1. Late Antiquity/Early Byzantine Period (4th-7th c.)
In this period Constantinople followed the established norms of late Roman urbanism and presented the standard attributes of a late antique city.1 As such, it was characterized by a proliferation of public spaces and monuments (such as fora, squares, imperial buildings, the hippodrome, baths, and others) which aimed to beautify the urban space and create areas which combined political, judicial, and even commercial functions that were accessible to the citizens. Important parts of the city’s infrastructure were put in place during those years as well, including the water system, the layout of the street, public baths, and fortifications.
Constantinople’s main colonnaded avenue, the Mese, transversed the city from east to west.2 A large tetrapylon called Milion, located in the Augustaion square, marked the beginning of the Mese and served as the milestone of the empire. The avenue forked at the Philadelphion, with one branch leading southwest to the Golden Gate, and the other leading to the northwest. Several fora (public squares) were constructed along the Mese. The Forum Constantini was circular, flanked by porticoes.3 The porphyry column that marked the forum’s center still survives today under the name of Çemberlitaş. Originally it was surmounted by a colossal statue of Constantine as Helios, which later fell and was replaced by a cross during the 12th century. The building of the Senate was located in the north side of the forum and its portico housed the statues of Athena and Thetis. Across from the Senate there might have been a nympheum. The Forum of Theodosios (Forum Tauri), was constructed in 393 to the northwest of the forum of Constantine.4 The Forum of Arkadios (or of Xerolophos) built 403, and was constructed on the southern branch of the Mese.5 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, of which little is known.
In addition to the historiated columns in the fora of Theodosios and Arkadios, the city was adorned with several free-standing honorific columns commemorating the reigns or victories of emperors. Of these two survive: the so-called Column of the Goths, monument is located in the outer garden of the Topkapı palace, commemorating a successful campaign against the Goth;6 and the column of Marcian (r. 450-457), located on the fourth hill of the city.7 Both were monolithic columns with a base and a capital, supporting a statue of the commemorated person.
The Great Palace of the Byzantine emperors was located to the southeast of the city, between the hippodrome and the sea of Marmara.8 At the time of Constantine and his successors, the Palace included residential quarters (Daphne), the quarters of the imperial guards, probably a throne room, and an audience hall called Consistorium. A large peristyle court decorated by splendid floor mosaics comprise the most substantial remains from the palace. It has been dated to the 6th or the 7th century.
The hippodrome, a sports arena dedicated to chariot races and the center of the city’s public life, was located adjacent to the palace.9 The patriographs attribute its construction to Septimius Severus. Constantine I probably completed it and enlarged it. Constantinople’s hippodrome followed the established layout of a typical Roman circus: it was U-shaped with a flat end (where the gates were) and a curved end on the opposite side. Its total length must have been about 450 m. The track was divided into two by a barrier called spina, which was decorated with a series of structures and works of art, such as the Obelisk of Theodosios, the so-called Built Obelisk, and others. The imperial party followed the games from the Kathisma, a box located in approximately the middle of the east side. The Kathisma communicated directly with the Great Palace. Parts of the tiered seating that surrounded the arena, along with columns and capitals, were accidentaly unearthed and are now kept in the garden of the Sultanahmed mosque.
