Ottoman monuments in the region of Corinthia: Acrocorinth mountain castle.

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Acrocorinth mountain castle as pictured from Google earth

The mountain castle of Acrocorinth was systematically inhabited since the 13th c., as archaeological finds such as pottery have evidenced. According to a pilgrim’s description of 1395, the city of Corinth consisted of 50 families, all living in a half vacant village within the enclosure of the fortress walls. During the Medieval period, certain reinforcement works were concluded to the already existing walls. The main body of the curtain wall in the southeastern sector belongs to the Byzantines, earlier than the 13th. c., while the fortifications were augmented by William Villehardouin in the middle of 13th c. In 1324 the castle was refortified by the Angevin Prince of Achaea John of Gravina, later a tower was constructed on the southwestern top, while at the beginning of 15th c. a third defensive fortification was constructed along the western slope of the steep hill, etc.
At the middle of 15th c., Acrocorinth falls under the Ottoman rule (1458). Ottoman Turks proceeded in an extensive repair and reinforcement project of the pre-existing fortifications, while the settlement that was located behind the inner western fortification (depicted as fortification III) was enlarged, as it was expanded towards the western area, occupying the area between enceinte II and III. By the 17th c., the Muslim population of Acrocorinth resided inside the inner castle behind the 3rd line, while Christian houses were located further down the hillside. Many monuments that are still found in the castle date from the first Ottoman period (1458-1687).

Sir George Wheler and the French scholar Dr Jakob Spon were the first travellers who visited Greece by the time of the 17th c. Their passage from the area of Corinth and its castle was described in their written memoirs, (Wheler’s “A Journey into Greece in the company of dr Spon of Lyon” and Spon’s, “Voyage d'Italie, de Dalmatie, de Grece et du Levant”). Jacob Spon had noted the good state of the walls, but also the scarcity of cannons and of men to guard the castle.

p. 441 " …The first Gate we came to, is plated with Iron... This side of the Rock is well covered with Houses: For not only those who still reside there, as well Turks as Christians, have their Houses and Families there; but for the most part, even those that dwell below in the Town, have Houses also in the Castle; where they keep all their best Goods safe from the frequent, but very uncourteous Visits of the Corsairs; and hither, upon the least Alarm, they come flocking, with all they can bring with them . . . There are abundance of Cisterns for water, hewn into the Rock, and some Springs; especially one ... which was called ... Pyrene ... 

There are three or four Mosques in the Castle, and five or six small Churches; but most of these ruined. The Catholica is kept in repair. 

In p. 442: “…it we saw two old Manuscripts.. . From the first Gate we mounted yet higher, and come to a second which is well and strongly built, with two Towers on each side of it. This wall I guess to be about two Miles in compass, having some Houses inhabited, but many more ruined within them. The two principal Points of the Rock are inclosed in them also. On the one, situated South-West of the other, is a Tower built; and on the other, being the highest Point, a little Mosque. To the Top of this last we mounted (there follows a description of the view from the peak)... “

p. 443: “Under this western Top of the Hill, is a place walled in: which they say was the place where the Jews lived, when Corinth was under the Venetians. They make four distinct quarters of this Castle, each governed by a distinct Haga. But their Forces consist now only of the In-habitants, Turks and Christians; no Jews are now amongst them. The number of Turks and Christians seem to be equal, and are esteem'd not to exceed fifteen hundred in number, both in the Town and Castle; but there are many more dispersed up and down in the Zeugaries or Villages." 
Acrocorinth, from the West (Athanasoulis Demetrios, To Κάστρο Ακροκορίνθου και η ανάδειξή του (2006-2009), 25η Εφορεία Βυζαντινών Αρχαιοτήτων, Hellenic Ministry of Culture Publication, Ancient Corinth 2009, p. 8).

Agios Antonios church Mosque Α -Ahmed Paşa mosque

Evliya Çelebi who visited Acrocorinth in 1668, records in his Seyâhatnâme ("Book of travels”) the fortress. The description was published by MacKay Pierre, “Acrocorinth in 1668, a Turkish Account”, in Hesperia, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1968), by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, pp. 389-391, as well as a few years later by Kostakis Thanasis, «Ο Εβλιγιά Τσελεμπή στην Πελοπόννησο», Πελοποννησιακά 14 (1981), p. 246 and by Loupis Dimitris, in his translation of Evliya Celebi visit to the Peloponnese area (Εβλιά Τσελεμπί, Οδοιπορικό στην Ελλάδα (1668-1671), Πελοπόννησος-Νησιά Ιονίου-Κρήτη-Νησιά Αιγαίου, Loupis Dimitris (μεταφρ., σημειώσεις), εκδ. Εκάτη, Athens, p. 29-32).

