Everything you Need to Know about the Ottoman Monuments in Athens

posted in: Athens, Religion | 0
Athens in Ottoman Era by Edward Dodwell

The Ottoman Monuments in Athens are just a handful of monuments.

They may be prominent, they may be central, however, they are not easily recognized as Ottoman monuments. Even Athenians may find it difficult to realize that certain monuments come from the Ottoman era.

You may wonder why there are so few Ottoman monuments in Athens, especially if you already know that Athens remained under the Ottomans’ rule for almost 400 years (1456-1833).

Acropolis during the Ottoman Era by Edward Dodwell

There are two main reasons explaining the scarcity of the Ottoman monuments in Athens:

1. Following the Greek War of Independence which broke in the Peloponnese (1821), the vast majority of the Ottoman buildings and constructions were hastily demolished right after Athens’ liberation in 1833.

The newly liberated Greeks wanted only to be associated with their ancient history and not at all with anything that would remind them of the long Ottoman Occupation.

2. Athens, contrary to its future development as a capital and the largest Greek city today, at the time of the Ottoman Occupation, was just a small provincial town, so not so many or important Ottoman buildings were erected. This was in notable contrast to the vibrant metropolis of Thessaloniki, where today you can find many more Ottoman monuments.

In this post, you will find information on the still-standing and existing Ottoman monuments in Athens.

A visitor in Athens can easily see them all, as most of them are concentrated in beautiful Plaka, around the Roman Agora of Athens.

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Brief History of Ottoman Athens (1456-1833)

Parthenon with the Ismainti mosque: Credit:  LancelotTheodore Comte de Turpin de Crissé

The Ottomans conquered Athens in 1456, while it was under Frankish Duke Acciaiuoli’s rule.

The Sultan, Sultan Mehmed II, was an educated man and was impressed by the ancient monuments of Athens when he first visited it in 1458.

He respected the ancient ruins, he offered Athenians some basic freedom and their own local authorities.

However, the ancient citadel of Acropolis, the symbol of Athens, was quickly turned into the Ismainti mosque, and the Erechtheion temple was used to accommodate the Sultan’s harem.

Until then the temples in Acropolis were in very good condition and especially the Parthenon and the Propylaea were almost completely intact.

Ottoman Monuments in Athens

Ismainti Cami (Mosque) at the Parthenon

Mosque inside the Parthenon Credit: Peytier

Going back in history, and around the 6th century AD, the Christian (Byzantine) Kings of the time turned the internal part of the Parthenon into a Byzantine church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The Ottomans, some 900 years later turned this church into the Ismainti mosque, covering with limestone the Christian symbols and adding a minaret.

The whole Acropolis hill, besides the Ismainti mosque and the Erechteion being used as a harem, housed also a large number of buildings and storage rooms, and one of the rooms was inside the Parthenon. This is where the Ottomans kept their gun powder.

The Parthenon with the mosque in 1839 by Joly de Lotbinière

The destruction of the southern and internal part of the Parthenon occurred in the 1687 siege by the Venetians in the Morean War. The Parthenon was hit by artillery fire, and the gun powder kept inside its grounds exploded, destroying it to a large extent.

Parthenon was further damaged by Elgin between 1801 to 1812, who removed violently about half of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon, as well as sculptures from the Propylaea and Erechtheion.

Elgin claimed that he had taken them after he got a firman (an official Ottoman document) allowing him to remove the Parthenon’s friezes and marbles. The ancient Greek stolen marbles are kept today in the British Museum (along with one Karyatis from the Erechtheion Temple).

After the destruction of the Parthenon and the mosque from the bombardment, the Ottomans built another mosque in its place, a much smaller one that was demolished in 1842 by the Athenians.

Me (in red) at the Parthenon as it is today

The Wall of Haseki in Acropolis

Remains of Haseki Wall. Credit – Commons Wikimedia

Haseki, a tyrannical Voevoda (Military commander or governor) of Athens built a wall around Acropolis in 1778 which has been totally demolished except for a few rocks still remaining.

You can see the remains of the wall at the beginning of the eastern entrance of Acropolis.

Related post:

Tzisdarakis Cami in Monastiraki

Tzisdarakis Mosque – Canva

The Tzisdarakis Mosque is the most prominent Ottoman monument in Athens, in the center of the busy Monastiraki square. It was built in 1758 by the governor of Athens at the time, Voevoda Mustafa Aga Tzisdarakis.

Right next to the Tzisdarakis Mosque is Adrian’s Library, a Roman monument with beautiful Corinthian pillars.

The Pillars supporting the wall of Adrian’s Library

The story goes that Tzisdarakis used an ancient pillar to build the mosque which was against the general respect and superstition of the Ottomans towards the Ancient Greek Monuments. He probably used the 4th pillar from the Olympeion which is at least 1 km far from the mosque.

