Galata Tower and the Walls of Galata
Galata Tower and the Church of San Paolo

Galata Tower and San Paolo/Arab Mosque

Galata Tower, one of the major landmarks of modern Istanbul, was built in the mid-14th century when the Genoese had a settlement at Galata. This tower, which dominated the topography of the region, functioned as something like the keep of the Genoese fortification system of Galata. The first phase of construction of the Walls of Galata perhaps first began the early 14th century and continued to be expanded and reinforced until shortly before the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. The 8th century Fort of Galata was included in the Genoese fortifications by the late 14th century. The local municipality began to demolish much of the walls in 1864, though several sections of the walls, along with a several towers, and a gate, still survive.

Sykai, as Galata was known in antiquity, probably received its first fortifications in the 5th century, though they were traditional attributed to Constantine I. Justinian I (527-565) restored Sykai and its walls, which was then Justinianopolis. Whatever remained of these walls were destroyed when the Byzantines granted the area to the Genoese in 1267, shortly after their recovery of Constantinople in 1261. The earliest borders of the Genoese quarters are uncertain, but the limits of the quarter were clearly delineated in 1303 – officially granting a relatively long, narrow strip of land along the southern shore of Galata. Before receiving the land grant, the surviving fortifications of Galata were demolished, except for the Fort of Galata, which would remain in Byzantine hands for the next century. A series of attacks followed this land grant, which eventually resulted in the Genoese building fortifications to protect their quarter. In 1296 during the Byzantine-Venetian War of 1296-1302, a Venetian fleet set fire to the buildings of the defenseless Genoese quarter at Galata, while its inhabitants sought refuge behind the walls of Constantinople. Following their arrival in Constantinople in 1303, the Catalan Company were involved in a conflict with the Genoese, allegedly resulting in the death of 3000 Genoese. While Andronikos II managed to stop the Catalans from pillaging Galata, this threat further emphasized the Genoese’s need for security. An agreement made between the Byzantines and Genoese in 1304 allowed for a moat and the construction of fortified civil buildings that would provide security in their quarters. It strictly prohibited fortified walls, but allowed for other buildings, including a slaughterhouse, marketplace, loggia, baths, church and weigh house.

It is unclear exactly when the Genoese began to build the walls of Galata. By 1308, the Genoese were purchasing land beyond the borders granted by the emperor and built a series of fortified houses that were converted into defensive towers with windows modified into arrow slits. Much of the quarter including the Palazzo Comunale burned down in 1315 and was rebuilt in 1316. During this time, it seems that proper fortified walls were also built, despite the prohibitions of previous agreements. During a secondary phase of construction, a small rectangular castle was built on the western flank of the Palazzo Comunale by 1335, during which time other fortifications were being built north of the quarter determined by previous agreements. It also seems that the heights of the walls were increased during this phase of construction. Following their occupation of Mytilene in 1333, the Genoese began to illegal expanded their quarter at Pera. In 1336, when Andronikos III recaptured Lesbos from the Genoese, the emperor ordered these walls to be demolished, though it is unclear how well was this implemented. While they were given permission to purchase adjacent vineyards, the Genoese continued to expand and fortify their quarters far beyond this area, towards the hill where they would build Galata Tower (known as the Tower of Christ) in 1348. The area around Galata Tower was probably enclosed with walls the following year.         

This secondary phase of the construction of fortifications also corresponds to the civil war between John V Palaiologos and John VI Kantakouzenos in 1341-1347 and the war between in the Genoese and Byzantines over customs duties in 1348-1349, during which the imperial fleet was destroyed and a major fire broke out in Galata. In 1351, the Byzantines unsuccessfully attempted to capture Galata. The next major construction phase of Galata’s walls took place after the Byzantine fleet was defeated by the Genoese in 1352, which concluded with a treaty officially extending the Genoese quarters of Galata to the east.

