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Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950 Paperback – May 9, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Situated on the Aegean where two mountain ranges meet, Salonica has a unique geographical location, which promoted the rich confluence of cultures that once characterized the city. Part travelogue, part history and part cultural study, this is a splendid tour of the fortunes and misfortunes of this Balkan city. Drawing on a wealth of archival documents, Mazower (The Balkans; Dark Continent) weaves a lavish tapestry illustrating the tangled history of Salonica, which began as a Hellenistic urban center in 315 B.C. and flourished through the Middle Ages as a Greek Orthodox city. In 1430, the Ottoman Empire commenced a rule that lasted until 1912. By the end of the 15th century, Salonica had a large influx of Jews who had fled persecution in Spain. Mazower eloquently points out that these "peoples of the Book" largely tolerated and learned from one another, even though rivalry sometimes erupted into street fights, civil wars and power struggles. A series of civil wars in the 19th century returned the city to the Greeks, and the fall of the Ottoman Empire after WWI turned Salonica into a European city. In addition, the impact of the work of 19th-century Christian missionaries, along with the Nazis' removal of Jews, left Salonica bereft of its rich religious pluralism and multiethnic heritage. Mazower's graceful, evocative prose, his deft attention to details and his empathetic presentation of all sides of the story add up to a magnificent tale of this unique city. 32 pages of illus., eight in color; 10 maps.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

The city of Thessaloniki, or Salonica, is a port city in northern Greece that apparently emerged as a polity under the reign of Phillip of Macadon in the fourth century B.C.E. In the Hellenistic and Roman eras, the city became a vibrant, cosmopolitan commercial center sitting astride the trade routes to Africa and Asia. Under the Byzantine Empire, the city was a center of humanistic learning and theological debate, coming under Ottoman control in 1430. Mazower's illuminating and surprising account focuses on the city from the commencement of Ottoman rule to the Nazi occupation. Despite the claims of Greek nationalists, Ottoman rule was relatively benign, as Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived, worked, and often prospered together. When the city reverted to Greek control in 1912, the consensus started to dissolve. Muslims left or were expelled, and resentment against Jews increased. Under the Nazis, Jews, perhaps, 20 percent of the population, were deported en masse to concentration camps. A vivid but ultimately tragic light shed on a vanished urban civilization. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 9, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375727388
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375727382
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,556 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Thessalonika, or "Salonica," in this book, is the second city of Greece and-as in Athens, the capital-there has been a self-conscious attempt to bring the classical and Byzantine past to the forefront. In the center of the city is the ancient arch built to honor the Roman Emperor Galerius who defeated the Persians. There is a new museum devoted to the Byzantines and when a traveler departs from the train station, the locals might ask if "Constantinople" is the destination.

There are some hints of a less homogenized past. For example, there are places that serve Anatolian food or Turkish-style ice cream and there is the Ottoman-built White Tower near the waterfront as well as some disused Turkish baths. And, of course, the boyhood home of Mustafa Kemal, or Atatürk, is a great tourist attraction. Still there are few remnants of the Ottoman Turks and even fewer of a Jewish community that was one of the largest in Europe. Today Salonica appears to be purely Greek and Christian. Symbolic of this is the university built on the site of the old Jewish cemetery.

So, it is ironic that in recent years Salonica has been praised for its "multicultural" history. Mark Mazower writes about the period from 1430 to the 1950s when the city really was multicultural; when this historically Christian city was ruled by Muslims and the largest community was Jewish.

Ottoman rule began when Sultan Murad II conquered the city after, legend says, a dream in which Allah told him that Salonica was his to take. Christians watched as the Ottomans changed Byzantine churches into mosques and welcomed in large numbers of Sefardim Jews who were fleeing persecution in Spain.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Salonika was an anachronism. Unlike most of Europe, where nations had been formed around a major city or a capital, and where ethnic and religious minorities had been absorbed, expelled, killed, or at least marginalized in some fashion, in Salonika different groups lived shoulder to shoulder for over 400 years.

Mazower tells the story. First we get Greeks, then Turks, then after 1492 Spanish (and Portugese and Italian) Jews (speaking Ladino, Judeo-Spanish). The first half of the book describes the communities, daily lives, interactions.

More communities developed. Sabbatai Zevi declared himself Messaiah, won a following, converted to Islam, and his followers, well, followed him. "Donme" or "Apostates" (the descendants of these Jewish converts to Islam) remained a distinct part of Salonika's fabric. Albanians arrived. And eventually Bosnians and Bulgarians as well (there is dispute over whether they should be called Bulgarians or Macedonian Slavs).

The first half of the book is jumpy. It is not organized chronologically. Primary document spellings are not followed by modern equivalents. There are insufficient maps. It makes for slow reading. But Mazower hit his stride around 1700. The history begins to flow chronologically. And he tells history as an engaging story. Modern is definitely his period. And the more modern, the better he gets.

He includes details that would be easy to gloss over. The story is complex. Mazower makes it flow, and makes it clear, and makes it engaging.

The book ends with two major chapters: the Nazi extermination of almost the entire Jewish population of the city is told with great detail. The Greek Civil War seems to be strangely tacked on, with little detail, and little of Mazower's flair. But it hardly takes away from the book's overall strength.
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Format: Paperback
Salonica, City of Ghosts functions well both as a history of Thessaloniki and as a meditation about nationalism. There is a lot to learn, particularly in Europe, from this city which has served as a home for so many cultures.

Mazower's book begins with the Hellanistic origins of Salonica and takes it and the reader through years of conquest and recapture beginning with the Ottoman victory in 1430. The book ends with the aftermath of World War II and the birth of the city which we know today. Mazower has a very clear point to make about the way in which conquest becomes an act of erasure and forgetting. The subject of national identity is the thread that ties the pages of the book together.

Salonica is very complete and thorough. The pictures selected are appropriate and illustrative and the notes helpful. Mazower is a good writer. I was not as engaged with the book as the material warranted-- Mazower can have a very dry tone which does not always welcome the reader into the work.

Recommended for anyone with an interest in Greek or Turkish history. This should also appeal to readers with a general interest in the subject of nationalism and national identity.
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Mark Mazower breathes life into a place completely swept away by the conflicts of the 20th century. Masterfully written and eminently readable despite its size, Professor Mazower's work provides depth of detail and real context to all the cross-currents of culture and politics at play, of which he clearly has a profound understanding. While he does show a sympathy toward the much-maligned Ottoman Empire, the effort convincingly argues that the commonly held perception of the Empire in the 18th & 19th century as a decrepit, dysfunctional state was not deserved. He brings to life the lost Turkish presence, as complex as it was often ruthless, the once thriving predominantly-Jewish city the Greeks have willfully buried and forgotten and the substantial Slavic component in the surrounding provinces that dated back to their arrival in the 6th century. He handles the volatile period between the tragic dispossession of the local Turks and the arrival of the horribly tormented Greeks of Asia Minor with great sensitivity by focusing instead on the tragedy of individuals instead of faceless masses. The final chapter is devoted to the Nazi annihilation of the Jews and the city's subsequent metamorphosis into a completely Greek metropolis consciously revising its identity in the older Hellenic context. The singular glaring lapse of this work lies in the author's gratuitous swipes at Greek and Jewish national aspirations, as alluded to by another reviewer below. Somehow, Ottoman hegemony and its destruction of the Classical world it usurped trumps the desires of others who followed it (or more accurately, preceded it). The author seems unable to reasonably reconcile this inconsistency.
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