The Port of Thessaloniki (also called Salonica) is Greece’s third largest urban center and the capital of the region of Macedonia. Lying on the far northeastern shores of Gulf of Thermai, it is second to Athens as a Greek commercial and industrial center, and it covers the delta plains of the Rivers Gallikos and Vardar.
Much of the economy of the Port of Thessaloniki is based on its free port, but it also contains industries based on machinery, textiles, steel, oil and petrochemicals, cement, flour, pharmaceuticals, and liquor. It is also an important transportation hub for all of southeastern Europe and a gateway to the Balkans. Today, the Port of Thessaloniki is moving from an industrial economy to services. Many of the factories have closed seeking cheaper labor and more favorable taxes. In 2001, almost 364 thousand people lived in municipal Thessaloniki.
Named after Alexander the Great’s half-sister, the Port of Thessaloniki was founded in 316 BC by King Cassander of Macedon. It was the capital for Rome’s Macedonia province, and it held an important military and trade position for Rome on the Adriatic Sea. The Apostle Paul wrote two letters to Christians in the city (books of Thessalonians in the Christian Bible), and the Port of Thessaloniki’s first bishop, Gaius, was a companion to Paul.
Despite attacks by Avars and Slavs in the 6th and 7th Centuries AD, the Port of Thessaloniki prospered under Byzantine rule. In the 8th Century, the Byzantine Emperor Leo III brought the city under the patriarch of Constantinople, removing it from the jurisdiction of the church in Rome.
Between the 8th and 13th Centuries, the Port of Thessaloniki was viciously attacked by Arabs, Normans, Bulgarians, and many other invaders. In 1246, it came under the rule of the revived Byzantine Empire after the Fourth Crusade. Escaping constant harassment from the Ottoman Turks, the Port of Thessaloniki was sold to Venice in 1423. Unfortunately, its freedom was short-lived. Ottoman Sultan Murad II conquered Thessaloniki in a 1430 massacre. At the end of the 15th Century, some 20 thousand Jews emigrated to the city, having been driven out of Spain. The Port of Thessaloniki remained part of the Ottoman Empire for most of the next five centuries.
In 1901, Thessaloniki’s harbor was opened for navigation. In 1904, France and Turkey agreed to set up a French company, Societe Ottomane d’Exploitation du Port de Salonique,” to operate the port.
The Port of Thessaloniki was the headquarters for the Ottoman Liberty Society at the beginning of the 1908 Turkish Revolution. In 1912, the Greek army captured the city without resistance during the First Balkan War, and it became part of the Greek kingdom in 1913. Greece’s King George I was assassinated in Thessaloniki that same year. The Port’s Free Trade Zone was established in 1914, and it started operating in 1925. In 1930, the Thessaloniki Port Fund was established.
During World War I, the Port of Thessaloniki was a base for Allied operations. The Greek premier formed a provisional government here (in opposition to the Greek king in Athens) in 1916, declaring war on Bulgaria and Germany. French soldiers accidentally started a fire in 1917 that destroyed much of the old town, leaving some 72 thousand people homeless.
In 1941, Germany captured the Port of Thessaloniki, and they deported the city’s Jews to be exterminated in concentration camps in Poland. About a thousand of the city’s 25 thousand Jews survived the German onslaught. Allied bombs did serious damage to the city, but the city rebounded fairly quickly, creating new infrastructure and industry from the 1950s to the 1970s.
In 1953, the Board of the Free Trade Zone and the Thessaloniki Port Fund were merged to form the Free Zone and Port of Thessaloniki. In 1970, port management was assigned to the Thessaloniki Port Authority. In 1999, the Thessaloniki Port Authority was incorporated as a public company, and it was listed on the Athens Stock Exchange in 2001.
Today, the busy Port of Thessaloniki exports chrome, raw and processed agricultural products, and manganese. During the 1960s, a huge industrial complex of oil refineries, steel works, and petrochemical plants was established there. In 1978, the Port of Thessaloniki suffered serious damage from an earthquake. The city’s Christian and Byzantine churches and monuments were recognized on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1988, and the Port of Thessaloniki was the European Capital of Culture in 1997.