Ever since the inception of man, the nature and the advent of kingship and ruling occurred. The focus on defense and cavalry formed an integral part of the external affairs and defensive strategy. As man developed innovative methods for his safety and comfort, the art of defense considerably evolved. It suggests an idea about fortifications around the empire. The shaping of world history can undoubtedly be credited to the results of these involvements.
Constantinople was one such empire that employed a terrestrial defense system, erected in the time of the emperor Theodosius II. Let’s have a look at the finer details & facts about the Walls of Constantinople.
1 The Theodosian Wall
The double Theodosian Walls was located about 2 km to the west of the old Constantinian Wall, and was erected in two phases. The initial construction consisted of a single curtain wall with towers which now forms the inner circuit of the Theodosian Walls. It extended from the shores of the Sea of Marmara to those of the Golden Horn, whereas the original section reached until what is now known as the Palace of the Sovereign (Tekfur Sarayı).
The wife of Theodosius II- Atenais (Eudocia) came up with the idea of building a complex, consisting of a triple line of obstacles (from the point of view of the attacker), i.e. pit and double wall. The work of building the double wall started in around 439, and ended eight years later. Since then Constantinople resisted numerous sieges.
In 1204, the Crusaders managed to conquer the city by attacking the maritime section of its walls. Two and a half centuries later, the Ottoman Turks, under the spur of Sultan Mehmet II the conqueror, appealed to the artillery to subdue the resistance of the defenders in the zone of Topkapi or door of the Canyon. The Roman Empire of the East came to an end on May 29, 1453, almost a thousand years after the erection of the earthly walls.
Two earthquakes resulted in severely damaging the Constantinian and the original Theodosian walls, on 25 September 437 and on 6 November 447 respectively. The second earthquake destroyed large parts of the wall, and in addition 57 towers were affected. Theodosius II ordered the supervision of repairs. The walls were restored in a record of 60 days.
2 Tower of Basil II and Constantine VIII
As a result of the need for restoration work in some parts of the earth’s wall, the brothers Basilio II Bulgarocctonos and Constantino VIII erected the tower of the same name. The tower was of a pentagonal plant, and was erected by the end of the tenth century.
Located a few hundred meters from the Tower Of Marble, the tower of Basilio and Constantine still conserves some inscriptions in Greek, alluding to the patrons of the work. To the side of the same walls, the door of Christ is located which is closed to the tourist by an intimidating and modern grate with green color.
3 Marble Tower (Sea of Marmara)
The Marble Tower (Mermer Kule) is located at the southern end of the defensive system and is one of the first major landmarks of the earth wall. Former bulwark, barracks and prisons housed Pope Martin I (15-12-654 to 10-03-655) for a few months as an illustrious captive, condemned for high treason.
Presently the tower stands in the solitude of an open field, edged to the east by an esplanade, well equipped with aerobic machines and faces Kenedy Avenue to the west. The bulwark has deteriorated with the passage of time, but still preserves the intact charm of yesteryear.
Walking towards the seawall, it is possible to have a view of the Marble Tower in the foreground and the tower of Basil II And Constantine VIII, a little further back. As the seawall protects the coast against the waters of the Sea of Marmara.
The Curtain wall that joined the two bastions in the Middle Ages was sectioned in the last century to give a way to Kenedy Avenue.
From the same park which is populated by nice aerobics machines, the view of the Marble Tower with the bastion of Basil II and Constantine VIII is possible. It may bring you back to imperial times.
4 Golden Gate
The Golden Gate was once the main access of Constantinople that is constructed under a complex system of fortress also known as Yedikule or Castle of the Seven Towers. Golden gate was served to the emperors for their triumphant returns.
Being the starting point and arrival of the Via Egnatia (a road constructed by Romans), the glorious door was in itself an arch of triumph. It was originally finely decorated with effigies and reliefs (a method of carving) but nothing is preserved today.
The defensive complex Yedikule is connected to the gate, possibly designed by the Turkish conqueror of Constantinople. It stands on the remains of another previous Byzantine complex – the Heptapyrgion of the Emperor Zeno (474-491).
