On this day in 2004, the Summer Olympics began in Athens – with the motto ‘Welcome Home’. The 2004 Olympics marked the return of the Games to the city where they began. The Games of the XXVIII Olympiad, commonly known as Athens 2004, was a premier international multi-sport event and were hailed as “unforgettable, dream games” by IOC President Jacques Rogge, and left Athens with a significantly improved infrastructure, including a new airport, ring road, and subway system.
On this day in 1960, the Republic of Cyprus gained independence from the UK after the long and bloody anti-British campaign by the Greek-Cypriot EOKA (National Organization of Cypriot Fighters), a guerilla group which desired political union (enosis) with Greece. Archbishop Makarios III, a charismatic religious and political leader, was elected the first president of independent Cyprus. In 1961, it became the 99th member of the UN.
Also on this day in 1943, the population of the village of Kommeno in Western Greece was massacred by the Nazis. During the Axis Occupation of Greece during World War II, the village was torched and 317 of its inhabitants were executed indiscriminately (men, women and children – 74 of them under the age of 10). Thankfully, almost half of the village’s population managed to escape by swimming across the Arachthos river. Today, the names of the 317 villagers who were killed are recorded on a marble monument in the village’s main square.
On this day in 1917, the Great Fire in Thessaloniki started which destroyed more than 30% of the city. Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, was left with more than 70,000 homeless people (52,000 Jews, 11,000 Muslims and 10,000 Christians). The fire burned for 32 hours and destroyed 9,500 houses. Half of the Jewish population emigrated from the city as their livelihoods were gone. It is said that it was a spark from a homemade stove falling on a pile of straw at a refugees’ hovel that started the fire.