Παρασκευή 8 Μαρτίου 2024

Fortress of Heptapyrgion (Yedi Kule), Thessaloniki, Greece

The Eptapyrgio, at the highest point of the acropolis of Thessaloniki, functioned as the last refuge for the defenders of the city during periods of siege and consists of ten towers (Π1-Π10), four-sided and three-sided, as well as the middle towers that connect them. From the 1890s, when the first written testimony is preserved that the fortress functions as a prison to meet the needs of the Ottoman Empire, until the 20th century. during which it functioned as a penitentiary institution, the history of Eptapyrgio is identified with the history of prisons. In 1989, the Fortress together with the plots surrounding it was transferred from the Ministry of Justice to the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture. From 1990 to 1995, the Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities of Thessaloniki undertook the archaeological research, the architectural study and its documentation (imprints, pathology records, measurements and chemical analyzes of materials, tree dating). Subsequently, the implementation of the most serious interventions on the monument begins (1996-1999 2nd KPS and 2000-2006 3rd KPS) which include the removal of newer building phases, fixings, local restoration of masonry and grouting, repairs or reconstructions of roofs and floors, E/M installations, works in the environment. The time period 2010-2015 within the framework of the ESPA project "The walls of Thessaloniki: Maintenance, Protection and Improvement of their upper surface", was implemented by the EF. A.PO.Th. the restoration of the northern central tower of the fortress. With the aim of highlighting and improving its accessibility, extensive restoration work was carried out such as recovery of damaged sections of masonry, jointing of internal and external faces, restoration of cracks, opening of blocked openings, reconstruction of the wooden floor between the two levels of the tower and construction of a roof. , restoration of the internal stairwells, installation of safety glazing and finally construction of a metal footbridge that restored the communication of the second level of the tower with the western meso-tower. Finally, in the last year period (2015-2018) various small-scale maintenance and configuration works were carried out in the individual areas of the Fortress
The Eptapyrgio Fortress, also known by the Ottoman name Yedi Kule, is located at the northeastern end of the walls of Thessaloniki, within the Acropolis.
It consists of two sections: the Byzantine fortress, which consists of ten towers, as well as the newer prison buildings, which have been built inside and outside the fortress.
The towers of the northern side are parts of the early Christian wall of the Acropolis, while those of the southern side were probably added during Middle Byzantine times, forming the closed core of the fortress.

Construction in the Byzantine period
The Heptapyrgion is located in the north-eastern corner of the city's acropolis. 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. There is no reference to this fort in the older literary sources, and the later ones are often ambiguous: a kastéllion (καστέλλιον, "fortress") is mentioned in 1208–1209 and a "kastellion with the Tzakones of the castle" in 1235. The "Koulas of Thessaloniki" (κουλάς from Turkish: kule, "fort") is present in the chronicles of the 14th and 15th centuries but could refer to the entire citadel and not just the Heptapyrgion.

From Byzantine citadel to Ottoman fort
The principal reliable testimony regarding the fortress is the inscription placed over its gate, which indicates that it was rebuilt by Çavuş Bey, the city's first Ottoman governor, in 1431, immediately after the Ottoman conquest of the city:

This acropolis was conquered and captured by force, from the hands of the infidels and the Franks, with the aid of God, by the Sultan Murad, son of Sultan Mehmed, whom God never ceases to give the banner of victory. And about a month later, this tower was rebuilt and founded by Çavuş Bey, king of the emirs and the Great, in the month of Ramadan, the year 834 (1431 AD).

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.

An inventory of the arms and munitions contained in the various forts of the city in 1733 provides the Turkish names for the ten towers: Fener Kulesi (Lamp Tower), Makaslı Kule (Bent Tower), Su Kulesi (Water Tower), Cephane Kulesi (Ammunition Tower), Hapishane Kulesi (Prison Tower), Kız Kulesi (Maiden Tower), Zahire Ambar Kulesi (Granary Tower), Hisar Peçe (Barbican), Kanlı Burgaz (Bloody Tower), and the Çingene Tabyalar (Fortifications of the Gypsies). The latter three were considered as individual forts, unlike the others, which are classified as simple towers.
Main gates of Yedi Kule with Ottoman soldiers in front, Illustration 1929

In the late 19th century, the fortress fell out of use as a military installation and was converted into a prison.
Επταπύργιο: Πύλη εισόδου.
As a Prison
Around 1890 the monument was used as men's, women's and military prisons.

