Thursday, January 5, 2017


Yedikule, Fatih - İstanbul - Turkey

GPS : 40°59'34.8"N 28°55'21.4"E / 40.993000, 28.922611


Yedikule, the Castle of the Seven Towers, is a curious structure, partly Byzantine and partly Turkish. The seven eponymous towers consist of four in the Theodosian wall itself, plus three additional towers built inside the walls by Mehmet the Conqueror. The three inner towers are connected together and joined to the Theodosian walls by four heavy curtain-walls, forming a five-sided enclosure. The two central towers in the Theodosian wall are marble pylons flanking the famous Golden Gate of Byzantium.

The structure was never used as a castle in the usual sense, but two of the towers were used in Ottoman times as prisons; the others were used as storage places for a part of the State treasure. To visit Yedikule we must first enter the city through a little gate just north of the castle. Though it was somewhat reconstructed in Turkish times, the Byzantine eagle above the arch on the inside proclaims its origins.

This must always have been the public entrance to the city in this vicinity, as indeed it is today, for the Golden Gate itself seems to have been reserved for the emperor and for distinguished visitors and processions.

The floors of the tower have fallen, but one climbs up by a staircase in the thickness of the wall. When at the top it is worthwhile walking around the chemin de ronde as far as the Golden
Gate, for there is a fine view of the castle and the walls down to the sea, and, if it is spring, one finds a profusion of orchids, hyacinths and Roman anemones growing in the turf.

The much celebrated Golden Gate between the pylons was originally a Roman triumphal arch erected in about 390 by Theodosius I the Great. At that time the present city walls had not yet been built and the triumphal arch, as was customary, stood by itself on the Via Egnatia, about a mile outside the walls of Constantine. The arch was of the usual Roman type with a triple arcade containing a large central archway flanked by two smaller ones.

The outlines of the arches can still be seen clearly although the openings were bricked up in later Byzantine times. The gates themselves were covered with gold plate – hence the name – and the façade was decorated with sculptures, the most famous of which was a bronze group of four elephants, placed there to commemorate the triumphal entry of Theodosius after his victory over Maxentius. When Theodosius II decided to extend the city two decades later, he incorporated the Golden Gate within his new land-walls.

It was presumably in connection with this new wall that he built the small marble gate outside the triumphal arch; the arch itself, of course, could have had no gates, except for ornamental iron or bronze grilles, and would have been indefensible. The outer gateway is part of the general system of defence and forms, with the curtain wall which joins it to the city walls near the polygonal towers, a small courtyard in front of the Golden Gate.

After the time of Theodosius I, the Golden Gate was several times the scene of triumphal entries by victorious emperors: Heraclius in 629 after his defeat of the Persians; Constantine V, Basil I, and Basil II after their victories over the Bulgars; John I Tzimisces after his defeat of the Russians; Theophilus and his son Michael III after their victories over the Saracens.

Perhaps the most emotional of all the triumphal entries was the one that occurred on 15 August 1261, when Michael VIII Palaeologus rode through the Golden Gate on a white charger after Constantinople was recaptured from the Latins. But that was the last time an Emperor of Byzantium was to ride in triumph through the Golden Gate, for the history of the Empire in
its last two centuries was one of continuing defeat, and by then the gateway had been walled up for good.

Following the walls from south to north, the Golden Gate (Greek: Chryseia Pyle; Latin: Porta Aurea; Turkish: Altınkapı or Yaldızlıkapı), is the first gate to be encountered. It was the main ceremonial entrance into the capital, used especially for the occasions of a triumphal entry of an emperor into the capital on the occasion of military victories or other state occasions such as coronations. On rare occasions, as a mark of honor, the entry through the gate was allowed to non-imperial visitors: papal legates (in 519 and 868) and, in 710, to Pope Constantine.

The Gate was used for triumphal entries until the Komnenian period; thereafter, the only such occasion was the entry of Michael VIII Palaiologos into the city on 15 August 1261, after its reconquest from the Latins. With the progressive decline in Byzantium's military fortunes, the gates were walled up and reduced in size in the later Palaiologan period, and the complex converted into a citadel and refuge.

The Golden Gate was emulated elsewhere, with several cities naming their principal entrance thus, for instance Thessaloniki (also known as the Vardar Gate) or Antioch (the Gate of Daphne), as well as the Kievan Rus', who built monumental "Golden Gates" at Kiev and Vladimir. The entrance to San Francisco Bay in California was similarly named the Golden Gate in the middle of the nineteenth century, in a distant historical tribute to Byzantium.

The date of the gate's construction is uncertain, with scholars divided between Theodosius I and Theodosius II. Earlier scholars favored the former, but the current majority view tends to the latter, meaning that the gate was constructed as an integral part of the Theodosian Walls. The debate has been carried over to a Latin inscription in metal letters, now lost, which stood above the doors and commemorated their gilding in celebration of the defeat of an unnamed usurper :

Haec loca Theudosius decorat post fata tyranni.
aurea saecla gerit qui portam construit auro.

(English translation)

Theodosius adorned these places after the downfall of the tyrant.
He brought a golden age who built the gate from gold.

