Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World, Constantinople FOUNDATION OF THE HELLENIC WORLD
Αναζήτηση με το γράμμα AΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα BΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα CΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα DΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα EΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα FΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα GΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα HΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα IΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα JΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα KΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα LΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα MΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα NΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα OΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα PΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα QΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα RΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα SΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα TΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα UΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα VΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα WΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα XΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα YΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα Z

Topography of Byzantine Constantinople

Author(s) : Marinis Vasileios (4/6/2008)

For citation: Marinis Vasileios, "Topography of Byzantine Constantinople", 2008,
Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World, Constantinople
URL: <http://www.ehw.gr/l.aspx?id=12308>

Topography of Byzantine Constantinople (5/6/2010 v.1) Τοπογραφία της βυζαντινής Κωνσταντινούπολης (8/6/2010 v.1) 

1. Byzantium and the city of Constantine

Constantine chose for his new capital the site of Byzantion, a colony of the Greek city of Megara, which was first settled in the 7th century BC. New Rome was founded in 324 and dedicated on the 11th of May 330. Constantine selected the site apparently because he appreciated its strategic advantages. Byzantion was incorporated in the new city along with several of its ancient structures. The three pagan temples on the acropolis (on the Seraglio point) dedicated to Aphrodite, Artemis, and the Sun God were left untouched.

The city was equipped with two ports inside the walls, the Bosphorion or Prosphorion on the 5th region and the Neorion on the 6th, with an agora next to them, what later became the Strategion. Constantinople had a hippodrome, the erection of which according to the tradition was started by Septimius Severus and completed by Constantine, public baths, and an aqueduct, which was constructed by Hadrian. A new wall was constructed approximately 3 km to the west of the ancient walls of Byzantion. Constantine also constructed a forum (agora) just outside the ancient walls (known as the Forum Constantini), of which only the central porphyry column survives, today known as Çemberlitaş.

A main colonnaded avenue, later to be called the Mese, transversed the city from east to west. It started from the Milion, located in the Augustaion square to the northwest of Hagia Sophia. At about 1 km west of the Forum Constantini, the avenue forked, with one branch leading southwest to the Golden Gate, and the other leading to the northwest. The palace was located to the southeast of the city, between the hippodrome and the sea of Marmara. Only three churches can be attributed to Constantine, apart from his mausoleum on the site of the (later) church of the Holy Apostles: Hagia Eirene, which served as the cathedral, and two martyria dedicated to the local martyrs Akakios and Mokios. Thus, the city retained its pagan character.1

2. From Constance II to the end of Iconoclasm

2.1. The city

The needs of a rapidly increasing population incited several measures that altered the urban fabric of the city.2 Two new ports were constructed: the port of Julian (portus novus, 362), was located to the east of the Great Palace in the Propontis; onlz a few years later the port of Theodosios I was also constructed on the sea of Marmara.3 Constantinople was equipped with several granaries, primarily located close to the Golden Horn. In order to address the lack of natural sources of the water in the city the aqueduct system was significantly enlarged and extended to as far as Bizye in Thrace or even further west. The work begun by Constance and was completed by Valens in 373.4

The construction of a new set of land walls by Theodosios II (or rather by the praetorian prefect Anthemios) provided the city with a formidable defense system.5 The Theodosian walls, completed by 413, were located approximately 1,5 km to the west of the Constantinian walls. Parts of them still survive today. Evidently, these walls also served to protect the newly constructed water system; three large cisterns were located in the area between the Constantinian and Theodosian walls, an area that was sparsely populated throughout the Byzantine period. Constantinople numbered approximately 80 covered cisterns, most of which were built between the 4th and the 7th centuries, including two surviving in the area around Hagia Sophia: the Philoxenos cistern (now Binbirdirek) and the Basilike (now Yerebatan).6Constantinople was further beautified with the addition of two fora, that of Theodosios (Forum Tauri, 393) to the northwest of the forum of Constantine, and that of Arkadios (or of Xerolophos, 403), on the southern branch of the Mese.7 Both were decorated with a historiated column with spiral reliefs inspired by the columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius in Rome. There were two more public spaces, the Amastrianos and the Forum Bovis, located between Xerolophos and the Forum Tauri.

