The Big Projects That Will Transform Thessaloniki

From the long-overdue modernization of its airport to the prospect of a brand new metro system finally reaching completion, the city has many reasons to feel good about its future.

Thessaloniki International Airport

For years, visitors’ arriving at Thessaloniki’s rather shoddy and depressing airport were underwhelmed by the experience. However, the airport’s new operator, Fraport Greece, is putting into motion a modernization program that will radically improve operations and capacity.

This includes the construction of a new terminal, the renovation of the existing one and significant increases in the number of check-in desks, baggage claim belts and gates. In all, the plan promises to make travel to and from Thessaloniki easier and more pleasant.

Eleftherias (LIBERTY) Square

Currently a public parking lot, one of the city’s most historically significant public squares has been slated for a radical makeover, with the architectural tender completed this year. According to the winning proposal by Themis Chatzigiannopoulos & Partners Architects, the 11,400-sq.m. square, which was built in 1870 as the city’s official entrance for seaborne visitors, will be transformed into a park with tall trees, landscaped greenery, walking paths and ground-level lighting.

The showcase piece will be a 30m-tall “selective sundial” that will indicate markers commemorating major historical events associated with the square, such as the entry of the liberation army in 1912, the Great Fire of 1917, the arrival of refugees from Asia Minor in the 1920s and the public humiliation of Jews in the summer of 1942 by the Nazi occupiers. The design will also highlight a section of the Byzantine wall on the square’s northern perimeter.

Thessaloniki SUBWAY

Already 11 years in the making, Thessaloniki’s first subway line will be 9.6k long, with 13 stations serving an estimated 250,000 passengers a day and reducing traffic in the city center by 63,500 vehicles. There will be 18 driver-less trains and the stations will be equipped with platform screen doors.

Extensions are also being planned to cover the entire city, including the airport. An added bonus is that digging for the subway has brought to light important sites from the city’s Byzantine past, and hundreds of thousands of artifacts as well. Its completion will see three major archaeological sites open to the public, as well as in-station museums that will ultimately change the character of the city center.

Pavlos Melas Metropolitan Park

After the success of Thessaloniki’s waterfront promenade makeover, architectural duo Prodromos Nikiforidis and Bernard Cuomo are taking on another project that is expected to exponentially improve the quality of life in the city: the transformation of the 35-hectare Pavlos Melas military base (established in the late 19th c. and abandoned a decade ago) into a metropolitan park with cultural, athletic and leisure facilities.

More than 2,500 additional trees, including olive, plum, walnut, cherry, loquat, almond, fig and quince trees, will be planted in the park, and the base’s buildings of historical architectural significance will be renovated and function as museums and cultural venues. The first part of the project, slated for completion by the end of 2019, includes the creation of walking paths, shaded seating areas, refreshment stands and artistic installations, while the rest of the project is expected to be completed within 10 years’ time.

Holocaust Museum

Designed by Germany’s Heide & Von Beckerath and Israel’s Efrat-Kowalsky Architects (who also worked together on the Berlin Central and Regional Library), the Holocaust Museum of Thessaloniki “is the fulfillment of a historic responsibility for the city,” according to mayor Yiannis Boutaris, who set the project in motion.

Co-funded by the German state and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the museum will be located at the site of the old railway station where thousands of the city’s Jews were loaded onto cattle trucks for the one-way journey to Nazi death camps almost 75 years ago. The complex will consist of a six-story, 31m-tall glass and metal tower, a lower circular building and a public square. There will be a memorial as well as exhibitions devoted to the city’s Sephardic culture and history. The project is slated for completion in 2020.

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