Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917 - The City Before The Fire

The City Before The Fire

Thessaloniki was one of the largest and most modern cities in western Europe by Balkan standards at the time of the fire. By European standards, the city's planning was chaotic and the unhygeinic conditions that prevailed in the poorer areas were described as "unacceptable" by the government in Athens. The city's harbour was one of the most important centres of trade in the region. In 1912 the city, along with the biggest part of Macedonia and Epirus, was incorporated in Greece. The population of the city was essentially maintained: the larger part of the population were Sephardi Jews, followed by Turks, Greeks, Bulgarians, Roma and others.

As soon as World War I began in 1914, Greece maintained neutrality. With authorization by the government, Entente Forces had landed troops in Thessaloniki in 1915, in order to support their Serb allies in the Macedonian Front. In 1916, the Movement of National Defence began in Thessaloniki and shaped a provisional government, essentially dividing Greece into two sovereign states, one represented by Eleftherios Venizelos, and the other by King Constantine. After King Constantine abdicated in July, 1917, Greece was reunified again.

Thessaloniki soon became a transit center for Allied troops and supplies, and the city filled with thousands of French and British soldiers, numbering up to 100,000. The population of the city at the time is dubious, with some sources claiming around 150,000 and others 278,000. French navy official Dufour de la Thuillerie writes in his report that "I saw Thessaloniki, a city of more than 150,000 people, burn".

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