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Trading Posts and Fortifications on Genoese Trade Routes from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea

Date of Submission: 15/04/2013
Criteria: (ii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Délégation Permanente de Turquie auprès de l'UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Province of İstanbul, District of Galata (Yoros Fortress and Galata Tower) Province of İzmir, District of Foça and Çandarlı (Foça and Çandarlı Fortresses) Province of Düzce (Akçakoca Fortress) Province of Bartın (Amasra Fortress) Province of Sinop (Si
Ref.: 5825
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Yoros Fortress       41°10'49.41" N - 29°05'46.89" E

Galata Tower     41°01'35.85" N - 28°58'26.88" E

Foça Fortress         38°40'09.25" N - 26°45'02.78" E

Çandarlı Fortress    38°56'01.69" N - 26°56'01.50" E

Amasra Fortress     41°45'02.84" N - 32°23'03.83" E

Akçakoca Fortress  41°05'10.80" N - 31°05'32.38" E

Sinop Fortress   42°01'42.52" N - 35°08'47.31" E

In the middle of 13th century, Genoeses were actively trading all over Mediterranean and Black Sea. Genoeses were originally inhabitant of Genoa, the city and Mediterranean seaport in north-western Italy. It was the capital of Genoa Province and of Liguria region.

In the eastern Mediterranean, Genoeses was greatly advanced by the Treaty of Nymphaeum (1261) with the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus, in exchange for the aid to the Byzantine reconquest of Constantinople, actually ousted the Venetians from the straits leading to the Black Sea.

As general Genoeses had possessions from 11th century to 19th century for nearly eight centuries over Mediterranean and Black Sea. Their main hub in Anatolia was Galata (Pera) in İstanbul.

"Trading Posts and Fortifications on Genoese Trade Route from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea" comprise some of the noticable trading ports situated in areas where the Genoese influence is still be observed. The property consists of five forts (Yoros, Foça, Çandarlı, Amasra, Akçakoca, Sinop) and one tower (Galata).

Yoros Fortress

As the main passage between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, the Bosporus strait had a great commercial and strategic importance during the past. For this reason, numerous castles and fortresses were built on its shores. The fortress of Yoros is one of the most conspicuous of them. It was constructed on a hill at Anadolu Kavağı, on the Asian side of Bosphorus, on the Black Sea entrance.

The first mention of the place is made by the ancient historian Herodotus who describes it as the worship place of Jason and the Argonauts on the road for Cholchis. What is more, many Greek and Roman historical sources describe this place as ‘Hieron’, the Sacred Place. A great temple including altar of the twelve Gods or Zeus Ourios (‘of good winds’) served as a common haven and place of worship for sailors entering or leaving from there in antiquity. Hieron was the gate to the Black Sea. Additionally, it acted as a spot from which all Black Sea navigational charts took their measurements and the crucial shelter from the numerous dangers involved in negotiating the winding Bosporus: pirates, storms, and wind of the straits. 

During the early Byzantine epoch, the emperor Justinian (527-565) charged a custom with a tax collector in the fortress. In addition, in the course of the Middle Byzantine period, the place was fortified with a larger wall enclosure and served to control from the north.

Byzantines, Genoese and Ottomans fought over its strategic position of the fort. After a naval battle in 1352, a Genoese military and commercial garrison was settled in the Yoros fortress, to handle the passage of the commercial ships and prevent the attacks to the capital city. Approximately half a century of Genoese occupation gave to it the epithet of ‘The Genoese Fortress’.

By the end of the 14th century the fortress was in the hand of the Ottomans and was used as a base for the construction of the Anadolu Hisar, one of the important headquarters of the Sultan Mehmed for the Conquest of the Byzantine capital in 1453. After this date, the Genoese was not allowed to use the fortress, which became an important garrison place of the Ottoman army for the defence of Istanbul. It was restored many times during the 15th and 17th centuries. During the reign of the Sultan Beyazıd II (1481-1512) a mosque, a bath and many houses were added for the families of the soldiers.  Many western travellers and Turkish geographers mentioned Yoros and emphasized its strategic importance.

Today, a large fortress with an upper citadel surrounded by towers, a monumental entrance, many marble decoration and remain of buildings -discovered with archaeological excavations- dominates the little village of Anadolu Kavağı.

