Salonica, City of Ghosts is an evocation of the life of a vanished city and an exploration of how it passed away. Under the rule of the Ottoman sultans, one of the most extraordinary and diverse societies in Europe lived for five centuries amid its minarets and cypresses on the shore of the Aegean, alongside its Roman ruins and Byzantine monasteries. Egyptian merchants and Ukrainian slaves, Spanish-speaking rabbis-refugees from the Iberian Inquisition-and Turkish pashas rubbed shoulders with Orthodox shopkeepers, Sufi dervishes and Albanian brigands. Creeds clashed and mingled in an atmosphere of shared piety and messianic mysticism. How this bustling, cosmopolitan and tolerant world emerged and then disappeared under the pressure of modern nationalism is the subject of this remarkable book.
The historian Mark Mazower, author of the greatly praised Dark Continent, follows the city's inhabitants through the terrors of plague, invasion and famine, and takes us into their taverns, palaces, gardens and brothels. Drawing on an astonishing array of primary sources, Mazower's vivid narrative illuminates the multicultural fabric of this great city and describes how its fortunes changed as the empire fell apart and the age of national enmities arrived. In the twentieth century, the Greek army marched in, and fire and world war wrought their grim transformation. Thousands of refugees arrived from Anatolia, the Muslims were forced out, and the Nazis deported and killed the Jews. This richly textured homage to the world that went with them uncovers the memory of what lies buried beneath Salonica's prosperous streets and recounts the haunting story of how the three great faiths that shared the city were driven apart.
Starred Review. Situated on the Aegean where two mountain ranges meet, Salonica has a unique geographical location, which promoted the rich confluence of cultures that once characterized the city. Part travelogue, part history and part cultural study, this is a splendid tour of the fortunes and misfortunes of this Balkan city. Drawing on a wealth of archival documents, Mazower (The Balkans; Dark Continent) weaves a lavish tapestry illustrating the tangled history of Salonica, which began as a Hellenistic urban center in 315 B.C. and flourished through the Middle Ages as a Greek Orthodox city. In 1430, the Ottoman Empire commenced a rule that lasted until 1912. By the end of the 15th century, Salonica had a large influx of Jews who had fled persecution in Spain. Mazower eloquently points out that these "peoples of the Book" largely tolerated and learned from one another, even though rivalry sometimes erupted into street fights, civil wars and power struggles. A series of civil wars in the 19th century returned the city to the Greeks, and the fall of the Ottoman Empire after WWI turned Salonica into a European city. In addition, the impact of the work of 19th-century Christian missionaries, along with the Nazis' removal of Jews, left Salonica bereft of its rich religious pluralism and multiethnic heritage. Mazower's graceful, evocative prose, his deft attention to details and his empathetic presentation of all sides of the story add up to a magnificent tale of this unique city. 32 pages of illus., eight in color; 10 maps.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 07, 2006
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Excerpt from Salonica, City of Ghosts by Mark Mazower
Before the city fell in 1430, it had already enjoyed seventeen hundred years of life as a Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine metropolis. Sometimes it had flourished, at others it was sacked and looted. Foreigners had seized it and moved on. Throughout it remained a city whose inhabitants spoke Greek. But of this Greek past, only traces survived the Ottoman conquest. A few Christian survivors returned and saw their great churches turned into mosques. The Hippodrome, forum and imperial palace fell into ruins which gradually disintegrated and slipped beneath the slowly rising topsoil, leaving an invisible substratum of catacombs, crypts and secret passages. In a very different era, far in the future, archaeologists would assign new values to the statues, columns and sarcophagi they found, and new rulers--after the Ottomans had been defeated in their turn--would use them to reshape and redefine the city once more. One thing, however, always survived as a reminder of its Greek origins, however badly it was battered and butchered by time and strangers, and that was its name.
Salonicco, Selanik, Solun? Salonicha or Salonique? There are at least thirteen medieval variants alone; the city is an indexer's nightmare and a linguist's delight. "Is there really a correct pronunciation of Salonika?" wrote an English ex-serviceman in 1941. "At any rate nearly all of us now spell it with a 'k.' " His presumption stirred up a hornet's nest. "Why Saloneeka, when every man in the last war knew it as Salonika?" responded a certain Mr. Pole from Totteridge. "I disagree with W. Pole," wrote Captain Vance from Edgware, Middlesex. "Every man in the last war did not know it as Salonika." Mr. Wilks of Newbury tried to calm matters by helpfully pointing out that in 1937 "by Greek royal decree, Salonika reverted to Thessaloniki." In fact it had been officially known by the Greek form since the Ottomans were defeated in 1912.1
It is only foreigners who make things difficult for themselves, for the Greek etymology is perfectly straightforward. The daughter of a local ruler, Philip of Macedon, was called Thessaloniki, and the city was named after her: both daughter and city commemorated the triumph (niki) of her father over the people of Thessaly as he extended Macedonian power throughout Greece. Later of course, his son, Alexander, conquered much more distant lands which took him to the limits of the known world. There were prehistoric settlements in the area, but the city itself is a creation of the fourth-century BC Macedonian state.
Today the association between the city and the dynasty is as close as it has ever been. If one walks from the White Tower along the wide seafront promenade which winds southeast along the bay, one quickly encounters a huge statue of Megas Alexandros--Alexander the Great. Mounted on horseback, sword in hand, he looks down along the five-lane highway (also named after him) out of town, towards the airport, the beaches and the weekend resorts of the Chalkidiki peninsula. The statue rises heroically above the acrobatic skateboarders skimming around the pedestal, the toddlers, the stray dogs and the partygoers queuing up for the brightly lit floating discos and bars which now circumnavigate the bay by night. It is a magnet for the hundreds who stroll here in the summer evenings, escaping the stuffy backstreets for the refreshment of the sea breeze as the sun dips behind the mountains.
But in 1992, after the collapse of Yugoslavia led the neighbouring republic of Macedonia to declare its independence, Alexander's Greek defenders took to the streets in a very different mood. Flags proliferated in shop-windows, and car stickers and airport banners proclaimed that "Macedonia has been, and will always be, Greek." Greeks and Slavs did battle over the legacy of the Macedonian kings, and Salonica was the centre of the agitation. In the main square, hundreds of thousands of angry protestors were urged on by their Metropolitan, Panayiotatos (His Most Holy) Panteleimon (known to some journalists as His Wildness [Panagriotatos] for the extremism of his language). The twentieth century was ending as it had begun, with an argument over Macedonia, and names themselves had become a political issue in a way which few outside Greece understood.
The irony was that Alexander himself never knew the city named after his half-sister, for it was founded during the succession struggle precipitated by his death. He had a general called Cassander, who was married to Thessaloniki. Cassander hoped to succeed to the Macedonian throne and having murdered Alexander's mother to get there, he founded a number of cities to re-establish his credentials as a statesman. The one he immodestly named after himself has vanished from the pages of history. But that given his wife's name in 315 BC came to join Alexandria itself in the network of new Mediterranean ports that would link the Greek world with the trading routes to Asia, India and Africa.