Greater Istanbul, an urban sprawl of more than 13 million people stretching over 70 kilometres, is a creation of the late twentieth century. Yet the basis for it was laid in 330 when Constantine expanded ancient Byzantion into the megalopolis of Constantinople. With this expansion, other settlements in the region began to lose their separate civic identity, while the habitable places along the coasts and the Prince's Islands became retreats for the urban elite, who acquired agricultural estates all around the Sea of Marmara. At the centre of it all, the urban nucleus, hitherto confined to the tip of the historic peninsula, began to mushroom into one of the greatest cities in the ancient world.



Almost nothing remains of Constantine's city, and nearly all the descriptions of its foundation date from over a century later, with the most detailed, the Patria of the late tenth century, being the most problematic.1 We have an inexact idea of what Constantine built, and no statement of how he planned it, or of what model, if any, he chose. Since he built it big, and it rapidly developed into a second imperial capital, with its own senate and, by 381, the title of New Rome, it is logical to assume that he built it in imitation of Rome. However, the new imperial system of the Tetrarchy, in which Constantine had grown up and risen to power, had already devolved much of the imperial government away from Rome, to Trier, Milan, Thessalonica and Nicomedia. All of these cities were imperial residences, and Constantine had lived in all of them, so any of them could have provided him with inspiration. The most likely is Nicomedia (Izmit), both because it had been the capital of Diocletian, the leader and initiator of the Tetrarchy, and because it was Constantine's main residence in the years when Constantinople was being built. One of the most notable features of the new city was the street lined with porticoes, the embolos, which was characteristic of Roman cities in the eastern Mediterranean but not of Rome itself.2

Expansion of the New City

Constantine defined his new foundation by enclosing it within a land wall that ran across the peninsula at about 2.5 km to the west of the previous city wall of Byzantion. No traces of Constantine's wall have been found, and the exact course of it, as described in the literary sources, has been debated, especially with regard to its northern sector.3 However, it is clear that the sites now marked by the Fatih Camii and the Metro-Marmaray complex at Yenikapı lay within the new perimeter, and that this effectively tripled the intra-mural urban space. In the development of this space, two main programmes can be perceived. One was the massive upgrading of the southern half of the area of Roman Byzantion; the other was the creation of new nodes and lines of development along the access routes linking the peninsula with the Thracian hinterland.

Development of Byzantion

The shape of the former programme is fairly easy to discern. It was defined by the construction of a huge circus and palace complex in today's Sultanahmet area, occupying the level ground between the first and second hills of the peninsula and the slopes that dip from there south-east towards the Sea of Marmara.4

This complex followed a pattern that had been developed in the other Tetrarchic capitals; like them, however, it looked back to the precedent of Rome, where the imperial residence on the Palatine Hill (the original palatium) adjoined the Circus Maximus, allowing the emperor direct access to the box from which he watched the games in the presence of his subjects. The Hippodrome at Constantinople, whose arena is marked by the modern At Meydanı, was somewhat smaller than the Roman Circus, while Constantine's palace, whose remains lie buried beneath the Sultan Ahmet (Blue) Mosque, would eventually sprawl all the way down to the Sea of Marmara, covering an area much larger than the Palatine Hill. To the north, the Palace and Hippodrome complex adjoined the upper civic centre of Hellenistic and Roman Byzantion, which was marked by two main pre-existing monuments, the Baths of Zeuxippus and a forum/agora enclosed by four colonnades. Constantine renovated both structures, and added two more: another colonnaded courtyard, called the Augousteion, and a domed Tetrapylon called the Milion, which stood at the point of convergence between all three structures and the main entrance to the Hippodrome. The Milion was the equivalent of the Golden Milestone in Rome and marked the point from which all distances were calculated. These distances left their mark on the urban map, in the names of locations situated at the second (Deuteron), third (Triton) and seventh (Hebdomon) miles from the Milion.

1- Constantinople in the 11<sup>th</sup> century (Coignard)

2- The topography of Bosporus and its near surroundings (Coignard)

North of the monumental ensemble centred on the Milion, Constantine seems to have made no significant changes to the built environment of ancient Byzantion, apart from adding some victory monuments to the lower agora, the Strategion. Notably, he did not interfere with the ancient acropolis, with its temples, theatres and stadium, apart from adding the church of Hagia Eirene, south of the temple area. The rest of his building programme developed to the west, along the access road that now became the central avenue (Mese) of the new city. The section of the Mese between the Milion and the gate in the old land walls was lined with porticoes on either side. Outside the former gate, which he perhaps retained as a triumphal arch, Constantine laid out a circular Forum with porticoes. It had a Senate House on the north side, and a tall porphyry column in the centre, topped by a gigantic naked statue representing the Sun and/or Constantine himself. The statue was blown down by a gale in 1106 and was replaced by a cross. The porphyry column is still standing as the Çemberlitaş.

West of the Forum of Constantine, the main avenue continued to a gate in the land walls. This would eventually become a ceremonial entrance known as the Golden Gate, and the route between it and the Forum would eventually be punctuated by a series of nodal points, each marked by impressive sculptural and architectural monuments. None of these developments are explicitly ascribed to Constantine, and the only one that can be credited to him with any certainty is the construction of the Capitol, a large monumental ensemble, comprising a hall and a collection of sculptures, at the point where the Mese was joined by another thoroughfare from the north-west. Further east, a monument known as the Bronze Tetrapylon has a claim to a Constantinian origin by virtue of its architectural similarity to the Milion, and the fact that the Forum of Constantine lay half-way between the two. On analogy with other Roman cities, Cyril Mango has made the intriguing and influential suggestion that the Bronze Tetrapylon marked a central crossroads, the intersection between cardo and decumanus.5 There is evidence for a major thoroughfare, known after the porticoes that lined it as the embolos of Domninos or Maurianos, or the Long Embolos, going north from the Tetrapylon to the Golden Horn. On the other hand, a corresponding street going south to the Sea of Marmara is nowhere attested. Such a prominent intersection of major arteries would also have challenged the centrality of the Forum of Constantine as the focus for the city's identity.