5 Yedikule or Castle of the Seven Towers
The Castle of Seven Towers is a defensive sub-complex composed of seven towers integrated through a compact curtain and a spacious internal courtyard. The present building probably exists from the time of Mehmet II – the Conqueror, and is located on the perimeter of the Heptapirgion of the Emperor Zeno (474-491). It is currently a museum.
The Marble Tower of Basilio and Constantine is situated a little more upward. It imposes an attractive silhouette of the military complex of Yedikule with the Golden gate guarding its entrance.
6 Yedikule Entrance
The Yedikule entrance is located a short distance from the Golden Gate to the north. Currently Golden Gate is closed to the public.
7 Ruins between the gates of Yedikule and Xilokerkos
Leaving the Sea of Marmara in the direction of the North, it is possible to appreciate the disastrous state in which the sector of wall between the gates of Yedikule and Xilokerkos (or Belgrade) is located. The towers and their remains are a result of pure rebellion.
With the advanced state of deterioration, one day they will no longer adorn the environment by reminding us about their painful flashes of their past greatness.
8 Moat in the section Yedikule – Xilokerkos
The moat precedes the double line of earthly fortifications. It traversed in its beginnings and the passage between the Palace of the Sovereign to the North and the Marble Tower to the South.
Being erected between the two walls of masonry, it was approximately 20 meters wide and 10 meters deep. Usually, it received the rain water and used to be filled with liquid through a system of dikes and exclusions.
The counterscarp that served a perimeter to the first external terrace or exo-parateichíon also had a height of two meters, that made this first defensive line and a real challenge for the circumstantial besieger.
9 Gate of Xilokerkos or Belgrade
In 1985, UNESCO declared the Historic Peninsula of Istanbul a World Heritage Site. Four World Heritage areas were selected based on three types of representative monuments from glorious but different eras. The gate of Xilokerkos (Wooden Gate) or Belgrade (Belgrat Kapisi) contrasts little with those of some ramshackle bastions of the adjacencies. It can boast of being impregnated with a halo of unquestionable authenticity.
10 Moat between Xilokerkos and Gate of the Spring
The moat section between the gates of Xilokerkos to the south and Gate of the Spring shows the typical features of the terrain on which it is dug. Hills are interspersed with very flat open spaces. For the present case, it would be the slight southern slope of one of the seven hills of Constantinople, specifically of the seventh (whose summit would be at the height of the Fourth Military Gate, between that of Reghion and that of San Romano Civil or Topkapi).
In the present section of the moat, the crops dominate the whole width, until they are lost in the direction of the adjoining gates of Xilokerkos and Gate of the Spring.
11 Gate of the Spring
Gate of the Spring was called as the Silivri Kapi (Silver Gate) by the Byzantines, and the Turks named it after conquering the city. It keeps numerous surprises for the seasoned tourist: inscriptions and a recently discovered crypt.
The gate lies between the heptagonal towers 35 and 36, rebuilt in later Byzantine times. There is an inscription on its southern tower, and it dates back to 1439. The repairs were carried out under John VIII Palaiologos. The Ottoman period witnesses the replacement of the gate arch.
12 Walls between Gate Of The Spring and Rhegion
The sector between the gates of Spring to the south and Rhegion to the north is mostly ruined. It has lost its charm. Walking among the stones offers the possibility of discovering the small patterns that, from the towers of the first line or “Microteíchon”, allowed the defenders to access to the first peribolos (law court during Roman era) or “exo-parateichíon” and vice-versa.
Trees and shrubs can be seen in a long distance along the way, growing among the rubble or at the top of the craggy towers, with the risk of complete collapse involving their roots embedded in the fissures of the bastions.
13 Rhegion Gate
The gate is located between towers 50 and 51 and stands out above the others for the carvings and inscriptions that can be seen on it, also on the lintel that supports the weight of the structure, and on the top of one of the two jambs on which the Lintel and at the heart of the four-strand bow immediately above the horizontal beam. However, it is evident that the object that adorned the bow is no longer there and there is no evidence that can suggest the form or meaning of it.
Front door of Rhegion
The Latin inscriptions allude to the works carried out during the construction of the earth walls and later to the repair or maintenance of the upper edge of the lintel. The cross describes the works carried out on the Theodosian antelope by Emperor Justin II (565-578) and his wife Sofya, and by his servants Narses and Esteban.