The Ottomans believed that the destruction of the ancient monuments would bring them all kinds of disasters and plagues. When the Sultan found out about the pillar, Tzisdarakis was unseated as a governor and was expelled from Athens.

The year after Tzisdarakis had used the pillar, history mentions a plague that broke in Athens, and the Ottomans attributed it to Tzisdarakis hybris.

Tzisdarakis Mosque and Adrian’s Library by Thiodose Achille Louis Vicomte Du Moncel

After the liberation of Athens, Tzisdarakis Mosque was used as a prison, as a warehouse, as a ballroom for the Greek King Otto in 1834, and once as a mosque again in 1966 for the exiled king of Saudi Arabia Saud to pray.

Since 1918, it has been turned into a branch of the Museum of Greek Folk Art and houses the donated ceramic collection of Vassilis Kyriazopoulos.

Currently, it is closed due to restoration works.

Note: Adrian’s Library became the seat of the Voevoda (Ottoman Governor) and was called Voevodalik. There are no traces of this construction left today.

Ottoman Athens: Archaeology, Topography, History

A joint publication of the Gennadius Library and the Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation, Ottoman Athens is the first volume to focus on the Ottoman presence in Athens.

Fetiye Cami in Roman Agora – مسجد فتحية

The Roman Agora: The Tower of winds and Fetiye mosque

The Fetiye Cami or the ‘mosque of the Conquest’ or ‘the mosque of the wheat market’ is located 5 minutes far from Tzisdarakis, inside the Roman Agora Archaeological site.

Plaque at the entrance of Fetiye mosque

It was built between 1668 and 1670, with a large rectangular main hall, crowned by a dome supported by four pillars. 

Entrance of Fethiye mosque in Athens
Entrance of Fetiye mosque

After the Greek Liberation and between 1834 to 1934, the Fetiye mosque was used as barracks and as a military prison. Since the early 20th century, it was used mainly as a storage area for the ancient findings in the Roman Agora until 2010.

Interior of Fetiye mosque

Since 2017, and after its complete restoration, it is open to the public to visit and cultural exhibitions are held there.

There is an entrance ticket for Roman Agora that includes the visit to the Fetiye mosque.

Ottoman Medresses in Athens

The few remains of the Medresses, the seminary of the Muslims, stand right opposite the Tower of the Winds and the Fetiye Mosque. It was constructed by Mehmet Fahri in 1721, according to the Arabic inscription on the gate.

Inscription on top of Medresses

I don’t remember how I found out that the door of the Medresses is an Ottoman monument, but I do remember how surprised I was.

For the majority of passerby, it is just an old door with no obvious importance as there is no sign to indicate what this door is about.

Tower of Winds and on the right side the Medresses when it was still whole by William Cole

The Medresses school was designed almost like a Greek monastery, with many small rooms surrounding a courtyard with a huge plane tree at its center.

Medresses was mainly an Islamic center for spiritual learning and although mathematics or studies in logic were part of its curriculum, the main focus was religion.

During the Greek revolution, the Ottomans turned the Medresses into a prison – a use that was maintained by the Greeks too until the beginning of the 20th century.

The Tower of Winds sitting across Medresses and the Fetiye Mosque

The whole building was demolished by the archaeology department in search of ancient findings. Today, it is all fenced up and keep inside archaeological findings.

Note about the Tower of Winds: The Ottomans used it as a Tekes.

The Remains of Küçük Cami

Leaving behind you the Medresses and walking towards the peripheral fence of Roman Agora, you can find the few remains of Küçük (small in Turkish) Mosque foundations in the tiny park of Panos st.

This is another invisible Ottoman monument in Athens. I had walked past this park numerous times but I had never noticed that it is an actual mosque.

When it was still standing, it must have been a small mosque and it might have been a mosque for the Albanian Muslims in Athens. I read somewhere that there used to be a hammam next to it but there are no traces if there was ever one here.

Fetiye mosque in the front and the smaller minaret in the back belongs to the Küçük mosque

There is not much to see although the semicircular shape of the mihrab is still distinguishable. It was destroyed around the time of 1840 and was re-discovered in 2004.

The Hammam of Abid Efendi (or Bath-House of the Winds)

There used to be 3 hammams in Athens but the Hammam of Abid Efendi (or Bath-House of the Winds) is the only surviving Ottoman-era at Kyrristou 8 st, very close to the Roman Agora.

It was initially constructed in the 15th century, but there have been many alterations during the centuries. Its present facade looks more like Greek neoclassical than an Ottoman hammam, so it is very easy to pass by it.

I really loved visiting it, I had no idea that such a wonderful building was in Plaka where I have passed by and have never noticed before. I urge you to visit it as well as it is a real authentic experience from the old times.

The Hammam of Abid Efendi continued working as a bath until 1965. Following restoration, in 1998, it is now used for various exhibitions as a branch of the Museum of Greek Folk Art.
Daily open between 9 – 16.00, Tuesdays closed. General ticket 2 euro.

