Sea Walls of Constantinople

Marmara Sea Walls near Hagia Sophia

The Sea Walls of Constantinople consisted of a single line of fortifications along the shores of Propontis (the Marmara) and the Golden Horn. They are, for the most part, poorly preserved today, due in part to the construction of the railroad and roads. The Palace of Boukoleon and the Monastery of Christ Philanthropos, which were built along the walls of the Marmara, are partially preserved today. In addition, several inscriptions can be found, particularly along the Marmara walls.

The ancient city Byzantion had sea walls, due to its strategic location which linked the Balkans with the eastern provinces by land, and the Aegean and the Black Sea by sea. It is likely that the sea walls later built more or less follow the same line of the wall along the Marmara. On several occasions it was attacked, most notably by Septimius Severus who destroyed its walls and then later had them rebuilt at the end of the second century. The city that Constantine made his new capital was basically what had been developed under Septimius Severus. Constantine built a new city wall when he expanded the city to the west. It is unclear, though, whether he expanded the sea walls to meet his new land walls. The city was again expanded during the reign of Theodosius II around 412, when a new land wall was built beyond the Constantinian wall. In 439, following the completion of the land wall, the prefect Cyrus Panopolites built walls along the Marmara and the Golden Horn. These walls were built in part because of the Gothic threat, which had made it increasingly clear that the empire was less secure. A large harbor, known as the Harbor of Theodosius, was built at the mouth of the Lykos River, possibly during the reign of Theodosius I. Eventually the sea walls had three harbors on the shore of the Marmara. There were also two major harbors – the Neorion and the Prosphorion – on the Golden Horn, which eventually could no longer be used as the Golden Horn silted up. These harbors were included in the concessions of the Italian maritime republics (Venice, Genoa, Amalfi and Pisa) before the Fourth Crusade. The Kynegon Harbor, which was in front of the Gate of the Kynegos, was probably used by emperors and dignitaries going to the palace or churches at Blachernai. This was probably part of an elaborate triple gate that included the Gate of Balat (the location of the marble relief of Nike).

The sea walls frequently needed to be repaired due to earthquakes and storms, which were often commemorated by inscriptions. There was an extensive series of inscriptions, dating from the fifth to the fifteenth centuries, on the walls of Constantinople. While a large number of them have since disappeared, many inscriptions can still be found along the walls, particularly on the Marmara walls. Three inscriptions, once located along the Marmara, can now be found in the Istanbul Archaeological Museums.

The Ottoman periodically restored the walls as well. For example, during the reign of Murad IV (1623-1640), the walls were repaired due to damage from earthquakes in 1509, 1574 and 1595. French general Sebastiani restored the walls when the city was threatened by the British navy in 1807. The walls of the Golden Horn were repaired several times during the Ottoman era, but they largely disappeared over the course of the 19th century. Significant sections of the walls along the Marmara and around Topkapı Palace began to be demolished first when the railway was built in 1871, then again in 1959, as part of the construction of a new coastal road (later called Kennedy Street). During the occupation of Istanbul after World War I, the French army camping near Topkapı Palace excavated the region in 1922-1923, bringing to light the ruins of several structures including the Monastery of Christ Philanthropos.

Today the wall along the Marmara is in better condition in certain sections, while most sections of the Golden Horn wall no longer exist. The location of the wall along the Golden Horn is also harder to determine, in part because there were two ports - Prosphorion and Neorion - that gradually filled up over the course of Medieval Era. There are traces of older walls dating to the Roman era or even earlier along the Marmara near Topkapı Palace. The walls are generally further from the sea than they once were, because the shoreline of Istanbul has expanded over time. The construction of the coastal highway on the Marmara, for example, expanded the shoreline by as 60 meters. One noteworthy example of this can be seen by the Palace of Boukoleon, which originally was the location of a small harbor.

(See also: Palace of Boukoleon, Golden Horn Chain, Christ Philanthropos, Harbor of Theodosius, Marble Tower)

Marmara Wall

The Sea Wall on the Propontis (Marmara) once had 36 gates and 103 towers and was around 8.5 kilometers long from the Marble Tower (Turkish Mermer Kule) to the Gate of St. Barbara (no longer existent, around Sarayburnu). Following the completion of the land wall, the prefect Cyrus Panopolites built walls along the Marmara in 439. It seems that the 5th century House of Marina (Domum nobilissimae Marinae), which is mentioned in the Notitia Urbis Constantinopolitanae, survives as part of the Marmara Wall, as indicated by a row of arched slits near Tower 27. The Palace of Boukoleon, which has a several architectural phases, is also located along the Marmara Wall. The Marmara Wall frequently needed to be repaired due to earthquakes and storms, which were often commemorated by inscriptions. After an earthquake in 447, the prefect Constantinus repaired the wall - as a lost inscription at Yenikapı described. It is possible it was again damaged in the earthquake of 557/558. The Marmara wall was reinforced by Anastasius II in preparation for the second Arab attack on the city in 717. An iceberg damaged a section of the wall around Mangana in 764.

