The buildings of Salonica

The ground was still heavy with metal when Holst visited the battlefields in 1918. He was taken up into the hills in case there were soldiers there for him to teach. By the time Holst was there these areas were emptying of men. Holst was more fortunate in Salonica where he was based with the YMCA. Where was this building? Does it exist?

When we arrived in Thessaloniki Friday evening, the city sky high with modern flats it was clear that not much of the old city remains. Even in Holst’s day many of the old buildings had been destroyed in the 1917 fire. Holst wrote to his daughter Imogen in 1918: ‘I went on along walk and visited an old church that was first a church and then a mosque and then a church again and now a ruin because it was burnt by the terrible fire last year and since then has been used as a living place for starving refugees.’

However walking the city myself yesterday there are still pockets of cobbled streets and 19th century shuttered buildings, facades brightly painted in blues and deep orange. There are also the churches that Holst wrote about, their ruined structures rising above the traffic.

Today we go in search of the YMCA. Our Greek contacts here have suggested the YMCA did not have one permanent building but many temporary sites. We have an address of one of these. If we find it I will imagine Holst there writing his letters home in his familiar looped hand.



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