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The Flow of Time

James Crow on Istanbul’s amazing system of aqueducts

  • Kurşunlugerme Aqueduct, Thrace

For great cities size matters, and for cities like Byzantine Constantinople, almost totally obscured beneath the Ottoman and modern city of Istanbul, the scale of the past glory is rarely glimpsed through the majesty of monumental buildings such as Justinian’s Ayasofya, and from the relics of the imperial hippodrome, the Land Walls and the recently excavated Theodosian harbour at Yeni Kapı. To appreciate the Byzantine city requires effort and imagination.

Astride one of the old city’s main boulevards, like a comb parting the constant lines of traffic, the multi-arched Aqueduct of Valens (Bozdoğan Kemeri) is among the longest Roman aqueduct bridges known, only 29 metres short of a full kilometre in length. Built in the 4th century to carry water from the fourth to the third hill of the city, it is the most obvious surviving element of the new water supply system constructed for the expanding metropolis. This was the vital link for water to flow towards the Forum of Theodosius, where there was a great fountain, and from where water channels led throughout the new city, terminating at the huge underground cistern of a Thousand and One Columns (Binbirdirek). The better-known Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayı) was built by Justinian but filled by the Hadrianic aqueduct. At least 170 cisterns are known from the Byzantine city. Many are far smaller, but others located towards the Theodosian Walls were vast open-air reservoirs later used as market gardens, playgrounds or football stadiums. Strange as it might seem, the remains of water systems far exceed any other category of surviving monument known from the Byzantine city.

Where did this water come from, and how was it channelled? For the past 20 years Turkish water engineers and British archaeologists have been investigating the sources and courses, with some amazing results. Constantinople was the largest city in the ancient world by the 5th century, and the network of channels and bridges in Thrace stood comparison with the 11 aqueducts of ancient Rome.

Waters for a New Capital: The Water Supply of Byzantine Constantinople. The Research Centre for Anatolian Studies, Istanbul, November 9 – March 1

To read the full article, purchase Issue 48

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Issue 48, Autumn 2012 Rural Treasures
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Other Highlights from Cornucopia 48
  • The Diving Diva

    John Carswell pays tribute to his friend Honor Frost, doyenne of underwater archaeology

  • Harem Secrets

    The landmark 2012 exhibition at the Tokpapı Palace, and the sumptuous book that accompanied it.

  • A Brave New World

    They were stigmatised and despised, and eventually they were closed down. But what would Turkey be today without the Village Institutes, its bravest educational revolution, and the young people they empowered? Maureen Freely tells the moving story of the institutes, the subject of a new book and exhibition

  • Clerical Error

    The lethal mischief of Canon MacColl, by David Barchard

  • Socialite, Traveller, Scholar, Spy…

    The Istanbul diaries of Gertrude Bell, now available online, reveal her astonishing transformation from socialite to scholar and political observer. By Robert Ousterhout

  • Pomp and Perfidy

    As Turkey and the Netherlands celebrate 400 years of diplomatic relations, Henk Boom highlights the twenty turbulent years that Frederik Gijsbert, Baron van Dedem spent as ambassador to Constantinople

  • Simply Sufi

    Simple on the outside, some wooden village mosques had an added portico reminiscent of galleries opening onto the courtyards of private houses in the region. Inside, pillared halls and colourful painting on the wooden structure and on the walls make for a warm, joyful space. Photographs by Tarkan Kutlu

  • Sanctuary of the Sultans

    Abdülhamid I and Osman III’s private quarters in the Topkapı. Photographed by Fritz von der Schulenburg

  • The Man who Rescued Hadrian

    Sagalassos, the remote site in southern Turkey where a giant statue of Emperor Hadrian was discovered five years ago, is the driving passion of Marc Waelkens. The Belgian archaeologist, whose new book is now available from Cornucopia, talks to Thomas Roueché about his pioneering work as director of excavations

  • Fruit of the Gods

    The best table grapes in Istanbul are the fragrant, delicate skinned çavuş from the northern Aegean island of Bozcaada, ancient Tenedos, and the sweet sultaniye grapes from around Izmir.

  • Muted World

    Maggie Quigley-Pınar describes a book of photographs that evoke the spirit an almost-forgotten modern era: Istanbul in the 1970s

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Issue 48, Autumn 2012 Rural Treasures
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