The Chain of the Golden Horn

For 7 centuries, it was one of the key elements of the Queen of Cities’ elaborated system of defense and was only taken down once by the Venetians in 1203. With a length of 750 m between the Kenthenarion tower and the Kastellion tower, the legendary colossal chain-boom was operated mechanically: it took only a few minutes to open or close to allow safe passage in and out of the deep-water Golden Horn.

Constantinople had excellent natural defenses: It was built on a triangular promontory of seven hills and completely surrounded by a single high wall.

The landside had another double curtain wall and a moat. Its southern side was bounded by the fast current which swept down the Bosphorus. This made it almost impossible to beach a landing craft and hold it in position while troops get ashore.  Innumerable rocks and shoals endangered boats that were not familiar with the area.

Across the northern deep water bay of the Golden Horn stretched a massive metal chain that prevented the passage of any unwanted ship. It was first designed and used during the Arab siege of 717 A.D.

The Chain consisted of a set of nine catenary curves, of which seven were permanently in place and two movable. According to calculation, between the two large suspension towers at each end, the Chain rested on 8 massive pyramidal floating pontoons anchored to the seafloor 30 meters below for stabilization. Each of the chain’s elliptical iron links was 1.20 meters in length and weighed half a ton (one of these links was observed at the Tophane Arsenal in 1877 by Alexandros Paspatis). Each pontoon bore a load of 920 tons from the two chains.

Once in position, only the sections of the Chain closest to the towers were opened or closed according to the need, using a huge wheel, pulleys, and a giant 35-ton hollow counterweight operated by adding water (transported from a water tower and lifted up using a pump) or subtracting seawater. Only three people were needed to operate the mechanisms smoothly.

A handful of dromons fireships anchored behind the chain were enough to defend it in case the enemy would try to get close and attempt to break it. In 1203, the gallant Venetians had stormed the Galata Tower after its defenders ran away. The Crusaders simply lowered down the chain to enter the Golden Horn with their massive fleet.

The sections of iron chains exhibited in various Istanbul museums are not from the original Great Byzantine Chain. They are way too small for that. Instead, they were likely the chains used to anchor the pontoons.

After two failed attempts at breaking the mighty Chain (although only 10 Byzantine and allied ships defended it), to bypass it, Mehmet II achieved the same feat Igor of Kiev’s Rus’ had done 5 centuries earlier with their longboats: His workforce carried part of his Navy overland, over the steep hill of Galata. On April 22, Constantinople’s defenders watched in terror as Amza Bey’s 70 light galleys were launched into the harbor.

When Constantinople fell on May 29th, 1453, some of the defenders and rich civilians tried to escape by sea from the Golden Horn, only to find out that they were now trapped behind the Chain, as the operators in the towers had either deserted or had been killed.


When you order the BBQ sampler platter…

I didn’t realize that it was five pounds of meat.

I couldn’t decide what to order and my daughter, Emilie, said, “just order the sampler, Dad.” Ok. The cornbread and sides are not in the camera frame. There is a philosophy that must underpin this.

Never eat more than you can lift.

They will bring more animal flesh if you eat it all. I guess you could waddle to the men’s room, barf, return and keep eating? There are different strategic schools. of thought on the matter. I don’t claim to be an expert. It’s a lot like eating ‘low country boil’ but not as healthy.

Sailing tomorrow. Even while recovering from a food coma, I can sit in the cockpit and turn the wheel (like a quartermaster or helmsman if you must), keep her headed into the wind, and keep on base course while tacking and let the youngsters handle the sheets. I can also bark instructions for others to carry out.  Impressive, right?

We may pass Catalina Island and keep going to Tahiti.


Keeping the Tires Rolling


Missing a Cat?


Keep your Eye on the Ball


From the Far Side


  1. We used to have a miniature version of that chain across the Hudson near West Point, back in the day.

    Nice to see and read that you’re having good travels !
    If you decide to conquer Tahiti and create a new realm for free men, please notify us.

    The Lot Lizard and Cougar infographics are great stuff.


  2. Amazing what you can do with a bunch of slaves…sort like us productive ones supporting half the country along with the DC thieves and cheaters. Impressive contraption…probably built without a structural engineer and permit, which is why i worked and got done under budget in half the time.

    That’s some serious BBQ…everyday is a Saturday…especially when life is ever more unpredictable with the goings-on…eat dessert first and enjoy 5#’s of BBQ “Sampler”. If we see a posted picture of grass skirts, coconuts, and palm trees we know you kept going past Catalina…the BBQ doggie box would be enough provisions for the journey. Have a great sail.

  3. Five pounds of barbecue would be lunch and dinner for a couple of days for me. I might have been able to eat that in my 20s but those days are long gone.

    Thanks for the story on the great chain. I realize, yet again, how little I know. I was going to add, “about history” (like the song) but that’s being too specific.

  4. Quite the barbecue sampler, even on my best days that would have been way above my ability to consume. The “doggie bag” would have lasted me a few days. Enjoy the sailing.

    I second SiGraybeard, I learn something new year almost every day. Thanks!

  5. That almost looks like the sampler from County Line in Austin…LOL I can’t help but wonder HOW they built floats that could hold the weight of chain. That has always intrigued me.

  6. We have a pretty decent BBQ joint here. It’s located at the local airport and was once featured in a segment on the Food Channel. It’s pretty much a given that we won’t be able to eat everything served and that’s why they provide boxes for the leftovers. Back when I was 25 those would not be necessary.

  7. Count me in as learning another new thing…..The Chain!

    We’ve got BBQ places everywhere here. From hole-in-the-wall joints to major chains. And we have a Brazillian BBQ, too, if you want to go into a meat coma…

  8. The engineering and implementation of the Great Chain pretty much kills the absurd notion that we are so much more intelligent today than our ancestors. (Yet the current mob* seems to believe that the current generation is SO much more intelligent and humane and JUST than even the immediate prior generation. But I digress.) I wonder why no enemy tried burning the pontoons instead of attacking the Chain. Multiple catenaries implies considerable total slack, so if the pontoons were eliminated then it should have been possible to essentially sink the chain (or enough of it to permit passage of ships) without breaking the chain.

    But obviously there is much I don’t know about naval warfare in and around Micklegarth. (I do assume that the “dromon fireships” were not there to put OUT fires, but rather were ships that deployed Greek fire.)

    *the MOB thinks they are clever and just. The real shot callers think we all (current and past generations) are mere animals in the shape of real human beings, to be used according to their whim. Which is not only right, but righteous in the eyes of their almighty. Yes, I meant THEIR. I cannot imagine godly persons would do unto others as they do. I am also increasingly of the belief that their “almighty” is in fact themselves. This might be as individuals, or them as a people. I don’t know, but either possibility is very very wrong.

    On a more cheerful note, that’s “Messi” the puma who lives with a Russian (I think) couple in their home. Messi has multiple health problems that preclude him living in a zoo, much less in the wild.

  9. Probably upset any woke, politically correct, snowflakes who might be lurking here, in order to see how the real people live and think, but I think the “girls” at the truck stop should be classed as essential workers too.

  10. Ah, God, ate a whole homemade pizza, now I’m dead to the world and about to imitate the famous dynamite whale.

    Back in the day, I could put an All-ya-can-eat buffet out of business.

    Essential workers… there’s a video out there showing lotlizards checking in with their pimp, the lot security driver…

    As to anything Turkish/Ottomanish/Caliphatish, well, dangit, where are the Militant Orders? Come on, Knights of Malta!

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