Alexandroupolis: Greece’s newest city celebrates 101 years

Alexandroupolis

Alexandroupoli or Alexandroupolis is a city in Greece and the capital of the Evros regional unit in East Macedonia and Thrace.

It has 57,812 inhabitants and is the largest, in size and population city in Thrace and the region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace.

It is an important port and commercial center of northeastern Greece. 

Alexandroupoli is one of the newest cities in Greece, as it was only a fishing village until the late 19th century.

According to Herodotus the modern city is near the site of ancient Sale, a colony of Samothrace.

It became known as Dedeağaç during the Ottoman Empire.

The name supposedly comes from an old Turkish wise man who spent much of his time under the shade of a tree and was eventually buried beside it.

From the first days of the city’s liberation (May 14, 1920), the local authorities as well as the Holy Metropolis, decided to rename the city to Neapoli (“new city”), as it was until then the newest Greek city.

In 1920, King Alexander I of Greece visited the city, and the local authorities renamed the city Alexandroupoli (“city of Alexander”) in his honor, with the approval of the central government. 

The lighthouse at the promenade, symbol of Alexandroupoli
The lighthouse at the promenade, symbol of Alexandroupoli.

The zone of Alexandroupolis, as well as the whole area from the Evros Delta to Lake Vistonida and the foothills of Rhodope Mountains, was inhabited by Cicones.

Cicones were Thracian people, with whom, according to mythology, Odysseus and his comrades clashed on their return from Troy.

History 

Human settlements appear since the Neolithic Period (4500-3000 BC) at the southeast end of Western Thrace. In the Bronze Age (3000-1050 BC) there is no strong evidence of active city participation.

During the Early Iron Age (1050-650 BC) the various Thracian tribes appeared and settled in mountainous and, more rarely, in lowland areas.

In the Byzantine Period, Alexandroupolis played a leading role, because the city bordered with Constantinople and for this reason was guarded by powerful military installations.

In the following years, however, up to the 19th century, the city seems to be deserted and covered by forests and wild trees. 

The city was first settled in the 19th century, under the Ottoman Empire.

Long used as a landing ground for fishermen from the coast of Samothrace opposite, a hamlet developed in the area during the construction of a railway line connecting Constantinople to the major cities of Macedonia.

The work was part of an effort to modernise the Empire, and was assigned to engineers from Austria-Hungary.

The settlement soon grew into a fishing village, Dedeağaç. 

In 1873, it was made the chief town of a kaza, to which it gave its name, and a kaymakam was appointed to it.

In 1884, it was promoted to a sanjak, and the governor became a mutasarrıf.

In 1889, the Greek archbishopric of Aenus was transferred to Dedeağaç.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Dedeağaç was part of the Adrianople Vilayet. 

Dedeağaç was captured by the Russians during the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), and Russian forces settled in the village.

The officers in charge saw that reconstruction incorporated wide streets running parallel to each other, allowing the quick advance of troops, and avoided cul-de-sacs.

This was very unlike the narrow alleys, cobbled streets, and dead-ends that were characteristic of Ottoman cities at the time.

The city returned to Ottoman control by the end of the war, but the brief Russian presence had a lasting effect on the design of Alexandroupoli’s streets. 

The building of a railway station in Dedeağaç led to the development of the village into a town, and a minor trade centre by the end of the century.

The town became the seat of a pasha as the capital of a sanjak. Ottoman control of the town lasted until the Balkan Wars.

On 8 November 1912, Dedeağaç and its station was captured by Bulgarian forces with the assistance of the Hellenic Navy.

Bulgaria and Greece were allies during the First Balkan War, but opponents in the Second Balkan War.

Dedeağaç was captured by Greek forces on 11 July 1913. The Treaty of Bucharest (10 August 1913) however, determined that Dedeağaç would be returned to Bulgaria along with the rest of Western Thrace. 

In September 1913, after the end of the Second Balkan War, about 12,000 Bulgarian refugees took refuge in the outskirts of the city.

They were from 17 different villages all over the Western Thrace fleeing ethnic cleansing.

The defeat of Bulgaria by the Allies in World War I (1914–1918) ensured another change of hands for the town. Western Thrace was withdrawn from Bulgaria under the terms of the 1919 Treaty of Neuilly.

Alexandroupoli was under temporary management of the Entente led by French General Charpy.

In the second half of April 1920 in San Remo conference of the prime ministers of the main allies of the Entente powers (except United States), Western Thrace was given to Greece.

However, Bulgaria retained the right of transit to use the port of Dedeagach to transport goods through the Aegean Sea.

The change of guard between French and Greek officials occurred on May 14, 1920, in the city’s Post Office.

In the interior of the Post Office there is a memorial plaque concerning this event. The city was soon visited by Alexander of Greece.

Alexandroupolis: Greece's newest city celebrates 101 years 2He was the first King of Greece to visit the town which was renamed in his honour. 

Following the defeat of Greece in the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922), the Greek Army under General Theodoros Pangalos retreated from Eastern Thrace to the area of Alexandroupoli.

Bulgaria used the opportunity of the Greek defeat to demand that Alexandroupoli either be returned to its control or declared a neutral zone under international control.

Both demands were soundly rejected by the Greek leadership and found no support in the League of Nations.

The Treaty of Lausanne (24 July 1923) affirmed the Greek sovereignty on Western Thrace. During World War II , the Nazis gave Alexandroupoli to their Bulgarian partners.

Alexandroupoli was subsequently under Bulgarian occupation between May 1941 and 1944.

The city suffered some damage to buildings and loss of population during the war, but was largely spared the effects of the Greek Civil War (1946–1949).

Forces of the communist Democratic Army of Greece in and around the town area were small and loosely organized, resulting in the absence of major battles in the area.

The return of peace allowed for Alexandroupoli to grow from a town of 16,332 residents in 1951 to a city of 57,812 residents by 2011.

READ MORE: Komotini celebrates 101st anniversary of liberation.

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