It is uncertain when the Fort of Galata was actually it was handed over to the Genoese, though it was certainly by the year 1384. Eventually the fort was linked to the walls of Galata, during which time it might have also functioned as an arsenal. It is generally held that the Genoese acquired the northwestern district in 1387, the western district Spiga in 1397, and the eastern district Lagirio around 1400, though there is evidence suggesting that the Genoese controlled Spiga by 1351 and Lagirio in 1376. Repairs made to the wall in 1390-1391 were likely made in expectation of an Ottoman attack, though the blockade of Bayezid I halted defensive constructions until 1435. An unsuccessful Ottoman siege of Galata took place in the late 14th century and again in 1411 and 1422. The Milanese occupation of Genoa in 1421-1435 likely slowed addition of defensive construction. The last known pre-Ottoman slab records work in 1452 supported by Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455), who was of Genoese origin.  

Galata surrendered to the Ottomans in 1453 following the conquest of Constantinople. While Mehmet II promised that the fortifications of Galata would be spared, several sources mention that he ordered the walls to be demolished. However there is little evidence that any significant Ottoman reconstruction took place and the walls were largely extent until the late 19th century. Perhaps the textual references to the destruction of the walls only refer to a symbolic destruction of the upper sections of the walls which would limit their defensive function. The earthquake of 1509 caused the upper levels of Galata Tower to collapse. Galata would suffer from a sequence of fires and earthquakes over the next few centuries, though damage it caused to Galata’s walls was not recorded. The local municipality began to demolish the walls in 1864, though the walls were well documented before this began. The total number of the wall’s gates is unclear, but it had at least 6 maritime gates (some of which were linked to piers). A total of 25 gates of Galata Walls were recorded with their locations and names in the Ottoman period of Galata. Today only a few sections of the walls, some towers and a gate survive.

Written with the help of Dr. Sercan Sağlam

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Galata Tower

Galata Tower is strategically located on top of a hill with an approximate altitude of 35 meters. Its topography allowed Galata Tower to have a clear view of the Golden Horn and the Bosporus as well as Constantinople itself. Galata Tower was built in 1348, when the Genoese were illegally expanding and fortifying their quarters far beyond the original land grant along the shores of the Golden Horn. The area around Galata Tower, which was probably known as the Tower of Christ (Christea Turris), was likely enclosed with walls the following year. The tower seems to have been enlarged and doubled in height around 1445.

The higher hill beyond Galata Tower was the place where Ottoman troops had encamped during the unsuccessful siege of Constantinople by Bayezid I (1389-1403). The upper levels of Galata Tower reportedly collapsed during the great earthquake of 1509, which known as the "Lesser Judgment Day" (Kıyamet-i Suğra) by the Ottomans, and were allegedly reconstructed by Mimar Hayreddin in 1510. The tower had other major repairs during the Ottoman era, including the reconstruction of upper sections following the devastating fires of 1794 and 1831. The Ottoman inscription above the main gate commemorates repairs made in 1832. Galata Tower became a freestanding structure following the demolitions of Galata’s walls that began in 1864. The roof was significantly altered when its conical roof was blown away by a storm in 1875. The restoration work of 1965-1967 had, as its main aim, the reconstruction of the conical roof.

The current height of Galata Tower, including the ornamental pole on its roof, is around 67 meters. The exterior was largely constructed with rough shaped rubble masonry, while bricks were generally used in the interior. The upper sections of the tower primary consist of finely hewn limestone blocks. The tower has eight floors in total, with at least some of the lower floors dating to the Genoese period. Its openings in the first four floors are accessible by way of the main inner space and the vaulted stairway, which continues inside body walls until the fourth floor. From this level, access between the floors is provided by a spiral wooden stairs running through the main inner space. The fifth and sixth floors have small windows; the circular windows of the fifth floor likely served as gun ports. The last two floors have much larger windows.

