HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The Hippodrome in Ottoman times, 16th century miniature by Matrakçi Nasuh

After taking the advice of the Oracle in Delphi that recommended to settle "opposite the city of the blinds", in the 7th century BC, a sailor called Byzas founded a small Greek city called Byzantion. This colony from Megara settled on a promontory at the entrance of the natural harbour formed by the Golden Horn, in a beautiful and strategic site, opposite an earlier settlement on the Asian side (today Kadyköy), whose people had not realized the interest (the blinds).
Byzantion was coveted by many foreign sovereigns, and fell into the hands of Persian king Darius. It was delivered by Spartian king Pausanias after the Battle of Plateae (479 BC). Involved into the wars between Sparta and Athens, the descendants of Byzas learnt how to take advantage of reversing the alliances. The city was besieged by Philip of Macedonia (340), and another time by the Galatians (279 BC) to whom it had to pay a heavy tribute to lift the siege.
It became a prosperous trade center that controlled the sea and caravan routes. As Byzantion levied a right of way from all the ships that crossed the Bosphorus, the Anatolian kingdoms and cities started to launch attacks against it. The city resisted, but very weakened by the situation, between 2C BC and 1C BC, it rallied Rome, in return of protection and privileges. Byzantion became part of the Roman Province of Bithynia-Pontus under Vespasian (69-79 AD).
As Byzantium took the side of Pescennius Niger and his Parthian allies against Septimus Severus, the latter, emerging as the winner, plundered the city after a siege that lasted between 193 and 196. Septime Severus rebuilt the city which was surrounded by new walls. He adorned it with a hippodrome, palaces, and named it Augustina Antonina in honor of his son Antoninus (Caracalla).
Following the defeat of Andrinople, Licinius, persued by his rival Constantine I, took refuge in Byzantium where he was vanquished in 324. Constantine I the Great (306-337), now sole ruler of the Roman Empire, made Byzantium the new capital under the name Nova Roma (New Rome). Named Constantinople in 330, the city became the capital of the Byzantine Empire (a Greek instead of a Roman empire) and the symbol of Christianity. Constantine embellished the city which developed considerably and had to be surrounded by new walls. The Milion, the Milestone from which the distances between Constantinople and the most distant provinces of the Empire were measured, was erected on the Augusteum Square. Just as all roads had once led to Rome, they now led to Constantinople.
In 391, Theodosius I (379-395) started to purge the city from its pagan remains. Upon his death, the Empire was shared between his two sons, Honorius who received the Western Roman Empire, and Arcadius (395-408) who received the Eastern Empire.
In 476, Rome fell into the hands of the Barbarians and Constantinople remained the sole capital of the Empire.
Theodosius II (408-450) enlarged the city, delimiting it by new walls (the ramparts which can be seen today). A period of palace revolutions, moral standards depravity and civil wars followed until the reign of Justinian (527-565). Helped by general Belisarius and Theodora's firmness (she was a courtesan who became an impress), Justinian crushed the sedition which would have led the Empire to a disaster. He established an authoritary but enlightened order and gave the Empire administrative laws. He bought numerous civil and religious edifices such as Haghia Sophia. This period was the First Golden Age of Constantinople.
In the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries, Constantinople was besieged by the Avars (in 626), the Bulgarians (in 813 and 913), the Arabs (or Saracens in 673-677 and again in 718) and each time repelled the besiegers.
Leo III
(717-740), followed by other Iconoclastic emperors, entered into a conflict of influence with the Church, prohibiting the whorship of holy images. Under the Macedonian dynasty founded by Basil I (867-886), Constantinople regained its fame and became the center of a great religious and political empire. Under Constantine Porphyrogenetus (912-959), it was the Second Golden Age Period of the city which became the undisputed capital of wealth and arts.
At the end of the 11th century, the religious schism that definitively separated the Roman Catholic Church from the Orthodox Church, and the arrival of the Seljuk Turks in Anatolia, weakened the Byzantine greatness. This period is also marked by the beginning of the Crusades and the direct intervention of the Westerners in the affairs of Orient: the Venitians, who under Justinian had already settled in Galata, had been allowed inside the city, and the Genoeses who in turn settled in Galata. A fundamental antagonism deepened by the schism, separated the Greeks from the Latins. Constantinople suffered neither from the two first Crusades in 1096-97 and 1147, nor from the third one which did not pass through the city. But during the Fourth Crusade, Constantinople was burnt and pillaged, the Basileus (the emperor) was overthrown and Baldwin of Flanders was crowned Latin Emperor of Orient by the Papal Legate. The Byzantines gone into exile established an Independent Byzantine Empire in Trebizond and another one in Nicea from where came Michael VIII Paleologus (1259-1282) who regained Constantinople in 1261, helped by the Genoeses. This was the last brilliant period of the Empire, called the "Paleologus Revival". Galata became a fortified place and the independent city of the Genoeses. They resisted the assaults of the Venitians against whom they fought for the monopoly of Constantinople's external and internal trade.
 
