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Kontoskalion- Harbour of Julian/Sophia
Current Name
Ancient Name
Medieval Name
History of the name

The ancient name of the city , Byzantium ( The place of -Byzas) derived from the name of the leader of Megarans who founded the city on 7th century BC. Afterwards during the 4th century city renamed as Constantinople (the city of- Constantinus)  after the founder of  Byzantine Empire; Constantinus I.   

Place :

Geopolitical Unit
Marmara Region
Administrative subdivision
İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality
Located in northwestern of Turkey within the Marmara region of Turkey. Medieval city is known to be founded on Sarayburnu promontory called as the “historic peninsula” bounded by Golden Horn, a natural harbor dividing the city.
Foudation Date
7th century BC.
Current condition
Istanbul is the largest city forming the economic and cultural center of the country with its population currently more than 12 millions. Being a transcontinental city Istanbul divided by the Bosphorus strait which is one of the world’s busiest waterways crossing between city’s European and Asiatic sides.

The settlement history of the city dates back to Neolithic period. Recent salvage excavations at Istanbul’s Yenikapı district revealed the oldest settlement (ca.6500 BC). at historic peninsula of the city where the ancient and medieval cities were once situated. The prehistoric settlements such as Fikirtepe and Yarımburgaz are also known within today’s Istanbul region.
Prior to the foundation of ancient city, a small village called Lygos founded by Thracian tribes on 13th century BC was situated on Sarayburnu promontory. In 668 BC, Greek colonists from the city of Megara founded a trading colony at the same location. The city’s unique location controlling the waterway linking Black Sea and Mediterranean via Aegean and also serving as the shortest crossing point between Europe and Asia continents, played important role in the development of the city.
The city took over by Persians in 513 BC during the march  famous Persian King Darius’ army towards Thrace. When the Persian army defeated by Spartans in 479 BC the city controlled by Spartans for a short time and then included the Delian League led by Athenians. The city was conquered by Alexander the Great soon after his father Phillip’s unsuccesful siege of Byzantium. By the end of Hellensitic period Byzantium came under Roman control. Afterwards the city involved the Roman civil war by supporting Pescennius against Septimus Severus who emerged victorious from this rivalry. Septimus Severus revenged upon Byzantium by massacring the inhabitants and razing city walls. Considering the city’s strategic position he then reconstructed the walls and enlarged the city.     
By the decline of Roman Empire during the 4th century, the center of the empire was no longer safe as a result of the threat by the northern European tribes. Emperor Constantine proclaimed Byzantium as the new capital on 11 May 330 and rebuild the city according to the Roman model. The city dedicated to be Nea Roma, but soon after it became to be called Constantinople. The empire expanded until the 7th century and the capital was the center of known world at that time. The empire held the control most of the Mediterranean  and Black Sea region. the empire reached its peak during the reign of Justinian who was also the founder of  mighty Haghia Sophia cathedral. He also conducted second largest building programme along Constantinople. However city suffered from plaque epidemic which which caused the loss of one third of the empire’s population. Between 6th and 11th centuries city beseiged several times by Persians, Avars, Arabs and Bulgarians but the city walls none were able to capture the city. In 1204 Crusaders sacked the city and held the control until 1261 when the  Michael VIII Palaeologus retook it.
In 1453 Ottoman siege ended up with the fall of the city and a new period began in the city’s history. Ottoman Empire rebuilt the city and held it until World War I. Today the silhouette of the city contains magnificent examples of Ottoman architecture.


