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The Azure City: Kavala, Greece

The magnificence of Kavala is the way it ascends the foothills of Mount Pangeon in tiers like an amphitheatre so that nearly every resident has a glorious sea view. This is a city with a rich past, steeped in tradition, culture and outstanding beauty. As the second biggest northern Greek city and eastern Macedonia’s major port, it is the capital of Kavala prefecture. Kavala really is a hidden gem with plenty of impressive cultural sites and long, sandy beaches. There is also much in the way of accommodation and entertainment including some popular Greek festivals.

Getting There

Located on the Bay of Kavala opposite the beautiful island of Thasos, Kavala is only 213 km from the Bulgarian capital Sofia and 137 km from Plovidiv. The best way to get there is by car crossing at Dopsat in the Rhodope Mountains. The journey time from Smolyan will be even faster when the new motorway linking Bulgaria with the Aegean is constructed. When you reach Kavala you can swap to public transport – a highly efficient network of buses and trams or use one of the many cheap silver taxis, which charge around 5 Euros for any destination within the city during the daytime.

A Little History

In the 6th century BC inhabitants from Thassos founded a new city on the present site of Kavala and called it Neapolis, which aptly means "new city." It belonged to the Athenian League and by 168 BC it had become a Roman colony and a base for Brutus and Cassius in 42 BC. It is also known as the landing spot for the Apostle Paul on his first trip to Europe. At the time of the Byzantine Empire, its name had been changed to Christoupolis, but Bulgarians at this time called it Morunets.  Emeror JustinianI built impressive fortifications around the city in the 6th century to protect it from invaders like the Bulgarians, but by the 8th and 9th century, the fortification had to be strengthened because of mounting attacks from the Bulgarians.  The town was destroyed during the notorious Ottoman rule and was left in ruins for a century and by the time it was rebuilt, it was called Kavala. In the 16th century, one of Suleyman the Magnificent’s Grand Vizier’s Ibrahim Pasha built an aqueduct, which helped the town’s prosperity to grow. During the First Balkan War, Kavala was freed by the Greek Navy and after the Greco-Turkish War of 1919, the city experienced renewed prosperity. In the Fifties, the town grew in size, by reclaiming land from the sea to the west of the harbour.

Must See

By far, the most impressive site in this wonderful city is the Byzantine Aqueduct known as the Kamares, which was used to carry water to the Old Town from Symbol Mountain. This incredible feat of engineering is 52 m high at the tallest points and consists of 60 arches of 4 different sizes. The Old Town is also very impressive with numerous historic houses like the house of Mohamed Ali, who founded the last Egyptian Dynasty. In the main square a bronze statue has been erected in his honour. Facing Mohamed Ali’s house is the beautiful Panagia Church and the lighthouse and it is here that you get the most splendid views across the Aegean. There are numerous other status honouring Greeks who lost their lives in the many battles that have taken place in the city and a copper statue to the goddess of victory, Nike. The 19th century Lazarists monastery on Kyprou St. combines architecture from many different eras in particular the neoclassical style and as well as being a monastery it was once the French consulate.

Perhaps the most impressive site in this area is the amazing Byzantine castle, known as the Acropolis, which kept invaders from the town over many centuries.  Over the centuries it was extended and reconstructed During the Byzantine times successive reconstructions and operations for the fortification of the town took place. It has an open-air theatre, which stages some interesting plays and shows. The famous Ottoman Imaret consists of a group of buildings constructed in classical Islamic architecture. It was built by Ali is 1817 and was used as a Muslim school and a house for the poor. The Wix Mansion built for the German Baron Adolf Wix in 1899 is also worth taking in for its architectural style. It was used as his business headquarters as well as his personal residence. The nearby 19th century Town Hall is also an interesting feat of architecture. It was built in the style of a Hungarian castle by Pierre Herzog, a renowned tobacco-trader.Kavala thrived through its tobacco industry in the early 20th century and today there is a Tobacco Museum honouring this contribution. The Archaeological Museum is one of the most important in the country and houses discoveries from the Neolithic and Copper Ages. The Municipal Folk Art Museum is housed in a 19th century building, which was once home to the National Bank of Greece.  It contains amongst other things numerous paintings and sculptures by Greek artists.

Outside the City

The ancient city of Philippi is only 17 k from the city and is well worth the visit if you want to see some real ancient Greek history. Archaeologists were digging at the site for decades before the full extent of the remains were revealed. The most significant finds were the prison of Paul the Apostle, the Via Egnatia, the remains of the Roman Forum and the theatre, which has a circular orchestra bay. Seven kilometers from the city in Nea Karvali, there is an interesting ethnological museum   housing finds from the Greeks of Kappadokia such as traditional costumes, kilims, iconic paintings, jewellery and textiles. In 1997, this museum was given ‘Best Museum of the Year’ status by the European Union. There are also numerous fantastic beaches just outside of the city many of which carry the prestigious Blue Flag award for their cleanliness. The best are Tosca, Perigiali, Kalamitsa, Batis and Patio. The beaches offer plenty of recreation and entertainment from volleyball to beach bars and traditional tavernas.  A little further on the seaside villages known as  "Ghialohoria "offer peace and tranquillity along some fine, sandy beaches.


Pictures courtesy of AJ Alfieri-Crispin