The inscriptions carved to the top of one of the jambs that support the lintel also make reference to the works directed by the mysterious Constantine. Hidden crosses are also observed on the upper side faces of both jambs of the front door.
14 Fourth Military (door)
Across the fourth military gate stands on the Turgut Özal Cd. On either side of the street, two huge bastions rise that seem higher than they really are compared to the whole.
Fourth Military, exterior
Walking towards the interior of the historical peninsula, by the same street Turgut Özal Cd., it is possible to appreciate the huge arcades that support the way of round in the megateíchon, almost next to the later face of the great towers.
15 Pempton Gate
The arrival at this Fifth Military Gate provokes different sensations. Actually two! Two different types of sensations occur depending on the path chosen to access it. If one advances along the inner road (Sulukule Cd.), the impression will be calmed by the depressing environment generated by the Nearness of the Neslişah. It lies to the north of the Lycus stream, between towers 77 and 78.
Pempton or Fifth Military Gate
The towers of the megateíchon that flanked the door no longer exist except for their basements and a pair of half-shattered walls. However, the structure remains impressive in the eyes of the occasional observer.
Tower in ruins
At Pempton, as in San Romano, the battle of 1453 was a dramatic and bloody one. In the defense of the city took part 7,000 Byzantines and some 2,000 foreign soldiers, some mercenaries and other crazy idealists that appeared to not lose its part of glory in the legend. At the head, the Turks had formed an army composed of irregular and regular, vassals and their own, of no less than 100,000 men. In the heat of the fight, when the combat was already decided, Emperor Cosntantino XI and many of his most loyal nobles and followers died near the Fifth Military Gate. The body of the basileo was never found to disenchant Mehmet.
16 Door of Adrianople or Carisios (Edirnekapi)
The Carisian Gate, now known as Edirnekapi (gate of Adrianople), is located at the top of the sixth hill. It still holds the threshold of the old causeway that was headed towards modern Edirne. At the time of the Byzantine Empire, this door was the second in importance, behind the Golden Gate. It was built proudly from voluminous mass of stone. The Sultan Mehemt II, the Conqueror, entered the city on the afternoon of May 29, 1453, once the resistance Of the Byzantines had been extinguished between pillage, slaughter and rape.
Door of Carisios
Carisios is partially restored, as are its adjacent towers and the area next to the megateíchon. But the first line of walls isn’t restored as its foundation can hardly be perceived. The moat, always omnipresent, can be seen in its entire dimension in this sector of the defensive line.
17 Palace of the Sovereign and Kerkaporta
The most prominent landmark, also known as “Tekfur Sarayı” by the Turks (means Sovereign’s Palace) lies precisely at the point where the Theodosian court wall ends. Taking steps forward, the aspect of a defensive line will change diametrically towards a single and reinforced wall, the monoteíchon, well-known like Wall of Manuel Comneno.
The origin of the Palace of the Sovereign remains unknown till date. Whether they belong to the original constructions of the first Comneno sovereign, Alejo, or forms the part of enlargements realized later by his grandson, is still unclear. The truth is that it is an exquisite building of typical Roman-Byzantine style that the basileos used like residence until the end of the days of the Empire.
The red bricks of its facade arranged in triple or quadruple yarn and interspersed with white stone are a constant along the whole surface of the building. Stone lines and threads are arranged and suspended between the windows to give way to triangular, circular, rhomboidal and hexagonal shapes. They give a very refined and harmonious appearance to the exterior. The building consists of three floors but no ceiling or top floor. The walled door that rises to the south side of the building is argued to be none other than the infamous Kerkaporta.
18 Wall of Manuel I Comneno
The Palace of the Sovereign marked a breaking point in both the architectural style and the architectural features of the Theodosian wall that comes from the south from the Sea of Marmara. Up to this building is a monocorde system consisting of a moat and a double line of walls. It is present at more or less constant intervals, and has exposed towers attached with the purpose of subjecting the occasional adversary to a random rain of arrows from three different directions.
