F. İqbal Polat 2023

Middle East Technical University, Turkey

Shaping boundaries: the urban role of Istanbul’s extra-mural cemeteries in Byzantine and Ottoman periods

This paper examines two extramural cemeteries of Istanbul from its Byzantine and Ottoman past, focusing on how they shaped the spatial and social boundaries of the city. From antiquity to the present day, communal cemeteries have been located outside the city’s borders. In the 4th century, when Constantine built his city on the peripheral necropolis of Severus’ Byzantium, new cemeteries began forming outside the Constantinian wall. In the Ottoman period, the land outside the Theodosian walls was established as the city’s legitimate burial place and continues its function to this day. Despite the significant role of these peripheral cemeteries in defining the city’s borders, they have received little scholarly attention in urban histories.

This paper utilizes a longue-durée spatial history approach and primary textual and visual sources to explore the transformative power of burial spaces over urban boundaries. Two sites from each period, Mokius cemetery in the Byzantine period and the burial site of Eyüp in the Ottoman period, are analyzed as revealing cases of the ways cemeteries shaped the intramural city’s limits through social stratification of the dead, daily experience of funeral rites, and official burial regulations. The paper argues that these cemeteries not only marked the physical borders but also defined the perceived borders of the city. By placing cemeteries at the centre of the narrative, this study highlights the significance of cemetery research as a way of looking at urban space.


The Cemetery Research Group runs two events a year: in May and in November. Follow the links and send in an abstract