From the 14th century, the Byzantines had to confront the Ottoman Turks who conquired little by little their domains in Asia and Europe. Constantinople was besieged a first time in 1396 by Sultan Bayezit I (1389-1402) who built the Anadolu Hisar Fortress. Opposite, the Rumeli Hisar Fortress was built in 1452 by Mehmet II (1451-1481) who was preparing the blockade of the city.
Having in vain sought help from the Pope who, in return, insisted on the union of the Greeks to the Roman Catholic Church, Constantine XI (1449-1453) prepared himself for war, having the city walls repaired and chains stretched accross the Golden Horn to block the access to the ships. The siege started on April 6 1453, but the first attack was launched on April 18 or 19. To the surprise of the Byzantines, the sultan had his ships pulled on grease-coated boards to the top of a hill from where he had them slide into the Golden Horn. On May 23, new surrender proposals having been turned down, the final attack was launched in the night of May 28-29 1453. While a standard-bearer drove in one of the towers the first Ottoman standard, Emperor Constantine XI died fighting at the walls where the Adnan Menderes Boulevard begins.

The Conquest of Constantinople
painting by Zonaro, Dolmabahçe Palace

Constantinople met with the same fate as any city that has refused to surrunder: it was looted during three days. Then Mehmet II the Conqueror signed a Firman (decree) saying that the defeated people would be restored their rights. He gave his protection to the Christians, appointed a new patriarch called Gennadios, he acknowledged the privileges of the Genoeses at Galata (however ordering the destruction of the walls), allowed the Venitians to trade freely. The Greeks clustered around their patriarchate at Fener, the Armenians at Yedikule, the Jews at Balat. Colonists arrived from different parts of Anatolia and the Empire. Then Constantinople entered into a new era of prosperity and quietness, sometimes troubled by palace discords and natural disasters. The Islamic city, adorned with beautiful monuments, reached its apogée under the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566). Since the conquest, the history of Constantinople has been connected to the history of the Ottoman Empire, then to that of Modern Turkey , as it remained the Capital of the Empire until 1923 when it was replaced by Ankara after the Turkish Republic was proclaimed.
The city went through several name changes before it finally became Stambul, then Istanbul in 1930.
 



BYZANTINE MONUMENTS
 
The Walls: since its foundation, the old city had been surrounded four times by walls. The city of Byzantium and it fortifications were destroyed by Roman Emperor Septimus Severus in 196 AD, and entirely rebuilt by him. After 330, Emperor Constantine the Great, enlarging the city, built new walls. Having to recall Rome, Constantinople was to be a city of seven hills and fourteen regions. The Fourteenth Region was formed by the suburb of Blachernae located on a hill outside the walls of Constantine, and the Thirteenth Region was the suburb of Sycae (Galata), located on the opposite bank of the Golden Horn. It was to the ramparts of Constantine that the city owed its safety when attacked by the Goths, after the terrible defeat of Emperor Valens at Hadrianople (Edirne) in 378.
The construction of the fourth city walls (that can be seen today) was started in 413 under the reign of Theodosius II. First, the land fortifications extending between the Marmara Sea and the Golden Horn were built. From 439, the coastal walls of Constantine were extended along the Golden Horn and the Marmara Sea to join the new line of fortification. In the year 447, when the ramparts were damaged by an earthquake and the city was imperiled by Atilla the Hun, the land walls, which remained the main defense, were reinforced with an outer wall erected in a short period of time to ensure, with broad ditches in front of them, a second line of defense.
Along the centuries these walls underwent repairs and transformations. The land walls of Constantine fell into decay and gradually disappeared. In 627, Emperor Heraclius in order to protect the Sanctuary of Panaghia of Blachernae located outside the city walls, had it surrounded with fortifications. In 813, Leo V built the wall which stands in front of the wall of Heraclius to reinforce that point in view of an expected attack by the Bulgarians.
In the 12th century, a new portion of ramparts was added by Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180) for a better protection of the quarter of Blachernae in which stood the Palaces where the Byzantine emperors now resided.
The total length of the walls stretched over 21 kms/ 13 miles, of which 7 kms/ 4.5 miles (the land walls) extended between the Marmara Sea and the Golden Horn; about 5 kms/ 3 miles along the Golden Horn; and about 8 kms/ 5 miles along the Marmara Sea. These ramparts were pierced by several gates, many of them are still beinguse d today, and protected by bastions and towers.
Map 2, E 3 and Map 4, C 2, D2, E1

