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Thessaloniki International Fair: The History of the Region’s Biggest Event

thessaloniki international fair tif
The 5th Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) in 1930. Credit: Public Domain

The Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) is a commercial exhibition event of great importance in Greece and Southeastern Europe, taking place annually in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Thousands of visitors from Greece and across the world flock to Greece’s second city to be entertained, to trade, to browse or simply be part of the festive atmosphere.

The Fair was first held in 1926 and today is organized by HELEXPO.

The 85th annual TIF will begin in person on Saturday, September 11, under strict safety protocols to avoid the spread of Covid-19.

According to organizers, it will be the first major exhibition of its kind to be staged in Europe in 2021.

This year’s TIF will focus on the past, present, and future of Greece, and is especially inspired by the bicentennial of the Greek Revolution of 1821.

According to the TIF website, “This year’s event aims to contribute to the redefining of the needs of Greek society, to boost its historic memory, and to bring citizens closer to new digital services and technologies, innovations, and Greek production.”

The origins of the Thessaloniki International Fair

The original idea for the creation of an International Trade Fair was first expressed by Nikolaos Germanos, a Professor of Zoology in Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and later a Member of the Greek Parliament.

Sofoulis’ Government decided in 1925 to accept the idea, as they thought that an internationally oriented plan that would give Northern Greece and Thessaloniki a chance to attract the attention of the global markets was crucial.

A main motivation in going forward with the Fair was due to the borders and the iron curtain of that era which deprived Thessaloniki of its natural mainland, the Balkans and Central Europe.

Sunday, October 3, 1926 was the day the first-ever TIF took place, in an area of 7,000 square meters provided by the Army.

The exhibition had 600 participants, from which 310 were from abroad. Two countries sent an official delegation to take part in the Fair: Hungary and the Soviet Union.

150,000 people visited the premises of the event, an astonishing number for the period.
Over the years, the Fair grew bigger and bigger, so a new place was needed to meet the demand.

In mid-1930’s the decision for the transfer of the Fair was taken. TIF, from the 30s to modern day, was to take place in the center of the city, between Egnatia, Aggelaki, Tritis Septemvriou and Leoforos Stratou streets — exactly where it takes place today.

The first TIF in the new area was in 1940, just a few weeks before the beginning of the Greek-Italian war. During the occupation of the city by the Nazis, the premises of the Fair were confiscated and many of them were destroyed days before the departure of the German Army.

The first post-war Fair, the 16th Thessaloniki International Fair, didn’t happen until 1951, during a period when Greece was finding its way after 10 years of occupation and civil war.
The years ahead brought more and more visitors, rapid growth and glory for Greece’s biggest Trade event.

Milestones of the Thessaloniki International Fair

1926: Nicholas Germanos opened the doors of the first Fair on October 3, which was housed at an army camp at the area of Stratigeio and covered 7,000 square meters. The first Fair had 600 participating exhibitors and attracted a total of 100,000 visitors.

1927: A year later, at the second TIF, which attracted 200,000 visitors, and while everything was running normally, on the afternoon of September 27, the Fair sunk into darkness due to a power cut.

1928: The first year that the Greek Prime Minister visited the TIF. Coming from Belgrade, Eleftherios Venizelos made a stop in Thessaloniki and the carpet exhibitors donated a rug to the Prime Minister.

1929: “Life Savers” company distributed free candies to its visitors. Due to the fact that Greeks had just come out of deprivation, the exhibition stand was full of parents who tried to ensure candy for their children.

1931: The Athens Electric Company presented the first electrical household appliances.

1935: The 10th International Fair was held without its founder for the first time, since Germanos had passed away in January of the same year.

1941: During the Nazi occupation, the Germans used the kiosks as warehouses and blew up the TIF buildings before they departed from the city. The exhibition, thereafter, remained closed for 10 years.

1951: Prime Minister Nikolaos Plastiras announced the reopening of the TIF. Five billion drachmas were allocated for this purpose from the American Credit and another 1 billion for advertisement.

1954: The American pavilion presented the first closed circuit television, leaving guests speechless, since it was the first time they could see themselves on the screen.

1955: The TIF and the entire country was marked by the expulsion of Greeks from Constantinople. The Turkish pavilion in TIF closes before the end of the Fair.

1957: Dimitris Vakondios, an employee of the representative of the Nestlé company, created the first frappe coffee. Nestlé was introducing a new chocolate beverage for children that was produced instantly in a shaker.

During a break, Vakondios wanted to have his regular Nescafé Classic but he could not find any hot water, so he mixed the coffee with cold water in a shaker.

1959: The USSR presented three model Sputnik satellites and the largest particle accelerator in the world.

1960: The idea of the International Film Festival, first launched by Linos Politis and Paul Zanna, was immediately adopted by the TIF.

1961: The Song Festival moves to Thessaloniki.

1963: There is a fire in the Patraiki booth due to short-circuit in electrical cables.

1964: Miss World Korina Tsopei, along with Miss USA Bobby Johnson, attract all visitors’ eyes at the premises of the TIF and actress Eleni Anousaki made such a sexy appearance that police tried to prevent her from entering the Film Festival’s administration building.

1970: The Tower of OTE was built. The architectural creation of Alexandros Anastasiadis became TIF’s trademark.

1971: At the opening day of the 36th TIF, the ferry Eleana was burnt at the Adriatic sea, leaving dozens dead.

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