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Ottoman Athens

From the mid 15th century to the early 19th century Athens was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Although it is often said that Athens held little importance for the Ottomans,  the city saw a number of important architectural additions, such as mosques and a madrasa, fountains and hammams. Many of these Ottoman features have been destroyed, and often intentionally obliterated, with historians favouring to re-construct an image of the city’s Classical period at the expense of all others. Despite this, there are still traces of the Ottoman period that have survived now scattered about the Greek capital. Especially in the Plaka area where the Ottoman town thrived. 

An Introduction to Ottoman Athens

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Ottoman Sites in Athens

Bath House of the Winds

Dating from the first period of Ottoman rule and then known as the Abid Efendi hammam, the Bath House of the Winds remained in use as a public bath until 1956. Today it is owned by the Ministry of Culture and is open to visitors throughout the year. It is in fact the only bathhouse in Athens that has survived to the present. In 1667 a Turkish traveller noted that there were  “three pleasant hammams” in Athens. The attraction has been restored and the presentation of this wonderful site with its labyrinthine plan with vaulted and domed ceilings focusses on cleanliness, care and beautification of the body through the ages.

Benizelos Mansion

In the heart of the historic centre of Athens, on the northern slopes of the Acropolis is what is said to be the oldest house in Athens. It was built in the first half of the 18th century for the Benizelos family, among the oldest, richest and most powerful noble families in Ottoman Athens. A typical urban nobleman’s house, or a konaki, the stone and wooden building has been restored and transformed into a museum exploring the history and significance of the residence. Multimedia allow visitors to explore Athens at the time the Benizelos family lived here. Entry is by donation.

Fethiye Mosque

Re-open in 2017, the Fethiye Mosque, the Mosque of the Conquest, we see today was built in the 17th century, after an earlier mosque on the same site was destroyed during the Morean War between the Ottomans and Venetians. The earlier mosque was built on the site of  ruined 8th century Christian basilica shortly after the Ottoman conquest of Athens. Following Greek independence, the mosque’s minaret was removed and the building used as a school to promote Greek culture. The exterior features of the mosque can be viewed from the street – including the ruins of the previous religious buildings. Entry to the mosque, and any exhibition it hosts, is via the Roman Agora.

Küçuk Camii - Small Mosque

In the small Mousaiou Square that overlooks the Roman forum are the scant remains of what was a small mosque (Küçuk Camii). Historical records and maps suggest the mosque was still standing in the 1820s, but by the 1920s it had been destroyed. All that is visible today are the restored remains of the foundations, carried out in 2004 shortly after they were unearthed. Certain features typical of a mosque can still be seen: the  semi-circular base of a mihrab and the first steps of the minaret. Allowing these remnants to be identified as the mosque documented in maps and travellers’s accounts.

Ottoman Madrasa

Built in 1721, all that remains of this Islamic school, or madrasa is this beautifully decorated doorway. Like all madrasas it was a rectangular building where a large central courtyard was surrounded by the scholars’ living quarters. Following the liberation of Athens during the uprising of Greeks against the Ottomans, the school was used as barracks for the Greek army for the remainder of the war. Later, during the reign of the Bavarian King Otto I it was converted into a jail.

Roman Agora

The site of the Roman Agora, built between 19 and 11 BCE, was the first commercial centre of Athens. Here a large courtyard is surrounded by shops and other commercial buildings. Just beyond the agora, are the remains of the public toilets and the octagonal Tower of the Winds, built for astronomical purposes. The tower has carvings that depict the ‘eight winds’, and during the Ottoman period was used by Turkish Dervishes. In 1458 the Ottomans built the Fethiye Mosque on the site of a Byzantine basilica.

The Acropolis

Arguably one of the world’s most iconic archaeological sites, it is certainly the most popular in Athens. Although there is evidence of some 5,000 years of activity on the citadel, it is the ruins of ancient temples and sanctuaries, the most famous being the Parthenon, from the 5th century BCE to the Roman period that are highlighted, and the focus of restoration work. Anything post-Roman, including the Christian church and Ottoman mosque, has been all but obliterated, and this period of the Acropolis’ history receives only passing mention.

Tzisdarakis Mosque

The Tzisdarakis Mosque housed the Museum of Greek Folk Art from 1918 until 1973. The museum, which encompasses a number of historic buildings in Athens is currently undergoing renovations. For this reason the mosque is closed until further notice. A dominant landmark on Monastiraki Square, the mosque was built in 1759 by the Ottoman governor of Athens, Mustapha Agha Tzistarakis. During the Greek War of Independence, this is where the local elders would meet. Following independence, the mosque was a barracks, a prison and a storehouse. In March 1834 a ball in honour of King Otto of Greece was held here.

Wall of Haseki

In 1778, in an attempt to protect the city from Ottoman-Albanian warbands, the Ottoman governor Hadji Ali Haseki built a 10km wall surrounding the Athens with the Acropolis at the centre. The stone from many ancient and medieval structures, including Hadrian’s aqueduct, was used. Following the siege of Athens during the Greek War of Independence, the wall was destroyed and very little remains. One place where the foundations can be seen is just south of the Theatre of Dionysus. As the remnants are within the site of the Acropolis, the same access conditions apply. With not much left to see the meagre remains are, however, clearly visible from the street through the fence.

A Private Walking Tour of Ottoman Athens

Museums in Athens with Ottoman & Islamic Collections

Museum of Islamic Art (Benaki)

With objects from as far as India, Persia and Mesopotamia in the east, as well as Egypt and North Africa, and Spain in the west, the collections of Islamic art in the Benaki Museum makes this one of the most important Islamic art museums in the world. Housed in the historic Kerameikos district, the museum is close to important archaeological sites, including the Ancient Agora and Kerameikos. An ancient tomb and a section of the ancient city wall of Athens were uncovered during renovation work for the museum.

War Museum

Built on the site of an old artillery camp and opened in 1975, the War Museum in Athens is the largest museum of military history in Greece. The aim is to collect, research and display artefacts and memorabilia relating to the history of conflict and warfare from antiquity to the recent past. A vast array of artefacts are displayed chronologically, from Stone Age obsidian weapons to weapons and artillery used in more recent battles. Besides weapons and uniforms, the museum also displays numerous maps and significant historic documents, including from the Latin and Ottoman occupation.