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A Walk Along the Land Walls – Day One

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Stretching for six kilometers from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn, the Land Walls of Theodosius II protected Constantinople from invaders for over a thousand years… until the arrival of the Ottomans and their giant cannons in 1453. The walls have survived largely intact to the present day, and walking along them is an exciting way to see a different side of Istanbul.

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We started at the Marble Tower, marking the southern end of the walls at the Sea of Marmara. The tower provides a good idea of what to expect from the rest of the fortifications: impressive despite the ruinous state, and able to be climbed… although the piles of trash and human poop should discourage comprehensive exploration. The walls, with their towers and protected nooks and crannies, make attractive shelters for vagrants; they’re fine during the day, but we kept away from dark corners and would suggest avoiding the walls entirely after dusk.

From the Marble Tower, we crossed the busy Kennedy Highway to begin our journey north. Throughout the day, we’d have to cross a number of roads, and would switch from walking either inside or outside of the walls, depending upon where the most accessible sidewalk happened to be. Occasionally, the easiest path was on top of the walls themselves.

Climbing-In-Istanbul

The Walls of Theodosius II were originally constructed in 417, but destroyed 40 years later by a massive earthquake. Bad timing, since Attila the Hun was marching towards Constantinople at that very moment. In a panic, the city recruited everyone to assist in the rebuilding effort, and new fortifications were ready within two months. These new walls consisted of three separate layers and 96 towers and were unbreachable by 5th century military technology. Attila didn’t even try.

We had an incredible time walking along the walls, especially in the sections where we could clamber up to the top and gain a view over the city. There was plenty to see along the way. The old neighborhood of Yedikule, parks, mosques, ancient gates like the Belgrade Kapı, and museums.

West of the wall’s Silivri Gate, we found a path leading through a cemetery to the Zoodochos Pege, an old Orthodox Church that harbors a sacred spring. After exploring the courtyard, we followed marble stairs into the basement where the spring is found, complete with fish swimming around in the holy water. According to legend, a monk was frying fish in a pan, when he was told that the Turks had breached the nearby walls. Disbelieving, the monk scoffed that this was “as likely as the fish in my pan returning to life”. Which they promptly did, jumping from his pan into the spring where they remain to this day. To the Turks, the Zoodochos Pege is known as the Church of the Fish (Balıklı Kilise).

At six kilometers in length, it’s easy to walk along the entire length of the walls in a single day, but by the time we’d reached the halfway point at the Topkapı tram stop, we were exhausted, and decided to save the second half for another time.

Locations on our Istanbul Map: Marble Tower | Belgrade Gate | Zoodochos Pege

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May 1, 2013 at 4:34 pm Comments (4)

The Military Museum and Mehter Band

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Whether fighting for the Ottoman Empire or the modern Republic, the Turkish war machine has a long and storied past, and it’s all breathlessly recounted in the Military Museum near Taksim Square. While visiting the museum, it’s almost compulsory to take in a performance of history’s most famous military musical squad: the Mehter Band.

Giant-Turkish-Canon

The Military Museum is huge. That’s the first thing we noticed during our visit — the collection of weapons, paintings, stories, artifacts, and dioramas is overwhelming, and only the most dedicated army enthusiast is going to be able to fully appreciate the museum’s depth. For us, it was enough to amble through, stopping when an especially cool gun or painting caught our eye.

If you limited your knowledge of history to the information provided by the museum, you’d probably conclude that the world has never seen a fighting force like the Turkish military. Undefeated throughout the ages! The museum revels in one glorious victory after the other… and only the victories. We couldn’t find a single word about any defeat or setback.

But were it dedicated to a sober and accurate analysis of the past, the museum wouldn’t be as popular. We were shocked by the number of people visiting, almost all of them locals. We eavesdropped on a guy relating the magnificent details of the 1521 Battle of Belgrade to his non-Turkish (and visibly bored) girlfriend, and tailed two older gentlemen who were perhaps a bit too fascinated by the pistol collection. And when we sat down in the auditorium for the Mehter Band’s performance, I could scarcely believe my eyes. The hall seats at least 1000, and was completely full.

Mether-Band-March

Established in the 13th Century, the Mehters were history’s first military band, formed to inspire Ottoman forces and instill fear in their enemies. They’re the inspiration for a musical style in Spain called “a la turca“, as well as Mozart’s famous Turkish March, and led to the formation of similar military bands throughout Europe.

But the days of marching into a field of battle are long since past, and the Mehter Band now exists only to thrill the crowds at the Military Museum. Their performance was pretty good, even for those of us without much interest in martial music. Very loud. The crew which marched out onto the stage was 55 strong and consisted of only a few flutes and trumpets. The rest were drummers and singers. And every man in the band had a full, bushy mustache, although half of these were glued-on.

Even if your interest in Turkish military history is lacking, the museum is worth the price of entrance just for the spectacle of a standing-room-only crowd thrilling to marching music performed by guys in fake mustaches. Not something you’re likely to see anywhere else.

Location on our Istanbul Map
Military Museum – Website

Buy Turkish Mehter Band Music Here

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April 23, 2013 at 3:42 pm Comments (2)
A Walk Along the Land Walls - Day One Stretching for six kilometers from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn, the Land Walls of Theodosius II protected Constantinople from invaders for over a thousand years... until the arrival of the Ottomans and their giant cannons in 1453. The walls have survived largely intact to the present day, and walking along them is an exciting way to see a different side of Istanbul.
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