Castles are special monuments that indicate the invaluableness of a city. The length of the walls, the number of castles are factors that signify the value of a city. Istanbul is one of these cities. Throughout history this city has been a favorite with great civilizations. It was always unreachable with its magnificent Bosphorus, unparalleled nature, and strong fortresses. In every era, the Bosphorus Strait has always been one of the world’s major waterways. And in every period, great importance was given to protecting the Bosphorus. Apart from the walls built by Roman Emperor Theodosius II and the Genoese (Yoros) Castle in Anatolia, after the Turks conquered Istanbul castles and fortresses were built in all directions to control the entrance to the Bosphorus. Sultan Bayezid I made one of the main preparations leading to the conquest of Istanbul by capturing one of these large castles. Later, these castles that were captured by the Ottoman Empire became the unique structures that protected Istanbul.
I planned a route along the Bosphorus to visit Istanbul’s four castles that may be physically worn, but are still strong and proud in spirit. I chose Anadolu Hisarı (Anatolian Castle) as my first stop. It was early Sunday morning, the area was quiet, but the shops were hectic. Obviously, they were confident of having a busy summer day’s trade. The car park attendant asked me to park my car at the end of the car park. I wanted to take a rest and have morning coffee, but the waiter in the café was having difficulty finding a table that hadn’t been reserved. I realized that the Göksu Creek, a place for relaxing and recreation since the Byzantine period has maintained its popularity.
Anadolu Hisarı: The Narrowest Point of the Bosphorus
Anadolu Hisarı, also known as Güzelcehisar and Yenicehisar, is built on the narrowest point of the Bosphorus on an area of 7,000 square meters. It was built in 1395 by Sultan Bayezid I, the fourth sultan of the Ottoman Empire, to control traffic on the Bosphorus Strait from the Anatolian shore, right beside the point where the Göksu Creek flows into the Bosphorus. Rumeli Hisarı is immediately opposite. The outer walls added by Fatih Sultan Mehmed during the construction of the Rumeli Hisarı, were used both in attacks and to protect the castle. Anadolu Hisarı, with its inner and outer fortress, consists of the walls of this castle. Entering the castle or climbing up onto the walls is not allowed for safety reasons, but the namazgah (open-air prayer area), considered to be indication of the Ottomans’ passion to conquer Istanbul, is open to visitors at certain times. Fatih Sultan Mehmed had the namazgah, a part of the Anadolu Hisarı, built for the soldiers to pray. This is literally an open-air mosque; it has a plain mihrab made of cut stone on the qiblah wall and beside it a minber (pulpit). It was restored by the Beykoz Municipality four years ago, and is currently open to the public for the Friday, bayram (Eid), and tarawih prayers.
I am now traveling from the district that took its name from the Anadolu Hisarı, to another castle on the edge of the Black Sea, Yoros Castle. Traffic began at the Anadolu Kavağı. The combination of summer, coast, and Sunday… All the picnic enthusiasts are out on the roads. Some have already found a place to sit, others are rushing to find somewhere. Men and women, the young and old, everyone is determined to have a relaxing day. Skipping ropes, balls, and portable stoves, the famous three are the main feature of a day out. As we go up to the castle the scene is no different. Villagers who open stands along the road are a reminder that this is the mulberry and greengage season. The view from the castle is magnificent. The blue of the sea, evergreens, and butterflies… Ships silently leave trails of white foam on the dark blue background on the horizon. Yoros Castle was constructed in present-day Beykoz to control the ingoing and outgoing sea traffic from the Black Sea. The castle sits on a mountain overlooking Anadolu Kavağı. It was said to have taken its name from “Hieron” meaning “Sacred Place,” but there are also other legends. Some historians are of the opinion that the name “Yorus” deriving from “orus” meaning “mountain” appears to be more logical. One account is regarding Zeus, known as the king of gods in Greek mythology. It is believed that before the castle was constructed there was a temple built for Zeus in the area. In this context, it can be suggested that the name “Yoros” came from “ourios,” a title given to Zeus meaning “favorable winds.”
