The full gamut of architectural styles for a wide range of residents

Around 20 buildings from that elegant neighborhood are now listed for preservation. These structures bear witness to an era of grace, social and economic order in a multiethnic, multicultural Thessaloniki that was open to both the East and the West. They are rare examples of an architectural heritage that managed to escape demolition. Those that have been restored retain their luster, others are dilapidated, but all of them are crammed in among multistory apartment blocks. «That district of mansions is just a sweet memory now. We were all part of one neighborhood, with lovely, large, luxurious houses surrounded by large flowery gardens laid out for strolling and relaxation in shady gazebos. They had wide alleyways, and green gardens full of flowers. There were lots of roses; when they were in bloom it was a fragrant paradise,» Eleni Karadimou told Kathimerini. She moved into the area in the 1930s at the age of 7. She lived in a detached house on what is now Vafopoulou Street, which ran at right angles to the street of mansions, in a spacious modern house that was ahead of its time. It was surrounded by luxury homes such as the famous Casa Bianca, where the Fernandez family lived: «I can still remember the sight of the family’s three beautiful blond children walking in the flower-filled garden with their smartly dressed nanny.» There was also the Siagas mansion («a palace full of luxury, with costly furniture and rugs»), the Mordoch villa (now the Municipal Library), the Floka family’s house with its beautiful garden, the Georgiadis family’s villa, and the home of the Ashaels, a Jewish family who «met the fate of Anne Frank,» said Karadimou. Of the surviving buildings, the oldest is thought to be the one that now houses the National Bank’s Cultural Center (at 108 Vas. Olgas Avenue), and the one next door, Chateau Mon Bonheur, known as the Red Tower. «There is no official record of when the neighborhood was built, but tax documents left over from the Ottoman administration show that the first private estates in the area were those two mansions, which date from 1885,» explained architect Vassilis Kolonas, professor of architecture at Volos University. There was a group of houses outside the southeastern walls of the city before 1890. In the beginning, they were not holiday houses, but houses that overlooked fields and farms. In those days, there were no roads as such, just footpaths and dirt tracks. With the demolition of the wall in 1890 and the fire the same year, the city began to spread out. Well-to-do residents began to seek permanent accommodation east of the city. The seasonal nature of the neighborhood changed in favor of permanent residences when the tramway was established in 1892, and schools, churches and hospitals were founded. A notable feature of the neighborhood is that people settled there freely and not according to ethnic background, in contrast to the city center, where there were Christian, Jewish and Muslim quarters. Anyone who had enough money could choose a place, preferably on the main road, and build as they pleased. Ethnic mix Kolonas mentioned research showing that the population mix was 33 percent Greek, 33 percent Jewish and 33 percent Muslim. The buildings ran the gamut of architectural styles. «The area was rather cut off from the city,» recalled Karadimou. «The tram made it easier for the men to get to work. Women’s lives centered on the neighborhood. We went to school on foot, played in the alleyways, played tennis, went rowing and swam in the sea. We learnt the piano, French, English and German. We had a wonderful life but everything changed with the war. My friends, young Jewish girls, disappeared. Life came back to us in the 1950s, but the area gradually began to change.»