The main gate of the tower is accessible by external stairs; probably it was elevated to better secure the entrance of the tower. It is possible that the entrance would have had a wooden drawbridge and the walled up arched opening might have originally served as a machicolation. Skeletons in the basement floor suggest it was used as a dungeon. The narrow arched openings of the tower probably functioned to light the interior rather than function as arrow slits. There are much wider openings on the third floor, which could have been designed for ballistae or small cannons, which the Genoese had in the 14th century. 

Also see Galata Slabs

Map of surviving sections of the Fortifications of Galata by Sağlam

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Tower and wall southeast of Galata Tower

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Harip Gate

Genoese Slab with Doria, Genoese and De

Mural Slab with arms of Doria, Genoa and De Merude above Harip Gate (c. 1386-1387)

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Tower south of Harip Gate

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Section of wall near Haliç Bridge

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Section of wall north of Harip Gate

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Section of wall southeast of Galata Tower

Genoese Slab with defaced arms flanked b

Mural Slab with inscription, defaced arms, flanked by arms of Genoa and De Marini (1435)

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Two towers southeast of Galata Tower

Galata from miniature by Matrakçı Nasuh (1533)

Galata from map by Cristoforo Buondelmonte (1422)

From the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

From Map by Braun-Hogenberg (1572)

Galata from panorama by Matthäus Merian (1641)

16th century view of Galata

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Drawing by Jérome Maurand (16th century)

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

British Library

Drawing by Cosimo Comidas (1794)

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Lithograph by W.H. Bartlett (1838)

Photo by James Robertson (c.1855)

Ernest De Caranza (1854)

“The gates are always closed at sun-set, with the exception of one leading to Pera, which is opened at all hours on payment of a small sum to the guard - an accommodation granted to the merchants, who reside either at Pera or in the villages, and transact their business at Galata.”

From A Handbook for Travellers in Turkey (1854) edited by J. Murray

Photo by Francis Bedford (1862)

Photo by Sébah & Joaillier (1880s)

Photo by Guillaume Berggren (c. 1880)

Photo by Abdullah Fréres (1870s)

Photo by Sébah & Joaillier (c. 1890)

Postcard of Galata during British occupation (c. 1920)

Photos by Harip Gate

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Aerial photo by István Pi Tóth

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Aerial photo by Kadir Kir

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Aerial photo by István Pi Tóth

Map of Galata by Müller-Wiener

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Chain of the Golden Horn at Istanbul Arc

Section of the Golden Horn chain

Genoese Slabs from the Walls of Galata

Slab with Byzantine Imperial Emblem (c.1304-1316)

For more details on these slabs and their inscriptions, also see Galata Slabs

Genoese slab with Saint Michael the Arch

Slab with St. Michael the Archangel flanked by arms of Genoa and Doria (1387)

Genoese slab with Fregoso, Genoese, and

Slab with arms of Fregoso, Genoa, and Spinola (1442)

Genoese Slab with the Virgin Mary and th

Slab with the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, flanked by two saints (c.1442)

Genoese slab with Adorno, Genoese, and G

Slab with arms of Adorno, Genoa, and Grimaldi (1443)

Genoese slab with Papal insignia, Fregos

Slab with Papal insignia and arms of Genoa flanked by arms of Fregoso and Lomellini (1452)

Sources

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

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

Documenti riguardanti la colonia Genovese di Pera by LT Belgrano

Histoire de la Latinité de Constantinople by FA Belin

Le Lapidi Genovesi delle Mura di Galata” Iscrizioni Genovesi in Crimea ed in Costantinopoli by E. Rossi

“The Corner of the Horn: An Architectural Review of the Leaded Magazine in Galata Istanbul” by Namık Erkal

“Kastellion” İstanbul Ansiklopedisi by A. Berger

Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium edited by Alexander Kazhdan

Sources

A Handbook for Travellers in Turkey (1854) edited by J. Murray

Resources

Galata Tower and Walls of Galata Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Galata Walls (Ghost Buildings)

Interview with Dr. Sercan Sağlam (Levantine Heritage Foundation)

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Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016