Information about Istanbul
The Byzantium Empire and Istanbul ‘s latter history is full of palace and church intrigues, was overrun by the Arabs in the 7th and 8th centuries, the Bulgars in the 9th and 10th, but could not keep out the Crusaders who conquered in 1204. They destroyed and raided it for many more years – including churches, monasteries and monuments, which led to a decline in the population. The city passed reign to Byzantium again in 1261, did not regain its former richness, and was conquered by Turks in 1453 after a 53-day siege and the hands of control changed yet again.
It then became the capital city of Ottoman Empire, which saw a population increase with immigrants from other parts of the country, with religious freedom and social rights granted to Greeks, Armenians and Jews. It remained the capital of the eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine) for a long period, due to the fall of the west Roman Empire in the 5th century. By the sixth century, the population exceeded half a million, and was considered a golden age under Emperor Justinyen’s reign. Mehmet the Conqueror began to rebuild it, with a new palace and mosque (Fatih Camii) and tried to inject new life into the economy.
Today the historical peninsula is the most beautiful part of Istanbul, and is strategically well placed. The city is surrounded by a seascape peppered with distant islands, and this, together with the Golden Horn (Halic), the estuary that thrusts into the land along the peninsula, make Istanbul a unique place – and, throughout its long history, a city that many desired to conquer. But the desire to possess the city cannot be explained only by its strategic position or unsurpassed beauty; it has a different attraction, a mystical magnetism that drew states, empires and great conquerors towards it. This attraction led to a long history of conflict, conquest and occupation between those determined to maintain their hold on the city and those who strove to capture it.
For more than 1,500 years Istanbul was the capital of two empires, first the Byzantine and later the Ottoman. It was beautified accordingly with magnificent monuments and became a metropolis where diverse cultures, nations and religions mingle. Those cultures, nations and religions are the small pieces that form the mosaic of Istanbul. Perhaps some of those little pieces do not mean much to you, but as an ensemble they make up the unique majesty of Istanbul.
The city has been conquered, fought over and rebuilt many times over the centuries. Istanbul’s history dates back to the first settlement possibly in the 13th Century BC, although was founded by Byzas the Megarian in the 7th Century BC, from when the city was named Byzantium. A small colony of Greeks inhabited the area until 3rd Century BC, and over the next 1000 years became a thriving trading and commercial center. Whilst continuing life as a trading city during the Roman Empire, it was then conquered by Emperor Septimus Severius in 193 AD.
During the 4th century, Istanbul was selected by the Roman Empire to be the new capital, instead of Rome, by Constantine. It was a strategic choice: Built on seven surrounding hills – echoing that of Rome – the city would have control of the Istanbul Strait and easy access to the harbor of the Golden Horn. The city was re-organized within six years, its ramparts widened and the construction of many temples, official buildings, palaces, hamams and hippodrome.
With a great ceremony, in the year 330, the city was officially announced as the capital of the Roman Empire, and known as Constantinople in the late eras.
The reign of Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-66) was considered the greatest of all the Ottoman leaders, and the military conquests paid for the most impressive Ottoman architecture, the work of Mimar Sinan. The city was also the center of the Islamic work, and domes and minarets from hundreds of mosques dotted the skyline.
But a century after the death of Suleyman, the Empire started to decline again. By the end of the 18th century, whilst the empire was in decline with more territory being lost to the West, and sultans become more interested in Western institutional models. There was a short-lived Ottoman parliament and constitution in 1876, and by the end of the World War I during which allied troops occupied the city, the once-great empire was in shambles.
This changed radically with the emergence of a prominent commander of the Turkish army, who entered the struggle for the Turkish nation. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was considered a hero after the 4-year long War of Independence, after which he established the Republic if Turkey in 1923. Moving the capital to Ankara, then a small provincial town in Anatolia, Istanbul was simply the commercial and cultural center, which it still remains today.
Istanbul, the capital of empires… The city that dominated continents… The cradle of civilization … The meeting point of cultures and civilizations … These are some of the thousands of phrases that describe Istanbul. Yet neither words nor any amount of reading or listening are sufficient to truly describe and become familiar with the city. Only when you walk along its historic streets, when you see with your own eyes the architectural masterpieces of Byzantine and Ottoman Empires in their original setting, when you enjoy the panoramic vistas of its unique location, and when you start to explore its mystical beauties – only then will you begin to discover, and to fall in love with Istanbul.
Istanbul is the most developed and largest city of Turkey, and the latest discoveries indicate that the history of human habitation goes back 400,000 years ago. The Megarians settled and founded the city of Byzantium that later lent its name to the Byzantine Empire. However, the first settlers in the region established their city Chalcedon (Kadıkoy), on ‘the land of blind people’ which was strategically less important. And the Megarians, led by an Oracle, became aware of the beauty of Seraglio Point (Sarayburnu), and they established their city there on the opposite side of the Chalcedon.