06 April 2018

The clock has stopped
for 40 years in an old
bank in Thessaloniki

The former building of La Banque de Salonique is now a bar and shopping gallery (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I am staying on the corner of Syngrou Street and Egnatia Street in the centre of Thessaloniki, and in the heart of what was briefly the Jewish Ghetto during World War II.

Around the corner, Hrimatistiriou Square is a small square with music bars and an interesting night life. During the Ottoman Turkish days, this was the Stockmarket Square.

But 40 years ago, this area was also at the heart of the major earthquake that rocked Thessaloniki on 20 June 1978.

Life in the square seems to revolve around the Stoa Malakopis or Malakopis Gallery, in an old building that also includes the Gambrinas Bar facing down the street that leads towards the waterfront.

This was once the elegant premises of the old La Banque de Salonique or the Bank of Thessaloniki, which was founded in 1888 by the Allatini brothers in partnership with a bank in Vienna.

The Allatini brothers were members of a Jewish-Italian family, descended from Lazarus Allatini (1776-1834). The family owned mills and other trading companies in Thessaloniki and dominated trade in the Ottoman Empire for a century.

The former bank was built in 1907 on the site of the yard of the Allitani family’s former mansion on Syngrou Street. The bank was designed by the renowned Italian architect Vitaliano Poselli (1838-1918) from Sicily.

Two years after Poselli’s bank was built, the bank moved its headquarters to Constantinople in 1909. In 1911, all the commercial activities of the Allatini dynasty were shut down by the Porte, along with the businesses of other Italian Jewish families, in reprisals for the Italian-Turkish war that year.

However, the bank continued in business, and Poselli’s bank was one of the few buildings that survived the great fire that destroyed much of Thessaloniki in 1917. This building was renovated in 1926 to plans by the architect Maximilian Rubens. The bank continued to have branches in Thessaloniki until 1940, when the building was commandeered by the occupying Nazi forces.

The clock has stopped at 11:07, the time the earthquake hit Thessaloniki on 20 June 1978 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

When the major earthquake struck Thessaloniki on 20 June 1978, 45 people were killed many buildings were destroyed. The clock at the top of the fa├žade of the old bank building was stuck at 11:07, the time the earthquake struck. And so it remains to this day, and the building is now a listed building.

The architect Vitaliano Poselli was born in Castiglione di Sicilia in 1838, and studied in Rome. In 1867, the Catholic Church commissioned him to build the Church of Saint Stephen in Constantinople.

From there, the Ottoman government sent him to Thessaloniki, where he built some of the most important public buildings in this city. He married and settled down here in 1888 and designed churches, buildings for foreign diplomats and missions and for the wealthy merchant families. He died 100 years ago in 1918, and many of his descendants still live in Thessaloniki.

The bank survives as a bar and is at the centre of night life in this part of Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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