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Great Palace of Constantinople

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A scene from the scroll border of the Great Palace Mosaic, a mosaic floor of scenes from daily
life and mythology in a hall of yet unidentified uses and controversial date.

One of the piers from the Great Palace, kept in the Istanbul Archaeological Museums

The Byzantine Great Palace of Constantinople, (Greek: Μέγα Παλάτιον, Turkish: Büyük
Saray), also known as the Sacred Palace (Latin: sacrum palatium, Greek: Ιερόν Παλάτιον), was
a large palace complex, located in the south-eastern end of the peninsula where the city lies. It
served as main residence of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine emperors from 330 to 1081 and was
the centre of imperial administration for over 800 years.


• 1 History
• 2 Description
• 3 References
• 4 Literature
• 5 External links

[edit] History
When Constantine I moved the Roman capital to Constantinople in 330, he planned out a palace
for himself and his heirs. The palace was located between the Hippodrome and Hagia Sophia. It
was rebuilt and expanded several times, especially under the emperors Justinian I and

Until the early 13th century, the Great Palace served as the primary administrative and
ceremonial centre of the city, although from the early Comnenian era the palace of Blachernae
was favoured as an imperial residence. During the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade,
the Palace was plundered by the soldiers of Boniface of Montferrat. Although the subsequent
Latin emperors continued to use the Palace complex, they lacked money for its maintenance. The
last Latin emperor, Baldwin II, went as far as removing the lead roofs of the Palace and selling

Consequently, when the city was retaken by the forces of Michael VIII Palaeologus in 1261, the
Great Palace was in a bad state. The Palaeologus emperors largely abandoned it, ruling from
Blachernae, so that when Mehmed II entered the city in 1453, he discovered it to be ruined and
abandoned. As he wandered its empty halls and pavilions, he allegedly whispered a quote from
the Persian poet, Ferdowsi:

"The spider spins his web in the Palace of the Caesars,

An owl hoots in the towers of Afrasiyab." [1]

Much of the palace was demolished in the general rebuilding of Constantinople in the early years
of the Ottoman era. However, an early 20th century fire uncovered a section of the Great Palace.
On this site prison cells, many large rooms, and possibly tombs were found. Contemporary
excavations are continuing in Istanbul on the Great Palace. So far, less than one quarter of the
total area covered by the palace has been excavated; total excavation is not feasible since the
Sultan Ahmed Mosque and its adjoining buildings cover some of the area. Most of the unearthed
mosaics have been housed in the Great Palace Mosaic Museum.

[edit] Description
Map of the administrative heart of Constantinople. The structures of the Great Palace are shown
in their approximate position as derived from literary sources. Surviving structures are in black.

The Palace was located in the southeastern corner of the peninsula where Constantinople is
situated, behind the Hippodrome and the Hagia Sophia. The Palace is considered by scholars to
have been a series of pavilions, much like the Ottoman-era Topkapı Palace that succeeded it. The
total surface area of the Great Palace exceeded 200,000 square feet (19,000 m2).

The main entrance to the Palace quarter was the Chalke gate at the Augustaion. The Augustaion
was located on the south side of the Hagia Sophia, and it was there that the city's main street, the
Mese ("Middle Street"), began. To the east of the square lay the Senate house or Palace of
Magnaura, where the University was later housed, and to the west the Milion (the mile marker,
from which all distances were measured), and the old Baths of Zeuxippus.

Immediately behind the Chalke Gate, facing southwards, were the barracks of the Palace Guards,
the Scholae. After the barracks stood the reception hall of the 19 Accubita ("Nineteen Couches"),
followed by the Palace of Daphne, in early Byzantine times the main imperial residence. It
included the Octagon, the emperor's bedchamber. From the Daphne, a passage led directly to the
imperial box (kathisma) in the Hippodrome. The main throne room was the Chrysotriklinos, built
by Justin II, and expanded and renovated by Basil I. To its north lay the Triconchos palace, built
by the emperor Theophilos and accessible through a semicircular antechamber known as the
Sigma. To the east of the Triconchos lay the lavishly decorated Nea Ekklesia ("New Church"),
built by Basil I, with five gilded domes. The church survived until after the Ottoman conquest. It
was used as a gunpowder magazine and exploded when it was struck by lightning in 1490.
Between the church and the sea walls lay the polo field of the Tzykanisterion.
Further to the south, detached from the main complex lay the seaside palace of Bucoleon. It was
built by Theophilos, incorporating parts of the sea walls, and used extensively until the 13th
century, especially during the Latin Empire (1204-1261) whose Catholic emperors from Western
Europe favoured the seaside palace. A seaward gate gave direct access to the imperial harbour of

[edit] References
1. ^ Necipoğlu, Gülru (1991). Architecture, ceremonial, and power: The Topkapi Palace in
the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press. p. 3.
ISBN 0-262-14050-0.

