Readers’ wildlife photos

August 23, 2023 • 8:15 am

Well, I have exactly one two-part reader contribution left, including today’s post (part I) from Athayde Tonhasca Júnior.  But beyond that, the tank is dry. Please send in your wildlife photos. (If you already have but they didn’t appear, please resend them.)  Don’t let this feature die!

So, here’s Athayde’s contribution, a portrait of a lovely city whose location in Greece I’ve put below. I spent a few happy days in Thessaloniki while hitchhiking from Athens to Istanbul (after going to the islands and before hitching up through Europe and down to Morocco) in 1973. One story I’ll never forget: my girlfriend and I were staying with an old friend who lived on a farm outside of town. We went to a local taverna and ordered dinner, and then unordered dishes started coming to our table: cucumbers, ouzo, and various foodstuffs. Where did they come from? The mustachioed locals looked at us, smiled, and we realized they were the gift-givers, who surely saw no tourists in the remote establishment.  They then put on music and smashed dishes on the floor, a Greek custom when celebrating. It was a remarkable display of friendship to foreigners.

Here’s Thessaloniki, on the route from Athens to Istanbul.


Walking the streets of Thessaloniki, part I

Thessaloniki, founded around 315 BC and named after princess Thessalonike of Macedon, the daughter of Philip II and half sister of Alexander the Great. The princess’ name in turn was a homage to a Macedonian victory in a battle somewhere in Thessaly (home of Mount Olympus) thanks to the soldiers’ choice of footwear – but some scholars suggest that the name is a composite of ‘Thessaly’ and ‘victory’ (nike). Thessaloniki is the second largest Greek city and home of one of the busiest European ports:

Thessaloniki was successively a Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Greek city, and its history oozes everywhere; you turn a corner and bump into a UNESCO site or some ancient ruins. This church, Transfiguration of the Saviour, snuggled in the busiest commercial district, was built in 1345:

Only the lorries are moving in this street: the other two rows are parked vehicles. Space is scarce, so double parking is the norm. If you have stopped legally by the kerb and want to leave, tough σκατά (skatá):

Three of Greece’s largest universities are based in Thessaloniki, which hosts over 200.000 students. Lots of cheap food options is one of the perks of a student city. As a downside, Thessaloniki is covered with graffiti, some of them proving that higher education doesn’t stop you from being foolish. When Brazilian playwright Nelson Rodrigues (1912-1980) was asked what advice he would give young people, his answer was ‘grow old’:

The graffiti vandals deface monuments and historical sites with abandon, but they seem to spare religious buildings. Candle stations annexed to a church like this one are everywhere, and they are well supplied with genuine beeswax candles (Greek beekeepers must be very grateful). People of all walks of life go in, light a candle and move on:

Flags of Greece and the Greek Orthodox Church side by side at the Church of Agia Aikaterini (13th-4th c.) The Church’s power in Greek society cannot be overestimated. The whole Mount Athos peninsula is an autonomous region under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople, not the Greek parliament. So the monks set their own rules, such as forbidding access to women and females of other species (cats are exempt for pragmatic reasons: they control rodents that infest the monasteries). Greeks wishing to be cremated after death will have to arrange for their carcasses to be shipped to Bulgaria or other border country, because cremation is a no-no for the Orthodox Church:

This tombstone discarded in an empty lot between two busy streets is probably a relic from the Jewish Cemetery, which once covered a huge chunk of the municipal area, housing some half a million graves. Its size reflects the fact that for a long time Thessaloniki was the only city in the world with a Jewish majority, thanks to their migration to Greece after being expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492. The local authorities started encroaching on the cemetery after a catastrophic fire that destroyed most of the city in 1917, but the end came in 1942 in the hands of the German invaders. Thousands of headstones were used as building material all over the city, including churches (Mark Mazower’s Salonica, City of Ghosts is a captivating historical account of the Jews and other peoples of Thessaloniki):


The White Tower, one of Thessaloniki’s most famous landmarks. Built in the late 15th century to replace a Byzantine fortification, the White Tower was once known as the ‘Blood Tower’, as it served as a prison and a place of executions. Its current name came to be in 1890, when the tower was thoroughly whitewashed by one convict in exchange for his freedom. We can achieve remarkable things when the alternative is to have our head lopped off:

St Demetrius’s ciborium (a freestanding sanctuary), which according to reliable sources – the dreams of several of Thessaloniki’s citizens – marks the spot where the saint’s bones are interred inside St Demetrius church, a UNESCO site. Demetrius was skewered by soldiers during the Christian persecution by emperor Galerius in 306 AD. The church was ransacked by the Saracens in 904 AD, and again by the Normans in 1118. Nowadays flocks of Orthodox Christians, many of them Russians, queue to get in the ciborium, kiss the symbolic tomb and light a candle. Holy relics are a big thing for the Eastern Church, but they are small fry compared to Catholics’ sacred knickknacks. In 1100 Rome, churches offered pilgrims a peek of Jesus’ blood and flesh, remnants of the loaves and fishes he delivered, the Ark of the Covenant, heads of St Paul and St Peter, and milk from the Virgin’s breasts (Matthew Kneale: Rome: a history is seven sackings):

The Rotonda from early 4th c., another UNESCO site, is a magnificent example of Roman architectural prowess. The centre of its dome is 30 m high and its walls are 6 m thick, so no earthquake managed to bring it down. Curiously, nobody is sure why it was built:

This will be continued in part II.

5 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. “… forbidding access to women and females of other species.”
    Well that’s an insight into priestly behavior I could have lived without…

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