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Rumelihisarı 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 the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II between 1451 and 1452, before he conquered Constantinople. The three great towers were named after three of Mehmed II's vezirs, Sadrazam Candarlı Halil Pasha, who built the big tower next to the gate, Zağanos Pasha, who built the south tower, and Sarıca Pasha, who built the north tower.
Rumelihisarı is situated at the narrowest point with 660 m of the Bosporus strait, just opposite of the Anadoluhisarı on the Anatolian side, another Ottoman fortress which was built between 1393 and 1394 by Sultan Bayezid I. The place was chosen to prevent aid from the Black Sea reaching Constantinople during the Turkish siege of the city in 1453, particularly from the Genoese colonies such as Caffa, Sinop and Amasra. Sultan Murad II (1404-1451), who wanted to ferry his army across the Bosporus, encountered difficulties due to the blockade of the Byzantine fleet. The necessity of a fortress opposite of Anadoluhisarı 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 for 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 the plea for peace of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI (1404-1453), who understood the intention of the Sultan. The construction began on April 15, 1452. Each one of the three main towers were named after the Pashas who supervised their construction, which were later named after them. The sultan personally inspected the activities on the 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 shaped as prisms with multiple corners and six others are cylindrical. The main tower in the north, the Saruca Pasha Tower, is in cylindrical form with its 9 stories and height of 28 m, has a diameter of 23.30 m and its walls are 7 m thick. Today, this tower is called the Fatih (Conqueror) Tower after Sultan Mehmed II. 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 a 23.30 m diameter and the walls are 6.50 m thick. The main tower in the south, the Zağanos Pasha Tower, has only 8 stories. The cylindrical tower is 21 m high, has a 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 long. 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 "Boğazkesen", literally meaning "The Strait Cutter", referring to the Bosporus Strait. It was later renamed as Rumelihisarı, which means "Fortress on the Land of the Romans", i.e. Byzantine Europe, or the Balkan peninsula.
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 Ağa, was bombed and sank. The cannons were later used until the second half of the 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. Rumelihisarı, which was designated for the control of the ship passage through the strait, eventually lost 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. Rumelihisarı 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. Rumelihisarı is since 1960 a museum and an open-air theater for various concerts at festivals during the summer months. The Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge which spans over the Bosporus is located close to the fortress, to the north.
Turkey's one of the most prestigious universities, Boğaziçi (Bosphorus) University is located at the hills on the Rumelihisarı.
Rumelihisarı as an open-air museum is open to public every day except Wednesdays from 9:00 to 16:30.