Alexandroupolis, a town between East and West.
Alexandroupolis, a city between East and West.
Written by Antonis Telopoulos for the newspaper ethnos
Dedicated to the Economic Forum of Thrace for it’s effort to develop Thrace
Alexandroupolis , the capital of Evros changes through the prism of seeing it. Geographically it is a strategic location, with a perfect street planning, socially vibrant and an important commercial port. A city that maintains the sober profile, despite its peculiarities related to the various extensions of the remote status.
It all began when a Muslim monk named Dede decided to rest under an oak.
And certainly he was so lazily sleeping that it didn’t cross his mind that the small fishing spot “Dedeagats” would evolve in the modern Alexandroupolis, known as a hub between East and West. Since the ancient times, when in the same position was the town Sali- a member of “Samothrakeion walls” the cities which had been controlled economically by Samothrace- and until the late 19th century, the area was an insignificant fishing spot. Then the train arrived. The extension of the railroad changed the economic orientation of the area. The infrastructure projects, the French engineers first created, are preserved since now days.
The past and the present of the city.
The wooden station built by the French at the edge of the town is still being used. Around 1880 the train “brought” also the consulates of seven European countries, which were settled in the center of the city. The easy rail access and the significant strategic location were the main reasons that made the Great Powers to establish consulates.
Ion Dragoumis -the young vice-consul of Greece in the Ottoman Dedeagats- might have been going for walk in the same main street with the bikeway, where today the supermarkets stand. The quiet road decorated with flowers called, at that time, Xamidie was then the ideal place for a walk. Today, the same road changed into the big street with shops, named the Republic Avenue, with the cafeterias and the huge road traffic, which would probably cause to Dragoumis strong headaches.
Fanis Malkidis, the History lecturer at the Democritus University of Thrace and businessman George Simsiris are trying to save this varied city history with their electronic photo file created on Internet. They explain “The old alexandroupolis.blogspot.com is trying to keep alive the history of the city, by mentioning of the daily activities and the persons who live here and have been captured by the camera lens,” The city is the great love of the poet George Stavridis. As he mentions, “Since 1988, I have not slept away not even a single night” Mr. Stavridis is the first artist who brought to Alexandroupolis the “street art”. He was the first who organized exhibitions of important artists such as Gkaroudis and Mpakogiorgos in his historic cafeteria, “the Mikro Cafe”. Today’s multiculturalism elements are scattered in the city. Universal Church of St. Joseph, built in 1905 for French employees of the railway, now opens only for funerals. The city mosque which is hidden behind the big buildings now operates as a minority school, although many residents ignore even its existence. The church of John Baptist although it was built in a remote region, it is a colorful part of the urban core, as it is the meeting point of the Armenian community. The Saint Nicholas, the metropolis of Alexandroupolis, next to Leontarideio School (now ecclesiastic Museum) was built in land donated in 1901 by the Ottoman governor of the city, Xatzisafet Bey. All the above is evidence of the harmonious coexistence of people since a long time ago. Wherever you stand in Alexandroupolis you can smell sea breeze. The sea was always the main background of the city picture with the white lighthouse on the beach acting as timeless symbol.
According to the announcement of the Royal Court in 1920, Alexandroupolis was given it’s name two months after the liberation of the city by King Alexander A ‘and not from Alexander the Great.
Multispace of Arts.
In the outskirts of town in the district of Palagia a different gallery operates. It was built like a quarter of a church and the owner and famous painter Syni Anastasiades, has transform it into a place of comfort and pleasure for the visual arts fans. The basement and the courtyard is the place of creation. The greater surrounding area of the building is configured to host exhibitions of sculpture. Close there is a small forest with oaks and brokers which would be the perfect place for an open-air theater to be created so that this multi-space of arts which adorn the beautiful border of Alexandroupolis will be completed.
The town demostrates excellent street layout designed by Russians engineers, when the city passed under the jurisdiction of Russia, with the Treaty of Saint Stefan (1877-1878), after the Turkish -Russian war. It is said, indeed, that the city layout is identical to the one of Odessa. Today the city is so well divided so that according to the job you have to do you can easily recall the neighborhood you should go to. The nowdays housewives walk in the same cobblestone Commerce street in which also the women of Dedeagats used to frequent in the past. There you can find the shop “Kypseli”, which has been sweetening the city population since 1885. There the kids are rushing to buy candy and grandmothers “kantaifi” pastry. The city initially was inhabited by Ainites and Adrianoupolites. Later Apolloniadites, Pontians, Cappadocians and others races came. Apolloniada is a neighborhood situated exactly at the edge of the coastal road. The houses almost “touched” the sea once and today “they are hidden” behind the coastal road. The only beachfront building at the coastal avenue is the old refectory of the City, the famous “Argo”, which, after the efforts of the energetic businesswoman Vicky Mpoutzika, was changed into a trendy cafe. A little bit further the Zarifeios Pedagogical Academy with the neoclassical style covers the west side of Independence National Park. Here the great poet and academic teacher Thanasis Julis used to be teaching for a decade. He was the man that probably described in the best way the human eyes in his poetry and he was also the establisher of the literary magazine “exopolis”. This magazine which is an enlightenment of the literary activity currently is conducted by the journalist Vasilis Kargas. “Exopolis” has dreams. It looks forward to an Amphictyony of spiritual forces of neighboring Balkan countries. The main goal is that the readers to be acquainted with the Balkan writers,” says the well-known journalist and initiator of the journalistic conference in Samothrace.
In the North Coast, in the real Exopolis suburb, in the neighborhood of Cappadocians the “Estia”, is a place which gets full of voices. “The Estia is not only a museum and a meeting point. Above all, it attracts all the Greek Cappadocians,” explains Theofanis Isakidis the president of the Hellenic Union of Cappadocian Societies. In the eastern part, at the end of the city, in the Muslim neighborhood, the “dead” building of warehouses got alive by an active amateur theatrical group. “We were looking for a place to accommodate our theatrical concerns. With the encouragement of our director, George Zampoulaki, and a lot of personal work from the whole team, we created this space to accommodate our artistic concerns,” says the president of the Research Theatre of Thrace Athena Kefala. Day and night, Alexandroupolis is still an alive city. It “steals” vibrants from the fishermen, the traders, and the people who run in the streets and who come and go in the shops. It is constantly illuminated by the lighthouse in the port which always shows the way to the future, a future, which faces the East, as well as, the West.