The Insurmountable City Walls of İstanbul
The magic and attraction of İstanbul led to a fierce determination to capture the city. However, until 1453 the city walls of İstanbul checked the onslaughts of countless enemies that surrounded the city. In a sense the thousand-year-long life of Byzantium was due to its majestic city walls, which were one of the finest examples of Middle Age’s military architecture.

The city walls built during the reign of Constantine, which marked the boundaries of present-day Sultanahmet and its environs, gradually became too small for a bustling city and its increasing population. In 415, only 120 years after the foundation of the original walls, the Theodosian walls marking the historical peninsula were built. These walls, which can be seen extending from the shores of the Haliç to the shores of the Sea of Marmara, were built by the Emperor Theodosius; however, they were repaired extensively over the centuries. The construction was sturdiest in the land walls, since the threat deemed lesser; the sea walls were not fortified as strongly as the land walls.

Now the city walls from the Haliç to the Sea of Marmara would accompany your sightseeing route to another part of İstanbul which were silent witnesses to thousand of years and wars.

The strongest and most insurmountable parts of İstanbul city walls are the land walls extending from the Sea of Marmara to the Haliç. As the Sea of Marmara provided an important protection, the sea walls were not deemed to be as strong as the land walls. As the land walls would face the staunchest attacks, they were designed and built to be as strong and enduring as possible. The sightseeing tour along the city walls gives you a chance to visit some important buildings, including some famous Byzantine ones.

Our excursion starts at the point where the city walls meet the Golden Horn. The first place to visit is Atik Mustafa Pasha Mosque. This was a church before the conquest, however the name and history of the old church is disputed. Some believe it was the church built for Saints Peter and Mark in 5th century, while others believe it was the Hagia Thekla Church built in the 9th century.

Amid the well-preserved part of the city walls stands the Tekfur Sarayı (the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus). It is the only surviving part of the Palace of Blachernae; therefore, this three storey palace has an important place in art history. Although it was built as early as the 5th century, it became the main residence of the Byzantine emperors at around the 12th century. During the Ottoman Period it was put to diverse and curious uses such as glass manufacture and even as a pen for royal giraffes.

The next Byzantine landmark to visit is the Kariye Museum. The name ‘Kariye’ derives from ‘Chora’, which means outside the city walls. The district was thus known before the land walls were built. Although it was used for a while as a mosque, the magnificent mosaics and frescoes were not damaged. They were only covered over with whitewash. They were discovered in mid- 20th century and restored to reveal their original majesty. The church building dates back to the 12th century, but the frescoes and mosaics are from the 14th century. They represent the peak reached by Byzantine art before the European Renaissance. The frescoes are among the finest examples of Byzantine art to be found anywhere in the world. They depict stories from the Bible as well as the life of Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. Over the entrance door to the naos is the scene depicting Theodoros Metokhites offering the church to Jesus Christ – one of the few non-biblical scenes. A similar scene can also be found in Ayasofya.

One of the prominent gates on the land walls is Edirne Kapı (Gate of Polyandrion). Next to the Edirne Kapı is the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, one of the finest mosques built by the imperial architect Mimar Sinan. Mihrimah Sultan was the daughter of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent and there are several buildings in various districts of İstanbul devoted to her. As it was build on a terrace it can be seen from quite far away. In order to let in a good deal of natural light the walls of the mosque are pierced by a number of windows.

When you pass through Belgrad Gate and approach the Sea of Marmara you come to the most famous section of the city walls, the Yedikule Hisarı. The most splendid of all 55 gates on the City Walls during the Byzantine Period was the Altın Kapı (Golden Gate), the gate where the emperors and armies entered the city triumphantly after returning from a victorious military campaign. After the Ottoman conquest Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror added a fortress strengthened with towers here, which came to be known as the Yedikule Fortress (Fortress with Seven Towers). The Byzantine name, “Golden Gate”, came from the gilding on its façade. The Ottomans added five towers to the existing two towers, and formed a citadel which was later used as a storage area, then part of the treasury, and later as a prison. The layout of the fortress resembles a five-pointed star and its dungeons which were used as a prison for high-ranking officials during the Ottoman Period. It is now open to the public, with a permanent exhibition in the courtyard, including the canon balls and other artefacts. The courtyard is also a venue for open-air concerts during the summer months.

If you are not too tired, you may wish to continue along the shores of the Sea of Marmara to Yenikapı. The archaeological excavations of the Yenikapı area unearthed artefacts that shed light on the 8,000-year of history of İstanbul.

In particular, the sunken boats of Yenikapı and other relics of the ancient port are considered to be highly important as they shed light on the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. The Theodosius Port of Yenikapı was built by Emperor Theodosius I at the end of the 4th century and remained in use until the 14th century. Other important finds are the foundation line of the sea walls built under the Emperor Constantine. In addition, the ruins of Elefterion, one of the oldest ports of İstanbul built during the Byzantine Period, were also uncovered there. So if you are keen to learn more about the Byzantine history you should certainly visit Yenikapı.