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  • Writer's pictureHarry Prance, MA

A Brief History of Aydos Castle in Istanbul

What is Aydos Castle?

Aydos Castle is a fortification that was once part of the defensive line that protected the medieval city, most famous today for the legend of its conquest by the Ottomans.

Aydos Castle

Aydos Castle History

It’s fair to say that the Byzantine Empire never really recovered after the Fourth Crusade. The state limped on for two centuries, internally racked by civil war and the rise of rival Byzantine centres of power in Epirus and Trebizond, and externally assailed by Serbs to the north, Seljuks to the east, Mameluks to the south and Latins to the west. By the 1320s, Constantinople, once the symbolic and actual centre of the empire, had become a border town under constant threat of attack. It’s against this background of decline and encroachment that Aydos Castle would make its most significant impression on the history books.

Now enveloped by the sprawling suburbs of modern Istanbul, the castle once perched on an isolated windswept hillside some 30 kilometres from the city centre and took its name from the Ancient Greek word aetos (meaning ‘eagle’). It was likely built in the 12th or 13th century, to protect the empire against the relentless incursions of the Seljuks. Even in its contemporary dilapidated state, it’s an impressive structure: 120 metres long and 50 metres at its widest point, it’s believed to have originally formed part of a much larger complex destroyed by a series of fires. The castle was designed to withstand a siege, even today you can see an enormous cistern for the storage of water – although it now serves more ornamental purposes and has become home to a pleasing variety of fish.

However, the bricks and mortar that defended Aydos Castle might as well have been butter and water for all the protection they offered its garrison. According to a chronicle from the end of the 15th century, Abdurrahman Gazi, a talented young Ottoman military commander, was sent by Sultan Osman Gazi to take the castle and began to lay siege to it. The Ottomans had prepared for a protracted attack, but the daughter of the Byzantine commander had a dream one evening that she would be rescued from the castle by a handsome warrior with whom she would fall in love. One day, looking out from the battlements, she recognised Abdurrahman as the man of her dreams and, determined to act straightaway, sent him a letter instructing him to feign retreat and return in the night, when she would leave the gate open for him. The plan worked and he captured the castle and married the commander’s daughter. It’s probably too much of a good story to be true, but looking up at the rugged ruins of Aydos, it’s not hard to understand why they would inspire such a colourful tale.

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