Rumelihisarı, also called the Rumelian Castle, is a very old fortress in Istanbul, Turkey. It is situated on a hill in the Sariyer district of the city. The fortress was completed in 1452 for Mehmed II, an Ottoman Sultan. All of the three large towers were given their names after the Pashas that had supervised their construction.
The fortress is positioned on the Bosphorus Strait, opposite of the Anatolian Castle, which is another fortress that was constructed by Sultan Bayezid I in the 1300’s. Rumelihisarı was built to manage the sea traffic along the Bosphorus strait and also to stop aid from reaching Constantinople during the Turkish siege in 1453. In an earlier Ottoman endeavor to conquer the area, Sultan Murad II had experienced difficulties as a result of a blockade of the strait by the Byzantine naval fleet. The need of a fortress that was across from Anadoluhisari was well recognized by the Ottomans. At one time there had been an ancient Roman fortification on the site where Rumelihisarı was built.
The construction started on April 14th, 1452. By using a vast number of workers and masons, the fortress was finished in only four months and sixteen days on August 31st, 1452. Supposedly, the sultan had the castle built in shape of the prophet Muhammad’s name that can actually be seen when looking down upon it. But, since Mehmed and Muhammad have the exact same Arabic spelling, it might have been built to honor the sultan.
The Rumelihisarı fortress has three main towers and one small one. There are thirteen smaller watchtowers situated on the walls that connect the large towers. The space inside each tower had wood floors and a furnace. The conical wood roofs were covered with lead crowned towers. The total area of the fortress is over 300,000 square feet.
The fortress originally had three main gates that were next to the large towers, two secret gates, one side gate and food cellars that were located by the southern tower. It also had a small mosque and living quarters for the soldiers. Only the shaft of the original mosque’s minaret remains today. A large cistern under the mosque provided water for the fortress and also for three wall-fountains, only one fountain remains today.
Following the fall of the city, Rumelihisarı functioned as an important customs checkpoint. The fortress lost its importance after two other fortresses were constructed further up the strait. During the seventeenth century, the fortress was put to use as a penitentiary, mainly for foreign prisoners. It was partially destroyed in 1509 by a strong earthquake, but it was repaired later. A fire destroyed most of the wood areas in two of the large towers in 1746. Sultan Selim III had the fortress repaired after the fire. Later, a new residential area was built inside it, only to be abandoned by the nineteenth century.
President Celal Bayar had residents in the area relocated in 1953. Extensive restoration operations began in May of 1955 and lasted until May of 1958. The fortress became an open-air theater and museum in 1960. Many concerts and festivals are held throughout the summer months. Rumelihisarı is open every day to the public except on Wednesdays.