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by Archaeology Newsroom

Kavala as a tobacco city

The manufacturing and trade of tobacco begins in Kavala many years before the Greek War of Independence of 1821. In the middle of the 19th century the four to five thousand Greek, Turkish and Jewish inhabitants of the city are still confined by the wall of the Panagia peninsula. The appoximately one hundred Christian families are organized in the Greek-Orthodox community of Kavala and work in the tobacco and cotton trade. With the passage of time steamboats coming in to the city’s natural harbour increase the population of merchants. Soon, the Christians face a serious problem as regards their own housing and also the housing of their tobacco enterprises since all buildings belong to Turks. By the end of the 19th century the five Christian quarters have already been formed. Tobacco warehouses are located in all quarters. However, most of them are installed and organized along the coastal area so that tobacco transportation from the shore to the steam boats is facilitated. From the late 19th century a maritime array of tobacco warehouses has already formed. The tobacco warehouses of this period are much larger than the older ones. They are built of stone and wood as their predecessors, but they are covered now by two or more wooden roofs. The great number of symmetrical openings and the gables of the roofs on which are often opened rectangular or round skylights are typical features of their architecture. Many windows also pierce the lateral sides of these edifices. Balconies are a rarity. Decorative bands define the storeys and emphasize the horizontal axis. Their style is popular-Neoclassical, a few examples of eclesticism exist, while rarely some of them can be attributed to the German Neoclassicism. The interior of these buildings is uniform. In their first floors the raw tobacco is stored. The spacious areas for the manufacturing done both by men and women are located in the, well lit by daylight, upper floors.

A few years after the revolution of the Neo-Turks (1908) the institution in Kavala of the first union of tobacco workers under the apellation “Ευδαιμονία” (=Bliss) is permitted. The union soon succeeds in reducing to nine the original twelve working hours and in increasing wages, while at the same time it secretly supports the Macedonian strife. But in 1923 Kavala’s prosperity is threatened along with the rest of Greece through the Asia Minor disaster. In 1926 the State Bureau for the protection of the Greek tobacco is founded and is installed in Kavala. In the same year the Insurance Fund of the tobacco workers is also instituted in Thessaloniki and the consolidation of of tobacco workers’s jobs, allowances for the unemployed and health insurance are decided.

In 1933 the tobacco merchants in their effort to reduce the cost of manufacturing introduce the “τόγκα”, (tonga), simple and fast manufacturing that can be done equally well by women; they are paid less than the men who are seen as uneccessary and are fired. In the 1940 war against fascism the tobacco workers fight by the side of their compatriots. In the Easter of 1941 the German army enters the city. In the end of May of the same year the city is surrendered to the Bulgarians and suffers untold hardships. On September 12th, 1944 the city is liberated by the forces of the ΕΛΑΣ {= Greek Liberation Army). Civil war and dissension start. Soon after the end of the great adventure the tobacco workers demand wage increases according to the price index and unemployment allowances. On 25-3-1953 the Parliament votes for the removal of the tobacco workers’ consolidation of occupation and for the voluntary retirement of the workers. Only a few of the thousand tobacco workers of Greece received a miserable compensation. The abandoned warehouses follow the fate of the occupation. Year after year, as their preservation is not legislated, increased building activity and land speculation uproot the old physiognomy of the city, eliminating its features one by one. It is a sad fact that Kavala, which has not as yet been granted a tobacco museum, remains a tobacco city only in old photographs of the city.