The remains of two 5th-century aristocratic residences were excavated close to the hippodrome. The palace of Antiochus, a during the time of Theodosios II, was located in the northwestern side of the hippodrome.10 Its construction tookplace between 429 and 433. It included a hexagonal hall preceded by a semi-circular portico. Textual sources indicate that the Palace of Lausus, a praepositus sacri cubiculi again in the court of Theodosios II, stood not far from the palace of Antiochus. Lausos was famous for his collection of antique statuary which he proudly exhibited in his residence (the collection included the Knidian Aphrodite of Praxiteles and Pheidias’ Olympian Zeus, among other famous works of classical art).11 The remains of a rotunda and an adjoining rectangular hall to the northeast of the palace of Antiochus have been identified with the palace of Lausus, although this identification has been recently challenged.12 The remains of an enormous 5th-century rotunda, which probably belonged to an aristocratic residence, have been excavated close the church of Myrelaion (Bodrum Camii).13
Public baths were one of the most characteristic Roman buildings and an important element of urban life as they provided opportunities for socialization. The Notitia Urbis Constantinopolitanae (an anonymous Latin description of the city compiled during the reign of Theodosios II) lists eight public baths, along with 153 private ones. Constantinople inherited at least two public baths from Byzantion, the baths of Achilles with a gymnasium nearby, and of Zeuxippos. The latter were located by the northeastern corner of the Hippodrome and close to the Augusteion and the Great Palace. Their construction is attributed to Septemius Severus. Constantine I enlarged and redecorated the complex. Parts of the bath were discovered in 1927 and 1928.14 The baths of Zeuxippos were decorated with an impressive collection of pagan statues. Other important public baths included the Thermae Constantinianae (completed in 427, located close to the Holy Apostles), and the bath of Digistheos (completed in 528).
As Constantinople had limited natural sources of water, the city was equipped with a system of open and closed cisterns, most of which were constructed between the fourth and the seventh centuries.15 Open cisterns, such as the cistern of Aetios on the sixth hill (build in 421) or the cistern of Aspar on the fifth hill, mid 5th century were built in high points. Closed cisterns were usually smaller and more numerous. In contrast to Roman practices, cisterns in Constantinople have columns rather than brick and cement piers, and brick rather than cement vaults, all practices that lowered the cost for upkeeping the structures.
Almost nothing survives from the first defensive wall of Constantine I’s. During the reign of Theodosios II and under the supervision of the Anthemios a new set of walls was constructed at approximately 1.5 km to the west of the original one.16 They were completed by 413, but parts of them were repaired or reconstructed in numerous occassions. They comprised an inner wall (ca. 5 m thick and 10 m. high) with polygonal towers at regular intervals; a smaller outer wall (ca. 4,5 m thick and 5m high) with towers; and a moat (ca. 20 m wide and 7 m deep). The walls are built of alternating bands of brick and ashlar stone: the brick courses go right across the wall whereas the cut stones enclose a core of mortar and rubble. The maritime sides of Constantinople, both along the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn were fortified with a single line of wall constructed in the 5th century and subsequently repaired on several occassions.
2. The “Dark Ages” and the Middle Byzantine Period (7th-late 12th centuries)
The so-called “Dark Ages” (7th – 9th centuries) signaled the transition from late antiquity to the Middle Ages in Constantinople. During this period several public buildings were abandoned or changed uses. Furthermore, primary sources testify to an important change of mentality: monuments and ancient statues that decorated the city acquired a mythical or magical character and were misunderstood and treated by its inhabitants with considerable mistrust.17 Building activity continued, although it focused more on religious buildings.
Throughout the centuries various emperors made several additions to the Great Palace resulting in an irregular layout, which included structures of diverse forms, gardens, chapels, and sporting grounds. In the 10th century the emperor Nikephoros II Phokas fortified the central part of the palace.18 Substantial ruins located today on the shore overlooking originally the port Boukoleon belong to the palace of Boukoleon.19 The form of the palace in the 10th century is well known from the Book of Ceremonies, a compilation of imperial protocols collected by Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos. The specifics, however, remain elusive. Substantial substructures belonging to various parts of the palace have been uncovered in the area in the last decade. Alexios I Komnenos moved the administrative center of Constantinople from the Great Palace to the Blachernae palace, located in the northwest of the city and near the Blachernae church.20
Emperor Theophilos constructed in the Bryas district (now Maltepe) in ca 837 a palace which purportedly imitated Arab prototypes. Its identification with a site in Küçükyalı has been questioned.21
In the 11th century, emperor Constantine IX Monomachos built a palace, along with a monastery dedicated to St. George and a hospital, in the area of Mangana.22 Of the substantial remains of the monastery that were excavated in the early 20th century, none can be securely identified with the palace.