During the 1890s, the fort was converted into a prison. The exact date is not known with certainty, but the prison is mentioned on an 1899 map of the city, thus providing a terminus ante quem for the change.
This conversion entailed the removal of all the previous buildings inside the castle, of which no trace survives today. The changes to the fortifications were not significant, although their primary role was reversed: from protecting the inhabitants from external threat, they now served to isolate the prisoners from the outside world.
Eptapyrgio Fortress 1918

The inner courtyard was divided by fences into five separate units. The outer buildings, on the south side of the castle, housed the administration, the women's prison, and to the west, the isolation cells.
Fortress of Heptapyrgio

The prisons of Eptapyrgio had acquired a bad reputation during the Metaxas dictatorship, the Occupation, and throughout the post-war period, especially the Greek Civil War and the junta of colonels.
Panoramic photo of the prisons of Eptapyrgio

In 1984, the then Minister of Justice, Georgios-Alexandros Magkakis, announced plans to transfer the prisons of Thessaloniki to a new location, describing the situation in Eptapyrgio as "hopeless". A few years later, at the beginning of 1987, the prisons of Eptapyrgio found themselves at the center of pan-Hellenic interest after prosecutorial and journalistic investigations which denounced brutal torture of prisoners by prison officials, extensive drug trafficking and rape.
Spring in Eptapyrgio

The chief warden of the prisons, Spyros Nitsos, was accused as the head of the "ring", who strongly denied all the accusations, while the Ministry of Justice completely covered him up.

The interior was remodeled and facilities were added to the exterior of the building. In 1989 the prisons were moved to Diavata, and Eptapyrgio was assigned to the Ministry of Culture. In recent years, efforts have been made to restore it and artistic events are held in the area.
Κονιόρδος, Βασίλης, Φρούριο Επταπυργίου: έρευνα στοιχείων και συμπληρωματικές παρατηρήσεις ως συμβολή σε μια νέα προσέγγιση κατά την αποκατάσταση του μνημείου, Μνημείο και Περιβάλλον, τ. 3 (1995), σ. 53-66
Κορδομενίδης, Γιώργος, Η βαρβαρότητα της επιλεκτικής μνήμης, Εντευκτήριο, τχ. 35 (1996), σ. 133-134
Νίγδελης, Κωνσταντίνος Μ. Επταπύργιο - Γεντί-Κουλέ. Συκιές (Θεσσαλονίκης): Δήμος Συκεών, 2002.
Σελίδες για τη φυλακή, Εντευκτήριο, τχ. 1 (Οκτ. 1988), σ. 3-39
Τσανανά, Αικατερίνη. Επταπύργιο: η ακρόπολη της Θεσσαλονίκης. Αθήνα: Καπόν, 2001
(Greek) (English) Kourkoutidou-Nikolaidou, E.; Tourta, A.. Wandering in Byzantine Thessaloniki. pp. 24–26.
Kourkoutidou-Nikolaidou, E.; Tourta, A.. Wandering in Byzantine Thessaloniki. pp. 24–26.
(English) Tsanana, E. (2001). The Eptapyrgion, the citadel of Thessaloniki. Athens: 9th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities (Thessaloniki), Ministry of Culture.
Άνοιξη στο Επταπύργιο
(Greek) Ćurčić, Sl.; Hatzitryphonos, Ev. (1993). Κοσμική Μεσαιωνική Αρχιτεκτονική στα Βαλκάνια 1300-1500 και η Διατήρησή της ("Secular Medieval Architecture in the Balkans 1200-1500 and its Conservation"). Thessaloniki: University Studio Press. pp. 192–195.
(in Greek and English) Kourkoutidou-Nikolaidou, E.; Tourta, A. Wandering in Byzantine Thessaloniki. pp. 24–26.
Tsanana, E. (2001). The Eptapyrgion, the citadel of Thessaloniki. Athens: 9th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities (Thessaloniki), Ministry of Culture.
Ćurčić, Sl.; Hatzitryphonos, Ev. (1993). Κοσμική Μεσαιωνική Αρχιτεκτονική στα Βαλκάνια 1300–1500 και η Διατήρησή της ("Secular Medieval Architecture in the Balkans 1200–1500 and its Conservation") (in Greek). Thessaloniki: University Studio Press. pp. 192–195.