Byzantine City Walls, Istanbul

Last Updated on April 25, 2019

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Theodosian City Walls of Istanbul, Turkey

Built for the Centuries

It was the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II (408-450) who expanded the area of his imperial capital of Constantinople by building these great land walls farther out into the country. When finished, the Theodosian Wallswere almost 7 km (over 4 miles) in length. With periodic repairs, they defended the city effectively until the late 19th century.

They were breached only twice: in 1204 by the armies of the Fourth Crusade, and in 1453—a thousand years after they were built!—by the gigantic cannon of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, after which Constantinople became Istanbul.

In 1894 a disastrous earthquake toppled parts of the walls, which had been mostly superceded by modern armaments in any case.

This is a historic photo of mine from the 1980s, showing vegetable gardensin what was once the moat. The mighty walls have been restored, and urban development has now overtaken this semi-bucolic scene as Istanbul has become a city of more than 15 million souls. But glimpses of this romantic ruined past remain here and there along the great walls.: look for them on your trip to Istanbul.

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