There is a small, wondrous town in the north of Greece, where two girls grew up in fast forward. Surrounded by chestnut and peach trees, their days were prolific and comradely and their nights were enlightening, shared with all types of people.
None other than the city of Veria has been the starting point for Soso and myself, where we spent our first 18 years and this summer’s visit has been one of the rare occasions, when we both are at the same place (and time).
Walking around the city together, after all these years we couldn’t help but noticing once more how interestingly time has affected this place. Although embracing the modern lifestyle , Veria is one of the very few places that has incorporated the past in the present in such a natural, unforced way. The citizens have learned how to co-exist with the monuments, by being at the same time profoundly aware of the different stages their local history and culture went through.
Veria is indeed one of the oldest cities in Greece, believed to be populated since 1000 BC and evidence of its historical presence in classical, byzantine and ottoman periods can be witnessed in every single corner. Only a few minutes away, one can find himself in Aigai (currently called “Vergina”), the cradle of the ancient kingdom of Phillip II and later on, Alexander the Great, where excavations -held in 1977- brought to light the tombs of Macedonian kings. Equally preserved and respected, the city’s byzantine and Christian past is prominent, presenting more than 50 byzantine and post byzantine churches, attributing it with the name of “Small Jerusalem”.
Despite Veria’s significance in the expansion of Christianity (Apostle Paul chose it for his first preachings), the city has always been a tolerant place, from both a religious and a societal aspect. In the part where the old city lies one can find the Jewish synagogue in perfect shape and admire the ottoman mansions, all situated in the magnificent neighborhood of Barbouta. The latter is intersected by one of the streams of the river Tripotamos, which in combination with the river Aliakmonas have endowed Veria and its surroundings with an incredible presence of nature, in all its glory.
This has always enchanted me about this place: how people respected and lived alongside and not against nature. I remember us playing as children by climbing onto trees, following rivers (as far as our mom was not worried) and eating hundreds of peaches during these tropical summers, when the temperature could reach up to 42 degrees. Coming back as adults, we felt invigorated finding out that at least certain things were left unchanged: our friends’ suggestions of touring around the forests or the dam of Aliakmonas when free time occurred, as well as the nature itself. The forests were still consisting of trees and not buildings, while some houses were built next to –or even around- trees that stand there for hundreds of years.
It is no wonder that agriculture is one of the main occupations of the citizens, providing the incalculable joy of knowing that by June you will have all the cherries and peaches you dreamt about during the cold winter. The last ones were always full of activities, especially when the heavy snowfalls granted us -as students- with some school-free days. (Sloping down the hills on sledge-like inventions of ours comes in mind when searching my personal memory, but I clearly remember the rest of my friends skiing skillfully too).
One of the core activities one will indulge in when visiting Veria is unquestionably food. The fortunate combination of mountains, waters, plains and a great fondness of gastronomy delivers exquisite culinary results. Apart from fully enjoying our mother’s and general family’s gastronomic extravaganza, both Soso and I wanted to taste the modern cuisine of Veria and we were happily surprised. With the company (and guidance) of our friend Christina –which we both treasure- we left no restaurant unvisited, witnessing old recipes under contemporary approaches and submitting ourselves to the celebrated wine varieties of the local estates, discussing every single topic one can imagine.
If anything, Veria is its people.
Restless consumers of culture, there is always an event being organized in the city and if not, they don’t hesitate traveling miles for their favorite musician. Hospitable and friendly, interacting with them will keep surprising you. The spectrum of topics is boundless and so is the number of arguments on the same subject; discussions can last forever. Everything seems to have a bright and hilarious side which will be certainly pointed out by someone and people will do the most improbable things.
Meeting one of them at some point in your life is just a matter of time.