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

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4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

George Charousis (5 months ago)
The place offers an amazing view of Thessaloniki while, at the same time, the visitor is able to have a good insight of the archaeological site by walking across it and visiting the exhibition that is inside. Finally, it is well preserved and maintained.
Paul (5 months ago)
The fortress has a interesting history that is presented in a small museum, otherwise the area that is accessible is quite small. The view from above is nice but for 6€ not worth in my opinion. However if you are under 25 the entrance is free!
Stephen Winrow (5 months ago)
Well worth a visit, especially if you visit the exhibition at the white tower first which is in the town, which further puts the past of castle into context. Castle is impressive with commanding views of Thessaloniki, only part of castle is accessible to the public, including the cell block used more recently for political prisoners. There are also further ruined towers and walls in the surrounding area which truly sdemonstrate how extensive this castle must of been in earlier times.
Harry Trigazis (6 months ago)
Nice place. Very peaceful at sunrise.
Jesse (6 months ago)
I wish more of it was accessible! Also it's hours are 10am to 5pm everyday except Tuesday it's closed!
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