Continuing threats from the Arabs, as well as the siege of the city by the usurper Thomas in 821-823, probably influenced Theophilus (829-842) to expand the Marmara wall. Several towers around the acropolis were built during his reign, as multiple inscriptions indicate. Repairs to the wall continued through the reign of Michael III (842-867). Sections of the Marmara wall were repaired during the reign of Leo VI (886-912), according to a lost inscription on a tower of the Kontoscalion Harbor. An inscription on Tower 16 commemorates the repairs of Leo VI and his brother Alexander. Work on the sea wall also took place when Nikephoros II Phokas (963-969) erected walls around the Great Palace and the Palace of Boukoleon. Lost inscriptions also commemorated sections of the wall being repaired during the reign of Basil II (976-1025). During Manuel I Komnenos (1143-1180), a tower was built on the small island where Maiden’s Tower is now located. A tower was built on the acropolis with the intention of controlling traffic on the Bosphorus by attaching a chain between the island and this tower. In addition, sections of the wall were repaired during his reign, as indicated by the inscription on Tower 93 near Narlı Kapı.

Following the recovery of Constantinople, Michael VIII (1259-1282) had the Marmara wall repaired due to the threat posed by Charles of Anjou. He was unable to carry out his plan on building a second row of walls by the Marmara. Work on the wall continued under Andronikos II Palaiologos (1282-1328). A tower of Kontoskalion harbor, which is no longer existent, once had a plaque decorated with the coat-of-arms of Andronikos II, a crowned, rampant lion bearing a sword and four medallions containing monograms underneath. A storm damaged the wall in 1332, then the wall was further damaged by earthquakes in 1345, 1344 and 1354. John VI Kantakouzenos (1347-1354) repaired the Marmara wall in 1351, because a Genoese fleet sailed to Constantinople to attack the city in order to support claims made by the colony at Galata. Following the Siege of Constantinople in 1422, John VIII Palaiologos (1425-1448) has sections of the sea wall repaired. Two inscriptions on the Marmara wall records repairs made by important dignitaries of the empire just before Mehmed II attack Constantinople. An inscription dating to 1448 commemorates the Serbian despot George Branković; it was once on a tower between Yenikapı and Kumkapı, and is now located in the Istanbul Archaological Museums. A lost inscription, once located between Ahırkapı and Çatladı Kapı, had an inscription of Lucas Notaras, the last Megas Doux of Constantinople.

Great Inscription of Theophilus

☩Σε Χριστέ / τεῖχος ἀρραγέ-/ς κεκτημένος/ ἄναξ/ Θεόφιλο-/ς εὐσεβή-/ς αὐτο-/κράτωρ ἤγειρε/ τοῦτο τεῖ-/ χος ἐκ/ βάθρων νέων. Ὅπερ/ φύλατ-/ τε τῷ κρ-/άτει σου παν-/τάναξ. Καὶ δεῖξο/ν αὐτὸ μέ-/χρις αἰώνων τέλους ἅσ-/ειστο-/ν ἀκλόνητον ἔστ[ω]

“Possessing Thee, O Christ, a Wall that cannot be broken, Theophilus, King and pious Emperor, erected this wall upon new foundations: which (wall). Lord of All, guard with Thy might, and display to the end of time standing unshaken and unmoved.”

Inscription of Theophilus with Christogram on Tower 5

IC XC

NIKA

☩Πύργος Θεοφίλου, πιστοῦ ἐν Χ(ριστ)ῷ μεγάλου βασιλέως αὐτοκράτορος☩

“Jesus Christ conquers”

“Tower of Theophilus, faithful and great King and Emperor in Christ”

Towers 5 and 6 with Inscriptions of Theophilus

Tower 6
☩Πύργος Θεοφίλου ἐν Χ(ριστ)ῷ αὐτοκράτορος☩
“Tower of Theophilus, Emperor in Christ”

Mill Gate (Değirmen Kapısı)

Inscription Fragment (possibly Theophilus and Michael)

Inscription Fragment (probably Theophilus)

Monastery of Christ Philanthropos

Fragmentary inscription (possible reading of left section):

…ΚΡΑΤΑΙΑ ΔΕCΠΟΤΙ…ΑVΤΟΚΡΑΤΟΡ (or ΠΑΝΤΟΚΡΑΤΟΡ)…

... Mighty despot...emperor (or Pantocrator)…

Tower 16 

Inscription of Leo and Alexander (Above) dated 6414 (906)

ΠΥΡΓΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΛΕΟΝΤΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡ]ΟΥ ΤΟΝ ΦΙΛΩΧΡΙΣΤΟΝ ΔΕΣΠΟΤΟΝ ΕΤΟΥΣ ΚΤΙ]ΣΕΟΣ ΚΟΣΜΟΥ SY ΤΕΣΣΑΡΗΣ ΚΑΙ ΔΕΚΑΤΟΥ+

Inscription of Theophilus (Below)

☩ΠΥΡΓΟC ΘΕΟΦΙΛΟΥ EN ΑΥΤΟΚΡΑΤΟΡΟC XPICTⲰ ☩
“Tower of Theophilus, Emperor in Christ”

Stable Gate (Ahırkapı) with Ottoman Inscription

Possibly the remains of the 5th century House of Marina

Gate Inscription near the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus 
Text taken from the Psalms and Habakkuk

Tower 64 from the Harbor of Theodosius

Samatya Walls

Pomegranate Gate (Narlı Kapı)

Inscription of Manuel Komnenos on Tower 93

☩Ἀνεκαινίσθη παρὰ Μανουὴλ τοῦ φιλοχ(ρίστο)υ βασιλέως πορφυρογεν-/νήτου καὶ αὐτοκράτορος Ῥωμαίων τοῦ Κομνηνοῦ ἐν ἔτει ςχοβ ἰν(δικτιῶνος) β’☩

“Restored by Manuel Komnenos, the Christ-loving King, Porphyrogenitus, and Emperor of the Romans, in the year 6671 (1164).”

DSC_2137.jpg

Aerial photo by Kadir Kir

KIR_8264.jpg

Aerial photo by Kadir Kir

Golden Horn Wall

The total length of the wall of the Golden Horn, from Xyloporta to the Gate of St. Barbara (no longer existent, around Sarayburnu) was approximately 5.4 km. It is unclear how many towers or gates it had; the number of gates was between 12-20, and the number of towers between 110 and 172.

Following the completion of the land wall, the prefect Cyrus Panopolites built walls along the Golden Horn in 439. The Castle of Petrion was a circuit, 265 meter in length with a maximum width of 85 meters. Its date is uncertain, though it was perhaps named after a patrician named Petrus who served as the Master of the Offices during the reign of Justinian I. The Wall of Heraclius, built during the reign of Heraclius (610-641) following the Siege of Constantinople in 626 to protect the Church of Theotokos Blachernai, also extended along the Golden Horn. The original line of the Theodosian Wall is unclear, though it is possible that a limestone wall, southeast of the present Church of St. Demetrios Kananou near the Golden Horn, is a surviving section of the wall. If this is the case, it could mark the beginning of the Wall of Heraclius as well. The Golden Horn wall was reinforced by Anastasius II in preparation for the second Arab attack on the city in 717. Theophilus (829-842) and Michael III (842-867) continued work on the Golden Horn wall, as multiple lost inscriptions once commemorated.

The wall of the Golden Horn was the location of attacks from the Crusaders in both 1203 and 1204. In 1203 the Crusaders penetrated the wall at Petrion with the use of flying bridges attached to the mast of the Venetian ships. Alexios V Mourtzouphlos attached wooden superstructures to the wall to help defend again the flying bridges, but the Crusaders were again able to storm the city in 1204. The Golden Horn wall was repaired during the Latin occupation of the city.

Following the recovery of Constantinople, Michael VIII (1259-1282) had the Golden Horn wall repaired. John VI Kantakouzenos (1347-1354) repairs the walls of the Golden Horn after the Genoese attacked the city in 1348. A small relief plate on the tower next to Cibali Kapı commemorates these repairs. The Genoese burned the houses in front of the wall during their attack on the city in 1351. During the Siege of Constantinople in 1453, Ottoman ships are brought to the Golden Horn. The walls are bombarded the Kynegion region with canon. The walls of the Petrion were also attacked by Ottoman ships. 

In 1600, following several changes of location, the Patriarchate moved to a former monastery located in the Petrion, a fortress on the side of a slope measuring around 150 meters in length and 80 meters at its widest point. Its walls were subsequently maintained by the Patriarchate.

