Beautiful as she may be, Thessaloniki wouldn’t be half as charming without her 5 km long waterfront promenade. This is where the city lives and breathes, works out and cools down, goes for a walk, falls in or out of love, wines and dines, gets inspired, goes fishing and pet walking, argues about politics and football (two absolute favourites among my compatriots).
And in the midst of all this vibrant energy stands prominently the city’s most recognizable and photographed landmark, the White Tower.
It is thought that the present tower was built in the 15th century on the ruins of an older 12th century Byzantine fortification, and was part of the walls – demolished in 1966 – of the old city of Thessaloniki.
During the Ottoman occupation, the tower was used as a fort, a garrison and a prison where numerous tortures and executions gave it the name ”Tower of Blood” or ”Red Tower” (Turkish: Kanli Kule, a name it kept until the end of the 19th century).
When Thessaloniki was annexed from the Ottoman Empire to the Hellenic State in 1912, the tower was whitewashed as a symbolic gesture of cleansing, hence becoming the ”White Tower” (Greek: Lefkos Pyrgos – Λευκός Πύργος).
I guess that was the only time it had ever been whitewashed, I have no recollection of it ever being actually white but rather an earthy light brown, a patina acquired naturally over time.
Neither had I any recollection – until my last visit in September – of its interior ever having been so well maintained, its features properly highlighted as befits a monument of such value.
I hadn’t realised how large its core rooms actually are, for in modern times – from the First World War onwards – the Tower was used to house successively, an operations centre of the Allied Forces, a storage space for antiquities, the city’s air defense centre, a University meteorological laboratory and a Sea Scout unit. This meant that the only part of the Tower open to public was the turret, reached via a gentle stone-step spiral ramp, offering some of the city’s most splendid views.
Today it is part of the Museum of Byzantine Culture and hosts a permanent exhibition on the history and culture of Thessaloniki. I was delighted to discover that multimedia and modern technology was applied with care, respecting the physiognomy of the monument. There are still a couple of shortcomings, notably the fact that there is no elevator, making it inaccessible to people with mobility difficulties, nor air-conditioning (although this is largely taken care of by the tower’s thick walls and natural ventilation).
A brief photo-essay to give you an idea:
360° views of the city and Thermaikos Gulf from the turret:
Shared photo credits (Konstantinos & Lia)
Thessaloniki, 8 – 15 September 2014