3- The walls of Constantinople (Gurlitt)

The uncertainty whether the Bronze Tetrapylon marked a crossroads or a T-junction shows the depth of our ignorance about the original street plan of Constantinople away from the Mese.6 It is clear from the surviving remains that the prevailing orientation inherited from ancient Byzantion at the tip of the peninsula was that imposed by the relief of the Acropolis hill, and evident today in the north-east south-west alignment of the Hippodrome, the buildings of the Great Palace, Hagia Sophia, Hagia Eirene, the Topkapı Saray, and the Basilica cistern (Yerebatan sarnıçı). It can also be deduced from the regional descriptions in the Notitia7 and from the Long Embolos that the side streets leading north off the Mese to the west of the Forum of Constantine must have been perpendicular to the avenue. However, the situation south of the Mese is completely undocumented, as is the existence of any streets running parallel to the avenue, though they must have existed. Equally problematic is the question of the 'join' between the 'oblique' street grid of the Acropolis area and the 'regular' north-south alignment of the transverse streets in the Constantinian new town. Did the transition occur at the line of the old city wall of Byzantion, or further east, at the Milion? We know that there was an avenue linking the Milion with the Strategion, the city's lower agora? Did this form a right angle with the beginning of the Mese, or did it follow the orientation of the Basilica, the upper agora, which was aligned with the streets of the Acropolis? In general, the street plan of Constantinople was bound to be complex, not only because of the different phases of the city's development, but also because of the complexity of its relief and its coastline. It did not have a single, simple grid system because its street network was oriented both according to a coastline that ran in at least three directions, and according to a bifurcated central 'spine' which negotiated the most straight and level course among the irregular line of hilltops that formed the ridge of the peninsula. It should be pointed out that the coastlines of the historical peninsula in the beginnings of the fourth century was more indented than nowadays, and the present coastline, especially in the stream mouth of Lykos (Yenikapı) is a result of land reclamation from the sea.8 The combined importance of the coastline and the central spine was apparent to the author of the Patria at the end of the tenth century. He described Constantine's street design in terms of four long porticoes emanating from the palace and extending to the land walls; two went in opposite directions along the coast, while the other two lined the Mese.9 The design is entirely of the author's imagination, but it must have had some basis in visible reality, and it made good sense in terms of the topography that Constantine had to work with.

Settlement and Religion

4- The walls of Yedikule (Seven Towers) (Gurlitt)

Constantine encouraged immigration to his new city, but the sources give no sense of where the new housing was located, even in the cases of the twelve Roman senators for whom, according to the Patria, he constructed exact replicas of their houses in Rome.10 We are better informed about the location of religious buildings. The only contemporary witness, Constantine's Christian publicist Eusebius, says that he provided Constantinople with many churches,11 but only three particular foundations can be safely attributed to him: the church of a local martyr, St Mokios, situated just outside the new land wall; the church of another local martyr, St Akakios, situated inside the wall close to the Golden Horn; and the church of Hagia Eirene (Aya Irini), the original cathedral of Constantinople which survives in a much later rebuilding. The dedication of this church to Holy Peace suggests that two other churches likewise dedicated to the other abstract qualities in which God was proclaimed in the liturgy, were also conceived at the same time: these were the first church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia), and the much more obscure church of Holy Strength (Hagia Dynamis), which seems to have been located near the Golden Horn in the area of Sirkeci. Constantine certainly inaugurated the complex of the Holy Apostles, whose site is now marked by the Fatih Camii, but Eusebius himself confirms that this was initially built to serve as a mausoleum rather than a church.12 On the other hand, Eusebius and other Christian sources largely ignore the fact that Constantine did not close the pagan temples on the Acropolis, and may even have constructed new ones, at the Capitol and flanking the staircase of the Basilica Courtyard.13


It is likely that Constantinople was still under construction at the time of its formal inauguration on 11 May 330, and it is unlikely that Constantine's plans for the city were fully realized by the time of his death in 337. The development of the built environment over the next fifty years may thus be seen as a process of joining up the dots and filling in the blanks of the outline that he had traced. The reigns of his successors saw the construction of new baths, one or two new churches, and, no doubt, new housing at all levels of the social scale. The important suburb of the Hebdomon, with its imperial palace, was probably established at this time. However, the most notable additions recorded in the written sources were to the city's infrastructure. Constantius II (337-361) and Valens (364-378) added granaries to the commercial harbour district by the Golden Horn. Julian (361-363) began construction of a large harbour on the Sea of Marmara, in the area of modern Kumkapı. Valens, perhaps continuing a project started by Constantius II, built the first long-distance aqueduct system to supplement the water supply from the Belgrade forest that dated from the time of Hadrian. Much of the system survives, including the aqueduct bridge within the city that came to be known in Ottoman times as the Bozdoğan Kemeri.14

City of Theodosius

This expansion of the infrastructure evidently indicates a growth in the city's population, although to what degree the growth was experienced rather than expected is not clear. What does seem fairly clear is that the main demographic expansion was still to come, under the three generations of the Theodosian dynasty (379-450), who put down roots in Constantinople and made it the sole, fixed political capital of the eastern half of the Roman world. It was in this period that government officials, soldiers and all kinds of fortune seekers, including monks, gravitated to Constantinople as never before. The consequent burgeoning of private habitation was accompanied by an aggrandisement of the public and imperial sector that amounted to a Theodosian remake of the city of Constantine.15 This included the conversion or demolition of the pagan temples on the Acropolis of Byzantion, the embellishment of the Strategion and the Hippodrome, the construction of two large imperial fora on the Mese, and massive additions to the infrastructure of water supply, defence and harbour capacity. The obelisk that Theodosius I (379-395) erected in the Hippodrome still stands, and the locations of his forum and that of his son Arcadius (395-408) are marked by the fragmentary remains of their triumphal monuments, which can be seen, respectively, at the south-west corner of Beyazit square and beside the Cerrah Paşa Caddesi. However, the infrastructure projects have left much more impressive remains: the walls and quayside of the Theodosian harbour uncovered at the Yenikapı excavations, the structures of the second aqueduct system in the Thracian countryside, the vast open-air cisterns near Edirnekapı and the Selimiye Camii, and, above all, the new double land wall built under Theodosius II (408-450), which almost doubled the intramural urban space.16