Istanbul has always been one of the most important cities of the Mediterranean world. The city served as the capital of three former empires- Late Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman- throughout history. Considerable  number of archaeological remains and monuments from the Medieval period survived. Visitors of the city enjoys historic remains and monuments mostly situated where locals called “historic peninsula” which surrounded by the old city walls. Sultanahmet area offering architectural masterpieces from Byzantine and Ottoman periods such as Haghia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Topkapı Palace is the heart of historic peninsula. Other must-see places include one of the oldest shopping center in the world; Grand Bazaar, Spice (Egyptian) Bazaar and several other monuments along the Golden Horn; a natural harbor bounding the historic peninsula. Among the medieval monuments of the city, Haghia Sophia deserves a special attention as the main cathedral of the imperial capital and also as a magnificent still standing example of the world’s architectural heritage. The cathedral first built on 360 then destroyed by a fire and rebuilt on 415 during the reign of Theodosius II. Second cathedral was damaged during the Nike uprising. Today’s lofty domed cathedral was built on 537 during the Byzantine emperor Justinian. It was one of the largest man made structures of the era. Its vaulted nave  was greater than the all vaulted interiors of antiquity and medieval ages. For nearly a millennia the cathedral served as the center of Constantinople’s religious life, in fact as the heart of eastern christendom and as the patriarchal seat. The cathedral converted to a mosque in 1453 during the Ottoman period. In 1934 it is converted to a museum and opened to touristic visits. Important surviving medieval monuments of the city are mostly churches some of which were converted to mosques and are still in use today, some other were converted to museums or other facilities. These churches are;
• Hag. Andrea en te Krisei (Kocamustafa Paşa Mosque)
• Atik Mustafa Paşa Mosque (Byzantine name is unknown)
• Christ of the Chora (Kariye Mosque-now museum)
• The Church of Pantepoptes (Eski İmaret Mosque)
• The Church of Christos Pantokrator (Zeyrek Mosque)
• Hag. Eirene (now museum)
• Gül Mosque (Byzantine name is speculative, St. Thedosia?)
• St. John the Baptist of the Stoudios (İmrahor İlyas Bey Mosque)
• Hag. Ioannes Prodromos en to Troullo (Ahmet Paşa Mosque)
• Manastır Mescidi-İsa Kapısı Mescidi-İbrahim Paşa Mescidi (Byzantine name is unknown)
• Kalenderhane Mosque (Byzantine name is speculative-The Church of Akataleptos or Diaconissa?)
• Kasım Ağa Mescidi (Byzantine name is unknown)
• Kefeli Mecidi (Byzantine name is speculative-The Monastery of Manuel?)
• Manastır Mescidi (Byzantine name is unknown)
• Mangana Churches
• Hag. Menas
• Bodrum Mosque (Myrelaion)
• Odalar Mosque (Byzantine name is unknown)
• Hag. Polyeuktos
• Sancaktar Hayreddin Mescidi (Byzantine name is speculative, Monastery of Gastria?)
• Küçük Ayasofya Mosque (Hag. Sergios kai Backhos en tois Hermisdou)
• Şeyh Süleyman Mescidi (Byzantine name is unknown)
• Acem Ağa Mescidi (Theotokos ton Chalkopreteion)
• Fenari İsa Mosque (Theotokos tou Libos and Hag.Ioannes Prodromos tou Libos )
• Fethiye Mosque (Theotokos he Pammakaristos, now one part (chapel) of the church is a museum )
• Theotokos Panagia Mougliotissa
• Topkapı Palace Basilica (Byzantine name is unknown)
• Vefa Kilise Mosque (Byzantine name is speculative, St. Theodore?)
Apart from the churches and monasteries there are several  archaeological remains of the medieval monuments. The remains of  medieval “hippodrome” can be seen at the center of historic peninsula.(Sultanahmet region) Recent archaeological excavations (known as “Büyük Saray Excavations)  by Istanbul Archaeology Museums uncovered a large portion of the “Great Palace” (Palatium Magnum) of Byzantine Empire. The excavations are currently stopped and an archaeopark project has been prepared in order to open site to the public visit. Another medieval palace,  Palace of Constantine Porphyrogenitus (Tekfur Sarayı) is situated at Fatih/Edirnekapı district and can be visited today. Other  important examples of medieval monuments are Valens aqueduct , Binbirdirek cistern, Basilica (Yerebatan) Cistern, Zeyrek Cistern at Fatih district, Column of Constantin (Çemberlitaş) and the Thedosian walls enclosed the old city. Beyoğlu district also offers medieval monuments such as Galata tower where a Genoese colony were settled  during the later medieval period.  


The city of Constantinople rapidly grew during the 4th century after being the imperial capital. The harbor facilities on the Golden Horn were no longer sufficient to meet the growing demands of increasing population. As a measure new harbor facility was started to build during the reign of emperor Julian (361-363 AD) on the Marmara shore of the city. It is widely accepted as the first artificial harbor of the city.  According to Notitia Urbis Constantinopolitanae the new harbor was situated in the third region of Constantinople, modern Kumkapı distict and referred as portus novus. The harbor mentioned as the biggest harbor of Constantinople, megistos limen, by Zosimus. The harbour was a crescent or sigma shaped, portico styled structure. A statue of emperor Julian stood in the harbor until damaged by an earthquake in 535 AD and then replaced by a cross. The harbor was dredged at the order of  emperor Anastasius I around 500 AD and secured by a mole structure. An extensive renovation work was carried out during the reign of Justin II (565-578 AD) and the harbor was renamed after his wife Sophia who said to be asked her husband to renovate harbor after seeing sailors struggling with the heavy conditions in a stormy weather from the terrace of her palace. Her statute, together with Justin II and their daughters’ were erected in the harbor. The harbor was the main center of maritime trade of the city between 6th-11th centuries. At the same period the vicinity of the harbor also known as a desirable place where aristocratic houses stands. Theofanes the Confessor mentioned that the vicinity and the harbour suffered from the fire set by Nike rioters in the 6th century. The harbor was called as Kontoskalion at later periods, after the name of one its gates. After the restoration of  by emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (1261-1282) and his son Andronikos (1282-1328) harbor served as the naval base of the empire which had a capacity of  300 galleys. The harbor was dredged again in 1427 at the order of   John VII Palaeologos and it is also used during the Ottoman period of the city. The remains of its breakwater were still visible until 20th century but today the remains are completely silted.  


