The Theodosian Walls

the Theodosian Walls, Constantinople

the Theodosian Walls, Constantinople

The greatest defensive element of the city of Constantinople were its walls, called the Theodosian Walls after the Emperor Theodosios, during whose reign the walls were built. Although named for Theodosius, he was still a boy when construction was completed by his then-regent, Anthemius, in 413. No enemy breached the walls for over 1,000 years, until 1453 when military technology developed cannons.

The wall stretches 6 and a half km in length, running from the Sea of Marmara in the south, to the Golden Horn in the north. The city’s main road, the Mese, started at the Milion near the Hagia Sophia and the Great Palace, and exited the city near the most southern point at the Porta Aurea – the Golden Gate, later called the Yedikule Gate by the Turks.

An Arch Entry

Theodosian Walls - outer and inner walls

The wall had several layers of defense, including a low outer wall, a moat, and a higher inner wall. The walls still stand, after more than 16 centuries, but they show their age. Its many towers are empty now, although you can still see in their inner walls (as above) where the builders left niches to lay beams on which they built floors.

Theodosian Walls with stairs

The walls still stand, although Istanbul has grown far beyond its boundaries. The Porta Aurea is almost the worst part of it and no longer easily accessible. The walls have spots where homeless people have camped, and the illicit drug trade seems common in its area.

The Byzantium 1200 website has a nice virtual recreation of the walls and the Porta Aurea. There’s also a Youtube video that includes the walls. I highly recommend viewing it to get a feel for how the walls would have looked in their heyday.

Theodosian Walls tower near the Porta Aurea

This tower was close to the Porta Aurea and appears relatively well maintained. Recent efforts to rebuild/repair the walls lacked consistency with the originals and the reconstruction stopped.

old gate in the Theodosian Walls

Many of the old gates (of which there were quite a few) are now used for cars, as this one is. Otherwise, you can find graffiti, a few homeless people nesting, and the occasional tourist visiting them.

An Old Ottoman House

houses built during the Ottoman period

Just outside the walls our guide showed us these old houses, examples of the old Ottoman houses. I wondered if they, with their upper stories hanging over the road, were similar to houses built during the Byzantine period.

If you enjoyed this, please check out my book, Tales of Byzantium, available on Amazon.


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Eileen Stephenson

Eileen Stephenson

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