Sunday, January 22, 2017

RUMELİ FENERİ GENOESE CASTLE

Rumelifeneri, Sarıyer - İstanbul - Turkey

GPS : 41°14'15.0"N 29°06'39.0"E / 41.237500, 29.110833

Rumeli Feneri Genoese Castle / Sariyer photo rumelifeneri_castle104.jpg

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In the North end of Istanbul, near a village near the Bosporus’s Black Sea end named “Rumeli Feneri”, there’s a Medieval Genoese castle. Rumeli Feneri literally means “Greek land Lighthouse” in Turkish language. The village is named after a historical lighthouse still in use which is located on the European side of Bosphorus’ Black Sea entrance in Istanbul. Rumeli (or Rumelia) is the former name for the Turkish lands in Europe.

The lighthouse was built by the French in order to provide safe navigation for the French and British war ships entering the Istanbul Strait from Black Sea during the Crimean War (1853-1856). The lighthouse is situated on a hillside 58 m (190 ft) high above the sea level and the entirely white painted tower has a height of 30 m (98 ft). It is the tallest lighthouse in Turkey. The tower has the form of a two-staged octagonal prism. Initially, it was lit by kerosene that was later replaced by Dalén light using carbide (acetylene gas).

Today, the light source is electricity, however, a butane gas lighting system is also installed for backup purposes. The Fresnel lens with 500 mm (1.6 ft) focal length allows the white light that group flashes every 12 seconds, a range of 18 nmi (33 km).

 It was captured by Ottomans in 1305, according to the registries, it was under the control of Genoa in 1348. Yıldırım Beyazıt, who captured the castle in 1391, conducted some of his preparations of for the siege of İstanbul from the castle.

In 1576, the castle, the bath, and the mosque inside the castle were renovated. The castle’s existence, was for the first time, mentioned circa 1404 by R.G. Clavijo, who was appointed as ambassador to Samarkand from Spain, The east west length of castle, which was built of stone and brick, is 500 m, and its width ranges between 60 and 120 m.

We stumbled across the castle / fortress by chance, when we spotted it from the sea walls on another bluff, and decided to ride over. Its age seemed indeterminate; it had these old, worn-down looking walls which suggested something like 1770.

The Rumeli Feneri castle is built by the Genoese, but during the Ottoman period, the original medieval fortification was totally redesigned to place many cannon there. Because for many centuries the Black Sea was an Ottoman lake, the change must have occurred in the late 18th century or even later.

Genoese-built Rumeli Feneri castle, approached by a dirt road. The place where it stands is quite large, but much of what can be seen is simply remains of what was once a large castle that was used to protect İstanbul. While here, look out from the castle’s doors out to sea and listen to the sound of the waves hitting the rocks. Sometimes you may even see dolphins playing in the water here.

This tower stands at the northernmost point of the European side of İstanbul and was built with stone and brick during the 17th century under the reign of Sultan Murat IV. At one time, this fortification sheltered 300 soldiers, 60 homes, a fortress, 100 cannons and a mosque. It was used as a police outpost during the early republican years.

Rumeli Feneri castle placed in Europe in the opposite shore of the Yoros castle near the entrance of the black sea. The Yoros Castle is on the top of a green hill that now as long time ago, is occupied by soldiers of the Turkish army. Part of the hill where rise the castle is now an inaccessible military zone. On this subject, we should open a parenthesis for all those who are unfamiliar with Istanbul. Here, inside the city, the only large forests that have withstand to the speculation are those occupied by the army.

This is on the one hand the salvation of places like this hill that would otherwise have been invaded by new construction on the other it is a real pity for all the inhabitants of Istanbul who cannot enjoy these areas and on sunny days are crowded in the public parks and along the shore of the Bosphorus to eat and stay together.

We know that the area of the castle was occupied before the Byzantine time by the Phoenicians and the Greek for trading and military purpose, but the exact date of the foundation is still the date of the castle is still subject of studies. The Greeks called this area Hieron (Sacred Place) and built here the temple honoring Zeus and a temple of Altar of Twelve Gods  where probably the priests held the ritual practices and sacrifices in favor of the gods. Yoros Castle was intermittently occupied throughout the course of the Byzantine Empire.

Within the military museum in Istanbul is still possible to see a part of this chain to be aware of its weight and its enormous size. The castle was the apple of discord between the Byzantines, Genoese, and Ottomans. For several years there was an endless dispute. In 1305 it was conquered by Ottoman forces, then recaptured by the Byzantines. Then, Ottoman retained control of the castle from 1391 until 1414 when they lost it to the Genoese who had built a great trade route on the Black Sea.

The Genoese retained control of the castle for the next forty years, this is the reason why Yoros castle is also called the Genoese castle. Finally, Mehmed the Conqueror took control of Constantinople in 1453, he drove the Genoese out.  He then fortified the walls, and constructed a customs office, quarantine, and check point, as well as placing a garrison of troops there. The castle is now in ruins and it has not suffered heavy restorations as in the case of Yedikule castle.

The last forts at the location where the Bosphorus joins the Black Sea are the Rumelifeneri and the Anadolufeneri Forts the construction of which lasted until 1769. They were first designed by an architect said to be of Anatolian Greek origin and later redesigned by Toussaint in 1783, Lafitte-Clavé in 1785 and finally by Monnier in 1794. However, as they were not found to meet the requirements, batteries were added around them. It is said that one of these batteries was at Fener Burnu and the other at Papaz Burnu.

The Rumelifeneri village is situated on the European side of the Bosphorus, at the point where the straits meet the Black Sea. Located at the entrance to the Black Sea, it is the last settlement of the Bosphorus and takes its name from the lighthouse here. There is very little information on the establishment of the village and its history. The information found in sources concentrate mainly on Rumeli Feneri and the antique column called Öreke Taşı.

