The Walls of Galata

Galata, then the suburb of Sykai, was not fortified during most of the Byzantine period, save the great tower that guarded the chain extending across the mouth of the Golden Horn. However, after the sack of the city in 1204, Galata became a Venetian quarter, and later a Genoese extraterritorial colony, effectively outside Byzantine control.
Despite Byzantine opposition, the Genoese managed to surround their quarter with a moat, and by joining their castle-like houses with walls they created the first wall around the colony. The Galata Tower, then called Christea Turris ("Tower of Christ"), and another stretch of walls to its north were built in 1349. Further expansions followed in 1387, 1397 and 1404, enclosing an area larger than that originally allocated to them, stretching from the modern district of Azapkapý north to Þiþhane, from there to Tophane and thence to Karaköy. After the Ottoman conquest, the walls were maintained until the 1870s, when most were demolished to facilitate the expansion of the city. Today only the Galata Tower, visible from most of historical Constantinople, remains intact, along with several smaller fragments.

The walls

Istanbul is surrounded by walls on the sides facing the Golden Horn, the Sea of Marmara and on its inland side. In premature times the city consisted only of Sarayburnu and the area around it and the walls at that time only enclosed this very narrow area. At each enlargement of the city, the walls were extended westwards on the inland side. A stretch of the city walls on the inland side extended from Mermerkule (which lay on the coast near today's Yedikule) as far as the Tekfur Palace vicinity (which was between Edirnekapý and Eðrikapý); these walls were composed of a moat, an outer and inner wall. The consruction of these walls were started by the Emperor Theodosius II in 412 AD at a time when the Eastern Roman Empire was exposed to grave dangers, and was completed in a comparatively short space of time.

  The construction was supervised by the governor Anthemius. The length of the system of walls between these two extreme points exceeded five kilometres (5630 metres) and apart from being one of the strongest fortifications in mediaeval military architecture it is also, in terms of the aesthetics of its construction, a work of art in its own right. Due to the fact that 57 of its towers had been damaged by the earthquake of 447 AD and that Atilla the Hun was approaching Istanbul, the governor Constantine had the walls repaired in 60 days. This fact is stated in two inscriptions in Greek and Latin on the Mevlevihane Gate. Technical investigations have proved that all three parts of the walls on the inland side, which consisted of a moat, an outer wall and an inner wall were at the same time conceived as a whole. The city walls were repaired a number of times during the Byzantine and Turkish periods. While the northern side of the city walls descended perpendicularly towards the Golden Horn, the changes that were made between the 7th and 12th century, designed to include the Blakhernai district within the protective city walls, led to their present alignment, the length being extended to 6671m. It is indeed unfortunate that these walls, which are one of Istanbul's most impressive historical monuments, have in recent years lost both their defensive power and their architectural integrity due to the moats being filled up with rubble.

The great gate at Yedikule on the inland side with its three arches through which only armies led by the emperor could pass on their return from victorious campaigns was known as Yaldýzlýkapý or Altýnkapý (the golden gate). Throughout a thousand years of history, only armies had passed through this gate and the victorious Ottoman army was one of them. This magnificent gate, 30 metres in length and 20 metres high, had a marble facade and stood between two towers which also had marble facades. With the Middle arch, larger than the others, it resembled a triumphal arch. It is evident that this gate was built at the same time as the rest of the city walls, during the reign of Theodosius II. This gate and the towers on either side were, after the conquest, enclosed in a barbican, thus becoming a sort of keep. It was given the name of Yedikule Hisarý. (See Section III below, which refers to castles.) From the point where the walls reach the Sea of Marmara the other major gates are as follows: Belgradkapýsý, Silivri Kapýsý, Mevlevihane Kapýsý, Topkapý, Sulukule Kapýsý, Edirne Kapýsý and, on the hillside above the Golden Horn, Eðrikapý.

The city walls on the sides facing the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn did not possess the same defensive strength as the ones facing the inland. The reason for this was that the Byzantines had always commanded a powerful fleet and, as Von Moltke stated in the last century, the Bosphorus currents and south-west wind (Lodos)made it almost impossible for warships powered by oarsmen or sails to attack. Enemy access to the walls facing the Golden Horn was prevented by the presence of a heavy chain, supported by floating barrels, stretching across the mouth of this inlet like the present Karaköy Bridge. One end of this chain was fastened to a tower in Sirkeci and the other, to a large, square tower, the basement of which was later turned into the Yeraltý (underground) Mosque. The Latin’s had initially come to the city in 1203 posing as friends and had settled in Galata and along the Golden Horn. This facilitated their conquest of the city from the side facing the Golden Horn. Mehmet the Conqueror, on the other hand, transported about 70 ships overland to the Golden Horn, which had been considered secure, on the night of 22-23 April 1453. The walls facing the Golden Horn survived in a reasonable state of preservation until the middle of the last century, but then rapidly disappeared. The section between Sarayburnu and Sirkeci was demolished when the railway was built. It can be seen that a very low, weak and single section of these walls form a keep in the place where the Patriarchate building now stands. One of the towers at Tahtakale was used as a prison during the Turkish period and was known as the Baba Cafer Dungeon. In Lorck's panorama a second tower on the Unkapaný side is also shown as a prison.

