Castle of Didymoteicho
© Region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace
The Byzantine city-castle of Didymoteicho on the Kale hill, at the western edge of the city, is bordered by the extensive city walls. It was one of the greatest castles in Byzantine Thrace. It played a key role throughout many centuries on account of its strategic importance as well as because it served as a great defensive bridgehead for those that had designs against Constantinople and due to the fame it had acquired for being a place of exile and imprisonment for Byzantium’s conspirators. Both foreign and Byzantine writers highlighted this important city, like the French Geoffroi de Villehardouin who wrote in 1205 that Didymoteicho “was the most powerful and one of the richest Romanic cities”.
The castle experienced long and hard sieges and suffered severe damages from time to time, like those provoked by the Bulgarian Tsar Kaloyan in 1206 or by the Crusaders, who finally occupied it.
The ashlar masonry of the walls testifies that the castle was constructed long before the Byzantine times. According to the historian Procopius, the city walls of both Didymoteicho and Plotinopolis were restored under Justinian (527-565 AD) as well as under Constantine V, in 751. Finally, another important restoration was carried out by the master builder Constantine Tarchaneiotis in 1303.
The two central gates of Didymoteicho, known as the Kale Gates, are flanked by five-sided towers dating to the Justinian times. The West gate facing Erythropotamos river remains intact and contains a smaller gate next to a tower with pointed arches and a court added in the early Ottoman times.
During the Ottoman rule, the castle of Didymoteicho was not adequately preserved, while in Byzantine and post-Byzantine times, it suffered severe catastrophes owed to various incursions as well as those provoked by the Russians who occupied the city in the course of the two Russo-Turkish wars in 1829 and 1878.
The largest part of the castle is now preserved along with its 24 towers, some of which bear the monogram of Byzantine notables or decorative and symbolic motifs. The wall has been restored and the curtains of the castle have undergone reconstruction works: parts of the brittle masonry were removed and the missing collapsed blocks of the walls were replaced with similar building material and joint-fillings. In general, the fortification is preserved in a good condition and the castle has been significantly set off with the adjustments made on the slopes outside the walls and its systematic cleaning.
Various legends accompany the castle of the Twin Walls like the legend of the Forty Rooms, or Saranta Kamares that form a labyrinth into the rock, over which stands the castle. As a matter of fact, the castle contains tens of rock-cut caves that served as storage rooms or water deposits or shelters.
Another legend has it that the impregnable castle of Didymoteicho fell into the Turks by an act of perfidy and that the responsible princess committed suicide by falling off on her white horse from the southeastern corner tower.