Palace of the Porphyrogenitus

The Palace of the Porphyrogenitus (“purple-born”) is located on the land walls of Constantinople. Its Turkish name, Tekfur Sarayı, perhaps derives from Persian. The palace is a three-story structure, which until recently restoration was an empty shell. It is the only well-preserved example of Byzantine domestic architecture at Constantinople.

The palace and its courtyard are located between the inner and outer land walls. The palace, built with cloisonné brickwork, is connected to Tower 97 at the northern end of the Theodosian Walls. The three-story Byzantine palace has four columns at the ground level and patterned brickwork on the two upper floors. The interior, which is around 10x15 meters, perhaps was once subdivided. The upper floor probably consisted of a vast throne room. The north and south façades are elaborately decorated with colorful brickwork, while a balcony supported on corbels ran along its east side. A projection on its south side is supported by machicolations.  The palace, being attached to the land walls, has a tall defensible lower zone, with a row of panoramic south windows on the upper floor. As a tower-house palace, it shares features with the tower-house of the castle at Niketiaton (Eskihisar), which has no windows on the outer wall, while its inner walls included arched window on the two upper stories. Its emphasis on its defensive qualities might reference aristocratic fortified residences of rural Anatolia, such as the palace of rural Nymphaeum near Magnesia (Manisa) which might have been associated with Laskarids.

It is commonly suggested that the first building phase of palace took place in the Middle Byzantine era, while another phase occurring during the Palaialogan era. Regardless, it has brickwork dating to the Palaialogan era. It is possible that the current building was built or completely renovated, possibly in connection to the expansion of the Palace of Blachernai following the recapture of Constantinople by the Palaialogans. The palace played a role in the clashes between John VI Kantakouzenos and John V Palaiologos in 1354. It was possibly the imperial residence at the end of the Palaialogan era. The palace complex had a wide range of uses during the Ottoman era. Sometime following the Ottoman conquest, Jewish families from Thessaloniki were settled in the area of the palace. In the 16th century, a cistern of the palace complex was used to house the menagerie of the sultan. In 1719, it was used in the production of Tekfur Sarayı tiles. These tiles were used to decorate the fountain of Ahmed III, located in front of the Imperial Gate (Bâb-ı Hümâyûn) of Topkapı Palace. While the production of tiles here did not last very long, it was used in the production of glass throughout the 19th century until 1955. In 1864, a fire started Jewish houses here, damaging the interior of the palace. The palace, which was recently restored, will be house an Ottoman tile museum in the future.


Photos by Sebah & Joaillier

Drawing by Salzenberg (1854)

Drawing by W.H. Bartlett (1838)

Drawing by Eugène Flandin (1853)

Drawing from the Greek Philological Society of Constantinople (1884)

Drawing by Mary Walker (1869)


Palace detail from Map of Constantinople by Cristoforo Buondelmonte (1422)

Drawing by Mary Walker (1869)

Palace detail from Map of Constantinople by Piri Reis (1521)

Tekfur Palace Tiles


Fountain of Ahmed III


Plan by Müller-Wiener


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

Byzantine Constantinople, the Walls of the City and Adjoining Historical Sites by Alexander Van Millingen

“The late Late Antique origins of Byzantine palace architecture” by Philipp Niewöhner 

Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies edited by Jeffreys, Haldon and Cormack

Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium edited by A. Kazhdan


Byzantine Palace of Constantinople Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Tekfur Palace (Byzantium 1200)

Tekfur Sarayı (Nicholas V. Artamonoff Collection)

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Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016