Istanbul land walls, Old City walls, Theodosian Wall, and Walls of Constantinople are all popular names for the ancient ramparts constructed nearly two millennia ago to defend this great city.
Known by many names, the Istanbul walls are not yet widely known to mass tourism.
A relative few, however, seem to make it beyond the boundaries of Sultanahmet (i.e. the Old City), or are even aware that physical remnants of the ancient Istanbul walls not only exist, but offer a unique and unforgettable way to dive deeper into Istanbul’s past, present, and future.
Istanbul Walls Essentials
|START:||Golden Horn Park (Haliç Parkı) / Ayvansaray Ferry Stop. GPS: 41°2'18.716"N 28°56'32.302"E|
|END:||International Peace Park (Uluslararası Barış Parkı). GPS: 40°59'21.902"N 28°55'8.681"E|
|HIKE TYPE:||Urban Point-to-Point|
|DISTANCE:||7 km (4.35 mi)|
|ELEVATION GAIN:||70 m (256 ft)|
|EXPOSURE||Largely exposed to the elements. Prepare accordingly.|
|KID FRIENDLY?:||The walk on surface streets is child-friendly. However, exercise extreme caution when climbing/walking on ramparts with children.|
What Are the Istanbul Land Walls?
Constantinople (Istanbul’s former Byzantine name) was once a heavily fortified city on a peninsula.
Shortly after the founding of the city in 330 A.D., work began on a series of land walls to the west, where the peninsula joins the European continent.
The walls were constructed for the usual purposes of keeping invading marauders out–and the good times in.
A century later, the Theodosian Wall was constructed farther to the west, enlarging the city significantly.
We walked along remaining stretches of the Theodosian land wall, which was constructed in the 5th century, A.D.
Much of the original wall is either in poor shape or no longer exists. However, a handful of pockets of ramparts and fortresses have survived, some having been beautifully preserved and/or restored.
Together, these make up what is known today as the Istanbul walls (or Land Walls).
Why Visit the Istanbul Walls?
The Istanbul walls cut through a fascinating area of the city that differs significantly from the primary tourist centers, lending a far different perspective on daily life in this city of 15 million. Climbing the land walls, however, was the highlight of our trek (yes, you can even climb the ramparts in some sections!), offering stunning views of the massive sprawl that is Istanbul in the 21st century.
From the top of the ramparts, you can see all the way to Levent and Maslak, Istanbul’s two booming financial districts which are located some ten kilometers (six miles) to the northeast and are virtually invisible from the Old City. Istanbul is so sprawled out that it’s hard to fathom anyone ever coming close to exploring it all in a lifetime.
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What to Expect
Depending on where you start and end, you’re likely to come across several well-preserved and restored forts and structures, a handful of museums, and gift shops.
Many of the restored sections of the wall are even open for climbing, often via steep stone stairs, for a bird’s eye view of this sprawling city.
You will also find some very rundown and dilapidated sections of the wall as well, that are off-limits to visitors.
Also expect to encounter interesting and unique neighborhoods and other quirky points of interest along the way.
While exploring the ancient land walls, we came across a coffee shop, perfectly positioned to take advantage of all two of the wall’s visitors (us) on this particular day.
The coffee was excellent, and the ambiance was even better, with seating in one of the old alcoves formed by a particularly large portion of the ramparts.
We only came across two other wall explorers at the height of summer during our four-hour journey — a couple of young Turkish guys who seemed far more keen on snapping epic selfies than on the ruins themselves.
Other than that, we had the entire wall to ourselves.
With the exception of the cats, of course…
Lots and lots of cats everywhere in Istanbul.
One local attributed the abundance of felines to the predominant Muslim culture, as cats are revered in Islam.
The scene above appears worse than it actually is. The cats seem to be confined, but to a very large series of chambers of an old fortress complex with plenty of room to roam.
They also appear to be healthy and well fed. Now, why there are so many of them enclosed in this particularly area, no one could say.
In addition to the amazing views and unique interaction with physical history, walking the length of the Istanbul walls also offers a glimpse into the city’s meteoric rate of gentrification.
Our route began in a relatively run down area of town, but within blocks transformed into brand new luxury townhouses with high-end supermarkets, restaurants, and other fashionable amenities.
In many ways, exploring the land walls is a perfect way to wrap up a stay in Istanbul, immersing yourself in the city’s ancient past while gaining insight into Istanbul’s future.
How to Visit the Land Walls
Visiting and walking along the Istanbul Land Walls is fairly straightforward, and only costs the price of a ferry ticket or taxi to get you there.
We took the ferry to Golden Horn Park (Haliç Parkı) / Ayvansaray Ferry Stop at the northernmost point of the land walls, where the walls meet the Golden Horn.
Alternatively, you can take the Marmaray rail to Kazlıçeşme İstasyonu station and start at the southernmost point, or a taxi to any point in between, depending on how many different sections of the wall you wish to see, or how long you plan to walk.
The entire stretch of wall from the Golden Horn to the Sea of Marmara is about 7km.
See table above for GPS coordinates and other helpful information.
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