The White Tower of Thessaloniki (Greek: Λευκός Πύργος Lefkos Pyrgos), is a monument and museum on the waterfront of the city of Thessaloniki, Greece and a symbol of Greek sovereignty over Macedonia. The present tower replaced an old Byzantine fortification which was mentioned around the 12th century and reconstructed by the Ottomans to fortify the city’s harbour; it became a notorious prison and scene of mass executions during the period of Ottoman rule. It was substantially remodeled and its exterior was whitewashed after Greece gained control of the city in 1912. It has been adopted as the symbol of the city.
The tower, which once guarded the eastern end of the city’s sea walls, was for many years attributed to Venice, to which the Byzantines ceded Thessaloniki in 1423. It is now known definitely that the tower was constructed by the Ottomans some time after the army of Sultan Murad II captured Thessaloniki in 1430. Until 1912, an inscription in Ottoman Turkish verse above the door dated the structure to AH 942 (1535–1536). The historian Franz Babinger speculated that the work was designed by the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, who is known to have built fortifications, including a similar tower at the Albanian port Valona in 1537. The present tower likely replaced an older Byzantine tower mentioned by the 12th-century archbishop Eustathios during the sack of 1185.
The Tower was used by the Ottomans successively as a fort, garrison and a prison. In 1826, at the order of the Sultan Mahmud II, there was a massacre of the rebellious Janissaries imprisoned there. Owing to the “countless victims of Ottoman torturers and executioners”, the tower acquired the name “Tower of Blood” or “Red Tower”, which it kept until the end of the 19th century.
The Tower was for centuries part of the walls of the old city of Thessaloniki, and separated the Jewish quarter of the city from the cemeteries of the Muslims and Jews. The city walls were demolished in 1866. When Thessaloniki was annexed from the Ottoman Empire to the Hellenic State in 1912 during the First Balkan War, the tower was whitewashed as a symbolic gesture of cleansing, and acquired its present name.
The Tower is now a buff colour but has retained the name White Tower. It now stands on Thessaloniki’s waterfront boulevard, Nikis (Victory) Street. It houses a museum dedicated to the history of Thessaloniki and is one of the city’s leading tourist attractions.