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Arts

Explore the Walls That Protected the Byzantine Capital for 11 Centuries

ATHENS – “Emperor Theodosius decorated here in commemoration of his victory over a tyrant,” says the wall. “He built here a golden gate as a witness of the golden age.” An award-winning project from Koç University’s Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Center for Late Antique and Byzantine Studies makes Istanbul’s city walls talk through a digital map rich with interactive resources.

The Istanbul City Walls project documents the significant portions of the 24 kilometers of walls and defensive structures—including 244 towers and 61 gates—surrounding the city’s “Historical Peninsula” that remain today. These are considered some of the most important extant examples of Byzantine and Roman military architecture, and parts are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The objective of the project is twofold: to record what exists before urban encroachment and natural forces like earthquakes destroy more, and to make this record freely accessible online to scholars and the public. Forty hours of drone flights and 3,000 photographs later, an international team of experts including archaeologists, historians, epigraphists, and other experts created a treasure trove of essays, videos, Ottoman archival sources, inscription translations like the one above, and records of towers, walls, moats, and spolia—reused architectural fragments.

Istanbul City Walls, on which work began in 2017, was recently recognized by The Anthem Awards for its work sharing knowledge around a cultural cause.

A 2014 grant from the Foundation supported the creation of the SNF Center for Late Antique and Byzantine Studies, which opened the following year.

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