City walls of Theodosius at Silivri Gate - Silivri Kapisi
.
The city walls of Manuel Comnenos
at Ayvansaray near the Golden Horn
 
The Palace of Blachernae: in the suburb of Blachernae, on the hills overlooking the Golden Horn, the first Palace of Blachernae was built in the mid 5th century as can be told by the materials and structures found at the site. The palace stood extra-muros in a retired position in the neighborhood of the great St Mary Church of Blachernae (see below) and was most probably used first as a place of retreat during the visits made by the emperors to the holy shrine (see below). In 627, after escaping the peril represented by the Avars, Emperor Heraclius (575-641) had the area surrounded and included within the city fortifications. With his accession to the throne, Alexius I Comnenus (1081-1118) extended and embellished the Palace of Blachernae. The imperial court moved to the palace which became the new and main residence of the Basilei, the Byzantine rulers, replacing the old Great Palace near the Hippodrome. Manuel I Commenus (1143-1180) added another building to the Palace of Blachernae which became a palatial complex.
The Palace of the Blachernae was destroyed by a fire at the time of the Ottoman conquest of the city. Some ruins of the palace can be found behind the Ivaz Efendi Camii (mosque) built by Architect Sinan in 1585.
 
The Palace of Constantine VII Porphyrogenetus (Tekfur Sarayi), adjacent to the city walls, was part of the palatial complex of Blachernae. The palace is known as the Palace of Constantine VII Porphyrogenetus probably because this emperor built a first palace on this site. Constantine VII Porphyrogenetus, whose name means "born in the purple" because he was born during the reign of his father, ruled between 913-959. Substructures dating from the 10th century have been brought to light, however, the upper parts of the palace date at least from the end of the 12th century. The facade of this three-storied building is a beautiful example of external polychromy, with red brick and white stone, which was used in the byzantine constructions. Of the many buildings composing the complex of Blachernae, only this palace has partly survived, making it a rare and outstanding example of Byzantine palace and civil architecture left in the city.
Under the Ottoman rule, the palace, now called Tekfur Sarayi (the Palace of the Emperor), served as the sultan's menagerie. Later, Damat Ibrahim Pasha, grand vizier (sadrazam) under Ahmet III (1703-1730), had a ceramic and tile workshop set up at Tekfur Sarayi, aiming at replacing Iznik which had reached its prime during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent and up to the end of the 17th century. However, the quality and output being much inferior to that of Iznik, tile manufacturing at Tekfur Sarayi was given up after thirty years or so and the place fell progressively into oblivion until the 1950's when restoration works were started.
The palace is located a few minutes walk from Saint Saviour in Chora Museum (Kariye), not very far from the Edirnekapi Gate.



Very little is known about the palatial complex of Blachernae. However, according to the French Crusader Robert Of Clary's chronicle of the Capture of Constantinople, we learn of his amazement with what he saw in the Palace of Blachernae as he wrote that such richness and magnificence could not be described. He also mentioned that a great treasure, including the crowns, jewels and imperial robes, was kept at the Palace of Blachernae while in the richly decorated Chapel of the Pharos at the Palace of Bukoleon (the harbor palace which was part of the old Great Palace complex) many precious relics were kept, of which two pieces of the True Cross, the spearhead which pierced the side of Jesus, two of the nails driven in His hands and feet, a little of His blood, His tunic, the Crown of Thorns and the skull of St John the Baptist.
Another relic he saw was a cloth bearing an image of Jesus ("Christ Acheiropoietos" meaning "not made by human hands") called the Mandylion by the Byzantines and claimed to be the Sydoine (the shroud) in which Jesus had been wrapped. When brought from Edessa (Urfa) to Constantinople in 944, it had been placed within the Chapel of Pharos and later was exhibited every Friday in the Church of St Mary of Blachernae. After the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade sacked the city in April 1204, the booty and relics were send to the western countries. What happened then to the Mandylion/Sydoine is not known, but according to a theory, the Turin Shroud might be the lost Mandylion.