The Blaquernas neighborhood was not originally comprised within the Theodosian walled perimeter. When the Comineno emperors began to move the royal residence from the Grand Palace to a more equestrian setting, in keeping with the new feudal airs that blew in the court, Blaquernas presented himself as the best option. The Puerta Gate and the Marble Tower had the advantage of being on the shelter of the great chain that used to extend from one end to the other at the entrance to the Golden Horn when an invading fleet threatened to attack the city.
First section Manuel wall
Manuel Comneno initiated the extension of the palace of Blaquernas in 1143. He also applied cuadrillas of masons and engineers to reinforce the perimeter wall. This resulted in a much higher wall, with nine towers reinforced inwards by compact walls. The structure emerged as a threatening obstacle. It was something that no enemy, crusader or Osmanlian Turk would succeed in overcoming.
Sector adjacent to the Puerta Calegaria
This section of wall lies on the side of its inner face. The walk is picturesque and allows appreciating the clearly medieval features of the wall of Manuel, as opposed to the Roman style of the Theodosian. There are towers almost half-destroyed, including the one that sheltered Frantzés, secretary of Constantine XI, during the siege of 1453.
19 Puerta Calegaria or Eğ rikapi
The old Puerta Calegaria is an access that is immersed within the structure belonging to the walls of Manuel I Comneno. It is housed between the sixth and the seventh tower. At the time of the Fourth Crusade, the Latin soldiers established their camp very close to the place, so that each side could practically listen to each other during the harangues prior to the battle. The door was severely damaged at the time of the Ottoman siege, by the firing of Turkish artillery. It resisted each of the strikes to which it was subjected.
The Turkish conquest saw the name of the gate being changed to the Eğ rikapi, meaning oblique door. It was so because of the location in which the access was left. The erection was done almost in front of the mausoleum or tomb of Hazreti Hafiz, a companion of the Prophet, that succumbed during the first Arab siege of the city (674-678).
20 Anemas-Isaac Angel Complex
This massive building of the twelfth century was used for different purposes: prison, warehouse, arsenal, and lodging. The monument had an imposing exterior view and houses a park adjacent to it. It is now used by families for recreation purposes. The place is full of lintels and stones with inscriptions, crosses and monograms as well as occasional walls. There are in fact many details about the stones of the walls. However, they have become blurred as a result of the lack of maintenance and the unavoidable deterioration caused by the passage of time.
21 Gate Of The Blaquernas
This section of the gate gives access to the city through the walls erected after inclusion of the homonymous neighborhood within the walled perimeter of Constantinople. The inclusion occurred in the times of the emperor Heraclio (610-641). The great door was flanked by two huge turrets, exclusively built for little ones. The land was filled and the increase in ground level became a door whose jambs barely appear from the ground.
The nearby walkway, located between the door and Hacı Hüsrev Camii, is a very attractive circuit. It encompasses a flowery and green landscape; the gardening works are especially noticeable between their paths and stonecutters and on the stems loaded with flowers belonging to the rose bushes that grow on all sides.
22 The Propontis Wall
The Propontis wall was erected at the shoreline. It had a height of around 12-15 meters. As a fortification measure, 10 large gates, 3 small gates, 188 towers and a total length of almost 8460 meters, with further 1080 meters comprising the inner wall of the Vlanga harbour. The Kennedy Caddesi construction resulted in the damage of a major section of the wall in 1956-57.
23 The Golden Horn Wall
The Golden Horn Wall extended to 5,600 meters from the cape of St. Demetrius to the Blachernae. At the Blachernae it adjoins the Land Walls. It was situated 40 meters from the shore, and 10 meters tall, with 17 gates and 110 towers. A railway line was being constructed which resulted in the major part being demolished in the 1870s.
24 The Walls of Galata
Galata remained without any fortification for most of the Byzantine period. In 1204, Galata became a Venetian quarter, outside Byzantine control. Repeated opposition from the Byzantine couldn’t stop from joining the castle-like houses with walls that created the first wall around the colony.
The Galata Tower (Christea Turris- Tower of Christ) was built in 1349. With multiple expansions in 1387, 1397 and 1404, the wall stretched from the modern district of Azapkapı north to Şişhane, from there to Tophane and then to Karaköy. Currently only the Galata Tower remains, and is visible from Constantinople. Along with several smaller fragments, it remains undamaged.