The Walls

A 1500-Year Old Playground

Istanbul city walls and farmThe walls that the Romans constructed around Constantine in the 5th century are mostly still standing. They would be a protected monument in many countries, but in Istanbul (different name, same city) there’re so many other things to see that the walls are just sort of left lying around. One stretch has been turned into a museum, but you can climb around most of the rest of the fortifications. What used to be the moat is now a fully functioning farm, and some of the dark corners of the old fortifications now hide nothing more than piles of trash.

Parts of the walls have been restored, but some of the original stonework is still visible. These are the same stones – the same structures – from which Greeks, Romans, and Ottomans in turn defended the city. The old gates, originally built for ox-drawn carts and legions of Roman soldiers, are now serious traffic bottlenecks. At one gate, two streets merge to one thin lane, and opposing traffic must wait for its turn to filter through at a stoplight. The original architects never would have imagined a delivery truck emblazoned with a Sütaş logo shouldering aside a handful of taksis (take a wild guess), then squeezing through their arch with inches of clearance.

A Different World Only 20 Minutes Away

Picture of street in FatihAlong the inside of the walls, towards the center of the peninsula, is Fatih (faht-ih). Fatih is the most conservative neighborhood of Istanbul: not many tourists, most of the women wear hijabs, and the noisy bustle of Istanbul is noticeably absent from the quiet, peaceful streets here. Soccer games bounce off cinder block walls and an occasional wood-frame building leans anciently over the street. However, the city’s modern hum resumes not twenty minutes walking distance towards the Golden Horn or Taksim.

The walls stretch along the dotted line – more or less – from Haliç Bridge to Yedikul Fortress, enclosing essentially all of the old part of the city. The star marks Sultanahmet, the most touristy area. The Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cisterns, and more are all in that area.

Map of the old walls of Istanbul

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