The Heptapyrgion, also popularly known by its Ottoman Turkish name Yedi Kule, is a Byzantine and Ottoman-era fortress situated on the north-eastern corner of the acropolis of Thessaloniki in Greece. Despite its name, which in both languages means "Fortress of Seven Towers", it features ten, and was probably named after the Yedikule Fortress in Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey). It served as the major redoubt of the city's acropolis, as well as the seat of its garrison commander in Ottoman times, until the late 19th century. It was then converted to a prison, which remained open until 1989. Restoration and archaeological work began in the 1970s and continues to this day.
During the 1890s, the fortress was converted into a prison. The exact date is not known with certainty, but the prison is mentioned in an 1899 map of the city. This conversion entailed the removal of all previous buildings in the fort's interior, of which no trace now survives. The fortifications themselves were only little modified, although their role was effectively reversed: designed to protect its residents from outside dangers, they know served to isolate the inmates from the outside world.
The prison was for long the main penitentiary facility of the city, and housed all convicted, regardless of sex or crime. New buildings were built along both sides of the walls, to fulfill the various needs of the fort's new role. The interior courtyard was partitioned into five separate enclosures by fences radiating from a central watchtower. Three featured a two-storey building housing the cells and a guard post, while the other two held the prison chapel and other annexes. A fourth cell block was situated close to the north-eastern tower, and was destroyed during the Second World War. The exterior buildings, on the fort's southern side, housed the administration, the women's prison and, to the west, the isolation cells.
Ét acquired notoriety through its use to house political prisoners during the Metaxas Regime, the Axis Occupation of Greece, and in the post-war period from the Greek Civil War up to the Regime of the Colonels.
The prison functioned until 1989, when it was moved outside the city. The site was then taken over by the Ministry of Culture and the regional Byzantine archaeology service, the 9th Ephorate of Byzantine and Modern Antiquities, which moved some of its offices there. The ephorate had already been active in the restoration works of 1973 on the north-eastern curtain wall, and then again between 1983 and 1985 in the restoration of the damages caused by an earthquake in 1978.
The systematic archaeological study and restoration of the Heptapyrgion began in 1990. The first phase ended in 1995, with the completing of a photogrammetric architectural survey and the creation of a digital model of the fortress. Several institutes participate in the relevant projects: the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, the Cornell University in the dendrochronology project, the Center for Preservation and Heritage of Mount Athos, and the municipality of Thessaloniki.
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