The Theodosian period also saw the addition of aristocratic palaces, churches (including the reconstruction of Hagia Sophia) and bath complexes; the remains of three Theodosian palaces have been excavated, two to the north of the Hippodrome, and the other beside the Bodrum Camii. At the same time, monasteries were beginning to appear in semi-rural estates outside the Constantinian wall.

5- The remnants of Theodosius Forum (Beyazıt)

Topoghraphy of Constantinople in the Notitia

An official at the court of Theodosius II composed a detailed description of Constantinople, the Notitia Urbis Constantinopolitanae.17 It is a unique snapshot, virtually the specification for a map, showing the state of urban development one hundred years after the city's foundation – perhaps it was commissioned with the centenary in mind. The Notitia divides the city into fourteen regions, clearly in imitation of Rome. The imitation was entirely artificial, just like the later idea that Constantinople, like Rome, was a city built on seven hills – 'Heptalophos'. In fact, the seven hills represented the transfer of an apocalyptic motif that bore as little relation to the topographical reality of the walled city as the fourteen regions of the Notitia.18 Only twelve of the regions lay within the perimeter of the Constantinian wall. The thirteenth region was the suburb of Sykai, corresponding to the later Galata and Pera, across the Golden Horn. While it is logical to assume that the fourteenth region was the space between the wall of Constantine and the wall newly built by the reigning emperor, Theodosius II, the description of the region does not correspond to this space in the least and the emperor is not praised as the builder of the wall, a strange omission in a document that begins by praising him as the renovator of the city. One has to conclude that the space between the Constantinian and Theodosian walls does not figure in the Notitia, and that the location of the fourteenth region remains to be identified, though a plausible candidate has been suggested in the fairly distant suburb of Region.19

The Notitia goes through the city's fourteen regions one by one, briefly describing the topography, the built environment, and the security personnel assigned by the city prefect to each ward. The built environment of each region is described by listing first its unique, named buildings – monuments, palaces, churches, markets, thermae etc. – and then the numbers of its generic units: housing, minor bath-houses, food distribution centres, granaries, and porticoes. A final count of all buildings and personnel is made at the end of the document.

The twelve intramural regions do not exhibit any regular or consistent plan, beyond the obvious boundaries imposed by the coast, the wall of Constantine, and to some extent the line of the Mese. The regional boundaries to the north and east (I-VII) appear to follow the prevailing street pattern, but to the south and west, where the street layout becomes far more conjectural, the divisions between regions VIII-XII are much less apparent, and modern attempts to draw them differ quite markedly, although all agree in drawing the three western regions (X-XII) that abutted the city wall as much larger in area than the other nine. The reasons for this disparity are not clear. Also puzzling is the discrepancy between the pattern to the north of the central section of the Mese, where the divisions between regions V, VI, VII and X run perpendicular to the avenue, and the arrangement to the south, where the division between regions VIII and IX to the south runs parallel to it. This anomaly possibly reflects a difference in development, whereby the northern sector had developed first, starting from the coast of the Golden Horn, while the southern sector had developed southwards from the Mese at a later stage, or rather in two stages, which are reflected by regions VIII and IX respectively. Three things support this supposition. Firstly, the harbours on the Sea of Marmara were a later addition to Constantine's urban plan. Secondly, one of the churches in region IX was known as Caenopolis (Kainopolis = new city). Thirdly, the prior development of the regions north of the Mese is confirmed by a look at the relative density of habitation on either side. Regions VI and VII had a combined total of 484+711=1195 ordinary 'houses' (domus), whereas regions VIII and IX totalled 108+116=224. If the comparison is extended to all twelve regions, the contrast is no less impressive, with the five regions bordering the Golden Horn (IV, V, VI, VII, X) plus the inland region XI totalling 375+184+484+711+636+503=2895 houses, while those along the Bosphoros and Sea of Marmara (II, I, III, IX, XII) plus inland region VIII added up to 98+108+94+116+363+108=887. Scholars have reached no consensus as to what the Notitia means by 'houses' (domus), though it clearly must mean more than single family apartments. Residential buildings of up to five storeys are well attested in Byzantine Constantinople.20

The number of bakeries and 'steps' (gradus) for the distribution of bread is generally consistent in each region with the number of houses, but this is not the case with the numbers of small baths (effectively, the hammams), which ranged from one to every 63 houses in the densely inhabited region VII to a ratio of 1:18 in region VIII, and I:8 in region IX (which also had a large monumental bath-complex).21 This implies that the residents of the 'new city' were socially advantaged. Social differentiation between neighbourhoods is further indicated in the way that the palaces of the princesses of the ruling dynasty clustered in specific areas: around the imperial palace in regions I-III, and on the high ground near the Holy Apostles in regions X-XI.22 Otherwise, the differentiation of urban space is visible mainly in the distribution of public buildings. The public monuments and spaces, apart from the Strategion, follow the line of the Mese, starting from the huge concentration around the Milion in region IV. The places of entertainment were located at the east end of the city, all, with the exception of the Hippodrome, on the slopes of the ancient acropolis (Topkapı Sarayı) and probably dating from before the time of Constantine. The granaries and warehouses were located near the ports on the Golden Horn. Two food markets (macelli) are listed in region V, in the port and commercial area beside the Golden Horn, and two in region VIII, south of the Mese between the great imperial fora; their locations imply a rational distribution between the north-eastern and the south-western corners of the city's most populous area.23

