For over a millennium they protected the citizens of Constantinople from invaders. Today, they are becoming irreparable, yet they remain one of the most notable and worthwhile monuments of Istanbul, designated as a UNESCO world heritage site since 1985.
The Land Walls were erected under the rule of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II. The construction was finished in 413 A.D. The wall lost its defensive role in the 14th century as the city spread out behind it, which led to the worsening of their condition. Some sections of the walls are well preserved or have been restored, while at other sections only a foundation can still be seen.
The total length of the wall is around 6 kilometers, beginning at the Golden Horn next to Ayvansaray and leading out to the Marmara Sea south of the Yedikule Fortress. The best place to begin sightseeing along the wall is at the area of Edirnekapı which is the highest peak of the city, rising 77 meters above sea level. From there, one can climb the enormous 20 meter high restored tower. It’s not easy, seeing as there are steep stairs along the way, but at the end if the reward of a breathtaking panorama of Istanbul and the Golden Horn bay.
Edirnekapı is the Turkish name for “Edirne Gate.” It served as the most important gate during the Ottoman period. This is where the road connecting Edirne and Istanbul ran through. It was used by sultans for triumphal entries to the city, including one of the most important sultans, Mehmed II The Conqueror, in 1453. This gate has since been restored and can be viewed from the tower.
Even though the wall isn’t used for military purposes anymore, it still divides the city. On one side there is the district of Fatih, with narrow, but mostly quiet streets and some old and ruined homes. On the other side there lay vast open spaces filled with parks and cemeteries. If it wasn’t for Beylerbeyi Street, this area would be very peaceful and perfect for relaxing.
Only in the next interesting section, in the area of Topkapı, the streets goes underground and we can spend a nice time in the shadow of an ancient wall. Topkapı in Turkish means “cannon gate.” This is where the canon known as “Basilica” fired from during the siege of 1453. The cannonballs weigh around 550 kilograms. This is the same place were on May 29, 1453 the last emperor of the Byzantine Empire, Constantine XI, was killed. A panoramic image of the siege can be seen at the History Museum in the area. Unfortunately, the gate itself was nor preserved.
South of here, there is a section of the wall between Silivrikapı and Belgradkapı which is fully restored. Here is where one can see how the wall appeared originally with a 12 meter high inner wall and a nine meter high outer wall with a dried out moat that is now used as a vegetable garden. This section of the wall is in such good condition that viewers may walk a distance on top of the wall and imagine how it felt to be a Byzantine defender of Constantinople. This is where one can fully understand how monumental the Theodosian Walls were during their glory years. However, a glance at all the other sections reminds us of what it was so long ago.