Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Fortress of Europe, Istanbul

The Fortress of Europe (Rumeli Hisarı in Turkish) sits on the European shore of the Bosphorus just before the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge. During our time living in Istanbul we have passed this impressive structure many times, both on the water and on the road which runs alongside it, but, until a couple of weeks ago, we hadn’t actually visited it. Now that we have, I can report that it is well worth a visit, and that the 3TL (about £1.20) entrance fee is an absolute bargain!

The huge fortress was built by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1452 as his first step in the conquest of Constantinople. He chose the site as it is at the narrowest point of the Bosphorus and directly opposite the Fortress of Asia (Anadolu Hisarı) which had been built on the Asian shore by Sultan Beyazit I in 1391. By controlling this vital Byzantine supply route, Mehmet was able to lay siege to the city and prevent its re-supply by sea.

Mehmet planned the layout of the fortress himself, but wanted the construction to be completed quickly. To this end, he took charge of the walls and assigned responsibility for the building of each of the three main towers to his three viziers. He warned them that they would be executed if the work was not finished on time. Unsurprisingly, they succeeded in their task and, using 30,000 men, this major engineering feat was completed in just four months!

Following the completion of the fortress, the fall of Constantinople took less than a year, after which time the fortification was no longer needed for its original purpose. In subsequent years, it was used as a Bosphorus toll booth, a barracks, and a prison, before falling into disrepair. It was restored in the 1950s, and today the structure is a majestic reminder of its military past.

Once you’ve paid your entrance fee, you are free to wander at will. The grounds within the fortress are lush with trees, flowering shrubs, and scented ground-cover plants, offering a real oasis of calm away from the hustle and bustle of the city. There are plenty of benches provided to sit and read or just contemplate your surroundings. If you’re feeling energetic, you can clamber up steep, uneven stairs and access the ramparts and towers, from where you will get fantastic views of the Bosphorus. There are no barriers or hand-rails anywhere, so watch your step as you are climbing!

Being slightly off the beaten track, the Fortress of Europe never gets overrun with visitors, so take your time and marvel at this magnificent structure.

TOP TIP – Make a visit here part of a more extensive exploration of the European shore of the Bosphorus, as described here:

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