All about the Salem Mansion

 

Introduction

 

front view on a snowy day
front view on a snowy day

  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…

History

 

   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.

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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…

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Sit back and enjoy a little slideshow with a selection of 30 photos i took since 2007

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Check out my Redbubble store for a selection of Salem Mansion prints: www.redbubble.com/people/v-light

 

All rights reserved © V-Light

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35 thoughts on “All about the Salem Mansion

    1. Thank you very much my friend! I hope in the near future they’ll decide to renovate it, keeping all it’s original characteristics and give it a good use. It’s a shame to just leave it there…

  1. It’s one of my fave old houses around the city! 😀 GReat shots and I enjoyed the wonderful photos. You have captured the soul of this place.

    1. Thank you very much! 😀 Glad to hear that there are more people out there who appreciate this beauty! I don’t know if i captured the soul of this place…the place certainly captured a part of my soul for sure 😉

  2. So very interesting but at the same time sad. This building of character surrounded by buildings with no heart. Surely someone can save this before it is beyond repair? Are you using this for a photography project? The photos are superb – ruin gets response from photographers. Tate had an exhibition examining artists’ and photographers’ responses to ruins.

    1. There have been talks to have the building restored but Greek economy is really bad now and i don’t think there is much hope for it. There are many such buildings in the heart of the city that are just left to rot. Most are declared as hazards and are demolished for safety reasons. In my eyes it is a crime, cause these buildings are architectural and historical gems. I have a big interest in photographing such places and i was planning to make a project with all the material i have but there has been no interest here…They do not appreciate what they have, that’s why Greece is in such a place. I will be moving to Austria in September and i hope that maybe i could do something there with these photos, an exhibition would be great 🙂

        1. Thank you Diana 🙂 I’m looking forward to moving to Austria, seeing all the new places and taking many many photos so i can post stuff regularly 😀

      1. Your photographs are wonderful. You will understand my interest in the mansion by my name! My father left Salonica in about 1913 and I am researching our connection. I’ll find your website to buy a print.
        Thanks for this valuable historical photographic record.
        Alan

        1. Hello dear Alan,

          I’m sorry for the late reply, your comment was somehow automatically filtered as spam by WordPress, i fixed it now. Thank you so much for your kind words, it really means a lot to me, especially coming from a person who has a deeper connection to this wonderful building! I’m really honored that you also chose to buy one of my prints! Thank you! If you’d like a signed print let me know, see if we can arrange it somehow 🙂 Hope you have a lovely day and thanks for passing by my blog!

          Best regards, Alexandra

          1. Thank you so much. I probably had not registered at that moment. In fact I ordered two pieces from you. I had a small problem, not of your making, related to packaging on the smaller one. Chloe T reacted immaculately and I am about to reply with my choice of replacement. Great service!
            I would love to have this replacement signed by you – I would like the one of the front view on a snowy day if that is OK with you? Will you tell Chloe T or shall I reply to her email?
            I will keep an eye on your site for any other work that you have done with buildings of “old Salonica”
            My father left Salonica as a boy in 1906. Years later, he adopted the White Tower image as the family busniess trade mark. I have an original water colour that he acquired when on his honeymoon trip to show my mother where he grew up.
            With best wishes
            Alan

            1. Hello dear Alan,

              I am very glad you are satisfied with the prints. However i do not have any relation with Redbubble, it’s just a print on demand online shop, they handle the prints when someone orders one and i get just a small percentage of the sale. Unfortunately i cannot even see who buys my prints and therefore cannot contact them. The only way for me to sign one of the prints you already bought would be if you send it to me, i sign it and send it back, which would only cost us both money and time. If you’d like please send me an email at: vlight@live.com, i would like to find a way to send you a signed print. And thank you for sharing some details on your father’s story. Makes me really happy!

              Best regards,

              Alex

        2. Alan, who are you? My name is Rachel Salem Pauley and my family left Salonica around the same time 1913/1914. Are we related? I am named for my great grandmother Rachel Salem who I believe was Emmanuel’s daughter.

            1. There are no news i am afraid. The last time i read something about the house was that it was vandalized and decorative parts were stolen. The Greek government is trying to make a deal with the Italian government who owns the house, in order for renovations to take part but this story is going on for years now… Let’s hope for the best!

              1. Wow i wonder how they got in there. The bars were incredibly high to climb up on. I wish it is still in place when i next visit. And i always hoped somebody would go in it not for vandalizing but giving us an image of how it is from inside

                1. There are ways to get into the yard, they can easily cut the fence on the back side, there are no bars there… But the house itself is locked. I sent a letter to the mayor asking for permission to photograph the house from inside but i never got an answer. Now i don’t live in Greece anymore but i hope on my next visit i could somehow make it happen and complete my project 🙂

        3. To all of you here, interested in this marvellous house and part of Emmanuel Salem´s story ,
          Sealed Letters 1850-1917 is ready!!!
          You will find the book inside Amazon
          Sealed letters 1850-1917- Dora Openheim
          you can find me at opendor@uol.com.br
          or facebook Cartas lacradas/Dora Openheim-
          I hope that this story will bring some memories from Salonica to all of you…
          regards,Dora

    2. This beautiful house is not just a symbol of great architecture, it is a house that represent Humanity and mercy. During ww2 many Jews were saved from being transported to the concentration camps and the death in the gas chambers. The Italian consuls Zamboni and Castruccio showed a great deal of courage by supplying hundreds of Jews with false documents, which permit them to travel to the Italian occupied zone and survive. This house should be converted to a museum to memorize those brave consuls and their stuff who saved so many Jews during a horrible and insane era.

  3. I visited last September and after having read your article I had to find it. It’s magical – how I wish I could go inside just to see it. The fences/wires were far too high up. It would be a heartbreak if they tear it down – they need to take care of such a landmark.

    1. First of all thank you for taking the time to leave me a comment and second, it makes me happy that my article made you interested in this majestic building. It is a shame indeed that it is left to decay like that. I recently read somewhere that supposedly someone bought it and will renovate it but such stories have come out many times before and nothing ever happened. It is a big wish of mine as well to enter this building but as you probably have seen it is impossible to get in without getting into some real trouble… Well i can only wish that if somebody actually buys it, they will respect and renovate it in a way that it won’t lose its historical value.

      1. Your absolutely right but don’t forget it’s already been bought by the Italian embassy and two they know the historical value of the place which is why they won’t sell it. It is a landmark plus its on an important street. Shame to see it decay. Magestic indeed.

  4. Dear Alex, today I saw the beautiful photo you did from Salem´s house.I am a Brazilian author, and I wrotte a book which tells all the story about Emmanuel Salem, since the time at the end of the XIX century,when Salonica was part of the Ottoman Empire,and Baron Maurice de Hirsch hired Salem´s expertise, on the time of the construction of the Orient Express, were he was one of the lawyers on Maitre Grassi´s office..It is an entresting research and an amazing book based on letters and memories.A best seller in Portuguese and an historical ellegy to Salonica and the 3 religions living toguether in peace on the same streets”.Sealed Letters-1850-1917- is translated now into English.and waiting for an editor to publish in Europe.I would be very happy if I will send you a copy of the manuscript.My best wishes Dora Openheim-Anastassiadis

    1. Hello dear Dora, thank you for your lovely message and sorry for the late reply. Please check your emails, i have send you an answer there 😀 Best regards, Alex

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