Which city is better Athens or Thessaloniki?

By: | Post date: 2017-08-03 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Modern Greek

What are the main differences, i heard Thessaloniki is more cosmopolitan

Oddly enough, my wife (who is not in any way Greek) spontaneously said Salonica was cosmopolitan when she visited it. So there’s something to that.

The hostility between Athens and Salonica within the Modern Greek state is of very long standing: Salonica was incorporated into Modern Greece in 1913, and three years later it was the capital of a government rivalling Athens during the National Schism.

As with all such rivalries between the First and the Second city or country, it consumes the Second, and is blithely ignored by the First. My relatives in Salonica would mutter darkly to me about how Athens diverted all resources away from the North, and how the Salonica Metro would never finish, and how proud they are that “AMAN The Scumbags” were the only national TV show filmed in Salonica, dammit (and their subsequent incarnation Radio Arvyla still is).

Athens’ reaction to all that, of course, would be… “Oh, they have a TV studio up there? How adorable.”

Michalis Rizos’ answer (one of the very few pro-Athens) points out a truth: Salonica was cosmopolitan before WWI, and for a long time it was the more liberal and progressive of the two cities, but it became insular and downright claustrophobic for a while in the 90s. It is one of the oddities of Greek TV that I watched a quite intelligent and insightful discussion of Salonica’s turning inwards on Themos Anastasiadis’ chat show—in between the strippers and the facile mocking of politicians.

Thessalonica is a much loved and much-sung city. All together now, my fellow Greeks: you all know how these songs go.

My Thessalonica. stixoi.info: Θεσσαλονίκη μου. Lyrics: Christos Kolokotronis. Music: Manolis Hiotis. 1955. Singers: Stelios Kazantzidis & Manolis Hiotis.

My Thessalonica, great mother of the poor!
You who give forth the finest people.
My Thessalonica, great mother of the poor!
Wherever I go I have you in my heart!

I’ll never deny you, my Thessalonica!
You’re my home, I say it and I feel proud!

Beautiful Thessalonica. stixoi.info: Όμορφη Θεσσαλονίκη. Lyrics & Music: Vasilis Tsitsanis. 1950. Singer: Glykeria.

You’re the pride of my heart,
sweet, beautiful Thessalonica.
And even if I live in Athens the temptress,
I sing of you every evening.

Oh! Beautiful Thessalonica!
Oh! How I miss your magical evenings!

Salonicans don’t love it when Athenians love her patronisingly (“the most romantic city of the Balkans”), but Salonica is lovely and loveable. There was a brief time around 2008 when I fell out of love with her (stumbling over Salonica Metro roadworks), but the restoration of the beachside promenade has made her the true Queen of Cities once again. My Salonican coauthor and I ended up dedicating our monograph to her.

Athens? Poor Athens. If you veer off the tourist haunts in Plaka and wander the backstreets, you’ll see that Athens used to be lovely once too, in the 1890s. But Athens is now a machine for living in, much like a Le Corbusier edifice. It has nice bits. And it has the fearsome heritage of the Classics. But it doesn’t gel into something lovable, like Salonica does. It’s too busy encompassing half the population of a country.

It’s true that there are plenty of songs about Athens too; stixoi.info: Αναζήτηση στίχων ( αθήνα ). I just didn’t know any of them. Many of them struck the same tone as those two Salonica hits I posted. Yet this song—another I’d never heard of, even if it was sung by the inevitable George Dalaras—gives you a taste of what a mixed blessing the town is. A very brackish taste. Ignore the panegyric highlight images of the vid, and pay attention to the lyrics.

Athens. stixoi.info: Αθήνα. Lyrics: Sotia Gatsou. Music: Christos Gartzos. 1978. Singer: George Dalaras.

I know a town where the ashphalt burns
and you’ll find no tree shade.
Great history, important ancestors,
the lantern of the world, and its tomb.

Athens, you remind me of a woman sobbing
because nobody desires her.
Athens, Athens, I die with you
and you die with me.

I know a town in the new Sahara,
a desert full of concrete.
Foreign fleets, smuggled cigarettes,
and children who don’t know how to play hide and seek.

I know a town in the land of the Abyss,
an island of pirates and winds.
In the streets of Plaka you sell your body
for one glass of wine.

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