Lying on the ancient trade route linking the Adriatic with Istanbul, Thessaloníki has long held a confluence of cultures. This vibrant port city was only incorporated into the modern Greek state in 1912—almost a century after the rest of Greece was liberated from the Ottoman Empire. Although a devastating fire destroyed much of the city in 1917, echoes of its former occupants crop up everywhere: in Roman ruins, Byzantine chapels, Ottoman baths and crumbling synagogues. Until the Second World War, \"the Jerusalem of the Balkans\" had a sizable Jewish population, centered around Ladadika, a commercial district opposite the port. The old shipping warehouses have since been converted into fashionable restaurants and clubs.
With its high density of museums and monuments (there are 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites), Greece’s second city is a cultural powerhouse. Global artists come for the Dimitria Festival (held every summer since 1966, but it originally dates back to the Byzantine era); the Thessaloníki International Film Festival each November; and the Biennale of Contemporary Art, with exhibitions in such spaces as a disused hammam, mosque and slaughterhouse. The iconoclastic mayor, Yiannis Boutaris, has made a point of celebrating the city’s cultural diversity, encouraging a new wave of digital startups, designers and social enterprises to flourish.