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The White Tower of Thessaloniki

Fortress of Kalamaria, Tower of the Janissaries or Bloody Tower (Kanli Kule)

  • Name : The White Tower of Thessaloniki
  • Place : Thessaloniki, Greece
  • Construction date/period : Between 1430 and 1450 or between 1450 and 1470  
  • Construction materials : Stone
  • Architectural pattern : Cornice decorated with a frieze of small arches on brackets

Although the White Tower is one of the best conserved and most visible elements of the fortifications of Thessaloniki, it is not a well-known monument. The maritime rampart of which it was a part has completely disappeared, which means that precise observations cannot be made about the fortifications. Its dating is a matter of debate: the tower was thought to date from the Latin occupation of the early thirteenth century, or to have been built by the Venetians in the fifteenth century.

The cylindrical White Tower stands on the city’s eastern waterfront, perhaps on the site of an older tower. Its exterior facing is made of courses of stones. A cornice, comprising a frieze of small arcades on brackets, comprises the tower’s only decorative element. There is a turret on the platform at the top of the tower. The tower was also fitted out so that soldiers could live there: it comprised a ground floor and six storeys, linked by a spiral staircase near the exterior wall. Its interior layout differs from those of the great thirteenth-century circular towers of the West, such as, for example, those of Aigues-Mortes.

The White Tower was not effective for close defence because it lacked real arrow slits and artillery facilities, and its machicolations were not very functional. In terms of interior layout and general structure, it is closely related to Turkish military architecture, particularly the fortresses of Rumeli Hisar and Yedi Kule, which were built shortly before and shortly after the conquest of Constantinople in about 1453. A date of between 1450 and 1470 is thus plausible, but a slightly earlier date between 1430 and 1450 is also a possibility. The presence of machicolations and cordons are characteristic of the eclectic nature of the tower’s architecture, some of whose features seem to have been borrowed from Western architecture.

The absence of traces of violence on its exterior facing and the weakness of its defences imply the existence of a chemise[1] surrounding the tower, which is confirmed by old photographs. The chemise is thought to have been destroyed between 1916 and 1917. An inscription in Turkish, which has survived above the tower’s entrance, mentions 1535–36, a date that probably refers to the construction of the chemise, even though some researchers attribute it to the tower itself, which would then have been very late from the point of view of the siege technology.

The tower was used as barracks and then as a prison. Its name was changed several times: known as the Fortress of Kalamaria in the eighteenth century, it was named Tower of the Janissaries, then Bloody Tower (Kanli Kule), a reference to the massacre of its prisoners in 1826. In 1890 it was whitewashed as a sign of purification, hence the name White Tower. Today, the tower houses the permanent collection of the museum of the art and history of the city of Thessaloniki.


[1] A chemise is a type of rampart.


Spieser, J.-M. “Note sur le rempart maritime de Thessalonique”, Travaux et Mémoires, 8, 1981, p. 477–85.

Spieser, J.-M., J. P. Braun and N. Faucherre. “Deux tours turques des remparts de Thessalonique”, Makedonika, 23, 1983, p. 1–23.

Tampaki, S., A. Zompou-Aseme and A. Klementidou-Papadamou, “To kastro tou Leukou Pyrgou”, Byzantina, 20, 1999, p. 303–29.


E. Kourkoutidou-Nikolaidou and A. Tourta. Wandering in Byzantine Thessaloniki, Athens, 1997, Kapon.

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