No one can pass by Thessaloniki without hearing about the Great Fire that destroyed the city back in 1917. Living here for a while, it has become more and more interesting for me to discover those parts of the city that have escaped that destruction. It is also interesting to see how they have been changing their purpose throughout the years.
During Open House Thessaloniki 2018, I had the opportunity to visit some of those buildings. Together with some friends, I enjoyed the guided tours held by the volunteers of Open House.
Some of the participants enjoying the guided tours
In the area close to Plateia Emporiou a bunch of constructions survived the Great Fire. In Edessa street, most of the buildings used to be traditional inns, dating back to mid-19th Century. They would host merchants stopping by Thessaloniki to carry on their activities, or travellers on their way to another place.
On the ground floor they used to host the animals of the guests, the most common means of transport back then. A space for the customers to drink and eat was also usually there. The upper floor was occupied by the rooms where the guests would sleep. Having the animals downstairs was also a way to warm up the rooms in the colder months.
Neoclassical architecture is common among most buildings in that area. Anyway, each has its peculiarities, which are probably much more visible nowadays after restoration and renovation interventions. We visited two of them that are currently open to the public: Ypsilon and Bensousan Han.
Ypsilon is nowadays an art café, that a group of six creative people opened in 2017. On the ground floor is the bar, and its wide spaces are able to host many people. The upper floor is occupied by offices and spaces for exhibitions. The renovation tried to combine a modern urban design with the original features of the building. The result is an interesting union of pipes and nets with the original brick walls, iron columns and decorated ceilings.
Photos of Ypsilon by Marinella Marinelli & Arianna Salan
Bensousan Han, across the street from Ypsilon, is a heterogeneous space that currently hosts different activities. Of its two entrances, the main one leads to a shop where a huge variety of things are sold. The upper floor and the basement provide a perfect set for photo shooting, workshops, and anything that can tease the curiosity of the owner, who rents this spaces to people carrying on different activities.
The place, built as an inn, was later used as a shop, and it’s still furnished with wooden shelves from the past century. The owner even showed us some of the items that were resting on these shelves when he took over the activity, namely some little jars of spices that could date back to the 1950s or so.
The small left entrance leads to the upper floor, which used to host the inn’s rooms. Here the different spaces follow one another in a very unusual display around a central spot, which brings a lot of light from the roof. Being so scenographic, the place is perfect for exhibitions and performances, and it is actually possible to rent it for that.
Photos of Bensounsan Han by Arianna Salan
Going deeper in the history of a city and of its spaces make people feel more welcome. Open House was a great occasion to know more about buildings we may pass by every day without reflecting on their history and their current potential. This is also part of the process of a city becoming “home”.