The Notitia Urbis Constantinopolitanae, an anonymous Latin description composed during the reign of Theodosios II, offers invaluable and unique statistical information about the city: in the first half of the 5th century Constantinople had 14 churches,2 Senate houses, 5 palaces, 8 public and 153 private baths, 4 fora, 4 harbors, 5 warehouses, 2 theaters, 4 cisterns, and 4,388 houses. Towards the end of the 5th century the sea walls were constructed, fortifying the city along the sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn.8 In the 5th century the Long Walls or the Wall of Anastasios were built, approximately 65 km west of Constantinople.9

The first temple dedicated to Hagia Sophia (divine wisdom, i.e. justice), the Great Church of the Byzantines, was completed by Constantius II in 360 and was burned down in 404.10 Theodosios II rebuilt it in 415. Situated to the south of the cathedral was the Augustaion, an enclosed open space, decorated with several monuments.Hagia Sophia was destroyed for the second time during the Nika Riot in 532.

The reign of Justinian I brought about renewed building activity after a series of fires and circus riots (such as the aforementioned Nika riot of 532) had destroyed large parts of the city. Justinian’s constructions included more than 30 churches, such as Hagia Sophia, the cathedral of Constantinople, the church of Hagia Eirene, Sts. Sergios and Bakchos,11 and the church of the Virgin of Pege.12 Justinian I also rebuilt the parts of the palace that were destroyed by the riot. Another great patron of the arts was the patrikia Anicia Juliana, who built or repaired several churches in the city, including St. Polyeuktos (524-527), whose substructures were excavated in 1960s.13

The Great Palace continued to be expanded. A large peristyle court, which preceded an apsed hall and was decorated by splendid floor mosaics, dates to the 6th or the 7th century.

2.2. The citizens

The population of the city began to decline, as indicated by various incidents.14 Starting in the sixth century Constantinople suffered from severe outbreaks of the plague, of which the one erupted in 542 might have killed half the population of the city, or even more. In 618 the regular grain supply from Egypt ceased to flow into the capital and granaries seem to have disappeared. In 626 the Avars destroyed the aqueduct of Valens, which was only repaired in 768 by Constantine V.15 Apparently the inhabitants of the city were so few that the extra water was not needed. Furthermore, the port capacity of the city was reduced to one fourth of that of the fifth century.The Miracles of St. Artemios (7th century), however, portray a vibrant city, visited by people from as far as Alexandria and Africa.16

2.3. The transition

It is during the period from the 6th century onwards that a change in mentality becomes increasingly noticeable: because of the devastating effect of the bubonic plague of 746-747, the dead started to be buried within the city walls, a practice which would have been unimaginable earlier;17 public buildings, such as baths, were abandoned; and some of the city’s fora were turned into livestock markets. Furthermore, sources such as the Parastaseis Syntomoi Chronikai and the Patria indicate that the plethora of ancient statues that decorated the city were treated with considerable suspicion and mistrust.18

3. From the 9th c. to 1204

Constantinople started to recover during the 9th century.19 The population increased steadily and the city might have had as many as 400,000 inhabitants by the beginning of the 13th century.20 Emperor Theophilos (r. 829-842) repaired the sea walls and made additions to the Great Palace. He also built the Bryas palace in the suburbs, inspired by Arab models. The vita Basilii relates the extensive building activity of Basil I (r. 867-886). This was restricted, however, primarily to churches, which were either built anew or restored, and palaces. One of the most celebrated foundations of Basil I was the Nea Ekklesia inside the complex of the palace.21

