Like many things in Istanbul, the city walls were no exception to have been built and re-built many times. Constantinople has had several defense walls and today remnants still stand from the Walls of Constantine and the Theodosian Walls. Follow the walls and see where they lead, it’s a great excuse to see parts of the city you would never have visited – plus in some areas you can even walk on top of them!
After Constantine the Great moved the capital of the Roman Empire to the city of Byzantium, and renamed it Constantinople, he expanded the new city and constructed the first imperial wall. The walls surrounded the new city on all sides, protecting it against attack from both sea and land. In 1600 years, Constantinople’s great city walls were breached only twice.
Theodosius II (408-450)
During the first half of the 5th century, Istanbul continued to grow and construction began on new city walls to extend the border as the city grew to double its size. Emperor Theodosius II ordered double-lined city walls and a moat to be built, extending from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn.
Completed in 413, the walls were built of stone and concrete with layers of brick. The inner wall was 15 feet thick and rose to 40 feet above the ground level inside the city wall, with 96 towers standing at 60-65 feet hight. The outer wall was about 30 feet high and thick, and also had 96 towers alternating in position with those of the inner wall. The moat was about 30 feet deep and 65 feet wide and could be flooded if the city was ever threatened. There were 10 gates, five for public entryways and five used by the military.
The walls were effective and protected the city until 1453 when the Turks blasted through them using a cannon. In 447, the walls were partly destroyed by an earthquake. Today all the way to Ayvansaray and the Golden Horn remains exist of Theodosius’s Land Walls.
Many guide books suggest walking along the former land walls with different routes you can follow. I decided to walk up from Balat, past the Chora Church and Mihrimah Mosque and was fortunate enough to walk on top of them – the view was indescribable and also a bit windy. Explore at your own risk, some parts of the wall become a bit steep to climb and provide no railings.
One of the most important and original gates of the Theodosian Wall was Edirnekapi, ‘the gate leading to Edirne’. Not only did it provide access to the main road into the city center, but also known for Byzantine emperors leaving and returning from this gate, and making victorious entrances.
As I walked along the wall I found this cat den built in between two pillars inside the wall.