On the other hand, the twelve churches and the six monumental bath-complexes within the Constantinian walls are distributed among the twelve regions according to no obvious rationale. It has to be borne in mind, however, that the baths, as great consumers of water, had to be located for convenient access to the water supply; we should also note that one of the city's most important churches, that of St Mokios, is not listed because it lay just outside the Constantinian wall. The same goes for other constructions that were colonizing the space between the Constantinian and the Theodosian walls: the growing number of churches and monasteries, the great cisterns, and the coastal development along the Golden Horn and the sea of Marmara, in the areas corresponding to today's Fener, Balat, and Samatya.

6- The remnants of Theodosius Forum (Beyazıt)

7- Çemberlitaş (the Column of Constantine)


Apart from its omission of the Theodosian walls and the intermural area, the Notitia can be taken to represent the topographical limits within which the urban expansion of Constantinople took place. It does not, however, represent the full extent of that expansion, which continued for another century. There is every reason to suppose that the population of Constantinople, and indeed of the eastern Roman world as a whole, continued to grow at least until the onset of the 'Justinianic plague' in 541-2.24 Only a year previously, the emperor Justinian I had legislated to control immigration to the city.25

The sixth-century historian Agathias could write of an earthquake in 557 that people were no safer outdoors than indoors, because, "The fact is that every quarter of the city is so heavily built up that wide open spaces entirely free of obstructions are an extremely rare sight". New building projects are recorded up to the early seventh century. The two successors of Theodosius II, Marcian (450-457) and Leo I (457-474), each constructed a forum in his own name, with a column bearing his statue at the centre: the column of Marcian still stands as the Kız Taşı; the column of Leo I stood until the fifteenth century, and its remains came to light in an excavation of the second court of the Topkapı Sarayı. Two other fora, that of the bronze Ox and the Amastrianon, which are not mentioned in the Notitia but known from later sources, must have been created in the later fifth or the sixth century. The same, presumably, can be said for the important market, the Leomakellion, that developed by the Golden Horn in the area of modern Unkapanı. Justinian I (527-565), Justin II (565-578) and Phokas (602-610) all planned triumphal columns, although Justinian's was the only project that came to fruition, with a huge monument bearing his statue, which stood in the Augoustaion courtyard outside Hagia Sophia until after the Ottoman conquest.26 Emperors continued to build palaces inside and outside the city, and less frequently, to finance the building and restoration of monumental bath complexes.

Christian Megalopolis

However, the main additions to the built environment, apart from private housing, which is simply not documented, were in the form of churches, monasteries and other religious buildings. The fourteen churches listed by the Notitia (including the outlying regions XIII and XIV) can hardly have dominated the urban landscape. In the 150 years after 450, however, Christian sacred building and sacred space became the dominant motifs in the pattern of the urban fabric. During this period, the foundation of new buildings continued alongside the enlarged rebuilding of older structures that was particularly characteristic of the imperial reigns of Justin I (518-527), Justinian I (527-565) and Justin II (565-578). Surviving structures – Hagia Sophia, the excavated remains of St Polyeuktos (Saraçhane), St John Stoudios (Imrahor Camii), St Sergios and St Bacchos (Küçük Ayasofya) – give only a glimpse of the impact of this accumulation of church buildings. Among the dozens, perhaps hundreds, that have disappeared, were the most important churches after Hagia Sophia, including the Holy Apostles, and the numerous sanctuaries dedicated to Mary the Theotokos, the mother of Jesus, whom the city adopted in this period as its heavenly patron.27 Her two major shrines, which housed the relics of her clothing, were at the Blachernae, just outside the Theodosian Wall by the Golden Horn, and the Chalkoprateia, opposite Hagia Sophia. A weekly procession between the two was instituted at the beginning of the sixth century and was still going strong, every Friday, six hundred years later. Traversing all the most crowded urban neighbourhoods, it was the most potent expression of the city's religious unity and community.

8- The Milion stone which was accepted as the beginning point of all distances

The new churches affected the urban landscape not only through the architectural presence of their main buildings, but also through their annexes – courtyards, porticoes and adjacent rooms – that could be used for a variety of services and businesses. As early as the sixth century, we find notaries' offices attached to churches, and the same would later happen with schools and bath houses, if it was not happening already. Just as the multiplication of churches increased their importance as centres of social congregation, the foundation of monasteries created new nuclei of habitation.28 They were mainly outside the Theodosian Wall, or in the zone between the two land walls, but they were also beginning to appear in the old city centre: a famous case is the monastic community that Justinian established in the palace of Hormisdas, adjacent to the imperial palace, where he had resided before he became emperor. Finally, the growth of Constantinople was reflected in the multiplication of philanthropic institutions,29 which were of religious inspiration even if they came to be state financed and owned: hospitals, homes for the elderly, the Orphanage, the leper-hospital, and pious brotherhoods dedicated to feeding, bathing, and burying the poor.


9- Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia) ( Walsh)

The population and the built-up surface of Constantinople reached a maximum in the age of Justinian from which the city could only decline in the adverse conditions of the 'Dark Age'. The bubonic plague, following its first devastating outbreak in 542, kept the population in check for another two centuries, causing great mortality in 558, 698, and on its final appearance in 747.30 The empire's wars with the Persians, Avars and Arabs in the seventh and eighth centuries led to invasion, devastation, and conquest of imperial territory on a massive scale, with Constantinople itself coming under sustained attack on three occasions. The resources needed to maintain the size and grandeur of the imperial capital shrank catastrophically, and the war effort claimed the bulk of those that remained. The long-distance aqueduct, cut by the Avars in 626, was not restored until 766-7; the only other constructions recorded for the intervening 140 years were the addition of halls and terraces to the imperial palace by Justinian II (685-695), and the repair of the land walls following earthquake damage in 741.31 This stagnation of construction was undoubtedly accompanied by a contraction of the population and the inhabited area, yet what this meant in topographical terms is far from clear. It may be reflected in a discernible concentration of business around the harbours on the Marmara coast, originating in the reigns of Justinian I, who is said to have transferred the wholesale trade from the Golden Horn to the harbour of Julian, and Justin II, who refurbished the harbour and renamed it after his wife Sophia.32

Urban Revival

The urban revival of Constantinople can be traced to the emperor Constantine V (741-775), who before rebuilding the long-distance aqueduct had repopulated the city after the plague of 747 with families from the Aegean islands and central Greece.33 Thereafter, we have a continuous record of new constructions and reconstructions up to the capture and sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204.34 While hard demographic evidence is lacking, there are many impressionistic indications, and good circumstantial reasons, for believing, that the urban population grew steadily from the eighth to the twelfth century, and that the city sacked in 1204 was enormous by medieval standards, perhaps even as big as it had been in the sixth century. To what extent did it resemble the sixth-century city? We must distinguish between the architectural appearance, the social functions, and the topography of the built environment.

Architectural Appearance

A substantial number of ancient buildings remained standing, but many had succumbed to fire, earthquake, neglect, and demolition for reuse of materials; the large monumental Roman bath-complexes had become redundant, and some public spaces, like the Strategion and the Basilica courtyard (above the Yerebatan sarnıcı), had decayed. Architectural fashions had evolved, both in the religious and the domestic sphere, with compact, domed churches being preferred to long basilicas, and aristocratic houses tending to stack up vertically rather than spread horizontally in through a series of peristyle courtyards.35 Excavations north of the Hippodrome and beside the Myrelaion (Bodrum Camii) have revealed the remains of fifth-century mansions whose grand reception rooms were converted into cisterns in the ninth-tenth centuries.36 However, it would be wrong to generalize on the basis of these finds: other complexes may have retained more of their Late Antique structures, and the reuse of antique spolia in monumental facades suggests a desire, at least in imperial circles, to cultivate an antique, monumental look.37

10- Constantinople (Urbium)

Social Functions

The greater part of the built environment must have served the commercial activities and residential needs of the city's service sector, which accounted for the majority of the inhabitants. Here it is difficult to discern any essential difference between the sixth-century and twelfth-century situations, apart perhaps from the expansion of the silk industry and retail business, and the introduction of livestock markets into the city centre.38 The ethnic composition of the immigrant population certainly changed over time, and a late eleventh-century source suggests that there were 'ethnic neighbourhoods',39 but only those of the Italian trading cities along the Golden Horn (from Sirkeci to Tahtakale) and of the Jews on the north side can be localized with any certainty.40 Otherwise, the main change to the social dimension of the urban habitat was the appearance of new elite units, through additions to the imperial palaces, the creation of aristocratic residences, and, above all, the foundation of new monasteries.41


Changes in the map of the urban habitat between the sixth century and the twelfth are perceptible in the appearance of new elite units, but only where we know the previous history of the site. In the great majority of cases, we do not know whether the new social unit occupied a previously inhabited space, or renewed a previously existing institution, and if so with what degree of continuity. The known examples reflect a wide range of possibilities. The additions to the imperial Great Palace between the seventh and the twelfth centuries undoubtedly involved an extension of the site in the direction of the sea. It was a similar story with the Blachernae Palace, in the northern corner of the city, which the Comnenian dynasty favoured and developed into a large, sprawling complex extending from the Golden Horn to the top of the hill inside the walls. The new monastic foundations involved a wide variety of options:

The revival of an existing monastery (e.g. Stoudios, Chora, St Mamas). The surviving church buildings of the Stoudios (Imrahor Camii), which largely preserves its fifth-century fabric, and of the Chora (Kariye Museum), which shows several reconstruction phases, indicate that the degree of architectural remodelling could vary considerably.

11- The Church of Pammakaristos which was transformed into a mosque in 1568 with the name of Fethiye Mosque.

The conversion of an existing secular domestic unit (monasteries of Manuel, Moseles, the Myrelaion, Christ Evergetes, the Mangana). This is usually known from literary evidence, but it is also partially visible in the archaeology of one site (Myrelaion- Bodrum Camii). One case of multiple reuse may not have been untypical: a large, old aristocratic residence on a hill above the Zeugma (modern Unkapanı) served as a place of confinement for a deposed emperor and a convent in the thirty-five years before the emperor Theophilos (829-42) converted it into a hospital.

The addition of a monastic community to an ancient public church; examples from the Middle Byzantine period include St Mokios, St Agathonikos, Sts Kosmas and Damian (the Kosmidion)

Building a monastery on a site that had not been occupied before. We have to accept this as the 'default' explanation where written mentions and material remains of earlier structures are lacking. Three major foundations known only from texts – the monastery of St Basil (10th c.), the monastery of Christ Philanthropos (12th c.), and the convent of the Theotokos Kecharitomene – appear to have had no precedents. The evidence is equally lacking for four structures that still stand: the first monastery of Constantine Lips (Feneri Isa Camii), the Eski Imaret Camii (Byzantine dedication unknown), the Pammakaristos (Fethiye Camii), and the Pantokrator (Zeyrek Camii). Yet it is inherently implausible that all prime building sites such as these should have remained undeveloped in the first phase of the city's development, and the 'default' explanation must remain open to doubt as long as it has not been proved by archaeology.

