Despite the tumult of centuries, the ravages of war, fire and earthquake, and the construction of a megalopolis around, along and even through it, the Aqueduct of Valens is standing tall. Built by the Roman Emperor Valens in 378 AD, the aqueduct is among Istanbul’s most amazing ancient relics.
The Greek settlement of Byzantium was never able to truly flourish, despite its strategic position, for one important reason: a lack of drinking water. It’s surrounded on all sides by salt water, but no river flows into the city. After the arrival of the technologically-advanced Romans, a network of canals and aqueducts was built to pipe water in from the outlying hills, and deposit it into hundreds of underground cisterns, such as the Yerebatan Sarnıçı.
The water was still flowing when the Ottomans took possession of Istanbul, and the city’s new Turkish rulers did an excellent job conserving the aqueduct and making necessary repairs. Let this be a lesson to all you other crumbling, ancient wonders — as long as you stay useful, people will take care of you! Today, of course, the aqueduct serves no purpose other than aesthetic, but what a sight it is. For many visitors, ourselves included, it’s the first awe-inspiring scene presented by Istanbul; the shuttle bus from the airport to Taksim Square passes directly underneath.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the aqueduct is how it’s been woven into the fabric of modern Istanbul. In other cities, such a historic wonder would be cordoned off and observable from afar, but Istanbul has neither the time nor the patience for such niceties. Istanbul must get on with things. And so, Atatürk Boulevard, one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, is built right through the middle of the aqueduct.