Zeitenlik - Serbian military cemetery
Serbian Soldiers Cemetery Zeitenlik is in Thessaloniki. Within the cemetery, there are graves of Serbian, French, Italian, English and Russian soldiers killed in the battles and the breakthrough of the Thessaloniki frontline.
From the center of Thessaloniki, drive to the end of Egnatia Street (the main street in Thessaloniki), i.e. Vardaris Square, then take a right and drive for another 1km till you reach the cemetery located in Lagkada Street on the left. Across the cemetery is a building number 164, so you can enter the address of Lagkada 164 in the GPS unit. There is a parking space within the French Cemetery, but only if you arrive from the opposite direction by Lagkada Street (not from the center but from Thassos or Halkidiki). If you are arriving from the center, it’s not easy to find parking, but it’s best to go a little further ahead and enter one of the side streets to look for a place.
You can take a taxi from the center of Thessaloniki to Zeitenlik and the fare is between 3-5e one-way. Taxi drivers do not usually know the name Zeitenlik, so it’s best to list Lagkada 164 as the address.
If you are in good condition, you can also reach the cemetery on foot (30-45 minutes) from the center of Thessaloniki.
The cemetery was built on the site of a former field hospital of the Serbian army during 1916.
Zeitenlik was named after the Turkish word for oil because there was the oil market in that area during the Ottoman Empire. At the end of the war, it was decided that all the dead soldiers should be buried in the common cemetery, and Zeitenlik was chosen as the place for it, as at that time it was bare ground. Today, Thessaloniki is much larger, so the cemetery is in the center of the city.
Preparations for the construction of the cemetery began in 1926, with Savo Mihailovic at the helm of the endeavour and the group of comrades who were tasked to collect the remains of the soldiers scattered over a wide area where fighting had taken place.
They toured about 250 cemeteries, exhumed fallen warriors and transferred them to the new cemetery.
All the material for the construction of the cemetery was brought from Serbia, and Greece provided a land (about 7000m2) for free, and all material was exempt from customs and taxes.
Around the Serbian cemetery, cypress seedlings from Hilandar were planted to give the eternal watch to fallen freedom fighters. Cypresses today leave a very strong impression on visitors.
After construction, the cemetery became a meeting place for the soldiers who have survived, as well as for the families of the dead. Over the years, the cemetery has created a museum of objects, books and relics that visitors brought along.
During the WWII, the guard Đorđe Mihailović, son of the aforementioned Sava, managed to preserve the cemetery from Nazi robbery by burying valuable books and relics.
From the main entrance to the cemetery, a wide path leads to the ossuary above which is a chapel whose entrance is on the other side. The interior of the chapel is inscribed with the names of all units and main battlefields.
Below the plateau that houses the chapel is a crypt. From the entrance, a staircase descends to the central room from where the lateral corridors branch, with the marble slabs on walls where the dead are buried. The silence of the crypt is disturbed from time to time by the sounds of the song Tamo daleko (Far Away), which, as Vojin Djordjevic said: “Nowhere has our exile song of sadness and longing found its place, like here in the ossuary on Zeitenlik.”
At this point, the guardian, host and guide to the Serbian Soldiers Cemetery is Djordje Mihailovic, son of Djura, and Sava’s grandson. Djordje lives with his wife in a guardhouse within a complex. A documentary about him, “The Last Guardian” was produced in 2013, and in 2014 he was decorated with the Orden of the Serbian Flag of the second degree.
As much as it’s worth visiting the cemetery because of the important historical testimony it provides, it’s equally worth visiting to meet its guardian Djordje.
The Serbian Cemetery is the central part of the complex at Zeitenlik. There are 5580 Serbian warriors killed on Thessaloniki frontline buried in the ossuary. Around the mausoleum, there are 10 plots where 1440 Serbian warriors are buried, and there are also two common tombs where 78 unknown Serbian warriors from the Thessaloniki frontline and 217 unknown Serbian warriors from Constantinople are buried.
Within the Serbian cemetery, there’s a so-called “Partisan Cemetery”, where 126 partisans killed in Nazi camps in Thessaloniki during the WWII were buried.
The English cemetery is dominated by a monument without a cross, characteristic for English cemeteries. The only cross is on the tombstone of Katherine Harley, built by Serbian officers in gratitude for all she has done for the Serbian people during the war. She was the head of an English medical mission. She was killed providing assistance during the bombing.
It’s written on her grave: “Katherine Marry Harley, born May 3, 1853, died in Bitola on March 7, 1917. Tho the victim of the Great War, a noble Englishwoman, a great benefactor to the Serbian people.
Instead of flowers on your grave
Serbian gratitude will bloom forever
For your work and your name
Generations will know afar.”
The Russian cemetery is arranged within the Serbian partisan cemetery, with 493 soldiers, members of the Russian volunteer unit fighting on Thessaloniki frontline buried there.
If you’re visiting Greece, any part of it, be sure to visit the Serbian Soldiers Cemetery in Thessaloniki. The best time for visiting is until noon when grandpa Djordje is there. Since he is 86, he got the replacement and it’s not on the cemetery all day. If you miss to see him at the time of your visit, look for him in the cottage where he lives, to the left of the path leading to the mausoleum, but not between 14:00 and 18:00 and after 20:00. You can bring a gift or contribution. And if you’re lucky, grandpa Djordje will walk you through the complex, explain what is what and recite the famous verses of Vojislav Ilic jr. carved in the cemetery chapel:
“Unknown stranger, if you accidentally pass by
This sacred common grave
Know that, this is the eternal shelter
For the greatest heroes of today!”
You will never forget that day and grandpa Djordje.