12- The Church of Khora (Kariye) which was transformed into a mosque in 1511

The best insight into the topography and settlement of Constantinople at the fullest extent of its medieval growth is provided by a contemporary description of the fire that broke out in a brawl involving Latins, Greeks and Muslims in the summer of 1203, while the forces of the Fourth Crusade were encamped outside the city. It was the worst recorded fire since 464, and like the conflagration of that year, it gutted the whole area from the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara, between Hagia Sophia to the east and the Philadelphion (Laleli) to the west. Thus whatever the changes in architecture, lifestyle and social functions that Constantinople had experienced in the past seven and a half centuries, the urban core was still in the same place, and characterized by a similar density of occupation by structures with a similarly high proportion of wood and other combustible materials.42


The fire of 1203 and other destructive incidents of the Fourth Crusade, including two other great fires and the systematic sacking of the city by the crusader army, marked a turning point in the urban morphology of Constantinople. The destruction was not irreversible in itself, but the lack of investment in repair by the Latin regime that controlled the city for the next fifty-seven years made it difficult for the wounds to heal. Control of Constantinople was divided between a Latin emperor who lacked resources and a local Venetian administration whose priorities were the financial interests of the Venetian state and the business interests of its citizens. Both stripped the urban fabric of its assets: the Latin emperors melted down bronze statues and lead roofs in order to raise money; the Venetians looted sculpted stones in order to monumentalise the public spaces of Venice.43 Neither occupying power had the motivation or the means to maintain the pre-existing institutions of Constantinople, with the partial exception of the imperial administration and the patriarchal church. All the institutions of Byzantine Constantinople, deprived of their traditional imperial funding and cut off from the resources of their provincial estates, atrophied and declined, and people emigrated to find new opportunities with the Byzantine governments in exile in Epiros, the Pontos and western Asia Minor. Only in the Venetian trading quarter along the Golden Horn, which Venice had extended westward in its co-domination of the city, does there appear to have been immigration and new construction.44


In 1261, the recapture of Constantinople in by the Greeks under Michael VIII Palaiologos, ruler of the Byzantine state in western Asia Minor, clearly marked another turning point, since Michael (1261-1282) and his son Andronikos II (1282-1328), tried hard to recreate the status quo before 1204, both inside and outside the capital.45 Yet they started from a diminished territorial base, which was threatened by even more powerful and determined enemies than the twelfth-century empire had faced. By 1290 it was clear that the restored empire was not going to return to its twelfth-century borders, and twenty years later it was decisively losing the battle to maintain the borders of 1261. The Palaiologoi, both emperors and the extended imperial family, were probably more successful in restoring Constantinople to its former glory. A significant number of the surviving Byzantine monastic churches show signs of repair, restoration and even extension during the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, and the one Byzantine palace building whose shell is still visible, the Tekfur Saray, was clearly a construction of this period. On the other hand, there were some significant changes to the urban topography. Defence needs being paramount, the port of Julian-Sophia was developed into a military naval base, known as the Kontoskalion. The city of Genoa, as the empire's main western ally, was given the suburb of Pera-Galata for its commercial colony and developed this into a separate fortified city that posed a cultural, commercial and military challenge to imperial Constantinople. The Jews, displaced from Pera-Galata, were settled at Vlanga, in and around the former harbour of Theodosius, of which only the south-eastern extremity remained accessible to boats. Moreover, the restoration of palaces and monasteries is not evidence of a similar investment in restoring the general urban fabric that had been damaged by the events of the Latin conquest, and above all the great fire of 1203. The Hippodrome was not restored for chariot racing; one fourteenth-century document mentions a vineyard near the 'Old Forum', i.e. the Forum of Constantine, and another reveals a very low density of habitation in the area north-west of the Forum of Theodosius.46 By contrast, fourteenth and fifteenth-century sources constantly refer to houses and businesses by the coasts, especially along the Golden Horn, and inside the gates of the Land Walls. The churches and monasteries that attracted the attention of visitors also tended to be near the coast, or at the corners of the intramural urban area.47 At the time of the Ottoman conquest in 1453, Constantinople presented the aspect of a triangle of more or less connected villages enclosing a thinly inhabited central space.48 This was partly the result of progressive depopulation caused by the Black Death and by Ottoman pressure. But it can also be attributed to a long-term failure to redevelop the areas devastated by the fire of 1203, a failure that might even have been a conscious decision to turn the interior of the urban triangle into cultivable land that would augment the city's stock of food in time of siege.*


* There is a huge literature on the development, topography, places and monuments of Byzantine Constantinople. See for the places and neighborhoods not mentioned in the article: R. Janin, Constantinople Byzantine, Paris 1964; F. A. Bauer, Stadt, Platz und Denkmal in der Spätantike, Untersuchungen zur Ausstättung des Öffentliches Raums in den Spätantiken Städten Rom, Konstantinopel und Ephesos, Mainz 1996; C. Mango, Le Développement Urbain de Constantinople (IVe-VIIe Siécles), Paris 2004; S. Bassett, The Urban Image of Late Antique Constantinople, Cambridge 2004; J. Freely, A. S. Çakmak, Byzantine Monuments of Istanbul, Cambridge 2004; P. Magdalino, Studies in the History and Topography of Byzantine Constantinople, Aldershot 2007.

1 Th. Preger (ed.), Scriptores Originum Constantinopolitanarum, Leipzig 1901-1907, v. 2, pp. 135-150.

2 M. Mango, “The Porticoed Street at Constantinople”, Byzantine Constantinople: Monuments, Topography and Everyday Life, ed. N. Necipoğlu, Leiden 2001, pp. 29-51.

3 N. Asutay-Effenberger, A. Effenberger, “Eski İmaret Camii, Bonoszisterne und Konstantinsmauer”, Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik, 2008, v. 58, pp. 13-44; N. Asutay-Effenberger, A. Effenberger, “Zum Verlauf der Konstantinsmauer zwischen Marmarameer und Bonoszisterne und zu den Toren und Straßen”, Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik, 2009, v. 59, pp. 1-35.

