Rumelihisari Istanbul (Rumeli Fortess)

Rumelihisari is a fortress located in Istanbul, Turkey on a hill at the European side of the Bosporus just north of the Bebek district; giving the name of the quarter around it. It was built by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II in 1451, before he conquered Constantinople. The three great towers were named after three of Mehmed II's vezirs, Sadrazam Candarli Halil Pasha, who built the big tower next to the gate, Zaganos Pasha, who built the south tower, and Sarica Pasha, who built the north tower.


Rumelihisari is situated at the narrowest point with 660 m of the Bosporus strait, just opposite of the Anadoluhisari on the Anatolian side, another fortress built in 1393 by Sultan Bayezid I. The place was chosen to prevent aid from Black Sea reaching Constantinople. Sultan Murad II (1404-1451), who wanted to ferry his army across Bosporus, got into difficulties by the blocking Byzantine fleet. The necessity of a fortress opposite of Anadoluhisari was well known to the Ottomans. At this place, there was a Roman fortification in the past, which was used as a prison by the Byzantine and Genoese. Later on, a monastery was built here.

In preparation to the conquest of Constantinople, Sultan Mehmed II (1432-1481), son of Murad II, started to realize the construction of the fortress immediately following his second ascent to the throne in 1451. He refused urging of Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI (1404-1453), who well understood the intention of the Sultan. The construction began on April 15, 1452. One pasha supervised the building of each the three main towers, which were named later after them. The sultan personally inspected the activities on site. With the help of thousands of masons and workers, the fortress was completed in a record time of 4 months and 16 days on August 31, 1452.


The fortification has one small tower, three main towers, and thirteen small watchtowers placed on the walls connecting the main towers. One watchtower is in the form of a quadratic prism, six watchtowers are prism with multiple corners and six are cylindrical. The main tower in the north, the Saruca Pasha Tower, is in cylindrical form with its 9 stories 28 m high, has a diameter of 23.30 m and its walls are 7 m thick. Today, this tower is called Fatih Tower after the Conqueror. Halil Pasha Tower, a dodecagon prism, which stands at the waterfront in the middle of the fortress, has also 9 stories. It is 22 m high with 23.30 m diameter and the walls are 6.50 m thick. The main tower in the south, Zagnos Pasha Tower, has only 8 stories. The cylindrical tower is 21 m high, has 26.70 m diameter with 5.70 thick walls. The space within each tower was divided up with wooden floors, each equipped with a furnace. Conical wooden roofs covered with lead crowned the towers. The outer walls of the fortress are from north to south 250 m long and from east to west varying between 50 m and 125 m. Its total area is 31,250 m2.

The fortress had three main gates next to the main towers, one side gate and two secret gates for the arsenal and food cellars next to the southern tower. There were wooden houses for the soldiers and a small mosque, endowed by the sultan at the time of construction. Only the minaret shaft remains of the original mosque, while the small masjid added in the mid 16th century has not survived. Water was supplied to the fortress from a large cistern underneath the mosque and distributed through three wall-fountains, of which only one has remained. Two inscriptive plaques are found attached on the walls.

The fortress, designed by architect Müslihiddin, was initially called "Bogazkesen", meaning literally "cutthroat". It was renamed later Rumelihisari, which means "fortress on the land of the Romans".

Usage in the past

A battalion of 400 Janissaries were stationed in the fortress, and big cannons were placed in the Halil Pasha Tower, the main tower at the waterfront. After a short while, a Venetian sail ship coming from the Black Sea, which ignored the stop order of the commander of the fortress, Firuz Agha, was bombed and sank. The cannons were later used until the second half of 19th century for the greeting of the sultan while he was passing by on the sea.

After the fall of Constantinople, the fortress served as a customs checkpoint. Rumelihisari, which was designated for the control of the ship passage through the strait, lost in the following times its strategic importance when a second pair of fortresses was built further up the Bosphorus, where the strait meets the Black Sea. In the 17th century, it was used as a prison. Rumelihisari was partly destroyed by an earthquake in 1509, but was repaired soon after. In 1746, a fire destroyed all the wooden parts in two main towers. The fortress was repaired by Sultan Selim III (1761-1807). However, a new neighborhood was formed inside the fortress after it was abandoned in the 19th century.


Ordered by President Celal Bayar in 1953, the neighborhood was removed and an extensive restoration work began on May 16, 1955, which lasted until May 29, 1958. Rumelihisari is since 1960 a museum and an open-air theater for various concerts at festivals during the summer months. The Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge is spanning over Bosporus just north of the fortress.

Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror built Rumeli Fortress in four months only and directly opposite to Anadoluhisari in 1452 in preparation for the final attack on Constantinople (Istanbul), which led to the downfall of the Byzantine Empire. Today, the fortress hosts many concerts and dramatic performances in its amphitheatre usually during the summer months. The fort is open to the public as a museum as well (except on Mondays).

Rumelihisari as an open-air museum is open to public everyday except Wednesdays from 9:00 to 16:30.

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