THE WATER SUPPLY OF CONSTANTINOPLE

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The Forest of Belgrade

The Forest of Belgrade (Belgrat Ormanlı), lying to the north of Istanbul, provided the context for the development of an expansive water supply system under the Ottomans in the 16th century and later. Many water bridges from this system still survive completely in tact, constructed in a form reminiscent of the Byzantine water bridges of central Thrace. The Ottoman channels, built under Suleyman by the famous architect Sinan, in part replaced an earlier Byzantine system, fragments of which are still visible in some of the aqueduct bridges. The destroyed remains of the Byzantine system were observed by Gyllius who explored the region prior to the Ottoman developments (1542-1550).


Forest of Belgrade DTM

Digital Terrain Model of the Belgrade forest showing lines of Ottoman channels

Kovuk Kemer Visualisation

Visualisation of the Kovukkemer aqueduct



A reference in the Theodosian Law Codes suggests that these were the remains of the Aquaeductus Theodosiacus, built by the emperor Theodosius I (379-395) although the evidence is not conclusive (Cod. Theod. VI. 4, 29-30; Dalman 1933). What is certain is that altitude of this supply line, known as the Kırkçeşme system, rules out any connection with the Aqueduct of Valens. The water channel must have entered the city at around 34m, some 30m lower than the Valens channel. However the lower altitude would have enabled the channel to snake between the third and fourth hills from the north to the south, in order to make progress into the city. Thus a number of cisterns, including the substantial "Pantocrator" Unkapani cistern, might have been supplied by the Kırkçeşme line, rather than the long-distance Valens line.

A preliminary reconnaissance of the Ottoman aqueducts near Kemerburgaz was carried out in 2001. Both of the principal aqueducts visited, the Uzunkemer and the Kovukkemer, were in their present form rebuilt after serious floods in 17th century had destroyed the original Ottoman works. The question remained as to whether the Ottoman bridges replaced earlier Byzantine works on the same line. Çeçen had postulated that elements of the Uzunkemer did indeed contain earlier Byzantine masonry and we would tend to concur with this hypothesis. However, the clearest indications are found in the Kovukkemer, a three-tier aqueduct crossing the Büyük Dere. The lowest tier appears to contain substantial components of an earlier Roman or Byzantine bridge, as indicated by the masonry and cyma recta string courses. The second tier contains coarse rebuilds and patching in small blockwork with vertical bricks, reminiscent of middle Byzantine works.

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