Galata Tower

The coastal band of Istanbul lying from the northern shores of Golden Horn to Tophane and the slopes behind it is known today as Galata district (or Pera or Sykai). Although there was an important settlement area during the Antiquity, the region gained importance during the reign of Constantine I (324-337). There was a fortified settlement composed of a harbour, a forum, a church, a theatre, bath buildings and houses. The present fortification walls were constructed by Emperor Justinian in 528. The 2 meter wide land walls surrounded by a 15 meter deep moat were enclosing an area of 37 hectares.

Owing to favourable topographical conditions, the territory acquired a commercial harbour function among the Italian trading colonies. Beginning with the Amalfitans, then the Venetians and later the Pisans obtained special privileges from the Byzantines in Galata. The Genoese were forced to move from Galata when the Venetians seized their territory during the Latin invasion in 1204. Hence, the Genoese established colonies on the southern shores of Golden Horn during the reign of Manuel Comnenos I (1143-1186). Even after the end of the Latin domination, in 1261, the commerce of the Byzantine capital was still in the hands of Venetians and the Geneose merchants. Emperor Michael Palaiologos VIII (1261-1282), who was able to recapture Constantinople from the Latins, signed the Nymphaion Treaty with the Genoese and permitted them to rebuild their commercial settlements. Thus, the Genoese designed and built the tower of Galata not only as an observation and a depository tower but also as a hallmark of the city which revealed the spirit of it. It was called the “Tower of Christ” by the Genoese and “The Great Tower” by the Byzantines. The tower presents a cylindrical shape (the height of the tower is 62.59 meters non-including the ornament on top, the outer diameter is 16.45 meters, the inner diameter is 8.95 meters, and the wall thickness is 3.75 meters) with its conical cap and rises high above all other buildings on the east side of the Golden Horn and provides a magnificent view of the open sea beyond the hills and the buildings of Istanbul. Hence, the Genoese would early distinguish between their own ships from those of hostile fleets.

Following the conquest of Istanbul, the Sultan Mehmet II signed an agreement with the Genoese and recognized their privileges which had been obtained during the Byzantine Empire. The Genoese colony strengthened their position in the 14th and in the 15th centuries when the district of Galata and its tower preserved its importance and its key role.

Foça Fortress

Having two natural harbours, Foça is a town which is located on a low hill projecting into the sea in İzmir Province, on the Aegean coast. It was one of the most important centers among the twelve Ionian cities and hosted Persian, Macedonian, Genovian and Ottoman civilizations. 

Foça's harbour was much inferior in importance of Pera owing to the fact that transit trade here was negligible and the Genoese stronghold, which existed in this town in 1261, had a rather strategic importance. In 1275, the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus granted the Genoese brothers Benedetto I Zaccaria and Manuele Zaccaria the town of Old Phocaea. There were huge deposits of alum nearby the region and the Byzantine emperor provided the Zaccarias with a monopoly on its export. Thus, Phocaea has become a large base of Genoa and became an export-import harbor in the commerce taking place between Aegean area and Anatolia. Additionally, during this time the Genoese also had colonies at Pera opposite Constantinople, and Caffa in the Black Sea, among others.

Genoese dominance in the Aegean was enhanced after a victory over a great maritime rival Venice at Curzola in 1299 and it could be said that by 1300 the Commune of Genoa was at its prime. It is important to understand that unlike the Venetians, the Genoese in the Aegean and Mediterranean often acted independently of the Commune. In other words, the colonies were usually governed with limited interference from the administration of the homeland and the ships used by Genoese sailors and merchants were often constructed and owned by private individuals. Because the Genoese often acted alone, it is far harder to establish a definitive Genoese ‘policy’ towards events in the Aegean.

Foça Fortresswas built in a strategic point securing the protection of the city in the 11th or 12th centuries. Genoese took over this fortress from the Byzantines and reconstructed it. When Phocaea was captured by the Ottomans in 1455, its ramparts were repaired and towers were added. An inscription at the entrance mentions that the repairs were carried out in 1538 - 1539 by Silahtar Iskender Aga, woodsman of the Sultan Mustafa Han who was the son of Suleyman the Magnificent. The castle also had a boat house which is used as an open air theater today.

