The Watch

Historic Walls of Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey

2008 World Monuments Watch

Stretching along the Golden Horn to the Sea of Marmara, the fortified walls of Istanbul protected the city from the early Byzantine period to the fifteenth century. Completed under Theodosius II, the walls surpassed those built by earlier emperors. An amalgam of Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader construction techniques and additions, the fortifications comprise a moat wall, a front wall, and a main wall. During the Ottoman period, damaged sections of the walls were restored and new towers were added. Following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the walls were appropriated and adapted for use as work sites, warehouses, small factories, and residences. The walls are considered some of the most remarkable standing remains from the ancient Mediterranean world. An earthquake in 1894 damaged the walls, and with the troubled times of the late Ottoman Empire followed by two World Wars, there was little funding to support repairs. Sections have been restored in a piecemeal fashion and, in places, with inappropriate materials, but the walls as a whole are in dire need of conservation. The biggest risk to their survival is the lack of a comprehensive plan to guide their long-term preservation and interpretation. The conditions of the walls were among the factors that led to the consideration of the Historic Areas of Istanbul—a World Heritage Site—for inclusion in the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2006. The UNESCO committee decided, however, to allow the Turkish government more time to develop conservation strategies for the walls before placing Historic Istanbul on the World Heritage List in Danger. It is hoped that Watch listing will help to encourage this effort and highlight the importance of saving the walls. Last update: 2008

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