“Dungeon Tower” (Zindan Kule)

With the Tomb of Baba Cafer Baba

Cibali Gate (Cibali Kapı)

Gate of St. Theodosius (Aya Kapı)

Southern wall of the Castle of the Petrion

Patriarchate is located with its walls

Inscription Fragment (possibly of Theophilus) on Tower in Fener

+Πύ[ργος /Θεοφίλου/ ἐν Χ]ρ(ιστ)ῷ αὐτοκρ[άτο]ρος

Towers in Balat

Possible remains of the Theodosian Land Wall

Near the Church of St. Demetrios Kananou in Balat

Inscription Fragment in Balat

Map of Constantinople by Cristoforo Buondelmonte (1422)

Map of Constantinople by Vavassore (c.1520)

Map of Constantinople by Piri Reis (1521)

Map of Constantinople by Piri Reis (1521)

Panels from Panorama of Constantinople by Melchior Lorichs (1559)

Views of Constantinople by Guillaume-Joseph Grelot (1680)

Panorama of Constantinople by Antoine de Favray (Late 18th Century)

View of Constantinople by Charles Pertusier (1817)

Views of Constantinople by Eugène Flandin (1853)

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

British Library

Monastery of Christ Philanthropos (1887)

Incili Kiosk and the Marmara Walls (1859)

Palace of Boukoleon (1871)

Towers near the Harbor of Theodosius (1883)

Tower near Boukoleon Palace (1871)

Wall of the Harbor of Theodosius (1883)

Towers near the Harbor of Theodosius (1884)

 Coat-of-arms of Andronikos II

With Rampant Lion and Medallions with Monograms

Relief of Three Youth in the Furnace

Near Cibali Kapı

Lithographs by Mary Walker

Marble Tower (1936)

Staircase Tower west of Boukoleon (1939)

Marmara Walls at Samatya (1936)

Palace of Boukoleon

Marble Tower

Samatya Wall

Towers 5 and 6 and Bostancılar Tabhanesi Mosque

Cibali Gate (Cibali Kapı)

Archaeology

Istanbul Archaeological Museums.png

Inscription Fragment of Theophilus

Marble, 9th century

Original location Sarayburnu (Seraglio Point)

☩Πύργος Θεοφίλου…

“Tower of Theophilus”

Inscription of Michael III and Bardas

Marble, Middle of the 9th century

Original location north of İncili Köşk (Mangana)

This inscription by Emperor Michael III, under his uncle Bardas, the Domestic of the Scholae

πολλ-]ῶν κραταιῶς δεσποσάντων τοῦ σ/[άλου οὐ-]/δενὸς πρὸς ὕψος ἢ εὐκοσμίαν τὸ /[βλ-]ηθὲν εἰς γῆν τεῖχος ἐξεγερκότο-[ς... ...ι]τῶς Μιχαὴλ ὁ δεσπότης διὰ Βά-/[ρδα τ-]ῶν σχολῶν δωμεστίκου ἤγειρε τερ-/[π-]/νὸν ὥράεισμα τῇ πόλει ~☩~

‘Since many powerful [men] ruled over […]
No one had raised to height or good order
The wall which had fallen to the ground
[…] Michael the despot
Through Bardas the domestikos of the scholai
Raised a delightful embellishment for the city’

From Millingen

Inscription of George Branković, Despot of Serbia

Marble, 1448 (during reign of Constantine XI)

Originally with bronze letters

From a tower between Yenikapı and Kumkapı

Inv. 1647

☩Ἀνεκενίσ|θην οὗτος| ὁ πύργος καὶ| ἡ κορτίνα ὑ|πὸ Γεωργί|ου Δεσπότου| Σερβίας ·׃· ☩| ἐν ἐτεῖ σϡ|νς ἰνδ(ικτιῶνος) ιδ ·׃·

“This tower and curtain-wall were restored by George, Despot of Serbia in the year 6956 (1448)”

Relief of Nike Bearing a Date Branch

Balat Gate (Balat Kapısı)

Marble, 6th century

References

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

Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls: Byzantion, Konstantinoupolis, Istanbul Bis Zum Beginn D. 17. Jh. by Wolfgang Müller-Wiener

Two Romes: Rome and Constantinople in Late Antiquity edited by Lucy Grig and Gavin Kelly

Byzantine Constantinople Monuments, Topography and Everyday Life edited by Nevra Necipoğlu

Constantinople: Archaeology of a Byzantine Megapolis by Ferudun Özgümüş and Ken Dark

Fetihten Önce Haliç Surları by Feridun Dirimtekin

İstanbul Haliç Ve Marmara Surları, belgeleme Çalışmaları, Tarihi Ve Peyzaj Değerlerinin Korunmasına Yönelik Öneriler by Nisa Semiz

Catalogue des sculptures grecques, romaines et byzantines by Gustave Mendel

“The Byzantine Inscriptions of Constantinople: A Bibliographical Survey” by Cyril Mango

“The First Year of the Bukoleon Restoration Project and the Fifth Year of the Great Palace Survey in Istanbul” by E.B. Recchi-Franceschini

Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium edited by Alexander Kazhdan

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


Resources

Sea Walls of Constantinople Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Sea Walls (1200 Byzantium)

Marmara Sea Walls (Nicholas V. Artamonoff Collection)

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Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016