[edit] Literature
• Freely, John; Ahmet S. Cakmak (2004). The Byzantine Monuments of Istanbul.
Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-77257-0.
• Harris, Jonathan (2007). Constantinople: Capital of Byzantium. Hambledon Continuum,
pp. 59-83. ISBN 978-1-84725-179-4.
• Paspates, Alexandros Georgios (2001). The Great Palace of Constantinople. Boston,
MA: Adamant Media Corporation. ISBN 978-1402176661.
• Cyril Mango: The Brazen house: a study of the vestibule of the Imperial Palace of
Constantinople (Kopenhagen 1959).
• Cyril Mango: The Palace of Marina, the Poet Palladas and the Bath of Leo VI. In: E.
Kypraiou (Hrsg.), Eufrosynon: Afieroma ston Manoli Hatzidaki (Athens 1991), pp. 321-
• Cyril Mango: Ancient Spolia in the Great Palace of Constantinople. In: Byzantine East,
Latin West: Art-Historical Studies in Honor of Kurt Weitzmann (Princeton 1995), pp.
• Jonathan Bardill: The Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors and the Walker Trust
Excavations. In: Journal of Roman Archaeology 12 (1999), pp. 216-230.
Since 2003 reconstruction of Great Palace is going on with the help of Jan
Kostenec from Czech Republic. These reconstructions are based on his
ideas. All parts of Great palace will be reconstructed until 2005. The
following images are a few samples to give an idea about the work. Please
do not use the images for any purpose.

Chalke was first built in the late fifth century as a monumental entrance to the great
palace. It was destroyed by fire in 532 and subsequently rebuilt with a monumental
blind dome. In the early tenth century, a small chapel was set on the top of it. This
chapel was replaced by a triconch church in the time of Ioannes Tzimiskes (969-
976) in which some important relics were kept. Since the centre of the Great Palace
shifted to the south of the area (Boukoleon Palace) which was entered usually
through the gate under the Kathisma in the hippodrome, the Chalke Gate lost its old
function, but continued to exist. In ottoman times, it served as a menagery and was
demolished only in 1804.
Hippodrome (196-330) and The Great Palace (324-337) Hippodrome of Constantinople (196-
330) was initially built by the Roman emperor Septimius Severus and later enlarged by the
Roman emperor Constantine The Great

Spina (the long wall dividing the racing track, with columns and obelisks) was
embellished by the Roman emperor Theodosius The Great, who brought the obelisk
of Thutmosis III from Karnak, Egypt, and the Delphi Tripod from Delphi, Greece
Late Roman statue inside the Great Palace
An earlier Roman statue head

A long corridor with arches and vaults (seen in the background)

The Great Palace is so huge that it will take many years to complete the restoration
works and open it for the visit of tourists (right now you can only see the floor
New York Times article published when the most important sections of The Great
Palace were discovered in 1998

Is This the Secret Heart of the Byzantine Empire?

By STEPHEN KINZER. New York Times, Monday, July 27, 1998

Nearly a thousand years after it was lost to history, Turkish archeologists have
apparently found ruins of the Great Palace from which Byzantine emperors ruled
much of the known world.

The archeologists were cleaning an underground Ottoman chamber one day in April
when they noticed a narrow corridor filled with dirt and debris. Crawling through it
with mounting excitement they quickly realized that they were looking not at
Ottoman ruins but at something much older.

''It is wonderful, one of the most important finds in many years,'' Erendiz Ozbayoglu,
a professor of classical languages at Istanbul University, said last week. ''We knew
the palace existed, and we have hundreds of books and manuscripts describing it.
Now, after all this time, we are actually going to be able to see it. It's very, very

Archeologists involved in the excavation are not certain which part of the sprawling
palace complex they have uncovered, but believe that one room they found may
have served as a library or archive. Its arching wall is decorated with floral and
geometric patterns. A thousand years have not dimmed the vivid green, yellow and
red pigment.

The palace may become a major tourist attraction when it is fully excavated, but
that is likely to take several years.

''What we have found is most probably the Great Palace,'' said Alpay Pasinli,
director of the Istanbul Archeological Museum, who is overseeing the excavation.

''When we reached the room with the fresco, we stared at it for a long time,'' he
said. ''To see something that no one has laid eyes on for so many centuries is quite
an emotional experience.''

Constantine the Great built the core of the Great Palace after he made this city the
capital of the Roman Empire in A.D. 330, and work continued intermittently for eight
centuries. The palace was home to more than 50 Byzantine emperors and the stage
for countless intrigues, some of which decided the fate of nations. It was filled with
wondrous furnishings, among them a tree of gilded bronze and matching gilded
lions equipped with machines that enabled them to roar and beat the ground with
their tails.

''The throne itself was so contrived that at one moment it stood low on the ground
and the next moment it would suddenly be raised high in the air,'' an Italian
Ambassador reported in 949.

Constantinople, built on top of the ancient Greek city Byzantium, was devastated by
fires in the 12th century and then plundered by Crusaders in 1204. Later, after it
was captured by the Ottoman Turks, a new palace called Topkapi was built.

The newly discovered ruins are just outside the Topkapi walls and across the street
from the majestic Hagia Sophia, which for centuries was the largest and most
important church in Christendom, but after 1453 a mosque and now a museum.

A dozen stone steps lead down to the excavation. The corridor leading to the newly
discovered rooms is about 4 feet wide and 100 feet long. Halfway down its length,
delicate red bricks typical of the Ottoman period give way to the large marble
blocks and swirling masonry patterns associated with Byzantine architecture.