Almost every day sees a traffic jam forming outside the Turkish Consulate complex on Thessaloniki?s Apostolou Pavlou Street, as students pour off tour buses to take commemorative photographs in front of the plaque bearing the name of the founder of the modern Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, at the place where he once lived, which is today a museum.
According to architect Rena Sakellaridou, tourism from Turkey to the northern port city has been increasing rapidly in recent months thanks to a campaign spearheaded by Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris that has seen 56,200 visitors from the neighboring country in the past 16 months.
This spike in tourism from Turkey means that more and more groups are visiting the former home of the country?s most celebrated politician, says Sakellaridou, who has worked closely with Boutaris in his campaign and is now working on a plan to improve Apostolou Pavlou Street, providing more space to visitors to the historic site.
Sakellaridou?s firm, Sparch, which she set up with her business partner Morpho Papanikolaou, decided to volunteer its time and expertise to the project and to propose to the mayor a series of mild and cost-effective interventions that will upgrade the area around the consulate.
The idea has already started to take shape, and Deputy Mayor Andreas Kourakis, who is in charge of urban planning, told Kathimerini recently that the Apostolou Pavlou project has been included in a broader revamp plan for a number of areas in the city, while the consulate has also decided to contribute financially to the effort.
Sparch has proposed traffic-calming measures on Apostolou Pavlou, along with making the sidewalks wider to make it more pedestrian-friendly.
The design also includes more greenery on the street and highlights a large plane tree that is already on the site. In order to inform visitors of the street?s history, Sparch has installed cement benches that are etched with historical information in three languages. It has also added a fountain and colorful mosaic paving.
The feeling the street is now supposed to exude is one of Oriental hospitality, according to Papanikolaou, who stresses the importance of Apostolou Pavlou, not just as the location of Ataturk?s old home, but also as the thoroughfare connecting the old quarter of the city, Ano Poli, to the 4th century Rotunda of Saint George, which are the other two sites most visited by Turkish tourists.
The Mustafa Kemal Ataturk Museum in the consulate complex was closed down for renovations on June 17 and is expected to reopen to the public either on October 29, to coincide with the anniversary of the declaration of the modern Turkish state in 1923, or on November 29, which is the anniversary of Ataturk?s death in 1938.
The museum contains original furniture and memorabilia belonging to Ataturk, along with objects from the day-to-day life of the Turkish statesman, who was born in the building. The family left in 1888, when Mustafa Kemal was 7. He returned several years later in 1907 with his own family, before leaving for Turkey again in 1912.
In 1933 the City of Thessaloniki bought the building from its new owner and donated it to Ataturk a year before his death in 1938.