Heptapyrgion

Thessaloniki, Greece

The Heptapyrgion, also popularly known by its Ottoman Turkish name Yedi Kule, is a Byzantine and Ottoman-era fortress situated on the north-eastern corner of the Acropolis of Thessaloniki in Greece. Despite its name, which in both languages means 'Fortress of Seven Towers', it features ten, and was probably named after the Yedikule Fortress in Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey).

Although the urban core of the city essentially dates from its foundation by Cassander in 316 BC, the walls that defined the medieval and early modern city, and that are still visible today, date to the late Antiquity, when the Roman emperor Theodosius I (r. 379–395) fortified the city anew. The five northern towers of the Heptapyrgion, along with the curtain wall that connects them, forming the northern corner of the acropolis, probably date to this period. Another theory, dating their construction to the 9th century, has also been brought forth.

The southern five towers and wall were built likely in the 12th century, thus forming a fortified redoubt in the interior of the city's citadel. This fortress was then maintained and rebuilt in the Palaiologan period. The nature of the reconstruction and dating of the southern portion of the fort is disputed.

Rather than a new construction, which has been disproved by archaeology, the work of Çavuş Bey may have been limited to the restoration of the bastions over the fort's monumental entrance. In a 1591 account, the fort, referred to as the Iç Kale ('Inner Castle'), serves as the residence of the city's military governor and has a 300-strong garrison. Another inscription, lost today but known from the writings of the 17th-century Ottoman traveller Evliya Çelebi, testified to another restoration in 1646.

During the 1890s, the fortress was converted into a prison. This conversion entailed the removal of all previous buildings in the fort's interior, of which no trace now survives. The fortifications themselves were only little modified, although their role was effectively reversed: designed to protect its residents from outside dangers, they know served to isolate the inmates from the outside world.

The prison was for long the main penitentiary facility of the city, and housed all convicted, regardless of sex or crime. New buildings were built along both sides of the walls, to fulfill the various needs of the fort's new role. The interior courtyard was partitioned into five separate enclosures by fences radiating from a central watchtower. Three featured a two-story building housing the cells and a guard post, while the other two held the prison chapel and other annexes. A fourth cell block was situated close to the north-eastern tower, and was destroyed during the Second World War. The exterior buildings, on the fort's southern side, housed the administration, the women's prison and, to the west, the isolation cells.

The prison is well known through its frequent occurrence in the underground rebetiko music. Many songs feature its colloquial name,Yedi Kule. Ιt also acquired notoriety through its use to house political prisoners during the Metaxas Regime, the Axis Occupation of Greece, and in the post-war period from the Greek Civil War up to the Regime of the Colonels.

The prison functioned until 1989, when it was moved outside the city. The site was then taken over by the Ministry of Culture and the regional Byzantine archaeology service, the 9th Ephorate of Byzantine and Modern Antiquities, which moved some of its offices there. The ephorate had already been active in the restoration works of 1973 on the north-eastern curtain wall, and then again between 1983 and 1985 in the restoration of the damages caused by an earthquake in 1978.

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Founded: 4th century AD
Category: Castles and fortifications in Greece

Rating

4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Halley Patteson (11 months ago)
If you want to enter, they are not 24 hours! Closed at five pm today when I went. Cost was six euros. The construction still takes up half of the monument, which is okay and understandable, however a price reduction for entrance would have been preferred. Because of the construction, the offices were moved to another floor of the museum so only half was available to walk through. Photos attached of my view through the bars of the locked second-level door. It seemed like the Heptapyrgion was 1/2 construction, 1/4 staff only/restricted, and barely 1/4 of historical content for visitors. I’d rate this a ‘visit if you can but don’t fret too much about missing it’ experience for now, at least until the end of the construction. The staff was very, very kind, informative, and welcoming. It would be 5/5 if it wasn’t for the construction (but I understand it’s importance and respect the fact that this historical monument is being cared for and improved) and the lack of a reduced admissions price. May the construction finish soon!
Şafak Akat (15 months ago)
Must visit place in Thessaloniki. You can feel the history when you go there. Do not forget to get in a cell to feel like same with the prisoners in old times. Also the view on top is great.
Sindre Deschington (2 years ago)
You have to pay an entry fee, and the views are absolutely worth it - gives you a sense of how massive Thessaloniki actually is! Some parts of the castle was closed but still a very nice visit.
Prd Uch (2 years ago)
You need to pay an entry fee, but then you get a nice views into the surroundings. During our visit there were reconstruction's works, so you can expect a perfect enjoyment after the works are finished.
Dimitrios Topouzidis (2 years ago)
If there is a concert there, go watch it. The place transforms to something magical. The acoustics are good, the environment is great, the temperature in summer isn’t too hot at evenings.
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