Monday, November 26, 2012

Urban Chains

Providence, November 26, 2012

Many cities at one point or another in their history built large fortresses, walls--on land and sea--and other major, often enormous defensive constructions.  But I can think of only two cases in which the defensive enclosure went all the way to the water: Havana and Constantinople.  The importance of both cities was connected with their crucial strategic position in transcontinental routes and their natural defensive conditions, the deep bay of Havana and the Golden Horn of Constantinople.  Now, how do you defend the actual entrance to these heavens?  After taking control of Constantinople in 717, the Byzantine Emperor Leo III, came up with the idea of closing the entrance to the Golden Horn with a gigantic chain floating on barrels and anchored on the Tower of Eugenius on the Eminönü side (the historic peninsula) and to the Kastellion on the Galata side.  Can you imagine the elaborate, almost theatrical production involved in pulling the chain, an artifact of geographic scale, across the waters of the Golden Horn?  Similarly, the entrance to bay of Havana, in Cuba, was protected by two fortresses--El Morro on the east side and La Punta on the west--and every night at nine o'clock, the sound of a cannon would indicate the time to pull a chain of large wooden links from one side to the other.  The city was closed for business.

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