White Tower of Thessaloniki
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The White Tower of Thessaloniki (Greek: Λευκός Πύργος Lefkos Pyrgos; Turkish: Beyaz Kule; Ladino: Kuli Blanka) is a monument and museum on the waterfront of the city of Thessaloniki, capital of the region of Macedonia in northern Greece. The present tower replaced an old Byzantine fortification, known to have been mentioned around the 12th century, that the Ottoman Empire reconstructed to fortify the city's harbour sometime after Sultan Murad II captured Thessaloniki in 1430. The tower became a notorious prison and scene of mass executions during the period of Ottoman rule.
The White Tower was substantially remodeled and its exterior was whitewashed after Greece gained control of the city in 1912. It has been adopted as the symbol of the city.
The White Tower takes the form of a cylindrical drum 23 m (75 ft) in diameter with a height of 34 m (112 ft) above ground level, on top of which is a turret 12 m (39 ft) in diameter and 6 m (20 ft) high. Some of the embrasures in the outer wall of the tower are reached by a spiral ramp; others are accessed from a central room on each of the six floors.
The turret houses a platform with a diameter of 10 m (33 ft), and the platform at the top of the main tower in front of the turret is about 5 m (16 ft) wide.
The tower, which once guarded the eastern end of the city's sea walls, was for many years attributed to Venice, to which the Byzantines ceded Thessaloniki in 1423. It is now known that the tower was constructed by the Ottomans sometime after the army of Sultan Murad II captured Thessaloniki in 1430. Until 1912, an inscription in Ottoman Turkish verse above the door dated the structure to AH 942 (1535–1536).
The historian Franz Babinger speculated that the work was designed by the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, who is known to have built fortifications, including a similar tower at the Albanian port Valona in 1537.
The Ottoman-built structure itself has been altered substantially over the years. Early illustrations[when?] show that it was originally covered by a conical roof, like similar towers in the Yedikule Fortress and Rumelihisarı fortress in Istanbul.
Until its demolition in 1917, a chemise stood at the foot of the tower, supporting the heavy guns and enclosing an area at least three times the diameter of the main tower. Octagonal turrets on the chemise and caponiers at ground level provided flanking fire around the tower. It is unclear whether the chemise was part of the original scheme for the tower or was a later addition.
The tower was for centuries part of the walls of the old city of Thessaloniki, separating the Jewish quarter of the city from the cemeteries of the Muslims and Jews. The city walls were demolished in 1866.
From the Red Tower to the White Tower
The Tower was used by the Ottomans successively as a fortress, garrison and a prison. In 1826, at the order of the Sultan Mahmud II, there was a massacre of the rebellious Janissaries imprisoned there. Owing to the "countless victims of Ottoman torturers and executioners", the tower acquired the name "Tower of Blood" or "Red Tower" (Turkish: Kanli Kule), a name which it kept until the end of the 19th century.
When Thessaloniki was annexed from the Ottoman Empire to the Hellenic State in 1912 during the First Balkan War, the tower was whitewashed as a symbolic gesture of cleansing, and acquired its present name. King George I of Greece was assassinated not far from the White Tower in March 1913.
The Tower is now a buff colour but has retained the name White Tower. It now stands on Thessaloniki's waterfront boulevard, Nikis (Victory) Street. It houses a museum dedicated to the history of Thessaloniki and is one of the city's leading tourist attractions.
White Tower Museum
The White Tower houses an exhibition dedicated to the city of Thessaloniki and its history throughout various periods, organized by the city's Museum of Byzantine Culture. It is under the administration of the Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities of the Greek Ministry of Culture.
The Tower is open to the public, and visitors have the opportunity to view a map of the city with monuments and museums, a timeline with events relevant to Thessaloniki, scientific articles of distinguished historians and archaeologists, bibliography etc. School excursions may be arranged by contacting the Byzantine Museum.
For the first few months of 2002 the White Tower housed ‘Byzantine Hours’, an exhibition devoted to ordinary life in Byzantine times.
Exhibits on the first floor were part of the thematic unit entitled ‘Professionals in the market place’. To be more precise, there were tools and other objects belonging to goldsmiths, blade-smiths, cobblers, glass-makers and tilers, coins and a model of the city of Thessaloniki market place. The second floor was devoted to journeys and trade. So exhibits included objects and texts related to journeys by sea and overland, fairs, spectacles and pilgrimages.
The third floor was focused mainly on the presentation of the Byzantine home and what the inside, the decoration, suppers and the neighbourhood were like. One floor above this there was an exhibition of life at home with garments and footwear, cosmetics, perfume and jewellery, personal grooming, and even superstitions. The theme of the top floor was death, covering burial and graves, funerary customs, finds from graves, gravestone inscriptions from cemeteries, even objects and specimens of magic were on display in the show cases on the top floor of the Tower.
The tower is now used as a museum and for educational purposes.
White Tower banknotes controversy
In the early 1990s, the White Tower, located in the capital city of the Greek region of Macedonia, became the focus of a major controversy between Greece and the newly independent Republic of Macedonia, previously part of the former Yugoslavia. The controversy was part of a larger dispute over the historically important name of Macedonia.
Unofficial "Makedonka" souvenir banknotes, created by nationalist organizations in the Republic of Macedonia, depicted the White Tower of Thessaloniki, in spite of the tower being located in the Greek region of Macedonia and not in the Republic of Macedonia. VMRO-DPMNE went so far as to propose the White Tower-depicting banknote's official adoption. However, the government in Skopje rejected its official use and adopted a different design for the new Macedonian denar, which was issued in 1992.
IMPRES, nonetheless, printed unofficial banknotes depicting the White Tower, which were sold as souvenirs on the streets of Skopje, bearing the disclaimer, "This is a souvenir banknote and not for official use."
The printing of the notes became the subject of a rumor in Greece that the currency of the new neighbouring state did in fact depict Greek symbols —a highly controversial point, given the dispute with the Republic of Macedonia over its name and flag. The notes were never placed in circulation, as they were not legal tender, but the episode nonetheless exacerbated the ill will felt between the two countries and helped to aggravate tensions.
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