Çandarlı Fortress

Çandarlı is a coastal town within the district of Dikili in İzmir The area that the Çandarlı Fortress locates in was settled from the archaic period but exact construction date of the fortress is not certain. In the 13th and 14th centuries, when the Genoese perpetuated Foça, they controlled Çandarlı and used this port for trading. Being a secure trade port, the effectiveness of Genoese increased from here. The fortress was restored by the Genoese and it should be noted that the “Genoese” attribution was very high. Today, in the form of a rectangle, with five towers, gutters, doors and walls, the fortress is quite well preserved.

Amasra Fortress

Amasra is located within the boundaries of the Province of Bartın. After the 4th Crusade in 1204, as a reward for their help, the Byzantine Empire was given the privilege of trading with Genoeses in the Black Sea. Thanks to this, Genoeses founded colonies in Kaffa (Today in Ukraine) and in Amasra in Anatolia. After this period Genoese kept going, founding colonies and trading in Black Sea. Amasra Fortress originally was built by the Romans but later it was restored by Byzantines, Genoeses and Ottomans. Especially in the 14th and 15th century several gates were built and a castle was fortified by Genoeses. Amasra Fortress is composed of two main parts named “Sormagir Castle” and “Zindan Castle”. Sormagir Castle is linked to Amasra by a bridge named “Kemere”. “Büyükliman Gate” stands on the northeast side of Amasra Fortress. While on the west side of the Fortress “Küçükliman Gate”, “Zindan Gate” exists on the south part. Walls of Amasra Fortress, lies in the northeast-southeast direction, 65 meters long. The south wall is 300 meters long and over this wall stands eight towers. “Genoese Chateau” takes place in the citadel of Amasra Fortress. Genoese coat of arms is accepted as conclusive evidence showing that this building was built by the Genoeses. Among these coats of arms, Duke of Milan Visconti’s serpentine shaped coat of arm and premier Italian families and cities emblems can be seen. After Byzantine Empire lost its control over this area, Genoeses maintained their supremacy for nearly two century until 1460.

Sinop Fortress

Thanks to its geographical position, Sinop was an important port in Black Sea during the history. It is believed Sinop Fortress was built in 8th century B.C. by the Miletus immigrant colonies. The fortress has been improved and developed by the Genoeses. The total bastion and wall length are approximately 2.000 meters. Bastions have eight meters width and 25 meters height. During the reign of Candaroğulları Sultanate, in 1345 Adil Beg permitted to Venetians and Genoeses to found colonies in Sinop. On Laurentiana Map dated 1351, can be seen a Genoese flag on Sinop city can be seen and this shows a Genoese colony existed in Sinop in that period. After Adil Beg died, Genoeses continued to use Sinop as a trade colony. Sinop served as an important station on the main trade routes during 13th and 14th centuries. Merchants, comes from Syria and Egypt stopped off in Sinop. After 1261, Genoeses and Venetians began to be active in trading in Black Sea region. Hereafter, trading with Europe became more intense and similar to other northern seaports, Sinop became more important. Genoeses brought to Sinop Florence fabrics, soap, glass and gem Stones. Correspondingly they bought copper from Sinop. Transit goods passed through Sinop were grain, alum, bee wax and leather. Sinop has strong relationship with northern harbours, especially with Kaffa harbour. There was a Genoese harbour in the region named “Kayzer Koltuğu”. Behind the harbour there was high tower. Genoeses were loading copper which mined near Sinop and they were loading out goods they brought. This harbour was so beautiful that depicted by several painters.

Akçakoca Fortress

Akçakoca Fortress takes place near the Akçakoca city within the boundaries of province of Düzce. Akçakoca Fortress was built on a cliff 100 meters height. On the west wall of fortress exists semicircle eaves. A bastion is located on the south wall and there is a cistern in the courtyard. Walls of fortress was built by ruble stone and brick. The Genoeses put their coat of arms on the wall of Yoros Fortress in İstanbul and Amasra Fortress to indicate their adding to building. Results of some chemical analysies on brick and plaster used in Akçakoca Fortress, show it was built in the same period as the Yoros Fortress and the Amasra Fortress. This result supports the idea that this building was used by the Genoeses.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Genoese is one of the most important trading nations in the Middle Ages and made its fortunes by maritime trade. Trading posts and fortifications on Genoese trade routes are exceptional structures which reflect trading and international relationships of the medieval era.

