Thessaloniki as seen in the writings of travelers

THESSALONIKI – Ukrainian traveler Basile Barski, who visited Thessaloniki in 1729, likened the city to Rome. American writer Herman Melville, visiting the city in 1856, compared it with New York’s slums. In the 1980s, Belgian linguist Sophie Basse said it was like a set from a Fellini film. These are just some of the impressions of Thessaloniki gained by travelers over the past six centuries and compiled by poet Sakis Serefas for the 2003 calendar of the Thessaloniki book shop and publishing house Paratiritis, titled «A Foreigner’s Thessaloniki.» Travelers of the 13th, 16th and 19th centuries, French, British and Italian soldiers, historians, philosophers, novelists, commentators and journalists who walked its streets in the 20th century, all saw the city differently. British newspaper publisher H. Collinson Owen saw «strange people in abominable streets.» «Notorious Salonica is like the point of a needle,» wrote British army captain A.Z. Mann, in a description similar to the many by the French, British and Italian soldiers who were inspired by multicultural city that was Thessaloniki in 1916-1917. The calendar has a text for every week of 2003 and a poem for every month, all illustrated by Thessaloniki artists and revealing the city’s history and character through the impressions of foreign visitors. For soldiers, it was a place of entertainment and relaxation, for travelers from the Balkans, a city in which they found many familiar cultural characteristics. Westerners saw an exotic place with Mediterranean and Eastern elements, both positive and negative. British traveler Henry Holland (1821) saw an unhygienic city and its bazaars, American missionaries Dwight and Schauffler its Greek and Turkish schools, while the Serbian ambassador to Britain described the prisoners locked up in the White Tower. French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, writing at the Ritz Hotel on August 28, 1937, was favorably impressed, in contrast to the image of the «poor» postwar city described by his compatriot, the writer and journalist Jean Cau and British writer Francis King. Another French writer and university lecturer, Jean Roudeau, described «half-dead» churches amid seven-story apartment buildings, the city of 1960 eating up the old town. In the same decade, French writer Jacques Lacarriere enthused about his long walks through the streets of the old town with Nikos Gavriil Pedzikis, with whom he spent many pleasant hours in the city. And in the 1990s, French writer Georges Olivier Chateaureynaud, looking for traces of the old town, finally discovered «time passing slowly by in an old-fashioned cafe.»

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