History of Kavala

Kavala has a rich and fascinating history. The city’s modern name is
an adaption of Cavalla – the name of the city for many years. This name
is likely taken from the Italian word for horse. But Kavala has also had
other names throughout its history.

The city was originally founded as “Neapolis” (New City) in the 7th century as a colony of Thassos, the island directly across from it. The Thassians were drawn here by the rich mines for gold and silver in the nearby mountains, and Neapolis was one of several Thassian colonies along the coast.

The city later gained its independence. During the Peloponnesian
wars, the Spartans and the Thassians laid siege to Neapolis, but the
city remained faithfully allied to Athens.

This was an important city during to Roman era, too. It became a
civitas of the Roman Republic in 168 BC, and the via Egnatia passed
through, opening the city to more trade.

Kavala – which was still Neopolis then –  became an extremely
significant city for the Christian faith. It was right here in Kavala,
in the year 49 AD, that St. Paul first set foot on European soil to
spread the message of Christianity.

Of course, such a gem as this – with its mines and its natural
harbour – was sought after by many conquerors. Kavala became part of the
Byzantine Empire. During this period, the city acquired a new name –
Christoulpolis – to reflect its Christian identity. Emperor Justinian, I
built the fortress to protect the city. In the 8th and 9th centuries,
the city was further fortified to protect against attacks from Bulgaria.

Ultimately, later in the 9th century, the Bulgarians managed to
capture the city anyway, until the Lombards came in the late 12th
century. The Catalans also tried to take the city a few years later but
were unsuccessful. Kavala was back in Byzantine hands until the Ottomans
came, in 1387. 

The Ottomans destroyed the city – except for the fortress – and built
it in their own manner, which accounts for the strong Ottoman character
of the Old Town. Under the Ottoman Emperor Suleiman the Magnificent,
the Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha improved the town’s fortunes, building
the aqueduct still standing today.

Mehmet Ali, who eventually ruled Egypt, was born in Kavala in the
late 18th century. He built the Imaret, one of Kavala’s most impressive
monuments, prominent on the slope of the old city overlooking the

Towards the end of the Ottoman Empire, Kavala became prosperous
through the excellent quality of tobacco grown in the region. Grand
warehouses and Belle Epoque mansions still stand from this period.

After the city became a part of Modern Greece, it welcomed many
refugees from Asia Minor, adding to its labour force and the further
growth of the tobacco industry. You can learn more about this
interesting phase of Kavalla’s recent history at the Tobacco Museum.