Galata Tower and the Church of San Paolo

Galata was a settlement at the promontory on the north side of the Golden Horn facing Constantinople. Originally called Sycae, by around 425 it had become an integral part of the city, of which it formed the 13th Region. It possessed a theater, baths, dockyard, and other facilities. Defensive walls were probably built in the course of the 5th century. In 528 it was granted the status of a city and renamed Justinianoupolis. It may have been abandoned in the 7th century, since later sources do not mention a city, but rather a fort (kastellion), situated on the seashore. This served as a point of attachment of the chain barring the mouth of the Golden Horn which was first attested in 717.

The churches and monasteries of Galata include St. Irene (on the site of present-day Arap Camii), dedicated in 551. There were many other churches just outside Galata, including the martyrion of the Maccabees (4th century), St. Thekla, St. Konon, and the leper-house of St. Zotikos. The area to the east of Galata, known as Argyropolis (Turkish Tophane) is mentioned in the legend of St. Andrew as the site where the apostle ordained Stachys as the first bishop of Byzantion. Probably in the 11th century Galata became a Jewish quarter that attained a population of about 2,500, which was later destroyed by the Crusaders.

The first agreement between the Genoese and Byzantines was made in 1155, but it was only in 1160 when the Genoese were granted their own quarter in Constantinople. The Genoese began to settle in Galata after the loss of commercial privileges in Constantinople following after the Latin conquest of Constantinople in 1204. During this period, a small church was probably built on the site of the Church of San Paolo (now the “Arab Mosque”). The Genoese were allowed to have a trading colony in Galata as a reward for supporting Michael VIII Palaiologos to recapture Constantinople in 1261. In the same year, the Treaty of Nymphaion was signed marking an official alliance between Byzantines and Genoese. The Genoese begin to build walls in 1304, despite being prohibited from building walls by an agreement the previous years. The Palazzo Comunale, the residence of the Genoese podestà of Galata, was first constructed around this time. From 1306 the Genoese began to expand the settlement by purchasing land. Over time additional walls were added as the settlement expanded. Around 1348, the Genoese extended the settlement north, constructing Galata Tower, then known as the Tower of Christ. During this time, Galata flourished and increasingly became independent as the Byzantine Empire declined. It is believed that bubonic plague was brought to Constantinople in 1347 by Genoese ships travelling from Crimea, after which it also spread to the rest of Europe. In 1427 Benedictine monks founded the Church of St. Benoît in Galata.

Galata capitulated to the Turks in 1453, retaining many of its privileges, but quickly declined as a commercial center. The name Pera, as used in the 13th-15th century, is synonymous with Galata. The Genoese walls, of various dates and now to a large extent dismantled, include the Galata Tower which dates to the mid-14th century, though significantly rebuilt.

Galata from miniature by Matrakçı Nasuh (1533)

Galata from map by Cristoforo Buondelmonte (1422)

From the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

From Map by Vavassore (c.1520)

Galata from panorama by Matthäus Merian (1641)

View of Constantinople from Pera by Antoine Ignace Melling (1819)

Custom House by Coke Smyth (1838)

It was originally the Fort of Galata

Church of Saint Benoît by Cosimo Comidas (1794)

Galata Bridge by Eugène Flandin (1853)

16th century view of Galata

Panels from Panorama of Constantinople by Henry Aston Barker (1817)

British Library

Street in Galata by Eugène Flandin (1853)

Photo by James Robertson (1854)


Aerial photo by István Pi Tóth


Aerial photo by Kadir Kir

Map of Galata by Müller-Wiener


Urban Palimpsest at Galata & An Architectural Inventory Study for the Genoese Colonial Territories in Asia Minor by Sercan Saglam

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

“Manuel and the Genoese: A Reappraisal of Byzantine Commercial Policy in the Late Twelfth Century” by Gerald W. Day

“Arap Camii in Istanbul: Its Architecture and Frescoes” by Haluk Çetinkaya

Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium edited by Alexander Kazhdan


Galata Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Galata Walls (Ghost Buildings)

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016