One of the greatest achievements that completely changed the quality of life in Constantinople was the creation of a complete plumbing system. The geographical location of the city was the main reason that there were almost no freshwater sources on its territory. There was an urgent need for the delivery of water from the mainland. To solve the problem, the active construction of aqueducts began, thanks to which Constantinople was provided with clean drinking water supplied from the Belgrade forest. For the first time, aqueducts began to appear on the outskirts of the city as early as the 2nd century AD, during the period when Emperor Hadrian was in power.
Constantinople received the title of capital city in 324. From that time on, its active improvement began, initiated by Emperor Constantine the Great. The changes also affected the water supply system – they began not only to update the old aqueducts, but also to build new ones, of which a lot appeared over time. Constantine the Great’s beginnings were continued by all subsequent rulers, including Emperor Valens, on whose initiative Hadrian’s aqueduct was repaired in 368, more precisely, a completely new 600-meter aqueduct was erected, named after its creator.
The Valens Aqueduct is an important part of the plumbing system of Constantinople
The construction of cisterns and aqueducts in Constantinople was due to a shortage, and sometimes a complete lack of fresh water. From the Chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor, we can get an idea of the reasons why Valens Aqueduct was restored:
“There was such a severe drought that even dew did not fall from the heavens, and the water completely disappeared from the city. Cisterns and reservoirs were out of order, even those springs, where there was always at least a little water before, dried up. Seeing this, the emperor immediately set about restoring the Valens aqueduct, which operated before Heraclea and was destroyed by the Avars. The ruler gathered artisans from different places: he brought from Asia and Pontos 1000 freemasons and 200 plasterers and 500 clay workers from Hellas and the islands, from Thrace there were 5000 workers and 200 brick-makers. Overseers were appointed over them, including one of the patricians. When the work was finished, water appeared in the city. “
The ruler Justinian and other Byzantine emperors were also involved in the expansion and transformation of the water supply network. They erected unique majestic structures, some of which we have the opportunity to contemplate even now.
Among them is the famous Valenta aqueduct, which today stretches across the modern Istanbul Ataturk Avenue. The aqueduct has a very rich history, it has “seen” a lot in its lifetime, but time has practically no power over this attraction. Climbing to the top of Valenta, tourists can see the remains of ancient ceramic pipes, through which life-giving moisture once entered the city. Several aqueducts have also survived outside of Istanbul. Some of them were restored under the direction of the famous architect Sinan in the 16th century, since by this period the Byzantine water supply system had already worn out and could not properly perform the functions assigned to it. It should be noted that the water supply system in Constantinople was built not only for peaceful purposes, but also in case of hostilities. Over the years of the city’s existence, many enemies have tried to capture it. Of course, during the siege, potential conquerors first of all wanted to cut off the settlement from any sources of food and drink, so that the exhausted inhabitants would surrender faster. The emperors of Constantinople did everything possible so that the Byzantine citadel could not be starved out for as long as possible. Therefore, there was an almost continuous construction of various reservoirs in which it was possible to store water for future use. The reservoirs were of both open and closed (underground) types. The dimensional parameters of the storages depended on what buildings they were intended for feeding. But the total water reserves in them exceeded one million cubic meters!
Until now, historians have managed to find information and locate only 40 cisterns. In total, according to scientists, there were more than 70 of them.
Valenta Aqueduct ( Bozdoğan Su Kemeri) : history
An aqueduct called Valenta (Greek Υδραγωγείο του Δύναμο) was built and put into operation in 369. At this moment, the state was ruled by the emperor Valens. The structure looks like a flyover and consists of two tiers. The aqueduct is about 1 km long. The water supply system was designed and launched very quickly, but it continued to be built and refined for another 10 years.
Once on the site of Valenta there was another ancient aqueduct of the emperor Hadrian, which over the years fell into complete desolation and lost its functionality. It is known that for the construction of a new aqueduct, building materials were brought from the destroyed wall of Chalcedon. Prefect Clearchus supervised the entire work process. As workers gradually removed the stones from the wall, they discovered a strange slab on which was inscribed a prediction that the emperor’s life would end at the moment when work on the modernization of the plumbing system came to an end. The most interesting thing is that the prediction was prophetic. When the water supply was fine-tuned, Valens was killed in a battle with the Goths at Adrianople.
When the ruler Theodosius the First (the Great) came to power in the late 80s of the 4th century, he ordered a major reconstruction of the Valens aqueduct, which by that time had been badly damaged by an earthquake. Later, the aqueduct was also repaired under the emperors Justinian I and Justinian II. About 800 meters from the kilometer system have survived to this day.
