Everywhere you turn in Kavala tells the story of its past. The architecture, food, customs, traditions and more are an amalgam of the many influences that have formed this small but vibrant city. Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, Armenians, Jews and others have been drawn by its East-meets-West appeal in northeastern Greece. But no influence has been greater than that of the Greek refugees from Asia Minor.
Some 1.6 million Greeks left their homes in Anatolia (a large part of modern-day Turkey) during what is known as the Asia Minor Disaster in 1922 and the forced population exchange with Turkey the following year. Many were from the Greek community in Cappadocia (in central Anatolia), Constantinople and Smyrna, while others were from Eastern Thrace and the Pontic Alps. The 29,000 that came to Kavala in that first year alone (around 80,000 including the surrounding area) more than doubled the city’s population, making it the fifth most populous city in Greece after Athens, Piraeus, Thessaloniki and Patra. In all, Kavala was the second-largest recipient of Greek refugees by population, behind only Drama. Even today, around two-thirds of the city’s population can trace their roots to Asia Minor.
Kavala was chosen because of its thriving tobacco industry and natural harbour, which provided work for its new residents and allowed them, over time, to fully assimilate. In doing so, they added colour through new tastes, dances, songs and other Anatolian customs. It also radically changed the urban face of the city, with the previously unpopulated western and eastern fringes being turned into neighbourhoods with names like Hilia (Thousand), Pentakosia (Five Hundred), Dekaokto (Eighteen) – relating to the number of families that were originally moved there – as well as Agia Varvara, Vyronas and Girtzi. You can recognise these neighbourhoods today by the rows of identical period houses that have now been engulfed by newer apartments and houses.
So while there are many reasons to visit Kavala, a history tour that takes you to Asia Minor and back again is right up there on the list.