history is reflected in its people. This is noticeable from the first moment someone visits. It is not an impersonal city. It has character, personality, depth, and warmth.
The National Herald: When your friends and relatives visit, what do they experience?
VP: The hospitality of Thessaloniki. That is, our soul. We Thessalonians are people who are happy to have visitors. We bring them to our homes, feed them, offer them drinks! We learned that from our parents and grandparents. This extroversion that we have when we are in our homes and with our families we also have in our city. We do our best to welcome and honor them in every way.
TNH: Tell us about your city’s unique history.
VP: Our city’s 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites testify to a rich cultural heritage. We are a treasure trove of history, because Thessaloniki has been among the world’s leading cities at virtually any point in history and if you study that history you will see how it stands out among other cities and shaped historical developments.
Only a city with a strong character can achieve this, and her character has always been enriched by her human wealth.
TNH: Relations between Greece and Israel have deepened dramatically in recent years – but the people to people ties among Greek and Jewish Americans are undeveloped. What would you say to the Omogenia about the value and joy of bringing their Jewish friends to your city?
VP: It is no coincidence that Thessaloniki is called the Jerusalem of the Balkans. It was once home to the world's largest Sephardic Jewish community, being at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East.
For the visitor from Israel, Thessaloniki is a pilgrimage. You can see the imprint of the Jewish people everywhere in Thessaloniki. I also once heard from a traveler from Israel say, "I felt like I came home."
I also note that in general, the interactions and exchanges of elements of the different cultures present in Thessaloniki created common ingredients that were assimilated by all residents over time.
TNH: Greek-Americans used to fly into Athens and then race to their islands and villages – in recent years they have discovered that Athens has become a ‘cool’ place to stay for a few days too – but the same can be said about Thessaloniki. Tell us about your city’s night life and how a visit can be both educational and a lot of fun.
VP: Thessaloniki Nights are legendary and I urge everyone to experience them.
One after another, the leading travel magazines and websites are discovering the night life of our city. National Geographic included Thessaloniki on their list of the top 10 cities in the world for its nightlife!
Nobody goes to bed early! All year round, every night, visitors can get to know flavors, music, and spectacles. We even have unique hangover cures: a delicious cream-filled bougatsa or hot tripe in the shops that stay open for the 'overnighters’. They will delight your stomach without any more unpleasant consequences!
TNH: What is the status of the new infrastructure projects that will “change the face of the city’ as they say, and the experience of tourists, beginning with the Metro?
VP: According to the official timetable, the Thessaloniki Metro’s main line will begin to operate in 2023. In the Port of Thessaloniki we are developing the area of the 6th pier. The tender is in progress and within 2021 the start of the projects is foreseen that will double the container capacity of the Port.
The connection of the Port of Thessaloniki with Greece’s excellent national network of highways is on a good footing. The tender is in progress and this year the relevant construction contract is expected to be signed.
The connection of the Port with the national railway network is equally important and with its completion the Port will connect with the most important markets in Greece and the Balkans.
The upgrade of Macedonia Airport was recently completed and major highway projects are also being planned. It is estimated that in 2020 there will be a contractor to start several 4-year projects.
Apart from these great public works, as Deputy Regional Head of the Metropolitan Unit of Thessaloniki, I manage the programs of the Sustainable Urban Development Strategy with projects that are steadily being completed that will change the urban identity of the city.
Our country went through a difficult period with the harsh memoranda – and as we began to emerge from the economic crisis, the pandemic slammed the brake of economic growth. But through it all we stood tall and bravely and Thessaloniki is regaining its strength. It is becoming a magnet attracting visitors and investments, and we look to the future with optimism.