The aqueduct was fed with water from the Belgrade forest, which was located about 20 km from it. In general, it should be noted that water from the village of Belgrade provided almost all corners of the capital. The village was named so in honor of the colony, which was once formed on this place by the Serbs captured during the military battles. Constantinople, and later Istanbul, was completely dependent on the freshwater sources of the Belgrade forest. The forest belt was strictly guarded, defended and guarded.
When Constantinople submitted to the Ottomans, the Turkish conquerors also took up the restoration of the aqueduct and the repair of aqueducts, including Valenta. Restoration work affected all substructures located in the city and suburbs. To date, archaeologists have found that the total length of the engineering system was at least 650 km.
Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent began repairing the water supply system. Sultan Mustafa continued the undertaking of the great ancestor in 1696-97. Turkish workers copied the technology invented by the Byzantines. The restoration was carried out brilliantly, nothing of the kind had been done in Turkey until then. Thanks to the efforts of the Turkish conquerors, the Istanbul water supply system regularly served the city until the end of the 19th century.
At the beginning of the 20th century, part of the substructure located near the Fatih Jami mosque was demolished, but by the end of the century they were restored again at the initiative of UNESCO.
Architecture of the Valenta Aqueduct
The Valens Aqueduct is an arched bridge that began from the Church of the Holy Apostles and ended at the Forum of Theodosius, near a large nymph. The total length of the aqueduct is 971 meters, the maximum height is 28 meters.
Initially, the structure of the aqueduct was absolutely straight, but during the construction of the Fatih mosque, it was made curved at the site of the shrine. The masonry is irregular, with bricks alternating with cedar wood blocks. The first row of the arch is built of square blocks, the top row is constructed of alternating materials and reinforced with iron braces. The width of the aqueduct bridge ranges from 7.75 to 8.24 m. The pillars are 3.7 m thick, and the arches of the lower row are 4 meters. Geodetic surveys carried out in 2009 showed that the foundation lies at a depth of 5.4 to 6 meters.
The Valens aqueduct is a grandiose and most complicated structure from an engineering point of view, which functioned as follows: stone walls connected two hills, and heavy pipes of lead rested on them, through which water was supplied.
Water entered the city from two sides – one line came from the northeast, the other from the northwest. Outside the walls, near the Adrianople Gate (Edirne Kapı), they united. On the east side of the aqueduct there is one distribution unit, and the other is located near the Hagia Sophia. The water feeds the imperial palace. The daily load in the 1950s was 6,120 cubic meters. During the existence of the Byzantine Empire, two important paths, which played a significant role for the topography of medieval Constantinople, crossed under the eastern part of the aqueduct.
Valens Aqueduct Facts
- Situated on the historic peninsula of Istanbul, the Valens Aqueduct is one of the most important parts of the plumbing system that brought water to Constantinople from Thrace.
- The Valenta Aqueduct is one of the largest structures in Istanbul, with a length of 920 meters and a height of 30 meters.
- It took the builders about 28 years to fully erect the Valens aqueduct system. Recent research by scientists has shown that, presumably, the total length of all branches of the aqueduct is 336 km, which is almost 3 times more than any known before this Roman water supply system.
- Today, Ataturk Boulevard, built in the 1950s, runs under the arches of the aqueduct.
- The Valens aqueduct has been repaired and rebuilt many times in both the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. It served for almost 1400 years, until the 18th century.
Valens aqueduct: where it is located and how to get there
The aqueduct is located in the very heart of Istanbul – it runs through the whole city, from one end to the other. It originates in Zeyrek, passes through Ataturk Boulevard and to the Feodosia Forum.
There are many attractions of the Byzantine and Ottoman periods near the Valens aqueduct: Pantokrator Monastery (Zeyrek camii, Zeyrek Mosque), St. ). Therefore, you can combine your acquaintance with the unique aqueduct with other attractions of the Laleli region.
You can get to the Valens aqueduct in one of the following ways, depending on your location:
- If you are in Sultanahmet, you need to take tram T1 and get off at the Aksaray stop.
- From Taksim Square you can take the metro Line M2 to the Vezneciler station, and then walk for 7 minutes.
In order to get a complete picture of how the water supply of Constantinople was carried out, it is also worth visiting the Theodosius cistern, the Basilica cistern and the Philoxenus cistern – these are some of the large cisterns that have survived to our time.