Curiously, the legend has not been reported by any Byzantine author. However, an investigation of the surviving holes wherein the metal letters were riveted verified its accuracy. It also showed that the first line stood on the western face of the arch, while the second on the eastern. According to the current view, this refers to the usurper Joannes (r. 4239425), while according to the supporters of the traditional view, it indicates the gate's construction as a free-standing triumphal arch in 388-391 to commemorate the defeat of the usurper Magnus Maximus (r. 385-388), and which was only later incorporated into the Theodosian Walls.

The gate, built of large square blocks of polished white marble fitted together without cement, has the form of a triumphal arch with three arched gates, the middle one larger than the two others. The gate is flanked by large square towers, which form the 9th and 10th towers of the inner Theodosian wall. With the exception of the central portal, the gate remained open to everyday traffic.

The structure was richly decorated with numerous statues, including a statue of Theodosius I on an elephant-drawn quadriga on top, echoing the Porta Triumphalis of Rome, which survived until it fell down in an earthquake in 740. Other sculptures were a large cross, which fell in an earthquake in 561 or 562; a Victory, which was cast down in the reign of Michael III; and a crowned Fortune of the City. In 965, Nikephoros II Phokas installed the captured bronze city gates of Mopsuestia in the place of the original ones.

The main gate itself was covered by an outer wall, pierced by a single gate, which in later centuries was flanked by an ensemble of reused marble reliefs. According to descriptions of Pierre Gilles and English travelers from the 17th century, these reliefs were arranged in two tiers, and featured mythological scenes, including the Labours of Hercules. These reliefs, lost since the 17th century with the exception of some fragments now in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, were probably put in place in the 9th or 10th centuries to form the appearance of a triumphal gate. According to other descriptions, the outer gate was also topped by a statue of Victory, holding a crown.

Despite its ceremonial role, the Golden Gate was one of the stronger positions along the walls of the city, withstanding several attacks during the various sieges. With the addition of transverse walls on the peribolos between the inner and outer walls, it formed a virtually separate fortress. Its military value was recognized by John VI Kantakouzenos (r. 1347–1354), who records that it was virtually impregnable, capable of holding provisions for three years and defying the whole city if need be. He repaired the marble towers and garrisoned the fort with loyal Catalan soldiers, but had to surrender it to John V Palaiologos (r. 1341-1391) when he abdicated in 1354.

John V undid Kantakouzenos' repairs and left it unguarded, but in 1389-90 he too rebuilt and expanded the fortress, erecting two towers behind the gate and extending a wall some 350 m to the sea walls, thus forming a separate fortified enceinte inside the city to serve as a final refuge. In the event, John V was soon after forced to flee there from a coup led by his grandson, John VII.

The fort held out successfully in the subsequent siege that lasted several months, and in which cannons were possibly employed. In 1391 however, John V was compelled to raze the fort by Sultan Bayezid I (r. 1382-1402), who otherwise threatened to blind his son Manuel, whom he held captive. Emperor John VIII Palaiologos (r. 1425-1448) attempted to rebuild it in 1434, but was thwarted by Sultan Murad II.

According to one of the many Greek legends about the Constantinople's fall to the Ottomans, when the Turks entered the city, an angel rescued the emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos, turned him into marble and placed him in a cave under the earth near the Golden Gate, where he waits to be brought to life again to conquer the city back for Christians. The legend explained the later walling up of the gate as a Turkish precaution against this prophecy.

From the top of the tower you can look down at the outer face of the bricked-up, triple-arched gateway, faced with marble and embellished with late-Roman frieze work and decorative, acanthus-leaf carved stone capitals perched atop grooved pilasters. The story of Yedikule Hisarı, the "Fortress of the Seven Towers", begins at this gateway. According to one theory, in A.D. 390, when Theodosius I was the reigning emperor, this was a triumphal arch typical of many found all over the Roman world.

Then it stood in open countryside well outside the old walls of the city, astride the Via Egnatia, a crucial 1,120-kilometer-long road linking Constantinople, via Thessaloniki, with the Adriatic. Another theory holds that the triumphal arch was built a little over two decades later, during the reign of Theodosius II.

At that time, with the city growing (as it is today) at a rapid rate, a decision was made to move the line of the city's land walls - which then stretched from today's Atatürk/Unkapanı Bridge to somewhere not far southwest of Yenikapı) - further west and thus include more safe and secure Lebensraum for the burgeoning population of the Byzantine capital. According to this second theory, the triumphal gateway was built as an integral part of the new fortifications, the Land Walls of Theodosius.

But whatever the date of construction, it was the purpose of the gateway that was all important. When a new Byzantine emperor was appointed, he would pass through the central arch in a great ceremonial procession before making his way to the city center to be greeted by the populace and the city's spiritual leader, the patriarch. Similarly, after a successful campaign, he would ride triumphantly through the arch into the city to be greeted by his adoring subjects.

This grand entryway is known as the Golden Gate because its mighty metal gates were gilded with gold. Even more magnificent must have been the four large bronze elephants surmounting the gateway, flanked by two winged victories representing the city's fortune.


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