3.1. Monastic foundations

A significant characteristic of medieval Constantinople was the proliferation of urban monasteries. Building such monasteries, which had a multitude of functions including education and philanthropy, became sort of a fashion among emperors and members of the aristocracy. Indeed, 100 new religious foundations have been recorded for the period from 750 to 1204, the majority of which were monasteries.22Among the most important of such institutions were the monasteries of Theotokos Peribleptos, located to the southwest of the city, built between 1030 and 1034 by Emperor Romanos III Argyros;23 the monastery of St. George at Mangana, located to the east of the Akropolis and constructed by Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos (1042-1055), along with a palace and a hospital; 24 and the monastery of Pantokrator on the fourth hill, sponsored by Emperor John II Komnenos.

3.2. The Great Palace

The form of the Great Palace is sufficiently known through some 10th-century documents, especially the De Cerimoniis compiled by Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, ın which described ıs in detail the court ceremonial. Because of the additions made throughout the centuries by various emperors the layout of the place was highly irregular, comprising of structures of diverse forms, gardens, and sporting grounds. In the 10th century the emperor Nikephoros II Phokas fortified the central part of the palace.24 Fragments of these walls still survive. Because of the complexity of the Great Palace attempts to reconstruct its plan are highly speculative. In the last decade several legal and illegal excavations have uncovered extensive substructures in the area. Substantial ruins located today on the shore overlooking originally the port Boukoleon belong to the palace of Boukoleon.25

3.3. The Blachernae palace

During the reign of Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118) the administrative center of Constantinople moved from the Great Palace to the Blachernae palace, located in the northwest of the city and to the south of the famed homonymous church (of Blachernae).26 The palace was built at ca. 500. Both Alexios I and Manuel I expanded it with the addition of great reception halls. This area was developed starting in the 5th century and it appears to have been popular with some aristocratic families.27

One of the major works of Alexios I was the restoration and expansion of the Orphanotropheion of St. Peter in the Akropolis region, which included in addition to the orphanage a hospice for the blind and the elderly, as well as a school.

3.4. Peran (beyond Constantinople)

Another important development was the establishment of the Italian quarters along the Golden Horn.28 Pisa, Venice and Genoa were granted exceptional trade concessions during the reign of the Komnenian dynasty, allowing them to create significant settlements. The Venetians were installed near Perama, and the Pisans and Genoese to the east of them.

4. The Late Byzantine City

The three fires that occurred in 1203, the siege and sack of the city by the crusaders in 1204, along with the systematic looting caused significant damage to the city. The ensuing intentional or involuntary neglect and natural calamities such as earthquakesthat occurred during the Latin occupation (1204-1261), left Constantinople in a dilapidated state with a diminished population.29

The city partly recovered under Michael VIII (1259-1282), who is credited with its recapture.30 He restored the land and sea walls, the ports, imperial palaces (especially the Blachernai palace), churches and monasteries, including Hagia Sophia, and charitable institutions. A huge column surmounted by a bronze statue of archangel Michael was placed in front of the church of the Holy Apostles in celebration of his recovery of the city.31 The so-called Tekfur Sarayi, a Palaiologan three-story palace in the northwest part of city whose shell still survives, might date from this period. Michael VIII conceded Galata, a cape on the northern side of the Golden Horn facing Constantinople, to the Genoese. The latter created a fortified settlement there. The so-called Galata Tower is the most significant remain of the Genoese fortification.32

The recovery continued during the long reign of Michael VIII’s son, Andronikos II (1282-1328), who also repaired the walls, houses, and public buildings. Numerous churches and monasteries (some of which still exist) were constructed or renovated by members of the imperial family or aristocratic patrons. Theodora Palaiologina, wife of Michael VIII, restored the monastery of Lips; the Chora monastery was renovated by the statesman Theodore Metochites; the Pammakaristos monastery was taken under the care of Michael Glabas Tarchaneiotes and his wife; the convent of Bebaias Elpidos was founded in the first half of the 14th century by Theodora Synadene, niece of Michael VIII. After the middle of the 14th century the city decayed rapidly and very little building activity was recorded.

