Photo Essay: Observing Thessaloniki's urbanity

Before visiting Thessaloniki,  everyone told me how I would be thrilled with its busy vibe, full of cafes, restaurants, and quirky shops, with its people and its food - as most Greek cities promise. A quick Google Images search though didn't seem very pleasing to the eyes, yet I trusted the enthusiastic and positive feedback I received from both friends and strangers. With my backpack and camera ready, I embarked on a week-long visit to experience  the renowned Thessaloniki.

From day one of exploring this big university town and with my great interest in visually seeking details that the everyday routine dismisses, I began to photograph the urban life of Thessaloniki. 

The following is a collection of images I took that go beyond Thessaloniki's famous White Tower, to an observation of its urban element and how the locals experience it. Focusing on the city's textures; marble, concrete, water, and stone, this photo essay shows how to alternatively observe Thessaloniki. Through noticing how the locals interact with the cityscape, we gain a peek into its history and culture.

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A street vendor walks through a back street of Thessaloniki's center, where grafitti messages decorate the walls. This quiet street held a variety of buildings; tall concrete blocks of flats (top right) to neoclassical houses (left), as a part of Thessaloniki is an amalgamation of architectural designs due to 1917's fire that destroyed two thirds of the city.

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Being a seaside city, the harbor is one of the main attraction points for both visitors and locals. Large crowds walk along the sea front daily, throughout all seasons, making water a primary element in Thessaloniki. Even on damp days, like the day this shot was taken, people strolled by the port to visit the many museums near by, such as the Museum of Photography and the Cinema Museum. Eager to enjoy the sunset, I joined a few other photographers wanting to capture its reflection and the silhouettes in this big rain puddle.

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A woman tries to avoid the puddles whilst heading towards the pathway to see the sunset by the harbor. The cobbly ground expresses the antiquity of the old part of town that remained untouched even after Thessaloniki's reconstruction. Historical buildings, Byzantine churches and monuments from the Ottoman empire are lavishly spread around this area, reminding the flâneur of the town's history.

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I visited the Eptapyrgion, a Byzantine and Ottoman-era fortress situated on the top of the town, that acted as a view point until the 19th century when it was turned into a prison. Today it functions as museum, a gateway into its dense history where prisonners spent their days. During mid day, the sun was shooting its rays on Eptapyrgio's many corners, making this sharp shadow on old stone wall, as two workers cleaned the yard. It's certainly encouraging to see that this grand monument is being maintained as it hits a mark in Thessaloniki's identity.

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Compact buildings with varied architectural styles a few roads up from the old Roman theatre. The mixed urban landscape relates back to the city's reconstruction after the big fire. Thessaloniki currently holds a blend of old, modern, Roman and neoclassical architecture which can be see in every corner of the city.

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Sundays are busy days for Thessaloniki as most people go out for a meal, a coffee, a walk or to catch a street performer. Of the busiest streets is the pathway on Nikis Avenue by the sea, reminding the stroller how evident the water element is there, as the pedestrian path is all along the sea front.

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This street vendor (among many others that vend the same product) is selling a traditional Greek round bread, koulouri, which is the ultimate breakfast or snack on-the-go in many places in Greece. Thessaloniki is no exception. The bread is light and covered in sesame seeds and promises to be fresh.

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The markets compose an important and solid factor of Thessaloniki, where many locals buy their daily goods. This food market, called Modiano, is one of the four main markets, and it sells meat, fish, dairy, and vegetables. 80 years standing, Modiano market was the hustle and bustle of the city center and today it even hosts a few taverns. When I asked this friendly fishmerman to take a photo of his stand, he also let me take a photo holding one of the fish; it was a slimy encounter.

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Inside a worry beads/prayer beads shop, I found a series of handcdrafted komboloya,  distinctive Greek items used during prayers or as a pass time. The shopowner welcomed me excitedly explaining the different kinds of komboloi; the prayer bead for more a spiritual significance and the worry bead, a shorter one for leisure, usually used by men.