Today, Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece and during the Byzantine era, it was considered the second largest city of the Empire. Thessaloniki was a jewel in the Byzantine Empire, until it was given to the Republic of Venice in 1423 during the siege by the Ottomans. The Venitians defended the city until they could not longer hold out in 1430 and was occupied by the Ottomans for almost 500 years. The Greek Army accepted the surrender of the Ottomans in Thessaloniki during the First Balkans War in 1912. Apostolos Papapostolou of the Greek Reporter explains how even in a city over 2,300 years old residents do not always know about the historic significance of their most important landmarks.
In a recent survey held in Thessaloniki – Greece’s second-largest city with its 400,000 inhabitants – seven out of 10 interviewed responded that the White Tower with its unique silhouette is ”the symbol of the city.” Nine out of ten responded mistakenly that the tower ”used to be a prison,” apparently mistaking it for the also famous castle of Genti Koule, which rises a few kilometres away.
In fact the White Tower of Thessaloniki is one of the city’s most important monuments, dominating its large port. Originally it was a fortified tower built by the Ottomans in the 15th century.
Later it was used as frontier post by the Janissaries, and only after that it became a prison for persons sentenced to death. It was built on the ruins of a Byzantine tower that linked the western side of the stronghold of Thessaloniki, still standing today, to the one on the seaside, which was knocked down in 1866. It has six floors, a height of 30 metres and a perimeter of 70.
At first it was called Lions’ Tower, but later other names were given to the construction: in the 18th century it was called Kalamaria Fortress and during the 19th century Tower of the Janissaries or Kanli Kule (Bloody Tower in Turkish), because prisoners were tortured there. In 1890 a prisoner serving a life sentence painted the tower white in exchange for his freedom, since then it is named White Tower. The answers given by the interviewed to questions about the White Tower show that often people in Greece know little about the history of their most famous monuments.
Read the rest of the article at Thessaloniki Rediscovers its Byzantine Walls | Greece.GreekReporter.com Latest News from Greece.
Photo by Tony Bowden