A steep reddish rock, octagonal in form, whose eight corners face the eight winds, rises skywards in the middle of a six-mile wide isthmus between the Gulf of Corinth and the Gulf of Athens. On this is situated a castle without equal. A lofty platform, in ancient times built strong from top to bottom of cut stone, it is a mighty fortress standing ever-prepared, a sturdy defense on an embattled summit, and an immense rampart. From the castle, the whole of the Gulf of Athens and the Gulf of Corinth is laid out before you, for it is unequalled in its elevation toward the sky. Surrounded by a wall, mighty as Alexander's dike, 14,000 paces in circuit, it is a castle abundant in wealth. The master architect crowned the parapet with 7777 merlons, and battlements such as he built here are not to be found on any other fortress wall. There are altogether four distinct walls, situated on high steep cliffs, and there are five strong gates, but four of these are permanently shut, though there are posterns which open in time of siege.
The great gate, which faces west, leads out and down to the lower suburbs. But this is really three gateways, each with a strong iron gate, and there are division walls which set off the territory between each pair of gates. In the lowest division, just inside the first great gate, there are no houses except the little loggia just inside the gate for the guard to sit in, and three small vaulted rooms. The journey up the steep road from the lower town to this gate takes an hour and a half. There is a fine view from the gateway, so that night and day, the sentry-watch, and the armed gate-guards are sure to be prepared. Once inside the gate, one goes 200 paces up a steep, rock-hewn path to the middle gate, which also leads out westward. This too is a mighty gate with strong iron leaves.
A small subdivision of the castle stretches 500 paces up the steep slope from this middle gate, and here the infidel Greeks have their ill-starred houses, having been granted pardon and peace when they gave over the keys of the castle to Sultan Mehmed. There is not a single Muslim house here, but there are altogether 200 Greek houses, some churches and 10 shops. There are no gardens or orchards, since it is on a rock.
One goes up steeply from here to the third gate, which has two flanking towers. One of these is filled to the brim with millet, barley, wheat and bearded rice, while the other is filled with clean firewood, so that all requirements and necessities are providentially kept in store, for in times of siege provisions are essential. In one tower there are also horse-driven mills, and wheel mills driven by man-power and thousands of hand-mills. Inside this third gate, in the settled quarter within the castle, there are altogether 200 Muslim houses, built below of masonry, and roofed all over with tiles. There are no infidel houses, and if it were not that some Muslims have infidel wives, no infidels at all could enter here. There are altogether four important places of prayer. One of these is the mosque of Mehmed the Conqueror, an abbreviated but serviceable place of worship of the old sort. There is also the Beyzade mosque, anld the Ahmed Pasha mosque. The Fethiye mosque was originally a Christian church, but was later converted to a mosque. In addition to these there are 2 neighborhood mosques, a coffee house, and a small shop, but in all this great fortified settlement there are no other public buildings, because the castle is so high that everyone would be worn out with going up and down. Therefore, public buildings in the castle are few, but all the principal personages have their houses and cellars in the lower town, and indeed, the interior of the castle is such a field of rocks and ruins that one cannot walk safely there.
There are, by the will of God, 366 sources of water on top of this steep high rock, of which the western ones all yield bitter water, but those on the east yield water as sweet as the water of life itself. Under the mosque of Sultan Mehmed in the castle there are two vaulted cisterns, sources of delicious life-giving water, cold as ice even in the month of July. And this is a miracle of God the creator, that there are no mountains near by higher than Acrocorinth from which you might say that the water flows to this castle. But we believe and declare it for truth that God is all-powerful, for the elevation of the mountain of well-watered Acrocorinth above the surrounding mountains is an impediment, and it is beyond the wit of man to comprehend how there may be so many wells and fountains, but the works of the Artificer are without limit. The date of one fountain is as follows:
“Hasan Aga son of Mustafa son of Hasan Aga ordered the building of this for God the Creator, dedicating his wealth to God, and beseeching him for water, on a date in the middle of Rabi' I, in the thousand and first year [of the Hegira (A.D. 1592)," and the date of one close by is:
"Haci Aga ordered this for flowing water, for the love of God, on a date in the middle of Rabi' II, in the nine hundred and forty sixth year [of the Hegira (A.D. 1539) ]," and these fountains are noted for their abundant flow of water. There are other fountains to the west, but their water is bitter, and yet it is good as a digestive, and for other purposes, as well as for watering animals.
Along the wall in the south corner of the main circuit that is presently being described, on a high steep peak, there is a rectangular inner redoubt. Here the Castle Commandant has his residence, and the Intendant, and there is a weapons store and a few cannon, but nothing else
.”

Εβλιά Τσελεμπί, Οδοιπορικό στην Ελλάδα (1668-1671), Πελοπόννησος-Νησιά Ιονίου-Κρήτη-Νησιά Αιγαίου, Loupis Dimitris (μεταφρ., σημειώσεις), εκδ. Εκάτη, Athens, p. 29-32.

Kostakis Thanasis, «Ο Εβλιγιά Τσελεμπή στην Πελοπόννησο», Πελοποννησιακά 14 (1981), 246.

MacKay Pierre, “Acrocorinth in 1668, a Turkish Account”, in Hesperia, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1968), published by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, pp. 389-391.