In front of the lighthouse there are a few rocks formerly referred to as ‘Simplikades’ and ‘Geant’ and by some writers as ‘Bavonere’. The highest of these rocks, which have been the subject of many legends, has a column piece on it and is therefore referred to as ‘Öreke Taşı’. This column has a partially-effaced inscription in Latin and although it is usually attributed to Pompeus, some writers attribute it to Augustus and more often to Emperor Hadrianus.

At present, in addition to Öreke Taşı and the lighthouse there is a mosque dating to the 19th century in Rumelifeneri village. The mosque is a building with ragstone walls, wooden floors and a hipped roof. The window frames are of brick. Although the Rumelifeneri village is generally known to have been a Greek village, the mosque visible on engravings dated 1817 (Pertusier) and 1854 (Laurens) is a sign that the village had a large Muslim population. Near the mosque there is a small public bath in ruin which is thought to date from the Ottoman period. In addition to a few traditional wooden houses, the village has three historical fountains.

The first is at the centre of the village. Its inscription in Ottoman states the name of Ahmed Ağa. The second fountain is on the way leading from the village centre to the sea and the third on the road from the village to the fort. The inscriptions on the second and third are the same and say that the fountains were commissioned by Gazi Hasan Pasha in 1776-7. This was Cezayirli Hasan Pasha who lived from 1714 to 1790, the famous admiral of the Ottoman fleet, a highly capable man and a real daredevil.

As a matter of  fact, in a document dated 1772 Gazi Hasan Pasha is mentioned as the Minister of War of the Bosphorus Forts and Imperial Captain and also that he was assigned to restore some damaged batteries in the Bosphorus and to replace some of the missing cannons.20 This information leads us to think that Hasan Pasha was also in charge of the Rumelifeneri Fort and that he most probably had water piped from the Bahçeköy dam to the fort and hence had the fountains in the village. Rumelifeneri Fort.

As mentioned above, one of the last forts on the European side, at the location where the Bosphorus opens into the Black Sea, is the Rumelifeneri Fort. It is located north of the village by the same name. It was first built in 1769 by an Ottoman Greek architect whose name is unknown and later restored by Toussaint in 1783, de Lafitte-Clavé in 1785 and finally by Monnier in 1794. No information related to the initial period when the fort was built was found in the research conducted in the Ottoman Archives.

The earliest archive document found is dated 1781 and has information on the winter quarters of the Rumeli and Anadolu forts. This document is an imperial consent to the effect that a total of 10,000 piaster - 5000 piaster to each of the building masters - be paid for the construction of the winter quarters. The second important document referring the fort is one dated 1793 regarding the restoration of the nine forts in the Bosphorus area. We believe that the Rumelifeneri Fort is among these nine. It is also very likely that the restoration work referred to in this document was conducted by Monnier in 1794.

The fort is a stone building measuring approximately 55 m by 70 m situated at the northern tip of a peninsula. It has a rectangular plan with two bevelled corners at the northern facade and is built of volcanic tuff stone except for the brick used in the arch and dome structure. The main wall surrounds a terraced courtyard which has two levels. The eastern and western walls are both topped by an octagonal tower. In the southern section of the courtyard there is a cistern below the courtyard level.

Two hipped-roof buildings are visible on the southern section of the fort’s courtyard in an engraving dated 1817. These buildings have also been indicated on a map dated 1838 in the Topkapı Palace Archives. At present, there is no sign of these buildings on the surface, although excavation might uncover their foundations. The main entrance of the fort is at the south and the sally-port is on the east main wall. The 3.38 m wide main gate is at the centre of the 46m long south facade.

The stairs located within the walls and on either side of the entrance gate provide access to the rampart walk. Although the wall thickness on this side is generally 2.2 m, the part of the wall on either side of the gate is 3.35 m to allow for the stairs. The widest part of the first tower, which we have called Tower A (located on the east side) is 13.78 m. Its exterior side length varies between 5.4 m and 5.9 m. There is a space with an octagonal plan, a height of 5.65 m and covered by a brick dome of 8.97 m in diameter on the lower floor of the tower.

The stairs located within the wall thickness first lead to the rampart walk level and then to the second floor of the tower. The floor of this level which is thought to have been of wood no longer exists. Looking down, one can see the dome of the lower floor. On the top floor, the interior width of the tower is 9.28 m, the wall thickness 2.25 m, the battlement thickness 1.85 m. The B tower on the west is larger than the A tower. Although it was not possible to measure its diameter, the side lengths of the octagon vary between 6.30 m and 6.45 m.

It has been observed that the B tower underwent some changes in the Republic period and that the concrete flooring added has spoiled the original interior arrangement. However, although damaged, the A tower retains its original arrangement. The wall thickness of the north side of the Rumelifeneri Fort is 2.65 m. The height of the walls varies between 5.8 m and 8.5 m depending on the slope of the land. The battlements on the rampart walk level are 0.95 m thick and 0.62 m high. The top parts of the battlements have collapsed. The firing holes below the walls in this section are 1.8m high on the exterior and 2.3m high on the interior side. The said openings are covered by one and a half brick thick arches.

The Council of Ministers has given permission for excavations in 2010 and since then an expert excavation team, Professor Asnu Bilban Yalçın, Byzantium art history expert, is heading, in collaboration with the Culture and Tourism Ministry and Istanbul University has been working on it. During excavations this year some 80 artifacts have been unearthed and this gave a great excitement to people who are interested in archeology.

Because of the excavations, the castle is now closed to visitors although usually the area is not supervised and visitors are free to walk, crossing a fence torn down, along the outer walls of the castle walking along a dangerous path. The climb in my opinion worth it for the fantastic scenery, although we all hope that the castle will soon reopen its doors to the public.

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