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 that once was the largest Christian city in the world. This section of the website aims to provide access to 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 it withstood the attacks by many invaders, including the Avars, Bulgars, and Arabs. Its triple-defenses involved a deep moat, with successive outer and inner walls. Indeed, the 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’s population might have been 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, began 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 Sergius and Bacchus. Elsewhere in the city, at every turn, were numerous monasteries and churches, such as the Stoudios Monastery, the Pantokrator Monastery, or Chora.
Constantinople’s importance to every aspect of the history of Byzantium cannot be overemphasized. The city was a bastion of resistance against Arab expansion; 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 Genoa. Constantinople’s preeminent role in preserving ancient Greco-Roman civilization lasted until the city’s final conquest by the Ottomans on 29 May 1453.
Columns and Monuments
Aqueducts and Cisterns
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