1. Janin,  R. , Constantinople byzantine, (Paris 21964), p. 1-30; Dagron, G.,  Naissance d’une capitale. Constantinople et ses institutions de 330 à 451, (Paris 21984), p. 13-47; Mango, C., Le développement urbain de Constantinople (IVe-VIIe siècles), (Paris 2004), p. 13-36.

2. Beck, H.G.  (ed.), Studien zur Frühgeschichte Konstantinopels (Münich 1973); Mango, C., Le développement urbain de Constantinople (IVe-VIIe siècles), (Paris 2004), p. 37-62; Basset, S., The Urban Image of Late Antique Constantinople (Cambridge 2004).

3. This port was recently uncovered, see Gün Işığında Istanbul'un 8000 Yılı; Marmaray, Metro, Sultanahmet Kazıları (Istanbul 2007), p. 164-299.

4. On the water supply system see Bayliss, R. - Crow, J., "The fortifications and water supply systems of Constantinople", Antiquity 74 (2000) p. 25-6; Bono, P.- Crow,  J. - Bayliss, R., "The Water Supply of Constantinople: archaeology and hydrogeology of an early medieval city," Environmental Geology (2001) 40 (11/12) p. 1325-33.

5. van Millingen, A., Byzantine Constantinople: the Walls of the City and Adjoining Historical Sites (London 1899); Meyer-Plath, B. - Schneider, A.M. , Die Landmauer von Konstantinopel, 2 vols. (Berlin 1943); Müller-Wiener, Bildlexikon, 286-319.

6. Forchheimer, P. -  Strzygowski, J.,  Die byzantinischen Wasserbehälter von Konstantinopel (Vienna 1893); Müller-Wiener, Bildlexikon, p. 280, 283-285.

7. Müller-Wiener, Bildlexikon, p. 250-253, 258-266.

8. Berger, A. , “Regionen und Strassen im frühen Konstantinople,” IstMitt 47 (1997) p. 349-414.

9. Crow,  J., “The Long Walls of Thrace”, in Mango, C. -Dagron, G. (eds.), Constantinople and Its Hinterland, (Aldershot 1995), p. 109-124.

10. Müller-Wiener, Bildlexikon, p. 84-96.  See also, Mainstone, R., Hagia Sophia: Architecture, Structure and Liturgy of Justinian’s Great Church (London 1988).

11. For the latest on this church and for earlier bibliography see Bardill, J., “The Church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus in Constantinople and the Monophysite Refugees,” Dubarton Oaks Paper 54 (2000), p. 1-11.

12. Janin, R. La Géographie Ecclésiastique de l'Empire Byzantin. 1. Part: Le Siège de Constantinople et le Patriarcat Oecuménique. 3rd Vol. : Les Églises et les Monastères, (Paris 21969) p. 223-228.

13. Müller-Wiener, Bildlexikon, p. 190-192; Harisson, R.M. Excavations at Sarachane in Istanbul, 2 vols., (Princeton and Washington, D.C. 1986-1992).

14. Mango, C., Le développement urbain de Constantinople (IVe-VIIe siècles), (Paris 2004), p.  51-62; Magdalino, P.,Constantinople médiévale: études sur l'évolution des structures urbaines (Paris 1996) p 18-19.

15. Magdalino, P., “Constantine V and the Middle Age of Constantinople,” in idem, Studies on the History and Topography of Byzantine Constantinople (Aldershot 2007).

16. Crisafulli, V.S. - Nesbitt, J. (eds.), The Miracles of St. Artemios. A Collection of Miracle Stories by an Anonymous Author of Seventh Century Byzantium (New York 1997).