The great fortification system of the city was first established on 7th century BC enclosing a smaller area where the Topkapı Palace and Haghia Sophia stands today. This wall destroyed by Septimus Severus in 146 BC and soon after rebuilt again. 3rd phase of the fortification realized during the reign of Constantinus I. He enlarged the city walls towards the west. The today’s city walls were built during the reign of Theodossius II (408-450). The fortification system system is about 19 km with 50 gates from Sarayburnu to Yedikule along the Marmara coast, from Yedikule to Ayvansaray and Golden Horn coast. The fortification has been restored several times during the later Byzantine and Ottoman periods and survived to date.       

Medieval Sites

• Topkapı Palace Museum
• Hagia Sophia Museum
• Istanbul Archaeological Museums
• Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
• Haghia Irene Museum
• Chora Museum
• Istanbul Mosaic Museum
• Rumelihisarı Museum
• Anadoluhisarı Museum
• Yedikulehisarı Museum
• Fethiye Museum (Pammakaristos)
• Istanbul Modern
• Rahmi M. Koç Museum
• Sadberk Hanım Msseum
• Sakıp Sabancı Museum
• Pera Museum
• Küçük Ayasofya Museum
• Asiyan Museum
• Calligraphy Museum
• The Ataturk Museum
• Museum of Painting and Sculpture
• Carpet and Kilim Museum
• Press Museum
• Divan Literature Museum
• Santralistanbul Energy & Arts Museum
• Islamic Sciences & Technology History Museum
• Borusan Contemporary Museum
• Rezan Has Museum
• Ottoman Bank Museum
• Is Bank Museum
• Leyla Gencer Museum
• Dogancay Museum
• Museum of Innocence
• Miniaturk
• Toy Museum
• PTT (Postal Service) Museum
• Panorama 1453 History Museum
• Museum of the Princes' Islands
• Photograpy Museum
• Naval Museum
• Military Museum
• Aviation Museum
• SAV Automobile Museum
• Huseyin Rahmi Gurpinar Museum
• Adam Mickiewicz Museum
• Vedat Nedim Tor Museum


Textual Sources

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Scriptores Originum Constantinopolitanarum. 1975, Ed. Theodore Preger. New York: Arno Press,. Vol. 1. and 2.

Chronicon Paschale 284-628 A.D. 2007, Trans. Mary Whitby and Michael Whitby. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

The Miracles of St. Artemius: A Collection of Miracle Stories by an Anonymous Author of Seventh-Century Byzantium. 1997, Leiden: The Medieval Mediterrenean.

Codex Theodosianus: The Theodosian Code and Novels, and the Sirmondian Constitutions. 1952 Trans. Clyde Pharr, Theresa Sherrer Davidson and Mary Brown Pharr. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press

Notitia Urbis Constantinopolitanae. 1876, Ed. and trans. Otto Seeck. Berlin,.

Constantinople in the Early Eighth Century: The Parastaseis Syntomoi Chronikai. 1984, Ed. and trans. Averil Cameron and Judith Herrin.Leiden.

Benjamin of Tudela. Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela. 1907, Trans M.N. Adler. Oxford: University Press.

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Evagrius Scholasticus, 2000. The Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius Scholasticus. Trans.Michaeil Whitby. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

George Akropolites. 2007, The History. Trans. Ruth Macrides. New York: Oxford University Press.

Leo the Deacon. The History of Leo the Deacon: Byzantine Military Expansion inthe Tenth Century. Trans. Alice-Mary Talbot and Denis F. Sullivan.Washington, D.C. : Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection,2005.

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Procopius. On Buildings. Trans. H. B. Dewing and Glanville Downey. The Loeb Classical Library: Harvard Universtiy Press, 2006.

Stephen of Novgorod. Russian Travelers to Constantinople in The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries. Ed. and Trans. George Majeska. Washington, D.C.:Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1984.

Stephanus of Byzantium. Ethnica. Ed. Margarethe Billerbeck, adiuvantibus Jan Felix Gaertner, Beatrice Wyss, Christian Zubler. Vol.1. Berolini: W. De Gruyter, 2006.

Theophanes the Confessor. The Chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor:Byzantine and Near Eastern History, AD 284-813. Trans. Cyril Mango and Roger Scott. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.



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Visual Material

(plans, maps, photos etc from the city and the harbor)

Writer / Date
Ufuk Kocabaş-Evren Türkmenoğlu, May 2013
This website has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of European Centre for Byzantine and Post-Byzantine monuments and can in no way reflect the views of the European Union