Old Madrasa of Athens – Athens, Greece - Atlas Obscura
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Athens, Greece

Old Madrasa of Athens

The ruined doorway is a portal to the building's turbulent and torturous past. 

Many ruins in Athens are glamorous and romantic, but this site is a visible reminder of dark times. The doorway is all that remains of the Ottoman era Islamic Madrasa (Theological School) of Athens, Greece. In the center of the courtyard was a large plane tree that became a gathering place for leaders of the Muslim community. Over time, this tree became the symbol of the Madrasa.

Like most Ottoman Madrasas, the school was a rectangular building with living quarters surrounding a large courtyard. The structure, which was built in 1721, functioned as a Madrasa until the later years of the Ottoman period, when the Madrasa was moved to another location and the site was converted to a prison.

During its years as a prison, the living quarters became overcrowded, inhumane prison cells, and the plane tree became a hangman’s tree for hundreds of executions. Those not executed were subjected to torture and slavery.

The Madrasa was nearly destroyed during the early part of the Greek War of Independence. After the liberation of Athens, the Madrasa was rebuilt and used as barracks by the Greek Army for the remainder of the war. After the Greeks’ victory, it was converted yet again, this time into a prison for both Turks and Greek political prisoners. The new Greek government revived the hangings on the plane tree for “deserving” Turks and traitorous Greeks.

The prison was finally closed right before the 20th century, and the Archaeology Department began demolition in search of older and more important artifacts. By 1915, all that remained was the main door and a small portion of the adjacent exterior walls, most of which can be seen today.

The tree was destroyed by a lightning strike in 1919, appropriately closing a chapter on the horrific things that took place on and around it. While the tree may be gone, history buffs can still gaze upon the doorway that led students, prisoners, and the condemned to the plane tree and their fate.

Know Before You Go

It's located in Plaka, the oldest neighborhood of this ancient city. The Madrasa was built just outside the Roman Agora opposite the Tower of the Winds.