4 For the palace see: J. Bardill, “Visualizing the Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors at Constantinople”, Byzas, 2006, v. 5, pp. 5-45; A. Berger, “The Byzantine Court as a Physical Space”, The Byzantine Court: Source of Power and Culture, ed. A. Ödekan, N. Necipoğlu and E. Akyürek, Istanbul 2013, pp. 3-12. For Atmeydanı see: B. Pitarakis (ed.), Hippodrome/Atmeydanı: A Stage for Istanbul’s History, II vol., Istanbul 2010.

5 Mango, Le Développement, pp. 30-31.

6 A thorough attempt for a reconstruction belongs to A. Berger: “Regionen und Straßen im frühen Konstantinopel”, Istanbuler Mitteilungen, 1997, no. 47, pp. 349-414; A. Berger, “Streets and Public Spaces in Constantinople”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 2000, v. 54, pp. 161-172.

7 J. Matthews, in The Notitia Urbis Constantinopolitanae, Two Romes, ed. L. Grig and G. Kelly, Oxford 2012, pp. 81-115, and below.

8 C. Mango, “The Shoreline of Constantinople in the Fourth Century”, Byzantine Constantinople: Monuments, Topography and Everyday Life, ed. N. Necipoğlu, Leiden 2001, pp. 17-28. The assumption Mango based on written sources was confirmed by the Yenikapı excavations.

9 Preger (ed.), Scriptores, v. 2, pp. 148-149.

10 Preger (ed.), Scriptores, pp. 146-148.

11 Eusebius, Life of Constantine, trans. A. Cameron ve S. Hall, Oxford 1999, p. 140 (III.48).

12 Eusebius, Life of Constantine, pp. 176-177 (58-60).

13 Mango, Le Développement, pp. 30, 33-35; Zosimus, New History, trans. R. T. Ridley, Canberra 1982, p. 38 (II.33).

14 J. Crow, J. Bardill, R. Bayliss, The Water Supply of Constantinople, London 2008.

15 B. Croke, “Reinventing Constantinople: Theodosius I’s Imprint on the Imperial City”, From the Tetrarchs to the Theodosians: Later Roman History and Culture, 284-450 CE, ed. S. McGill, C. Sogno and E. Watts, Cambridge 2010, pp. 241-264.

16 N. Asutay-Effenberger, Die Landmauer von Konstantinopel-Istanbul, Berlin 2007.

17 See: Matthews, Notitia.

18 W. Brandes, “Sieben Hügel: Die Imaginäre Topographie Konstantinopels zwischen Apokalyptischem Denken und Moderner Wissenschaft”, Rechtsgeschichte, 2003, v. 2, pp. 58-71.

19 C. Mango, “Le Mystère de la XIVe Région de Constantinople”, Travaux et Mémoires, 2002, v. 14, pp. 449-455.

20 P. Gautier, “La curieuse ascendance de Jean Tzetzès”, REB, 1970, v. 28, pp. 210-211.

21 For baths of Byzantine period see: M. M. Mango, “Thermae, Balnea/Loutra/Hamams: The Baths of Constantinople”, Istanbul and Water, ed. Nina Ergin and Paul Magdalino, Paris: Leuven – Bristol: Peeters, 2015.

22 P. Magdalino, “Aristocratic oikoi in the Tenth and Aleventh Regions of Constantinople”, Byzantine Constantinople: Monuments, Topography and Everyday Life, ed. Necipoğlu, Leiden 2001, pp. 53-69 [repr. in Magdalino, Studies on the History and Topography of Byzantine Constantinople].

23 M. M. Mango, “The Commercial Map of Constantinople”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 2000, v. 54, pp. 189-207.

24 For the plague see: L. K. Little (ed.), Plague and the End of Antiquity: The Pandemic of 541-750, Cambridge 2007, especially the essays of Morony, Stathakopoulos and Sarris.

25 Novellus 80. For Constantinople of Justinian period, see: B. Croke, “Justinian’s Constantinople”, The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian, ed. M. Maas, Cambridge 2005, pp. 60-86.

26 For the triumphal columns and the forums, see: C. Mango, Studies on Constantinople, Aldershot 1993, pp. III, IV, X, XI; Mango, Le Développement, pp. 46, 78.

27 M. Vassilaki (ed.), Mother of God. Representations of the Virgin in Byzantine Art, Atina, Milano 2000; B. V. Pentcheva, Icons and Power: The Mother of God in Byzantium, University Park 2006.

28 P. Hatlie, The Monks and Monasteries of Constantinople, ca. 350-850, Cambridge 2007.

29 For these institutions, see: D. J. Constantelos, Byzantine Philanthropy and Social Welfare, New Brunswick 1968; T. S. Miller, The Orphans of Byzantium: Child Welfare in the Christian Empire, Washington 2003; T. S. Miller, “The Sampson Hospital of Constantinople”, Byzantinische Forschungen, 1990, v. 15, pp. 101-135; T. S. Miller, The Birth of the Hospital in the Byzantine Empire, Baltimore, London 1985; P. Magdalino, “Church, Bath and Diakonia in Medieval Constantinople”, Church and People in Byzantium, ed. R. Morris, Birmingham 1990, pp. 165-188.

30 The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, trans. C. Mango ve R. Scott, Oxford 1997, pp. 585-586.

31 The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, pp. 513, 572-573, 608-609.

32 For the harbours of Constantinople in the Middle Ages, see: P. Magdalino, “The Maritime Neighborhoods of Constantinople”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 2000, v. 54, pp. 209-226 [repr. in Magdalino, Studies in the History and Topography of Byzantine Constantinople, nr. III].

