Constantinople
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Aerial photo by Kadir Kir

Constantinople (modern Istanbul) was located on a triangular peninsula along the Bosphorus and between the natural harbor of the Golden Horn and the Propontis (Marmara) Sea. It served as the capital of Byzantine from 324-1453, except for 1204-1261 when it was the capital of a Latin Empire founded by the Fourth Crusade. While much of the city’s grandeur has long been lost, there are still many significant remains of Byzantine Constantinople. Even though often overlooked, these remains give us insight into the glories of a city which once was the largest Christian city in the world. This section of the website allows for you to explore what remains of Byzantine Constantinople.

While Constantine’s motives in establishing the city as his new capital are unknown, certainly its strategic importance of Nova Roma (“New Rome”) would have been obvious, as a defensible peninsula, as well as its location at the eastern end of the Via Egnatia. Rome itself had already waned, as other cities became imperial residences, such as Milan, Nicomedia or Thessaloniki. The massive land walls of Theodosios II, stretching some six kilometers, were the most impressive urban fortifications of the Medieval era, as withstood the attacks of many invasions, including the Avars, Bulgars, and Arabs. Its triple-defenses involved a deep ditch, with successive outer and inner walls. Indeed, the developed city had no real western competitors in terms of its size, fortifications, sumptuous churches, and public monuments. Before the Crusaders sacked the city in 1204, the city might have had a population around 300,000, when Venice, the largest city in the West at the time, may have had a population of around 80,000 (Paris not more than around 20,000). Its central street, the Mese, ended at the Great Palace, around which were situated the Hippodrome, the Augustaion, the baths of Zeuxippus, the underground Basilica Cistern, and the churches of Hagia Sophia, Hagia Eirene, and Sts. Sergius and Bacchus. Elsewhere in the city, at every turn, were numerous monasteries and churches, such as the Stoudios Monastery or later the Pantokrator Monastery.

Constantinople’s importance to every aspect of the history of Byzantium cannot be overemphasized. The city was a bastion of resistance against Arab expansion, in which regard the history of European civilization might have been dramatically different had the Arab sieges of Constantinople in 674-678, and in 717-718, succeeded. Ironically, the most destructive siege of Constantinople came in 1204, when Christian knights of the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople and partitioned Byzantium. The nearby suburb of Galata, once a region of the city, became an important trading colony of the Genoese. Constantinople’s preeminent role in preserving ancient Greco-Roman civilization lasted until the city’s final conquest by the Ottomans on 29 May 1453.

Explore Constantinople

Churches
Columns and Monuments
Theodosian Walls.jpg
Fortifications
Great Palace Mosaic Museum.jpg
Palaces
The Hippodrome
Aqueducts and Cisterns 
Galata Tower and the Church of San Paolo
Galata

References (List Incomplete)

Byzantine Architecture by Cyril Mango

Master Builders of Byzantium by Robert Ousterhout

Brickstamps of Constantinople by Jonathan Bardill

Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls: Byzantion, Konstantinupolis, Istanbul by Müller-Wiener

Two Romes: Rome and Constantinople in Late Antiquity edited by Grig and Kelly

The Water Supply of Byzantine Constantinople by Crow, Bardill, and Bayliss

Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture by Krautheimer

Die Landmauer von Konstantinopel by  Asutay-Effenberger

Byzantine Constantinople: The Walls of the City and Adjoining Historical Sites by Alexander van Millingen

Byzantine Churches in Constantinople by Alexander van Millingen

La géographie ecclésiastique de l'Empire byzantin by R. Janin

Les Eglises de Constantinople by Ebersolt and Thiers

Architecture and Ritual in the Churches of Constantinople: Ninth to Fifteenth Centuries by Vasileios Marinis

Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium edited by Alexander Kazhdan

The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies edited by Cormack, Haldon, & Jeffreys

Resources

Byzantine Legacy Flickr

Byzantium 1200

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Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016