Tekfur Sarayı, City Walls, Istanbul

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Constantinople’s last extant Byzantine imperial palace, 5 km (3 miles) northwest of Sultanahmet in the Byzantine City Walls (map), is just a shell, but it’s being restored, and it gives a fine idea of what the emperor’s residence might have looked like in Byzantine times.

Built into the city walls only a short walk from the Kariye Museum (Chora Church), this late Byzantine palace (called in Turkish Tekfur Sarayı, ‘Emperor’s Palace’) dates from the late 12th or early 13th century. It was part of the larger Blachernae Palace complex, used as the imperial residence during the last days of the Byzantine Empire.

It was constructed for Constantine Paleologos, son of Michael VIII Paleologos. As heir to the throne, Constantine was know as the Porphyrogenetus (‘Born to the Purple,’ that is, to wear the color reserved for the emperor).


It suffered damage during the cannonades of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople (1453), and later served as part of the sultan’s menagerie, later as a brothel, then as a pottery workshop and a poorhouse before being abandoned in the later 1700s.

It was closed in 2006, is still closed in 2013, and is now actively under restoration, to be opened later, probably as an exhibition space and conference center.

As you will be right in this area visiting the Kariye Museum, the City Walls and the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, it’s worth taking a look.

On Sunday mornings there’s a lively pet bird market at the Altınay Spor Kulübü field on the southwest side of the palace—an interesting affair, particularly for pigeon fanciers.

City Walls, Istanbul –

It was the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II (408-450) who expanded the area of his imperial capital of Constantinople by building these great land walls farther out into the country. When finished, the Theodosian Wallswere almost 7 km (over 4 miles) in length. With periodic repairs, they defended the city effectively until the late 19th century.

They were breached only twice: in 1204 by the armies of the Fourth Crusade, and in 1453—a thousand years after they were built!—by the gigantic cannon of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, after which Constantinople became Istanbul.

In 1894 a disastrous earthquake toppled parts of the walls, which had been mostly superceded by modern armaments in any case.

This is a historic photo of mine from the 1980s, showing vegetable gardensin what was once the moat. The mighty walls have been restored, and urban development has now overtaken this semi-bucolic scene as Istanbul has become a city of more than 15 million souls. But glimpses of this romantic ruined past remain here and there along the great walls.: look for them on your trip to Istanbul.

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