17. Mango, C., Le développement urbain de Constantinople (IVe-VIIe siècles), (Paris 2004), p.  57-58; Dagron, G.  "Ainsi rien n'échappera à la réglementationÉtatÉglisecorporationsconfréries: àpropos des inhumations à Constantinople (IVe-Xe siècle)," in  Kravari, V.- Lefort, J. -C. Morrisson (eds.) Hommes et richesses dans l'Empire byzantin, II: VIIIe-XVe siècle (Paris 1991), p: 153-182.

18. Mango, argues that the crisis that started in the 6th century changed the city’s urban outlook and functions profoundly, see Mango, C., Le développement urbain de Constantinople (IVe-VIIe siècles), (Paris 2004);  Magdalino, offers a different interpretation, stressing continuity, see Magdalino, P., Constantinople médiévale: études sur l'évolution des structures urbaines (Paris 1996).

19. Ousterhout, R. "Reconstructing Ninth-Century Constantinople" in Brubaker, L.( ed.), Byzantium in the Ninth Century: Dead or Alive? (Aldershot 1998) p. 115-130.

20. Magdalino, P., Constantinople médiévale: études sur l'évolution des structures urbaines (Paris 1996) p. 61-67.

21. Magdalino, P.  "Observations on the Nea Ekklesia of Basil I" , Jahrbuch des Österreichischen Byzantinistik  37 (1987): 51-64; reprinted in idem, Studies on the History and Topography of Byzantine Constantinople (Aldershot 2007), ch. VI.

22. Janin, R., La Géographie Ecclésiastique de l'Empire Byzantin. 1. Part: Le Siège de Constantinople et le Patriarcat Oecuménique. 3rd Vol. : Les Églises et les Monastères, (Paris 21969); Magdalino, P., Constantinople médiévale: études sur l'évolution des structures urbaines (Paris 1996) p. 67-75.

23. Mango, C., “The Monastery of St. Mary Peribleptos (Sulu manastır) at Constantinople Revisited,” Revue des Études Armeniennes 23 (1992), 473-493. The substructure of Peribleptos were recently uncovered, see Dark, K. "The Byzantine Church and Monastery of St Mary Peribleptos in Istanbul." The Burlington Magazine 141 (1999), p. 656-64.

24. Mamboury, E.- Demangel, R., Le quartier des Manganes (Paris 1939).

25. For this see Mango, C., "The Palace of the Boukoleon," Cahiers Archéologiques 45 (1997), pp. 41-50.

26. Müller-Wiener, W., Bildlexikon, pp. 225-228.

27. Papadopoulos, J. B., Le palais et les églises des Blachernes (Thessalonike 1928); Müller-Wiener, W., Bildlexikon, pp. 223-224.

28. Magdalino, P., Medieval Constantinople, pp. 78-84.

29. Magdalino, P., Medieval Constantinople, pp. 86-102, with earlier bibliography.

30. Kidonopoulos, V., Bauten in Konstantinopel, 1204-1328: Verfall und Zerstörung, Restaurierung, Umbau und Neubau von Profan- und Sakralbauten (Wiesbaden 1994); Kidonopoulos, V., “The Urban Physiognomy of Constantinople from the Latin Conquest through the Palaiologan Era,” in S.T. Brooks (ed.), Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557). Perspectives on Late Byzantine Art and Culture (New York 2006), pp. 98-117; Magdalino, P., “Pseudo-Kodinos’ Constantinople,” in Studies on Constantinople, XII.

31. Talbot, A.-M., "The Restoration of Constantinople under Michael VIII," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 47 (1993), pp. 243-61; see also, Talbot, A.-M., “Empress Theodora Palaiologina, Wife of Michael VIII," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 46 (1992), pp. 295-303.

32. Schneider, A.M., and Nomidis, M.I., Galata (Istanbul 1944); Eyice, S., Galata ve kulesi (Istanbul 1969).


Entry's identity

press image to open photo library