Istanbul’s Fortress of Europe

Writing about Kedi, a movie about the cats of Istanbul, inspired me to go back and look at photos from our 2009 trip to Turkey. I’ve written a few posts about that trip, though not one about Rumeli Hisari, also known as the Fortress of Europe.

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It’s a massive old fort at the northeastern edge of the European side of Istanbul.


Here’s a map that gives you a sense of the geography. We were staying near Sultanahmet, which is the heart of old Istanbul and where you will find the most iconic tourist attractions – the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace, etc. Rumeli Hisari is about halfway up the Bosporus, which divides Europe from Asia.

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To get there, we took the Istanbul Metro’s M6 line, getting off at the last stop. The Metro stations are decorated with murals depicting the city’s history.

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The Fortress of Europe was completed in 1452 by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. It was a key element of the last stage of the Ottoman drive to conquer the Byzantine Empire. Constantinople fell the following year, becoming Istanbul. This was regarded as a catastrophe in Christian Europe, but as a magnificent achievement by the Ottoman Turks.

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Anyway, here’s the gateway to the fortress, which is now a museum.

2009-12-29 05.29.06The entrance to the courtyard. We had the place practically to ourselves. 2009-12-29 05.33.07

Once inside, you can see that much of the interior has been filled in during the six centuries since construction. Trees have taken root and matured, creating a park-like feel.

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Still, the massive walls and towers remind you of the original purpose of the builders.

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It’s possible to go inside some of the towers and take a look, but when we were there you couldn’t climb up.

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After Mehmet put an end to the Byzantine Empire, the Fortress of Europe had little military value. For a while it hosted an open air theater.

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Another view of the walls and towers from the inside.

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We were free to make the steep climb up to the battlements. Danny, David, and I did just that. The steps were surprisingly high. There were no railings, something I can’t imagine would be allowed in the USA.

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Even if you are not thrilled by fortresses, the Fortress of Europe is worth visiting for its fantastic views of the Bosporus. Danny and David were 22 and 19, respectively, at the time of this trip.

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The Ottomans built this fortress at the narrowest point on the straight, across from another fort they had built on the Asian side a few decades before. This enabled them to cut off the defenders of Constantinople from supplies.

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This was a fun place to watch all the ships that fill this busy waterway.

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Across the water you can see the Fortress of Asia, also known as the Anatolian Fortress or Anadolu Hisari.

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Beyond the water there are other fascinating views of Istanbul’s Asian side.

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The political news from Turkey has been discouraging for some time. Still, we would love to go back, both to revisit favorite places and to see more of the things we never got to the first time.

27 Comments on “Istanbul’s Fortress of Europe”

  1. Wow, the fortress is amazing and so are the views. Can you imagine the people who were there when it was first built? Weird question, but what is the weather like there? Would people have been cold in the fortress in the winter? I know little about the history of this area.

    • We were there at Christmas, and it was light jacket weather, although it does sometimes snow in Istanbul, but generally just a dusting.

      This castle is a young boy’s dream – everything you would want in a castle, and hardly anyone around, and you’re allowed to climb all over it! We felt a bit guilty climbing over various ancient structures in Turkey; as Jason says, this wouldn’t be allowed in the United States. But in Turkey, parents let their children ride on the backs of 2000 year old stone lions.

  2. Makes me wonder which of our massive buildings will be rendered obsolete by new technology, and will be kept around as reminders of the past. Will everyone work at home in the future, and places such as the Willis (Sears) Tower be unused relics?

  3. You have been to so many interesting places you could write a guide book. Since I probably won’t be able to do these trips it is a delight to see these places through your eyes.
    I have always wanted an outdoor theater. This one is exceptional. What a view.

  4. High on my bucket list, but I doubt if I will be able to visit. What a wonderful gift to travel with your children. We tried to do the same, but I’m afraid they didn’t get to see anything this exotic…unless you call Las Vegas exotic, lol. (On our way to Death Valley, not as the destination.)

  5. I wouldn’t, not now. Not, if I were American. I am one of many Germans (well, Austrian, actually), who don’t visit Turkey now to protest, what big E. is doing. But if I were American, I just wouldn’t go for safety reasons. You might end up in jail, just because you’re American. That guy is downright crazy…

  6. Always great to get a glimpse of places I may never see. Looking at the vast walls I can imagine the poor builders
    (Slaves?) … Working on them for years. The views from up high are amazing too.Wonderful to see places like this with your sons .. Lasting family memories.

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