33 P. Magdalino, “Constantine V and the Middle Ages of Constantinople”, Magdalino, Studies in the History and Topography of Byzantine Constantinople, nr. IV.

34 For a general evaluation, see: Magdalino, Studies in the History and Topography of Byzantine Constantinople, I, 57-102.

35 For a development in Blakhernai reflected in the palaces and other such constructions in the twelfth century and afterwards, see: R. Macrides, “The Citadel of Byzantine Constantinople”, Cities and Citadels in Turkey: From the Iron Age to the Seljuks, ed. S. Redford and N. Ergin, Leuven 2013, pp. 277-304.

36 For the mansions around Hippodrome, see: R. Naumann, “Vorbericht über die Ausgrabungen zwischen Mese und Antiochus-Palast 1964 in Istanbul”, Istanbuler Mitteilungen, 1965, no. 15, pp. 137-138; S. Ćurčić, “Secular and Sacred in Byzantine Architecture”, Anaohmata Eoptika: Studies in Honor of Thomas F. Mathews, ed. J. D. Alchermes, H.C. Evans and T. K. Thomas, Mainz 2009, p. 114. For Myrelaion, see: C. L. Striker, The Myrelaion (Bodrum Camii) in Istanbul, Princeton 1981; P. Niewöhner, “Der Frühbyzantinische Rundbau beim Myrelaion in Konstantinopel. Kapitelle, Mosaiken und Ziegelstempel”, Istanbuler Mitteilungen, 2010, no. 60, pp. 411-459.

37 C. Mango, “The Triumphal Way of Constantinople and the Golden Gate”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 2000, v. 54, pp. 181-186; C. Mango, “Ancient Spolia in the Great Palace of Constantinople”, Byzantine East: Art Historical Studies in Honor of Kurt Weitzmann, Princeton 1995, pp. 645-649.

38 For the Byzantine silk industry and trade, see: the study of D. Jacoby; for its summarised version, see: D. Jacoby, “Silk Production”, The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies, ed. E. Jeffreys, J. F. Haldon and R. Cormack, Oxford 2008, pp. 421-428.

39 K. Ciggaar, “Une Description de Constantinople dans le Tarragonensis 55”, REB, 1995, v. 53, p. 119. The author mentions Armenians, Syriacs, Lombardians, Anglo-Saxons, Serbians, Amalfitans, Franks, Jews and Turks, each settled in a different district.

40 D. Jacoby, “Les Quartiers Juifs de Constantinople à l’Époque Byzantine”, Byzantion, 1967, v. 37, pp. 167-227; Magdalino, Studies in the History and Topography of Byzantine Constantinople, nr. I, 86-100; nr. III, 219-226; D. Jacoby, “The Venetian Quarter of Constantinople from 1082 to 1261”, ed. C. Sode and S. Takács, Novum Millennium. Studies on Byzantine History and Culture Dedicated to Paul Speck, Aldershot 2001, pp. 153-170; A. Ağır, İstanbul’un Eski Venedik Yerleşimi ve Dönüşümü, İstanbul 2009.

41 The major elite unit was oikos (house and family) that belongs to the aristocrats. On the oikos as a model of society and space and its equivalence to monastery, see: P. Magdalino, “The Byzantine Aristocratic Oikos”, The Byzantine Aristocracy, IX to XIII Centuries, ed. M. Angold, Oxford 1984, pp. 92-111.

42 Niketas Choniates, O City of Byzantium: Annals of Niketas Choniates, trans. H. Magoulias, Detroit 1984, pp. 303-304; T. Madden, “The Fires of the Fourth Crusades in Constantinople, 1203-1204: A Damage Assessment”, BZ, 1991-2, v. 84-85, pp. 72-93; Magdalino, Studies in the History and Topography of Byzantine Constantinople, nr. I, 104.

43 For the recent source, see: H. Maguire, R. S. Nelson (ed.), San Marco, Byzantium and the Myths of Venice, Washington 2010.

44 D. Jacoby, “The Urban Evolution of Latin Constantinople (1204-1261)”, Byzantine Constantinople: Monuments, Topography and Everyday Life, ed. N. Necipoğlu, Leiden 2001, pp. 277-297.

45 A.-M. Talbot, “The Restoration of Constantinople under Michael VIII”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 1993, v. 47, pp. 243-261; A.-M. Talbot, “Building Activity in Constantinople under Andronikos II: The Role of Women Patrons in the Construction and Restoration of Monasteries”, Byzantine Constantinople: Monuments, Topography and Everyday Life, ed. N. Necipoğlu, Leiden 2001, pp. 328-343. See also: V. Kidonopoulos, “The Urban Physiognomy of Constantinople from the Latin Conquest through the Palaiologan Era”, Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557). Perspectives on Late Byzantine Art and Culture, ed. S. T. Brooks, New Haven, London 2006, pp. 98-117; P. Magdalino, “Theodore Metochites: The Chora and Constantinople”, The Kariye Camii Reconsidered, ed. H. Klein, R.G. Ousterhout and B. Pitarakis, Istanbul 2011, pp. 169-187.

46 J. Koder, M. Hinterberger and O. Kresten (ed.), Das Register des Patriarcats von Konstantinopel, Vienna 2001, v. 3, pp. 68-69; J. Thomas and A. C. Hero (ed.), Byzantine Monastic Foundation Documents, Washington 2000, v. 4, pp. 1563.

47 For the views of the travellers in the century before 1453, see: M. Angold, “The Decline of Byzantium Seen through the eyes of Western Travellers”, Travel in the Byzantine World, ed. R. Macrides, Aldershot 2002, pp. 213-232.

48 N. Necipoğlu, “The Social Topography of Late Byzantine Constantinople: Evidence from the Patriarchal Register”, JTS, 2011, v. 36, pp. 133-143.

This article was originally written in English for History of Istanbul and its Turkish translation was published in 2015.