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

Starting in the 14th century, the Genoese colony of Galata (also known as Pera) was surrounded by a series of walls. Later that century, Galata Tower was constructed at the highest point of the settlement. While most of the walls have since disappeared, Galata Tower is now one of the main landmarks of modern Istanbul.

Galata, originally known as Sycae, was first fortified under Constantine and restored by Justinian. These fortifications were demolish Michael VIII besieged Galata in 1260. Apparently only the Fort of Galata, which had carried the harbor chain since the 8th century, survived this destruction. The Genoese begin to build walls in 1304, despite being prohibited from building walls by an agreement the previous years. From 1306 the Genoese began to expand the settlement by purchasing land. Over time additional walls were added as the settlement expanded. In 1315, a fire requires the walls to be renovated. Around 1348, the Genoese extended the settlement north, constructing Galata Tower, then known as the Tower of Christ.

The walls were built of stone and had towers at regular intervals of 40-60 meters. They were reinforced by relieving arches, and had a moat measuring about 15 meters wide. Gates and towers of the wall were often adorned with reliefs, coat of arms and inscriptions. The arms of Genoa (the Cross of St. George) can be seen in the last surviving Genoese gate Yanıkkapı (the “Burnt Gate”), with Doria (left) and De Merude (right) coats of arms on each side of it.

As Galata capitulated to the Turks in 1453, it retained many of its privileges. However sections of the walls were destroyed. In 1509, an earthquake destroyed sections of the walls, and were repaired in the following years. Galata Tower is restored twice after a fire damaged it in 1794 and in 1831. During this time, it begins to serve as a fire tower. Large sections of the walls were destroyed in 1864, during which time some of the coats of arms and inscriptions were place in a museum. The walls continued to be demolished through the rest of the 19th century. In 1875, Galata Tower was severely damaged by a storm and subsequently substantially altered. During restoration work in 1964-1967, it was reconstructed to follow its old form.

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Coats of arms of a gate of Walls of Gala

“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

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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

Sources

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

Baedeker's Constantinople by Michael Wild

Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium edited by Alexander Kazhdan

Resources

Galata Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Galata Walls (Ghost Buildings)

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016