The White Tower

The emblem of Thessaloniki

The White Tower is perhaps the most recognizable spot in Thessaloniki. 

Depicted on all types of souvenirs and favourite clothes, photographed from all angles, in all seasons and at each hour of the day, it has come to be imprinted on our collective unconscious, an archetypal image. With its distinctive cylindrical shape, its six storeys and its memory-charged history, it has become the city’s trademark. When one sets eyes on the White Tower, it means that one has made one of the most fascinating journeys and is in the city of a thousand promises, Thessaloniki.

The exact date of its construction is hidden in the mists of time. The initial suggestion that it was perhaps of Venetian construction, has not been accepted by archaeologists. Most likely it was built during the early Ottoman period, sometime after 1530. It is believed by some that the architect of this defensive fortress was Mimar Sinan, who also built a very similar tower in the port of Valona in Albania. What is certain though is that this impressive piece of architecture was built on top of a pre-existing Byzantine building.

A low, octagonal, surrounding wall and three additional towers, existing in the building’s initial form, were demolished in the early 20th century. It is thought that on this outer wall stood heavy artillery which guarded the port and the coastline. It was initially named the Lion Tower, indicating the glory of the Ottoman military machine. During the 17th century it was unofficially known as the Fortress of Kalamaria. After 1826 it took the name Kanli-Kule, or Tower of Blood. Its present name conceals a great human story. A Jewish prisoner in the tower, Nathan Guidili, took it upon himself to smarten it up by painting it white. For this he won his freedom and certainly posthumous fame.

The White Tower, apart from being a great architectural monument, is a reference point in Thessaloniki. Dominating the shore, it has become a meeting point and a good place for a walk.

A tower steeped in history

The White Tower is inextricably linked to the history of Thessaloniki. Its walls preserve the memories of the stormy course of this great city. It has never ceased to play an important role. A watchful sentry guarding over the precious city of Thessaloniki for the Ottomans, then a place of imprisonment for unconquerable spirits.

During World War I, the allies housed the communications centre in the White Tower. At the same time the British expeditionary corps used it to save countless antiquities.

When it became the responsibility of the Greek state, from 1912 up to 1983, it housed the air defense of Thessaloniki. It has also accommodated the meteorological laboratory of the University of Thessaloniki and Sea Scout troops.

The White Tower at the heart of knowledge

Today the renovated White Tower is used as an exhibition centre. Under the auspices of the Museum of Byzantine Culture a permanent exhibition is on display dedicated to Thessaloniki, which allows the visitor to acquire a detailed knowledge of the successive historical periods of this great city. At the same time significant temporary exhibitions are held, such as for example exhibitions on Byzantine religious painting. The renovation of the monument and the themes it hosts show a deep respect both for its architectural style as well as its significance.

Major educational programmes are held at the White Tower; pupils, students and scholars from Greece and all over the world are given the opportunity to be initiated into the world of art and history.

The viewing platform at the top of the Tower acts as an extension of the exhibition centre. The visitor can learn from information signs about the history of the particular view he can see. It is a unique journey through time that adds to the visual enjoyment.