Church of St Mary of Blachernae: the history of the Panaghia Blachernae (in Turkish Meryem Ana Kilisesi), the most celebrated sanctuary of the Holy Virgin in Constantinople in Byzantine times, goes back to the 5th century when Empress Pulcheria (450- 453), the daughter of Emperor Arcadius, and her husband, Emperor Marcian (450-457), had a church built on the site of a sacred spring, a place of pilgrimage since pre-Christian times near the shore of the Golden Horn (today Ayvansaray). Emperor Leo I (457-474) completed the church, adding the Hagiasma, the fountain of holy water where water flowed out of the hands of the marble statue of the Virgin; and the Haghion Lousma, the sacred pool where the emperors would frequently attend a bathing purification ritual. Leo I also added the paracclesion of the Haghia Soros to house the holy Robe of the Virgin brought from Palestine in 458 and the Girdle (transferred here from another church), as well as other relics of many saints.
The shrine also housed the miracle-working Icon of the Virgin Blachernitissa. In 626, when Constantinople was besieged by the Avars while Emperor Heraclius was campaigning against the Persians, the saving of the city was attributed to the intervention of the Theotokos (Mother of God) after the icon was carried in procession along the city walls. In order to shield the extra-muros sanctuary which had been exposed to great danger during the siege of the city, in 627, Emperor Heraclius (575-641) had the area surrounded by fortifications. The icon disappeared during the Iconoclast period and, according to tradition, was found hidden behind a wall during renovation works in 1030.
In 1070, a fire damaged the church which was rebuilt by the Emperors Romanus IV Diogenes (1067-1078) and Michael VII Ducas (1071-1078). When the Palace of Blachernae was erected further up on the slope of the hill, it was connected by a stairway to the church. The entire complex of buildings was destroyed by fire in 1434 and nothing remained from the shrine except for the Sacred Spring. In 1867, a chapel was built and later additions were made to give the old sacred spring the aspect it has today. Four wall paintings by Eirenarchos Covas (1964) and a marble plaque inscribed with the celebrated Byzantine hymn to the Theotokos have been placed above the hagiasma (Ayazma in Turkish).
The spring, which is reputed to have healing powers, is still much visited by Greek Orthodox pilgrims.

The portion of the fortifications that descends from the court of Tekfur Sarayi to Egrikapi, was built by Manuel I Comnenus to ensure a better protection of the Palace of Blachernae. Of the nine towers built at the time of the Comneni, Isaac Angelus and the Palaeologi, two twins towers located near the Ivaz Efendi Mosque, hold one's attention. These two towers, the tower of Isaac Angelus and the tower of Anemas, served as a prison until the Ottoman conquest. Isaac II Angelus, dethroned by his brother Alexis III Angelus in 1195, was imprisoned in the tower pierced with three windows facing the exterior of the city, and his eyes were gouged out. The second tower was named after Michael Anemas. This high-ranking army officer was the leader of a conspiracy aiming at murdering Emperor Alexius Comnenus I. But somebody revealed the plot and Anemas and his companions were sentenced to death after having their eyes gouged out. Taking pity on Anemas, Anna Comnena, the Emperor's daughter, interviened and he was granted pardon but was confined in chains in the tower.
Map 4, C 2
 
Yedikule Fortress (Seven Towers Fortress) is located at the meeting point of the Theodosian land walls and the coastal walls facing the Marmara Sea.
A triumphal arch called “Porta Aurea”, the Golden Gate flanked by two pylons, was erected by Theodosius I in 380 outside the walls of Constantine. Like in Rome, this arch was meant for the victorious emperors and armies triumphantly entering the city on return from campaigns. Later, the arch was incorporated into the land walls of Theodosius II who also added four towers to the structure. Following the conquest of the town, three other towers and a wall were built by sultan Mehmet II, hence its Turkish name Yedi Kule or Seven Towers Fortress. This construction was first used as Ottoman Treasury until the reign of Sultan Murat III (1574-1595). Later, it was turned into a prison where both natives and foreigners where detained in captivity. To the right of the entrance stands the Tower of the Ambassadors named after the officials from the countries at war with the Ottoman Empire, imprisoned here. In 1622, young Sultan Osman II, deposed by the janissaries, was jailed inside the left tower and executed here at the age of seventeen.