At just six kilometers in length, the Walls of Theodosius can be traversed in a few hours, but there are so many sights along the way that we needed two days. Exploring the southern half of the fortifications had been a lot of fun, and our day spent on the northern half would prove to be just as rewarding.
Eager to get started on a big day of walking, we arrived at the Topkapı tram station, and were soon… seated in a lovely tea garden? The Fatih Belediyesi Çay Bahçesi was simply too inviting to pass up. Pressed up against the walls, this tea garden is run by the government and has prices which can’t be beat. Just one lira per cup.
Pumped on caffeine, we could now begin our walk in earnest. On our first day along the walls, we had wandered through some gorgeous cemeteries, and our second day started at a cemetery of a different sort: the new constructions of Sulukule.
For over a thousand years, Sulukule had been home to Istanbul’s Roma community. But in 2005, the neighborhood was targeted for an urban redevelopment project, and thousands of Roma were compelled to sell their property to the state. Those who refused were forcibly evicted. Suspicions immediately arose that the government was attempting to push out “undesirables”, but protests fell upon deaf ears. Modern townhouses sprang up where the dilapidated housing had been, and the old families of Sulukule, unable to afford property prices 10 times the amount they had received from the government, were effectively barred from returning.
Past Sulukule, we came upon the Mihrimah Camii, which enjoys a prime location upon the highest of Istanbul’s seven hills. Mihrimah was the daughter of Süleyman the Magnificent, and the mosque built in her honor is one of Mimar Sinan’s finest works. The square-shaped interior is bathed in light, thanks to a large number of windows, and the Mihrimah is one of the most beautiful, and beautifully situated, mosques in the city.
Near the mosque, we found the Theodosian Walls’ highest tower, which requires a fair amount of bravery to tackle. The staircase to the top is really more of a crumbling stone ladder, with narrow little steps that can barely accommodate a foot. As we steeled our nerves and began the ascent, a group of Turkish kids gathered at the base of the stairs, and encouraged us on with jeering and laughter. “So cute!” I said to Jürgen. “So cute, I could just kill them!”
The view from the top of the tower was worth the ridicule. We could see from the Sea of Marmara, all away up the Bosphorus and into the Golden Horn, the entirety of the old town laid out spectacularly before us.
After entering the neighborhood of Blachernae, we abandoned the walls and descended to the Golden Horn through twisting alleys and scenes of local life which were almost suspiciously quaint. “Yeah, sure, there just happens to be an elderly man drinking tea in the sun while a group of mischievous rascals play with a pea shooter”, I kept thinking. “Where’s the film team?”
We can’t recommend a walk along the Theodosian Walls enough. The fortifications themselves, the neighborhoods they cut through, and the abundance of nearby sights provided some of the most memorable moments we had in Istanbul.