The names of the larger gates on the side facing the Golden Horn are as follows: Ayvansaray Kapýsý, Balat Kapýsý, Küngoz Kapýsý, Fener Kapýsý, Petri Kapýsý, Yenikapý, Ayakapý, Cibali Kapýsý, Unkapaný Kapýsý, Ayazma Kapýsý, Odunkapýsý, Zindan Kapýsý, Balýkpazarý Kapýsý, Yenicami Kapýsý, Bahçe Kapýsý, Yalýköþkü Kapýsý, Oðrunkapý, Topkapý (the Topkapý Palace was named after this gate) and Deðirmen Kapýsý.

The city walls on the side facing Marmara consist of a single structure, it is known that many repairs were carried out during the course of history. Care was taken to ensure that the walls rose perpendicularly from the sea, thus preventing an enemy landing. So, when a beach formed between Gülhane and Ahýrkapý in the 1lth century the walls were immediately moved forward. The appearance of the walls on the Marmara side, which had 188 towers, was greatly changed and spoilt by the building of the coast road in 1956-57. It would have been more appropriate to build a road at a lower level which followed all the curves of the walls instead of the present, almost straight one. The length of this section of the wall has been measured as 8460m, to which the 1080m inner wall of the Langa Harbour could be added to. Due to the fact that access and egress on the Marmara side were afforded by fortified harbours rather than city gates as such, in some places there were only small gates which resembled archways. The names of some of the gates on the Marmara side are as follows: Demirkapý, Balýkhane Kapýsý, Ahýrkapýsý, Büyüksaray Kapýsý, Çatladýkapý, Kadýrgalimaný Kapýsý, Kumkapý, Yenikapý, Davutpaþa Kapýsý, Samatya Kapýsý and Narlýkapý.

From the l3th century onwards, in the last days of the Byzantine Empire, Galata, on the other side of the Golden Horn, had become a Genoese colony in spite of the fact that this had been vehemently opposed by the Byzantines. However, the Genoese, taking advantage of various opportunities and sometimes resorting to deceit had finally succeeded in surrounding Galata with walls and towers. The walls of Galata stretched from Azapkapýsý to Tophane and the ends of these walls met at Galata Tower. These walls, together with their gates and moat, survived well into the Turkish period; however, because they were partially demolished just before 1870, very few traces of them remain today. The ruins of a large tower still visible on one side of the street that runs below the Karabaþ Mosque at Tophane are part of the old city walls of Galata. The demolition work that has taken place in recent years between Perþembepazarý and Azapkapýsý has revealed other parts of these walls.

The most important memory of the Galata fortifications is Galata Tower, which rises from the mass of houses around it. This defensive tower, built by the Genoese in the l4th century, is 50 metres high, and although it achieved its present form with various repairs carried out after the Ottoman conquest, the lower part of the structure is very old and was used as a fire watch tower for many years during the Ottoman period. A very important part of the Galata fortifications was the big tower to which the chain closing the mouth of the Golden horn was fastened, of which the large basement (known as Kurþunlumahzen), was turned into a mosque in the l8th century. At the Black Sea end of the Bosphorus there are a number of Byzantine castles, the most important of which is the Yoros Castle at Anadolukavak on the Asian side. This building is considered by many to be Genoese but the coats of arms and inscriptions on marble seen in many parts of the castle and a long brick inscription in Greek running right round one of the towers of the inner walls all point to the fact that this castle was built in the late Byzantine period.

The Anadolu and Rumeli Fortresses

The Rumelihisarý Fortress, seen from the Bosporus.

The twin forts of Anadoluhisarý and Rumelihisarý lie to the north of Constantinople, at the narrowest point of the Bosporus. They were built by the Ottomans to control this strategically vital waterway in preparation for their final assault on Constantinople. Anadoluhisarý (Turkish for "Fortress of Anatolia"), also called Akçehisar and Güzelcehisar in earlier times, was constructed by Sultan Bayezid I in 1394, and initially consisted of just a 25 m high, roughly pentagonal watchtower surrounded by a wall.[27] The much larger and elaborate Rumelihisarý ("Fortress of Rumeli") was built by Sultan Mehmed II in just over 4 months in 1452. It consists of three large and one small towers, connected by a wall reinforced with 13 small watchtowers. With cannons mounted on its main towers, the fort gave the Ottomans complete control of the passage of ships through Bosporus, a role evoked clearly in its original name, Boðazkesen ("cutter of the strait"). After the conquest of Constantinople, it served as a customs checkpoint and a prison, notably for the embassies of states that were at war with the Empire. After suffering extensive damage in the 1509 earthquake, it was repaired, and was used continuously until the late 19th century.

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