Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thessaloniki. My vision for the city.

Thessaloniki is strategically located in the northern Greek region of Macedonia, around the gulf of Thermaicos. During it's long history it has always been the capital, or the second most important city of any state it belonged. Until now, it is one of the most important cities not only in Greece, but in the whole Balkans. Although in my opinion it could do so much more, in pan-European level.

Thessaloniki is located near the resorts of Chalkidiki, with some of the nicest beaches in Greece.Yet they remain undiscovered and undeveloped even in some regions. It is also near many Ski resorts in Greece especially the natural ski platform of Falakro Mountain near the borders with Bulgaria, so it offers opportunities for tourism both in summer and in winter.It is not by chance that it was in Thessaloniki that EU leaders gathered in a summit to discuss the future and possible EU membership of the western Balkans.

Thessaloniki has two universities, one international film festival where many international stars appear each year and the alternative gay film festival. An opera house where artists like Pavarotti and Ian Gillan of Deep Purple gave concerts with Thessaloniki's Municipal Orchestra. The T.I.F. (Δ.Ε.Θ.) Thessaloniki International Fair, where companies and businessmen gather form all over the world to trade every year, plus a Casino and hotels like Hyatt Regency and Kepinski .

The British Council, the Goethe Institute and the French Institute are already settled in town,with thousands of students each year promoting English, German and French language and culture to it's youth. Most young Thessalonians are multilingual, speaking at least one other language than their own.

There's also a Zoo, many hospitals and especially the Trans-Balkan Medical Center, the largest hospital in all the Balkans and a European research institute CEDEFOP. But most importantly the city's  port.

The port of Thessaloniki was used during the Yugoslavian war from EU and NATO troops to send staff and equipment to Yugoslavia, and is still used by KFOR troops to this day. It is one of the most important ports in the Balkans, and the second after Pireus in Greece.

The future holds a more strategic role for the city, since the oil pipe coming from Turkey and feeding Europe will pass north of the city. Thessaloniki is close to the Middle East, Turkey, the Balkans, the Black sea and eastern Mediterranean and as Greece is a European country, it could play major role in the future that could benefit both Greece and Europe.

Thessaloniki was always a melting pot with Jews, Armenians, Turks, Slavs, Romans together with other Europeans inhabiting the city together with the Greeks. During the two World wars there were even convents of catholic French nuns in the city, giving the name of some of the streets like Frangon Street and regions of the city like Depot, where the French had their camps and military store houses during the wars. Hence the name Depot, from the French term.

Thus Thessaloniki has all that it takes to create a strong European community, with students from all over Europe going to study there. But also European companies and businesses that want access to the Balkan and Middle Eastern markets can settle there, without having to risk the instability of the other regions. Even a European army could be based in Thessaloniki once it is created, and have control of European borders from the East.

The western part of the city which is rather undeveloped could be the base of all those new companies and new developments. A new larger international airport could make Thessaloniki a major transition city in the Balkans. The existing airport of Thessaloniki is also a military one and once the new airport is opened, it should be reversed into being a Greek and European military airport. Becoming in that way a place of military importance for Europe.

Thessaloniki is also the capital of Gastronomy in Greece, with rich cooking traditions and loads of influences from all the people that passed from the city during the centuries. Restaurants, Cafes, Buildings, Churches, Patisseries ,Boulangeries, Delicatessen from all over Europe could be established there in a newly built region of the city, since Thessaloniki has loads of space for further expansion and development, in contrast to Athens.

So the Thessalonians and all the visitors will have the chance to "taste" Europe, in one of the most southern cities of the continent. It will create a cosmopolitan vibrant city. I think Greece needs other Europeans to enter Greece and push positive reforms in the country and development. A new way of thinking, more progressive and "open" attitude.

Many reforms must be made to achieve this goal and above all continue with the transformation of the city. Finish the Metro system for example and the sub-marine highway that will link the two sides of the town, reducing traffic in the City center. Together with other infrastructure developments, it will take a lot of time, money and effort. But in the end, I think it will worth it.

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