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The Great Palace of Constantinoplemarker ( , Turkish: Büyük Saray) — also known as the Sacred Palace (Latin: Sacrum Palatium, ) — was the large Imperial Byzantine palace complex located in the south-eastern end of the peninsula now known as "Old Istanbulmarker". 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.

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 Hippodromemarker and Hagia Sophiamarker. It was rebuilt and expanded several times, especially under the emperors Justinian I and Theophilos.

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 Blachernaemarker 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 them.

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 found it 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."


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 Istanbulmarker 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 Mosquemarker and its adjoining buildings cover some of the area. Most of the unearthed mosaics have been housed in the Great Palace Mosaic Museum.

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 Hippodromemarker and the Hagia Sophiamarker. The Palace is considered by scholars to have been a series of pavilions, much like the Ottoman-era Topkapı Palacemarker that succeeded it. The total surface area of the Great Palace exceeded .

The main entrance to the Palace quarter was the Chalkemarker 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 Milionmarker (the mile marker, from which all distances were measured), and the old Baths of Zeuxippusmarker.

Immediately behind the Chalke Gate, facing southwards, were the barracks of the palace guards, the Scholae Palatinae. 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 Hippodromemarker. The main throne room was the Chrysotriklinos, built by Justin II, and expanded and renovated by Basil I, with the palatine chapel of the Theotokos of the Pharos nearby. 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 Bucoleonmarker. 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 Bucoleon.

References



Literature

  • Jonathan Bardill, The Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors and the Walker Trust Excavations, In: Journal of Roman Archaeology, 12 (1999), pp. 216-230.
  • 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. 321-330
  • 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. 645-649.


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