The remains of a mansion belonging to Romanos I Lekapenos have been excavated close to the church of the Myrelaion (today Bodrum Camii, ca. 920) to which it was originally attached.23 The palace at Myrelaion was placed on the remains of an enormous 5th-century rotunda, which in all likelihood originally belonged to a residential aristocratic complex. Lekapenos’ palace was a rectangular hall with two smaller wings were attached to its west side separated by a colonnaded courtyard. The Myrelaion complex is indicative of the changes in residential architecture that occurred from the early to the middle Byzantine period: the whole 10th-century mansion took less than half of the size of the 5th-century rotunda, which was just a part of an early residence. Archaeological evidence for domestic architecture from this period is scarse, although written sources offer information about non-imperial upper-class houses in Constantinople, such as the mansion of Attaleiates and others.24
3. Late Byzantine Period (late 12th - 15th centuries)
The siege of 1204 and the systematic looting along with the ensuing neglect of the Crusader rule left Constantinople in a delapidated state with a diminished population.25
After the Byzantine recapture of the city in 1261, the emperor Michael VIII (1259-1282) undertook an extensive restoration program.26 He repaired the land and sea walls, the ports, imperial palaces (especially the Blachernai palace), as well as churches and monasteries. Michael VIII also erected a honorific column, reviving a practice that had been abandoned since the 6th century. The column was placed outside the church of the Holy Apostles surmounted by a bronze statue of Archangel Michael with the emperor kneeling at the Archangel’s feet offering him a model of the city.
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.
It appears that the Great Palace was abandoned at this period. Michael VIII chose the Blachernai palace as his residence and this continued to be the case throughout the reign of the Palaiologoi. To the Palaiologan period dates the most important and complete example of palatial architecture surviving in Constantinople, the so-called Tekfur Sarayı (turk. “the palace of the prince,” 13th or 14th centuries).27 It is located at the northernmost end of the Theodosian fortifications of the city, wedged between the inner and outer walls. Tekfur Sarayı was originally a three-story building. The ground floor is supported by columns and piers. The upper floor probably did not have any interior divisions and was used as a throne room or audience hall. On this floor there was a chapel on the south side. The masonry consists primarily of courses of ashlar alternating with a three courses of brick. The decoration of Tekfur Sarayı is very distinctive, similar to other monuments of the 14th century in Constantinople such as the chapels of the monasteries of Pammakaristos and of Chora.
After the middle of the 14th century the city decayed rapidly and very little building activity was recorded.
1. Beck, H.G. (ed.), Studien Zur Frühgeschichte Konstantinopels (Munich: 1973), Dagron, G., Naissance D'une Capitale (Paris: 1974), Mango, C., Le Développement Urbain De Constantinople, IVe-VIIe Siècles (Paris: 2004), Bassett, S., The Urban Image of Late Antique Constantinople (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
2. Janin, R., Constantinople Byzantine: Développement Urbain Et Répertoire Topographique, 2 ed. (Paris: 1964), pp. 36–40, 62–72, Müller-Wiener, W., Bildlexikon Zur Topographie Istanbuls: Byzantion, Konstantinupolis, Istanbul Bis Zum Beginn Des 17. Jahrhunderts (Tübingen: 1977), pp. 269-70.
3. Janin, R., Constantinople Byzantine: Développement Urbain Et Répertoire Topographique, 2 ed. (Paris: 1964), pp. 77-80, Müller-Wiener, W., Bildlexikon Zur Topographie Istanbuls: Byzantion, Konstantinupolis, Istanbul Bis Zum Beginn Des 17. Jahrhunderts (Tübingen: 1977), pp. 255-57, Berger, A., Untersuchungen Zu Den Patria Konstantinupoleos (Bonn: 1988), pp. 288-301.
4. Müller-Wiener, W., Bildlexikon Zur Topographie Istanbuls: Byzantion, Konstantinupolis, Istanbul Bis Zum Beginn Des 17. Jahrhunderts (Tübingen: 1977), pp. 258-65.
5. Müller-Wiener, W., Bildlexikon Zur Topographie Istanbuls: Byzantion, Konstantinupolis, Istanbul Bis Zum Beginn Des 17. Jahrhunderts (Tübingen: 1977), pp. 250-53, 58-66.
