Not to be missed on your visit to Istanbul are the extremely impressive layered stone and brick walls protecting the city, which were built under the rule of Constantine the Great in 324 B.C. Stretching approximately 5.5 km from south to north, the magnificence of the walls is shown through the complexity and beauty of their construction.
Protection from Invasion
Looking at the Walls of Constantinople today it is not hard to imagine the kind of invasions that the city had to withstand, as attacks came from the Arabs, Rus, Avars, Bulgars, and other anxious would-be conquerors wishing to lay siege. Surrounding Constantinople on all sides to protect it from aggressors coming from both land and sea, the Walls of Constantinople, along with the Theodosian Walls built in the 5th century under Emperor Theodosius II, are indeed a wonder of design and function.
Completion, Destruction, and Additions
The completion of the Walls of Constantinople was accomplished under Constantine's son, Constantius. In 478 a large earthquake badly damaged the inner wall, and then in 557 another earthquake caused further destruction. Most of the wall survived until the 9th century, with additions and modifications going on through time, making it famous for being the last great fortification of bygone times.
The Inner and Outer Walls
It is amazing to see the complexity of construction of both the inner and outer walls. The inner or “Great Wall” is a solid 5 meters thick and 12 meters high, with 96 square, hexagonal, and octagonal towers roughly 20 meters high that are placed every 55 meters, each tower with a battlement terrace on top. The inside of the towers contain two stories, with the lower chamber created for storage and the upper for viewing the city and firing weapons. Large ramps lead up to the windows for access.
The outer wall was built approximately 20 meters out from the main inner wall, with the space in between called perivolos. This wall measures two meters thick at the base and includes arched chambers, an 8.5 meter battlement walkway providing access through the main gates, and small posterns at the base of each of the 96 towers. A moat of 15 meters extends from the outer wall, along with a terrace called a parateichion, and a paved road running along length of the wall. The moat could be flooded up to 20 meters wide and 10 meters deep, and with its 1.5 meter high wall on the inner side, this area served as the first line of defense during invasions.
A Greater Understanding of Famed Constantinople
The walls were finally dismantled during 19th century as the city became larger and more developed. Reconstruction started in the 1980s, as the walls' historic value became more appreciated. Today you can see the restored section of the Walls of Constantinople at the Selymbria Gate, where the outer wall and the moat wall, along with the inner wall tower are easy to spot. Combine your visit with a tour of the Kariye Museum and the Byzantine palace of Tekfur Saray in the Edirnekapı or at Yedikule, along with the Fortress of the Seven Towers southwest of Sultanahmet for a greater understanding of famed Constantinople.
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