Thursday, July 17, 2008

Aqueduct of Valens

During the expansion of Constantinople the need for a greater water supply became inevitable. In such a dry climate the reliance on rainfall alone would have destroyed the entire Eastern Roman Empire. Constantine the Great had this realization early enough in the expansion of his city that he began the construction of the famous aqueducts of Constantinople. These aqueducts are still standing today and are only missing approximately 50 meters from its original 1,000 meters. As impressive as they are they were not built to awe the city visitor, they were constructed for the survival of the great city and they would remain functioning for over 1,000 years. Below is a picture of the aqueducts as they disappear into the city, this is a testament to its true size because this photo only captures about 65 to 70 meters where there is a total of 950 meters still standing.

I feel that the aqueducts were incorrectly named after the Emperor Valens and should have been named after Constantine I since it was his ambition for a greater city and the water supply itself that demanded its construction. Valens happened to be the Emperor during the completion of the aqueducts in 368 C.E. and took credit for its grandeur. Nonetheless, it is an amazing structure that directed water from the hills of the Belgrade Forest to the center of the city into cisterns. The famous cistern that we visited our first week in Istanbul, the Basilica Cisterns, was one of its main destinations filling it up with over 80,000 cubic meters of water.

The preservation of the aqueducts is crucial, not just for the preservation of the Istanbul heritage, but for the security of the traffic that drives underneath of it everyday. I have always found it amusing that in every picture of an ancient aqueduct the city has built a highway passing through its arches, as if that was its intended purpose. In the picture below you can see the large amounts of traffic that pass through its arches everyday. The modern Turks are possibly so used to its existence as highway scenery that it has lost its aesthetic value.

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