Land Walls from Yedikule to Topkapi
Although they are known as Theodosian, the Emperor was only seven when the work began on them and the actual construction was made by order of his regent Anthemius.
Walking on the wallsThe walls have managed to retain their impressive height despite the many battles they have endured over the centuries. Some sections of the walls have undergone restoration over the past 10 years and to walk along them is one of the treats the city has to offer. The best place to start from is at Yedikule , where the towers were made into a fortress, and walk north.
HistoryByzantium was the town that stood on what is today Topkapi Palace , surrounded by walls that withstood several attacks before being totally destroyed by Emperor Septimius Secerus as an act of vengeance following his capture of the city in 196. Caracalla, the Emperor’s son, persuaded him to rebuild the walls and move the western wall 500 metres westward which doubled the size of the city. Unfortunately, today, there are no traces of the original walls or those made by Severan.
When expanding the city it was proved that a single layer wall was inadequate and work began on the present-day walls 1.5 kilometres further west than they were in 413; they were quickly rebuilt again in 447 after an earthquake and just as Atilla the Hun was about to attack and at that time the outer wall and ditch were added.
They were completely repaired by Emperor Leo II after another earthquake in 740 and when the emperors’ moved residence to Blachernae Palace in the 11th century, 13 extra bastions were added to the section of the wall around it. Further extensive repairs were made after yet another earthquake in 1509 and today there are long sections of the inner walls that are still standing intact.
The inner and outer walls acted as the land defences and had a road between them and a ditch in front of them. Towers were built every 55 metres and a series of gates gave access to the military and civilians. The gates were given names of the destinations that the roads passed through them or were named after nearby important buildings, with many of the names changing several times over the centuries. The sea walls needed less elaborate fortification than the land walls, as it was almost impossible to take the city from the sea and a heavy chain was used to close off access to the Golden Horn . It is possible to see some remains in Cibali , Fener and Balat with the more impressive sections along the Sea of Marmara .
The walls were only ever broken through twice; in 1204 the Crusaders managed to break through the sea defences and in 1453 Sultan Mehmed II and his army breached the land walls and took Constantinople.
Restoration WorkSections of the sea wall have been lost due to railway lines and road widening. Restoration works to the Propontine walls along the Sea of Marmara, and the land walls, was started in 1953 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Ottoman conquest, and the section between Yedikule and Belgradkapi had restoration work done in the 1980s. This restored section was practically rebuilt with scant consideration given to the ancient stonework. More recent works had been accelerated but again the restoration was not being done as meticulously as it should be and in 2006 the works received criticism from UNESCO who recommended they should cease whilst awaiting further consultation.
Marble Tower (Mermerkule)Where the sea and land walls meet there stood the Marble Tower that possibly once formed part of a separate palace or castle. The coastal road that was built on reclaimed land separates the tower from the sea and it is the first part of the old city that can be seen when you enter Istanbul from the airport.
The Walls MeasurementsThe total length of land and sea walls is 20.5m The total length of land walls from Mermerkule to Blachernae is 6.5m The height of the inner wall is 12m The width of the inner wall is 5m The height of the outer wall is 8.5m The number of gates is 81 The number of towers is 96 on the outer walls and 96 on the inner walls The distance between outer and inner walls is 15-20m The width of the moat is 20m The depth of the moat is 10m
Getting to Istanbul Land WallsTo get to the walls, which really are best looked at on foot, there is a suburban train station at Yedikule that will bring you to the starting point and a new station is now open at Kazli Cesme . There is a tram stop at Pazartekke or use Bus Nos. 78, 89T and 146B from Eminonu or from Taksim to Topkapi take the Bus No. 76E. There are open-air bus tours run a company called Plan Tour (www.plantours.com) that start in Sultanahmet Square and give great views of the length of the land walls but there are not many stops and the commentary on offer is rather poor.
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