Another misconception is that this was a Genoese castle. An inscription made from bricks in one of the towers in ancient Greek is an indication that it is an East Roman structure. The brief story of the castle is as follows: it was captured by the Turks in 1305, but retaken shortly thereafter. Since 1348, the Genoese that already controlled the Black Sea trade route, seized the castle, but it was recaptured by the Ottomans that controlled the Anatolian coasts. It was restored by Bayezid II, who restored almost all of the coastal castles in the Ottoman Empire; he had a masjid built in the castle and commissioned Mehmed Ağa, the castle warden to build a hammam. Armenian author Agop İnciyan wrote that at the beginning of the 19th century, there was a Turkish neighborhood consisting of 25 units in the castle, and that under the supervision of a warden, a battalion of 20 guardsmen lived here. Yoros Castle has been closed to visitors for a long time. However, the pleasure of the views over the Bosphorus, and after a little climbing the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge are quite unique. Looking carefully, the tower of another castle, Imros is visible on the opposite shore. This is my next stop; the Imros Castle is situated on the entrance of the Black Sea.
Imros: The Bosphorus’s Military Patrol Point
Imros Castle appears after a corridor of greenery on the road from the edge of Sarıyer towards the Black Sea. This is the place where the blue, calm flow of the Marmara Sea is replaced by darker blue, raging waves. Imros consists of an arched entrance of cut stone, and a long arched wall joining two towers. Families swimming at the edge of the castle with their children, despite the scary waves, appear to have found a formula to cool down in the heat of the summer. Garipçe Köyü (village), a white lighthouse, the village mosque, and the tips of the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge are visible. Apart from people on their Sunday outing, it is also possible to see couples having engagement or wedding photographs taken in the castle towers.
Imros, that today has become a day trip attraction, was originally built by the Genoese to protect the Bosphorus entrance from the Western Black Sea. The Yoros Castle and Rumeli Kavağı are visible on the opposite shore. Imros Castle, rebuilt in the Ottoman period at the beginning of the 17th century by Murad IV, was used as a military patrol point during the Republican period. According to historical sources, in that period there were 60 military living quarters, 100 cannons, an armory, wheat depots, and a mosque. This site is classified as a kind of military base that was home to 300 soldiers.
Gem of the Bosphorus: Rumeli Hisarı
I kept the best, most exciting castle tour for last. My next stop is the gem of the Bosphorus, Rumeli Hissarı. There is plenty of traffic both on land and on the sea. The castle is surrounded by places selling breakfast and coffee. Here, there are people riding in boats, on bicycles, and despite the current, people swimming in the cool waters of the Bosphorus. Rumeli Hisarı, with its areas designed as an open-air museum and masjid that can be used at prayer times, is different from the other castles. The three main towers named after Halil, Zağnos, and Saruca Pashas are open to the public. As you climb up the towers, the view of the Bosphorus accompanied by the Fatih Sultan Mehmed Bridge connecting the two sides of the city makes Istanbul even more enchanting. Seeing this makes you understand Mehmed the Conqueror’s passion for conquering Istanbul. Rumeli Hisarı was constructed by Sultan Mehmed II in 1452, just before he conquered Istanbul to prevent any potential attacks from the northern side of the Bosphorus. The fortress is immediately opposite the Anadolu Hisarı, and also lends its name to the surrounding district. It was also named “Boğazkesen” (Strait Cutter) because it is located on the narrowest part of the Bosphorus.
At the Rumeli Hisarı, one of the symbols of Istanbul, the crimson sunset is merging with the coolness of the Bosphorus. The museum warden is placing the huge castle key in the lock, exhausted. He is not alone; the rowers are exhausted from rowing, the fishers from fishing, and the captains from steering the ships. Only the castles have not succumbed to the exhaustion of time in the evening darkness -castles that guard Istanbul as if they made a promise, a pledge; as if they are devoted to protecting this city…