In the early afternoon of a hot and windy August day in 1917, a woman was frying aubergines.
It proved to be a fatal choice… A spark from her stove inflamed a nearby barn and the rest is history. An uncontrolled fire ravaged Thessaloniki for thirty-two hours, burning down two-thirds of the city and changing its face for ever.
It is a different city I walk in on a late spring morning, that is for sure. To my eyes, Thessaloniki is a city of merchants. A port and a hub. A place of mixity, decline, resurrection, trade and culture with an unbroken history of more than two thousand years.
I walk up from the train station onto Olymbou street, dotted with a multitude of interesting shops and leading all the way to the Rotonda.
The Rotonda. Once a pagan, then Christian and later a Muslim place of worship. I grew up with the round temple being concealed by scaffolding. It almost became a joke. Nowadays however, it is open and definitively worth a visit.
After the Rotonda, the most natural thing to do is to make a 90 degree-turn, head down on Navarinou street all the way to the sea-front, enjoying the smell of praline-filled crepes suspended in the air.
Somehow, this is where I can best feel the pulse of the city, its heart beating the strongest. Here where for centuries people have been interacting, exchanging and labouring for their daily bread.
Sit down, have a drink, enjoy a bite and take in the humility that comes with contemplating this intricate mosaic of past, present and future.