The Yedikule Fortress (Castle of Seven Towers)

The first fortress behind the Golden Gate began being built during the reign of John I Tzimiskes and was completed under Manuel I Komnenos. That fort (Kastellion) had five towers, and was hence also named Pentapyrgion. It was destroyed after the first fall of the city to the Fourth Crusade, and rebuilt only in 1350 by John VI Kantakouzenos. The new fort featured five octagonal towers, and together with the two marble towers of the Golden Gate, seven in total, becoming known as the Eptapyrgion ("Seven Towers"). In 1391 however, John V Palaiologos was forced to raze the fort by Sultan Bayezid I, who otherwise threatened to blind his son Manuel, whom he held captive. Emperor John VIII Palaiologos attempted to rebuild it in 1434, but was thwarted by Sultan Murad II.
After the final capture of Constantinople, Sultan Mehmed II rebuilt the fort in 1457, again with seven towers (four on the Inner Theodosian Wall - towers eight to eleven - and three larger ones behind), as the Yedikule Hisar (Turkish for "Fortress of Seven Towers"). During much of the Ottoman era, it was used as a treasury and state prison. Amongst its most notable prisoners was the young Sultan Osman II, who was imprisoned and executed there by the Janissaries in 1622.

Porta Aurea (“The Golden Gate”), known in Turkish as Yedikule, was the main entrance to the city. Foreign dignitaries were welcomed at this gate, which used to be lavishly decorated with sculpted elephants. After the Ottoman takeover in 1453, Porta Aurea was expanded into a fortress. Walking the dimly lit stairways of its seven towers, it is easy imagining yourself back in time. Once at the top, visitors are treated to a panoramic view of the city and the Sea of Marmara. Concerts and festivals are regularly held inside the fortress.

After walking interminably since the last city entrance, the Theodosian Walls once more will admit you into Old Stamboul. The lane is narrow and cars come in and out, so be prompt as you rejoin the city. The Castle of the Seven Towers cannot be entered from outside the walls.

Castle design has changed throughout the centuries, incorporating each new defensive mechanism as it came into existence. For a thousand years the Theodosian Wall itself was considered history's most perfect medieval fortification, but in 1453 Mehmet's cannons literally blew away the idea. In the keep pictured in the photo are several eyelets that enabled defenders to pour down arrows and other projectiles without exposing themselves to return fire. In the center of the upper right quadrant of the photo, you can see the chute from which hot oil or pitch was poured onto those below.

Nearing Yedikule, the interesting 'Castle of the Seven Towers,' the walls are more intact and for several hundred yards still perfectly preserved. This is happily the case because Mehmet's guns never tried the masonry here. The shorter, outer wall becomes visible along with sections of the moat, where today's Turks still tend their gardens. Again Melville: "Very loamy. Here the soldiers of Constantine fell. Sewn in corruption and raised in potatoes."

The Fortress of the Seven Towers was built around the Porta Aurea (Golden Gate) constructed circa AD390 by Theodosius I and through which Emperors entered the city. The gate became part of the city walls, buolt during the reign of Theodsius II, and then after the Ottoman capture of Istanbul, Memhet the Conqueror began remodelling the fortress adding 5 towers until it took the shape that it retains today. The fortress was originally used as a treasury but then became a prison in which foreign dignitaries, members of the ruling elite and deposed Sultan’s were held – and executed. Now as well as being a historical attraction the fortress is used as a concert arena. You can still see the remains of the Golden Gate - now bricked up – and also the aptly descriptive Well of Blood into which served heads were tossed. The great pleasure of Yedikule though is scrambling up and down the fortifications, in and out of towers and gazing out over the Sea of Mamara and towards Sultanahmet in the distance. Its not for the faint hearted, there are no guard rails on the fortifications or ramparts, it’s uneven underfoot, quite vertiginous and some of the metal stairwells in the towers are a little rickety. So be careful, however, it is also fantastic – we had the place more or less to ourselves and it was great fun exploring the different levels in the hollow towers, scaring ourselves by peeping over edges or just leaning on the walls and staring at the distant ships making their way across the Sea of Mamara. Open: Mon, Tue and Thurs-Sun 9.30am-4.30pm