6. Janin, R., Constantinople Byzantine: Développement Urbain Et Répertoire Topographique, 2 ed. (Paris: 1964), pp. 85-86; Müller-Wiener, W., Bildlexikon Zur Topographie Istanbuls: Byzantion, Konstantinupolis, Istanbul Bis Zum Beginn Des 17. Jahrhunderts (Tübingen: 1977), p. 53.
7. Janin, R., Constantinople Byzantine: Développement Urbain Et Répertoire Topographique, 2 ed. (Paris: 1964), pp. 84-85; Müller-Wiener, W., Bildlexikon Zur Topographie Istanbuls: Byzantion, Konstantinupolis, Istanbul Bis Zum Beginn Des 17. Jahrhunderts (Tübingen: 1977), pp. 54-55.
8. For the Great Palace see Paspates, A.G., The Great Palace of Constantinople (London, 1893); Ebersolt, J., Le Grand Palais de Constantinople (Paris 1910); Miranda, S., Étude de topographie du Palais Sacré de Byzance, 2nd ed., (Mexico City 1976); Mango, C., The Brazen House. A Study of the Vestibule of the Imperial Palace of Constantinople (København 1959).
9. Janin, R., Constantinople Byzantine: Développement Urbain Et Répertoire Topographique, 2 ed. (Paris: 1964), pp. 183-194; Müller-Wiener, W., Bildlexikon Zur Topographie Istanbuls: Byzantion, Konstantinupolis, Istanbul Bis Zum Beginn Des 17. Jahrhunderts (Tübingen: 1977), pp. 64-71. Dagron, G., Naissance D'une Capitale (Paris: 1974), pp. 320-347.
10. For the career Antiochus, the palace, and earlier bibliography see Greatrex, G., Bardill, J., “Antiochus the "Praepositus": A Persian Eunuch at the Court of Theodosius II,” DOP 50 (1996), pp. 171-197.
11. On this collection see Mango, C., Vickers, M., Francis, E.D., “The Palace of Lausos at Constantinople and Its Collection of Ancient Statues,” Journal of the History of Collections 4 (1992), pp. 89-98; Guberti Bassett, S., “‘Excellent Offerings”: The Lausos Collection in Constantinople,” The Art Bulletin 82:1 (2000), pp. 6-25.
12. Bardill, J., “The Palace of Lausus and Nearby Monuments in Constantinople: A Topographical Study,” American Journal of Archaeology 101:1 (1997), pp. 67-95.
13. Naumann, R., “Ausgrabungen bei der Bodrum Camii (Myrelaion),” Istanbul Arkeoloji Müzeleri Yilliği 13-14 (1966), pp. 135-139; Idem, “Der antike Rundbau beim Myrelaion und der Palast Romanos I Lekapenos,” IstMitt 16 (1966), pp. 199-216. See also Striker, C.L., The Myrelaion (Bodrum Camii) in Istanbul (Princeton 1981).
14. Casson, S. - Talbot Rice, D. - Hudson, D.F., Preliminary Report upon the Excavations Carried Out in and near the Hippodrome of Constantinople in 1927 (London 1928); Casson, S. - Talbot Rice, D. - Hudson, D.F., Second Report upon the Excavations Carried Out in and near the Hippodrome of Constantinople in 1928 (London 1929); Casson, S., “Les fouilles de l’Hippodrome de Constantinople,” GBA 30 (1930), pp. 213-242.
15. Strzygowski, J. - Forchheimer, P., Die Byzantinischen Wasserbehälter von Konstantinopel (Wien 1893); Mango, C., "The Water Supply of Constantinople", in C. Mango, G. Dagron, and G. Greatrex (eds.), Constantinople and Its Hinterland (Aldershot 1995), pp 9-18.
16. van Millingen, A., Byzantine Constantinople. The Walls of the City and Adjoining Historical Sites (London 1899); Krischen F. - von Lüpke, T., Die Landmauer von Konstantinopel I (Berlin 1938); Meyer-Plath, B. - Schneider, A.M., Die Landmauer von Konstantinopel II (Berlin 1943); Müller-Wiener, Bildlexikon, pp. 286-319. Turnbull, S., The Walls of Constantinople AD 324-1453 (Fortress 25, London 2004).