By 1687, the Venetians took over the castle of Acrocorinth, an occupation that lasted for the 28 years that followed until 1715. The importance of the area was evidenced through numerous plans and registers found –today kept in the Museum Collections of Venice, in which works of reinforcement, rebuilding of barracks, construction of artillery platforms, etc. were thoroughly described. The Venetians proceeded in the restoration of the walls, that the Ottomans had not tried to defend and in rebuilding the artillery parapets in the one sector where artillery availed.

After the recapture of the castle by the Ottomans by the beginning of the 18th c. (1715), the fortified area continued to be inhabited. The castle area remained though by the Ottomans closed to the foreign Travellers, so that they would not be able to record the state of the fortifications and the number of Turkish soldiers protecting it.

 

The Ottoman Monuments which are still traced in Acrocorinth castle include:
• Mosque Α -Ahmed Paşa mosque,
• Mosque B, dedicated to Mehmed the Conqueror,
• Mosque in the upper precinct (where a former temple of Aphrodite was recorded),
• Mosque (remains) –possibly Fetihye mosque, at the 3rd precinct of Acrocorinth,
• Fountain at the 2nd precinct of Acrocorinth (outside of the 3rd fortified enclosure)
• Fountain at the 3rd precinct of Acrocorinth close to the remains of the (Fetihye?) mosque
• Bath (hamam) close to the 3rd gateway of the 3rd precinct
• Bath (hamam), in the 3rd precinct, heading towards Mosque A
• Bath (hamam) close to the plateau at the right of the main path leading up the hilltop
• Building (mekteb, elementary school?) at the southern cliff over the platform of the free standing minaret
• Ottoman warehouse
• Ottoman fortifications.

 

SOURCES

Andrews Kevin, “Corinth”, in Castles of the Morea, ASCSA, 2006, (1st edition Princeton, 1953), p. 135-145.
Athanasoulis Demetrios, To Κάστρο Ακροκορίνθου και η ανάδειξή του (2006-2009), 25η Εφορεία Βυζαντινών Αρχαιοτήτων, Hellenic Ministry of Culture Publication, Ancient Corinth 2009.
Carpenter Rhys and Bon Antoine, Corinth, Results of excavations, vol. III, part II, “The Medieval Fortifications of Acrocorinth and Vicinity”, in The Defenses of Acrocorinth and the Lower Town, Cambridge University Press, 1936, pp. 146-149.
Chandler Richard, Travels in Greece, or, An account of a tour made at the expense of the Society of Dilettanti, 1738-1810, London, pp. 234-240.

Kordosis Michalis, ˘Συμβολή στην ιστορία και τοπογραφία της περιοχής Κορίνθου στους μέσους χρόνους», Βιβλιοθήκη Ιστορικών Μελετών 159, Αthens 1981.
Kostakis Thanasis, «Ο Εβλιγιά Τσελεμπή στην Πελοπόννησο», Πελοποννησιακά 14 (1981), p. 246.
Koumoush Anastasia, Ακροκόρινθος, εκδ. Τ.Α.Π., Αthens 2008.
Εβλιά Τσελεμπί, Οδοιπορικό στην Ελλάδα (1668-1671), Πελοπόννησος-Νησιά Ιονίου-Κρήτη-Νησιά Αιγαίου, Loupis Dimitris (μεταφρ., σημειώσεις), εκδ. Εκάτη, Athens, p. 29-32.

MacKay Pierre, “Acrocorinth in 1668, a Turkish Account”, in Hesperia, vol. 37, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1968), published by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, pp. 386-397.

Spon Jakob et Wheler George, Voyage d'Italie, de Dalmatie, de Grece et du Levant, Lyon, 1678, vol. II, p. 287. 

Eleni. I. Kanetaki

Acrocorinth: West walls defences and the settlement from the southwest (Athanasoulis Demetrios, To Κάστρο Ακροκορίνθου και η ανάδειξή του (2006-2009), 25η Εφορεία Βυζαντινών Αρχαιοτήτων, Hellenic Ministry of Culture Publication, Ancient Corinth 2009, p. 18-19)..















 

 

 

Acrocorinth: 2nd Gate and North half of 2nd line (Andrews Kevin, “Corinth”, in Castles of the Morea, ASCSA, 2006, (1st edition Princeton, 1953), p. 143).Acrocorinth: 3rd line of defense from the south (Andrews Kevin, “Corinth”, in Castles of the Morea, ASCSA, 2006, (1st edition Princeton, 1953), p. 139).Morea-Acrocorinth, Ahmed Pasha M.  from Machiel Kiel’s digital archive

 

Acrocorinthus and its fortifications from the south.(Athanasoulis Demetrios, To Κάστρο Ακροκορίνθου και η ανάδειξή του (2006-2009), 25η Εφορεία Βυζαντινών Αρχαιοτήτων, Hellenic Ministry of Culture Publication, Ancient Corinth 2009, p. 45).


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