I had just moved to Thessaloniki and was eager to explore the city. At first sight it seemed like a gray and ugly place, so unfriendly and even scary. Having grown up in a small village that was surrounded by nature this city looked like a really bad idea to me. But i had to stay there as i was going to study what i loved the most (photography that is) and i should be grateful for that. Later on i would find that this city has given me some of the best experiences in my life, some of the most beautiful memories. So many sunsets at the seafront and i could never get enough. I always arranged my afternoon walk just before sunset. I never got bored walking around, discovering new places, old places looked different under a changed mindset. The city is alive, transforming, showing it’s glory to those who believe in it, to those who believe in magic.
And then i saw it…The most beautiful building in this town. Abandoned, unattractive and waste of commercial space as most people would say. But still it stood there, weathered but majestic, standing tall after all this time, in the heart of a concrete city, surrounded by some “modern” 70’s apartment buildings. I just stood there in awe… Looking at the broken windows, absorbing the energy from its core, i was taken back in time. Suddenly everything around me was quiet and all the buildings around had disappeared. I could hear voices…i swear i could see people walking around, taking their hats off to greet each other, dirt roads and horse carriages passing by. A loud car honk, violently shook me back to the present time. For a moment there i had traveled back in time…and that’s how i fell in love…
It was initially built in 1878 by famous architect Xenofon Peonidis, for a wealthy Jewish merchant named Jeborga. Located at Vasilisis Olgas 20 street, this majestic building was then part of the wealthy and multi-ethnic “Exoches” suburb, outside the city walls and was actually right next to the sea like all the luxury mansions in the area. Now there’s more than 200 meter distance from the water and that’s because in 1959 the promenade was extended into the sea in order to create a new front for the city. Also there is little left of the walls and this area is now considered to be part of the city center.
So why is it called the “Salem Mansion”? In 1887, Emmanuel Salem bought the mansion from Jeborga and it would remain his family’s house for 30 years. The Salem family was part of the huge wave of Jewish refugees from Spain. Emmanuel Salem was a well-known lawyer and eminent member of the Jewish Community. His contribution to the city was immense as he founded many major infrastructure enterprises and corporations. As a result he was one of the most important personalities in Thessaloniki at the time and was awarded many honors for his involvement in post-WWI negotiations. During WWI and more specifically in 1915, the Salems leave the city and the mansion is being used as the Consulate of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for a little while. Then it becomes the base for the Italian Consulate, until the great 1978 earthquake hits the city and the Consulate is moved to another location.
Since 1978, it’s been abandoned. The mansion remains a property of the Italian State and though there have been many studies and suggestions for renovation, nothing has gone through. All the doors have been barricaded, some even with brick walls from the inside and a tall fence with barbed wire ensures that no one enters. Entrance is sometimes granted to municipal staff in order to cut the grass which can grow really tall. The only inhabitants of the once majestic courtyard, are stray cats and birds who lend their songs and give life to a long dead place.
An abandoned house in the heart of the city, still standing tall when time has shown no pity
And if you ever stop and stare…It will capture a part of your soul, so beware…
Sit back and enjoy a little slideshow with a selection of 30 photos i took since 2007
Check out my Redbubble store for a selection of Salem Mansion prints: www.redbubble.com/people/v-light
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