17. Mango, argues that the crisis that started in the 6th century changed the city’s urban outlook and functions profoundly, see Mango, C., Développement; Magdalino, offers a different interpretation, stressing continuity, see Magdalino, “Medieval Constantinople”.
18. For this see Mango, C., "The Palace of the Boukoleon," Cahiers Archéologiques 45 (1997), pp. 41-50.
19. Müller-Wiener, Bildlexikon, 225-228.
20. Papadopoulos, J. B., Le palais et les églises des Blachernes (Thessalonike 1928); Müller-Wiener, Bildlexikon, pp. 223-224.
21. Ricci, A. "The Road from Baghdad to Byzantium and the Case of Bryas Palace in Istanbul," in Brubaker, L. (ed.), Byzantium in the Ninth Century: Dead or Alive? Papers From the Thirtieth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, Birmingham, March 1996 (Aldershot 1998), pp. 131-49.
22. Demangel, R.- Mamboury, E., Le Quartier Des Manganes Et La Première Région De Constantinople (Paris: 1939).
23. Naumann, R., “Ausgrabungen bei der Bodrum Camii (Myrelaion),” Istanbul Arkeoloji Müzeleri Yilliği 13-14 (1966), pp. 135-139; Idem, “Der antike Rundbau beim Myrelaion und der Palast Romanos I Lekapenos,” IstMitt 16 (1966), pp. 199-216. See also Striker, C.L., The Myrelaion (Bodrum Camii) in Istanbul (Princeton 1981).
24. Magdalino, P., ‘The Byzantine aristocratic oikos’, in M. Angold, ed., The Byzantine Aristocracy, IX–XIII Centuries, (Oxford 1984), pp. 92–111; Magdalino, P. P., Constantinople médiévale: études sur l'évolution des structures urbaines (Paris 1996), repr. in English translation in Magdalino, P., Studies on the History and Topography of Byzantine Constantinople (Aldershot: 2007). Magdalino, P., ‘Aristocratic oikoi in the tenth and eleventh regions of Constantinople’, in Necıpolğlu, N. (ed.), Byzantine Constantinople: Monuments, Topography and Everyday Life (Leiden 2001), pp. 53–69; Dark, K. (ed.), Secular Buildings and the Archaeology of Everyday Life in the Byzantine Empire (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2004).
25. For the Latin Empire of Constantinople see Wolf, R.L., The Latin Empire of Constantinople (London 1976); Wolf, R.L., Studies in the Latin Empire of Constantinople (London 1978); Madden, T.F. (ed.), The Fourth Crusade: Event, Aftermath, and Perceptions (Aldershot 2008). See also Kidonopoulos, V., Bauten in Konstantinopel, 1204-1328: Verfall Und Zerstörung, Restaurierung, Umbau Und Neubau Von Profan- Und Sakralbauten (Wiesbaden 1994).
26. Talbot, A.-M., "The Restoration of Constantinople under Michael VIII," DOP (1993), pp. 249-61; see also, Talbot, A.-M., “Empress Theodora Palaiologina, Wife of Michael VIII," DOP 46 (1992), pp. 295-303.
27. Meyer-Plath, B. - Schneider, A.M., Die Landmauer von Konstantinopel (Berlin 1943) vol 2., pp. 95–100; Mango, C., Constantinopolitana , JDAI 80 (1965), pp. 330–336; Müller-Wiener, W., Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls (Tübingen 1977), pp. 244-247; Velenis, G.M., Ἑρμηνεία τοῦ ἐξωτερικοῦ διακόσμου στὴ Βυζαντινὴ ἀρχιτεκτονική (Thessalonike 1984), vol. 1, pp. 102-3, 106 n. 2, 165 n. 1; Ousterhout, R., "Constantinople, Bithynia and Regional Developments in Later Palaeologan Architecture," in S. Čurćič - D. Mouriki, (eds.), The Twilight of Byzantium (Princeton, 1991), p. 79.