Those Infidel Greeks: The Greek War of Independence Through Ottoman Archival Documents

The mass of information in the Ottoman documents published in Those Infidel Greeks is a clear testimony of the larger imperial context in which the Greek War of Independence–the first national uprising of the early nineteenth century–evolved and proved successful.

The Benizelos Residence in Plaka

Benizelos House Ottoman Athens
Benizelos Konaki Back side

The Benizelos Residence in Plaka is considered to be the oldest house in Athens and the only still existing residence with the Ottoman architectural form known as Konaki.

The house has two floors: the ground floor (or katoi) with the food storing rooms and the upper floor (or anoi) with the residential rooms – the ontas (bedroom and sitting room) and the hayiati.

One of the residents of the house, Paraskevi or Rigoula Benizelou born in 1522, has become a saint in the Greek Orthodox Church, widely known as Saint Filothei.

You can visit it at Adrianou 96 in Plaka, on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday between 10:00 – 13:00 and on Sundays between 11:00 – 16:00.

Building of Ottoman Military Commanders

Ottoman building in Tripodon Today

In Tripodon 32 st. in Plaka stands (partially) renovated but not accessible to the public a beautiful 3-floor Ottoman house.

This was made widely known to the public as it was used as the setting of one of the most famous Greek movies of 1965 (Greek title “Η δε γυνή να φοβήται τον άνδρα” – The woman must fear the man).

Back in 1800, it housed the commanders of the Ottoman Military.

Same building right after the Second World War

While the Greek Ministry of Culture was renovating it, they discovered many archaeological findings so this house needs to be decided how it will be developed, perhaps as a museum.

National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation

Internal view of the Building – Credit miet.gr

Situated on Thoukididou 13 st. in Plaka, this minimalistic two-story stone mansion was originally built in the 1700s, as the private residence of an Ottoman family.

After Greece’s independence, it became a High School of Athens, the Athens Garrison Headquarters, the High Court, and after 1922, a temporary home for the Greek refugees from Asia Minor.

In the 1950s the National Bank of Greece bought it and has been using it as a house for its Cultural Foundation ever since.

Sir Richard Church’s House in Plaka – Karakoli

Karakoli in Plaka

A particular tower-looking building with an elongated chimney – an unusual sight in Athens – was built in Scholiou 5 st. in Plaka Athens in the 18th century by the Ottomans as a police station (Karakol).

It was sold to the British historian and philhellene, George Finley, and later on to his friend Sir Richard Church, a great philhellene who fought along with Greeks against the Ottomans.

Sir Richard Church died in Athens on March 8th, 1873, and was buried in the First Cemetery of Athens.

Unique Fountain of Voevoda Haseki Hatzi

Haseki Fountain

The fountain is the only surviving Ottoman fountain today in Athens and was part of Voevoda Haseki Hatzi’s summer house (Konaki) where today stands the Agricultural University in Iera Odos.

Haseki Konaki

There is nothing left today of Haseki konaki besides the fountain. If you would like to see the fountain, you will need to take a taxi to the university, preferably in the morning when it is still open.

Benaki Museum of Islamic Art

The Benaki Museum collection of Islamic art, which includes examples of all its local variations from as far as India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, the Middle East, Arabia, Egypt, North Africa, Sicily and Spain, ranks among the most important in the world.

If you are interested in Islamic Art, a visit to the spectacular Benaki Museum of Islamic Art is a total must.

Address: Agion Asomaton 22 & Dipilou in Thisio, Athens (closed on Tuesdays)

Gennadius Library

Gennadius Library, credit Wikipedia

In Souidias 54 st. Kolonaki area in Athens stands the exquisite Gennadius Library containing more than 1500 books, inscriptions, letters, etc from Ottoman history.

16 of the Library’s oldest books, printed between 1470 and 1500 are about Turkey’s history.

If you wish to visit the library you will need to make an appointment by sending an email at gen_recep@ascsa.edu.gr. mentioning which books you would like to have a look at from the Library’s collection here

Other Ottoman Mosques that no longer exist in Athens

  • Yeni mosque, where the Ottoman cemetery used to be, at Voulis & Navarhou Nikodimou st.
  • Kolona mosque, at Flessa & Adrianou st.
  • Softa mosque, at Kapnikarea & Pandrossou st.

Private Tour to Ottoman Monuments in Athens with Licensed Guide

Book your private tour with a licensed guide, specialized in Ottoman History in Athens, and visit the most important Ottoman monuments in Athens.

Check availability and prices for this exciting tour in Viator here

Where to Stay in Athens

How to Get to Greece

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I hope you have enjoyed my post on Ottoman Monuments in Athens! If you need local help with organizing your visit, please send me an email at  info@travelthegreekway.com, and I will get back to you with ideas.  Until then stay safe and travel the world!  
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