Istanbul's Most Prominent Roman Ruin

In his piece “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire,” Pierre Nora defines a “lieux de memoire” as, amongst many other things:

“simple and ambiguous, natural and artificial, at once immediately available in concrete sensual experience and susceptible to the most abstract elaboration. Indeed, they are lieux in three senses of the word--material, symbolic, and functional. Even an apparently purely material site, like an archive, becomes a lieu de memoire only if the imagination invests it with a symbolic aura. A purely functional site...belongs to the category only inasmuch as it is also the object of a ritual.”

When tracing the long and complicated history of Istanbul’s Aqueduct of Valens—referred to more commonly as the Bozdoğan Kemeri in Turkish—much of this rings true. The Aqueduct of Valens is a Roman aqueduct that today is one of the most prominent landmarks of the city. This aqueduct is a feat of architecture that has withstood centuries of political turmoil, grand shifts in power, wars, and much else—and as such, is the ultimate “lieu de memoire,” as Nora would call it.

The Aqueduct of Valens, though, has served as different “forms” of a lieu de memoire over the centuries; while it might have started as a functional lieu de memoire due to its pure necessity in providing water for a Byzantine city, it is today a symbolic lieu that stands to remember the bygone achievements and reigns of the city. In exploring five specific points in the Valens Aqueduct’s history, the evolution of the site over the centuries becomes clear, from its role as a functional lieu to a symbolic one as perhaps the most evident and prominent Roman ruin in Istanbul today.  


Akshay Verma