Final Meanders in Kavala

Although it’s 19 years since last in Kavala, the place feels very familiar. There are a couple of landmarks that I want to re-visit, the first being the Lighthouse of Kavala. It sits at the very tip of the peninsula, just beyond the House of Mohammed Ali. As I’d just left the museum it made sense to kill two birds with one stone.

I try to reach it by taking the steps down towards the sea and then take the path around the old defensive wall. Although it offers startling views of the waves crashing on the rocks below and a tiny view of the edge of Thassos, I couldn’t get to the lighthouse. Even from the other side, it appeared completely fenced off. There is a primary school here so I assume that this is the reason for the secure fencing and locked gate. Standing on my tiptoes, I could just see the tip of the lighthouse above the school wall. I don’t recall it being enclosed when I was here all that time ago.

I walk back to Mohammed Ali Square to try and fathom things out. Whilst here I decide to visit the Holy Church of the Dormition of Virgin Mary. The exterior courtyard of the church is quite something. I enter through the gates to the courtyard which is surrounded by a well-tended garden. A priest and another gentleman are busy pruning bushes and tidying the garden.

The church was built in 1957 on the site of a 15th-century Byzantine church that had fallen into disrepair. The interior walls are adorned with beautiful iconography and ornate fixtures. After visiting inside I head towards the gates and as I do the priest greets me and asks where I am from. After a brief and friendly conversation, I ask him how I can get to the lighthouse as all paths seem to be closed. He tells me that I need to go through the school playground. I thank him and head back to the school.

I can hear the voices of children inside the classroom but with nobody around I have no means to enter through the locked gate. Oh well. On this occasion, my access is barred. Instead, here is a very grainy photo of a much slimmer and younger me at said lighthouse in 2005! It definitely wasn’t fenced off then!

One of the things that makes Kavala such an atmospheric and culturally rich city is the abundance of diverse architecture. Along Poulidou Street (the one that runs the length of the peninsula), there are a number of such buildings The first is the rather imposing building known as the General’s House. It was built in 1910 by Ottoman dignitary Xatsi Omer Sakir Aga and primarily housed notable military officers. During the occupation, it housed German army officers but today it is currently home to Commander of the 20th Armoured Division of the Hellenic Forces.

One of the most significant buildings on this street is the Imaret. Built in the early 19th Century by Mohamed Ali, it consisted of a complex of structures that included two seminaries, a boy’s school, prayer rooms, administration offices and a soup kitchen for the poor. Shortly after the great population exchange, the site was used to house refugees. In 2001 the Egyptian state sold the entire site to a private entrepreneur who has refurbished it and transformed it into an upmarket hotel. The facade from the street doesn’t give much away but this hotel is the epitome of luxury. Check out the hotel’s website here:

I found out a little too late that there are short guided tours of the Imaret that take place daily. This is one for my next visit!

The next building along the way is No 14 & 16 Poulidou Street. This was built in the early 20th Century by wealthy Ottoman merchants. A fine example of Ottoman Neo-classical architecture with elements of Art Nouveau, it is certainly an eye-catcher! It was originally home to the prefecture of Kavala. After the population exchange, it housed the Commercial School and the 5th High School of Kavala. During WW2 and the Bulgarian occupation, it housed the secret police and was a place of torture for the local residents.

There is so much more to see in Kavala. I’m very tempted to add a couple more days to my itinerary but I would only be stealing days from another destination which I don’t want to do. I really could have done with this trip being at least a week longer. Note to self – Must come back!

The following day, I have yet another museum in my sights – the Naval Museum (I do love a bit of nautical history!). Heading West away from the harbour, I take the coastal path through Faliro Park, a well-tended green space where locals like to undertake a spot of promenading in the evening.

Whilst in the city itself you don’t notice the pine-clad hillside that sits up above Kavala. After twenty minutes I arrive at Rapsani Beach, a small sand beach set in front of the main coastal road that runs through Kavala. This is such a great asset to have within a short distance of the city. You know, as much as I love exploring the lesser-known Greek islands, I do love the cities of Greece too. I don’t care too much for the Instagram-type holidays that our social media feeds are flooded with. What I really love is a place that feels authentic, a place with a history and interesting culture or community. Kavala has this by the bucket load!

Thankfully the Naval Museum is open though it appears that I’m the only visitor here. The museum is small but the lady on the desk directs me around and suggests that I start upstairs.

One room is dedicated to a fine collection of model ships that represent sea crafts that formed part of Kavala’s extensive naval history. There are also several beautifully curated collections of nautical instruments. You can even step onto a recreated bridge of a ship and play the part of a captain sailing out towards Thassos. I wonder if this has inspired any schoolchildren to go into the maritime trade. Did I have a go? Of course I did!

If you like all things nautical or are passing Rapsani Beach, the museum is worth a visit. It is open Monday to Friday from 08:00 – 15:00 and the entry is free of charge.

All that’s left for me to do is to seek out a place to eat for my last night in Kavala. It is a beautiful evening and the sun is just beginning to set over Thassos. I’ll find it very hard to drag myself away from Kavala.

At the port end of the harbour and sitting just below the rear end of 14 & 16 Poulidou Street is a traditional taverna called Panos Zafira. I have a hankering for fish and I’m sure they will have some great options here. And I’m not wrong. I get a little carried away with myself and I have wine, ouzo AND masticha with/after my meal. This is the perfect way to commemorate my wonderful stay in Kavala! Tomorrow I head off to Xanthi.

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