The Genoese established a flourishing trading settlement, which virtually monopolized trade in the Black Sea. A starting point of all Genoese sea routes leading to the Black Sea was Galata, “Genoa of Bosphorus”. Moreover, the Tower of Galata was not only the most strategic observation tower during the colonization period of Genoese, but also a work of outstanding creativity. Additionally, Yoros Fortress was very important during the colonization period of Venice and Genoese and in its heyday the castle covered twice as much ground, making it the largest castle on the Bosphorus.

Criterion (ii): The Genoese played a leading role for generating active and lucrative trade in the Medieval Period. The communities of Genoese merchants were located at key points - posts and fortifications- of trade communication in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, so these points bear exceptional testimony, to important interactions and interchanges between civilizations. Moreover, the Genoese settlements around the shores of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea have high importance for town planning or landscape design in terms of renovating and adjustment of existing settlements and architecture.

Criterion (iv): As general, Genoese fortress and other naval buildings in Anatolia are accepted as best examples, reflecting the relationship between naval maritime structure and urban planning. They are expressions of distinguished architectural design of Genoeses.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

All properties are protected under the provision of the National Conservation Law numbered 2863. Dates taken for conservation of properties are the following;

  • Yoros and Foça Fortresses were registered as immovable cultural properties with the decision of Superior Council for Immovable Antiquities and Monuments in 1974 and 1977.
  • Çandarlı Fortress is located in the 1st degree archeological site which was designated in 1993.
  • Galata Tower was registered as a cultural property with the decision of Superior Council for Immovable Antiquities and Monuments in 1962 and the decision reviewed in 1964, 1986.  
  • Amasra Fortress was registered as 1st degree archaeological site by the statement of Ankara Council of Immovable Antiquities and Monuments (dated 09.10.1990, numbered 1399).
  • Sinop Fortress was registered as 1st degree archaeological site by the statement of Trabzon Council of Immovable Antiquities and Monuments (dated 10.10.1990, numbered 831).
  • Akçakoca Fortress was registered as 1st degree archaeological site by the statement of Ankara Council of Immovable Antiquities and Monuments (dated 01.07.1996, numbered 4734).

Forts have been altered and renovated throughout history with changing rules, circumstances and new needs. Furthermore, having been constructed as defense structures, fortresses faced materials problems which accelerated the process of wearing out. Yoros, Çandarlı, Foça Forts and Galata Tower are prone to earthquakes due to the fact that properties are located within the 1st degree earthquake zone.

Comparison with other similar properties

From the early 12th to the late 15th centuries, Genoese and Venetian merchants  shared control of the Mediterranean and Black Sea, serving as anchors for the medieval economic expansion. In the period of Genoese, many colonies were established and all series of economic and trade posts are called “Colonies series of the Republic of Genoa”.

After Treaty of Nymphaeum (1261) with the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus, Genoeses granted monopolistic trading rights in the Black Sea. Especially, Sinop Fortress had strong commercial relationship with Kaffa in Crimea. Kaffa Fortress enclosed by large fortified stone walls with numerous towers facing both land and sea. The quarters outside the old city, in the secondary zone, were strengthened with ramparts and ditches and a new wooden palisade. Çandarlı Fortress with its five bastions and high walls, is in good condition today. In this regard, Çandarlı Fortress is similar to Kaffa Fortress. But as compared to Çandarlı Fortress and Kaffa Fortress, Çandarlı has smaller scales than the others.

Sudak (Soldaia), the other small historic town located in Crimea, Ukraine. It was established by the Venetians in the 12th century and later rebuilt by the Genoese between 1371 and 1469 as a fortified stronghold for their colony on the southern coast of the Crimean Peninsula. The fortress was built on top of an ancient coral reef formation, now located 150 m. above sea level. In terms of its architectural features Sudak Fortress is totally different from the Genoese fortress in Anatolia, because Sudak Fortress was built on high point primarily defending harbour. But as general, in Anatolian fortresses used by Genoeses as primarily trading post instead of war aim. As architectural design, Sudak Fortress and Galata Tower can be accepted as similar structures. Because, these two building were built by way of defence.

In summary, Genoese Fortresses and other maritime buildings from Genoeses in Anatolia, reflect the architectural style of this sailor nation. They were used, built or restored by Genoeses as part of their trading activity during centuries all over the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.