The visitor that faces Kilkis for the first time is totally unpreparted for the fact that the verdant mountains, the blue lagoons and the crystal waterfalls of its peaceful nature became the bloody theatre of three wars.
The valley of Axios River, which according to Homer, was the largest and most beautiful river of the earth and the regions around the river Echedoros, which was named after the golden gifts that brought during his flow, are the natural borders of Kilkis. The region's history begins in Archaic times and continues uninterrupted until today.
By the dawn of the 20th century, Northern Greece was under Ottoman occupation. During the armed conflicts of the Macedonian Struggle (1904-1908), the citizens of Kilkis paid a heavy blood tax.
In 1912, Thessaloniki was set free but the rest of the Macedonian regions in Greece were still under Ottoman occupation. The First Balkan War broke out in October of the same year, when the Balkan League-comprised of Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro- declared war on the Ottoman Empire.
The Second Balkan War (1913) was proclaimed among the allied (Greek-Serbian) and Bulgarian forces. The Battles of Kilkis-Lachana-Doirani held in June, were some of the deadliest of modern Greek history and determined the outcome of the war in favor of Greece and Serbia.
The Battle of Kilkis took place at the “Heroon Hill”. An imposing monument built there, is dedicated to the 8,828 dead and wounded Greek soldiers. The “Kilkis War Museum" exhibits collections of weapons and personal objects of officers, regimental flags, paintings and photographs.
The World War I broke out in 1914, changing alliances and borders. Bulgaria was allied with the Central Powers in 1915 while Serbia was fighting against Bulgaria and Germany. The Allied Forces of the Entente (Britain, France, Russia, Italy), rushing to help Serbia, transfered troops to Thessaloniki as Greece was still keeping its neutrality. Until 1917, when Greece officially entered the war on the side of the Allies, the "Macedonian Front" or "Front of Thessaloniki" counted more than 600,000 soldiers led by French General Maurice Sarrail.
The first battle took place at Skra di Legen – Kilkis, in May 1918. The French army led the Greek Divisions and the operation was victorious. Every year, on May 17, there is a memorial service for the dead soldiers at the Skra War Monument. In a specially designed area, the "World War I Skra Museum" exhibits personal items, photographs and historical documents of the Skra Battle.
The French army had its headquarters in Goumenissa during the Great War and sealed its presence with constructions such as the fountain in the center of Goumenissa Square.
In September 1918, the Battle that took place in Doiran became the second act of the Great War in Greece. The British troops and the Greek Divisions of Serres and Crete fought against the Bulgarians with severe losses. The Greeks lost a total of 3,404, the British 3,115 and the Bulgarian 2,726 soldiers.
Honoring the memory of their fallen soldiers, the British built an imposing monument that dominates on the top of the Colonial Hill, overlooking the endless beauty of the lake. The Commonwealth Doiran Monument was designed by Sir Robert Lorimer, crafted by Walter Gilbert, inaugurated in 1926 and considered one of the oldest of the Macedonian Front. The 12-meter obelisk is flanked by the two lions of the British Empire and stores the memory of 10,700 British officers and soldiers who fell during World War I (1915-1918) on the Salonica Front. Within walking distance of the Monument, the Commonwealth Military Cemetery of Doirani contains 1,338 burials.
In the Greek Military Cemetery of Doirani, the winged "Victory" of the Tinian sculptor Antonios Sochos, was created in 1926 to remind the sacrifice of the Greek soldiers in Doirani. The Lady Victory holds a laurel wreath on one hand and a sword on the other.
The Historical Memory of the First World War for the British is maintained through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission at the Commonwealth Military Cemeteries of Kilkis. There are 711 soldiers buried in the Kristoni cemetery. Polycastro Cemetery (Karasouli) is the last residence for 1,421 British soldiers.
The Monuments and the Military Cemeteries of the Greeks are decorated with masterpieces of sculpture. A typical example is the "Hellenic Monument of Fallen during World War I", located in the central square of Axioupolis since 1926. It was created by the sculptor Demosthenes Papagiannis.
The Polycastro Interallied Memorial was erected in 1977 and is dedicated to "The children of France - Great Britain-Greece-Italy and Serbia, faithful to the orders of their ancestors, fought together in these places and fell for Freedom and for the world Peace 1915-1918 ", according to the inscription in 5 languages. It was built at the expense of the countries of Antant in memory of 40,000 dead and 100,000 injured and missing of the allied forces.
The historical memories of war can be found in churches, schools and train stations. The stories of the warriors are written on their tombstones. Kilkis is an open air museum for the visitors who want to pay tribute to peace.
Text - Photos:
"Between memory and forgetfulness. Monuments and Cemeteries of the Macedonian Front, 1915-1918", Vlasis Vlasidis