The historic city of Istanbul is situated on a peninsula flanked on three sides by the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. It has been the capital of three great empires, the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, and for more than 1,600 years over 120 emperors and sultans ruled the world from here. No other city in the world can claim such a distinction.
During its development, the city
was enlarged four times, each time the city walls being rebuilt further
to the west.
Surrounded by 5th century Roman city walls and stretching over seven hills, Istanbul is adorned by the masterpieces of Turkish art, the great mosques of the Sultans that crown the hills. The city presents an exquisite, majestic and serene silhouette from all directions. The Golden Horn, which is a very secure natural harbor, has played a significant role in the development of the city.
Fortune provided such advantages to Istanbul as a location at a junction where the main overland routes reach the sea, an easily defensible peninsula, an ideal climate, a rich and generous nature, control of the strategic Bosphorus, and a central geographical position in the ancient world.
As a capital of empires, the city
was not only an administrative, but also a religious center. The Patriarchate
of Eastern Christians has been headquartered here since its establishment, and
the largest early churches and monasteries of the Christian world rose
in this city on top of the pagan temples. Within a century after the city
was conquered, it was enriched with mosques, palaces, schools, baths and
other architectural monuments that gave it a Turkish character, while some
of the existing churches in ruins were repaired, altered and converted
into mosques.Between the 16th century when the Ottoman sultans acquired
themselves the title of the "Caliph of Islam" and 1924, the first year
of the Republic, Istanbul was also the headquarters of the Caliphate. More
Jews settled in Istanbul than any other port, and here they built themselves
a new and happy life after they were rescued from Spain by the Turks in
the 15th century. Istanbul has always been a city of tolerance where mosques,
churches and synagogues existed side by side. The city was adorned with
a large number of dazzling and impressive works even during the period
of decline of the Ottomans.
During this time, the influence of European art made itself felt in the new palaces, while the northern slopes of the Golden Horn, Galata and Beyoglu districts assumed a European character. Even when the Empire, which was a party to World War I, collapsed and the young Republic that replaced it moved the capital to Ankara, Istanbul did not lose its significance.
The haphazard development that began in the years following World War II and accelerated in the 1950's has unfortunately had a negative impact on the fabric of the old city, and while old wooden houses disappeared rapidly, concrete buildings proliferated. Istanbul experienced a population explosion due to immigration, and within a very short period it expanded far beyond the historical city walls. The areas inside the walls were invaded by workshops, mills and offices; even the new thoroughfares could not solve the traffic problems, and the inadequacy of the infrastructure gave rise to a sea pollution problem, starting with the Golden Horn.
With the initiatives for saving the city in the 1980s, Istanbul embarked on a process of restructuring on a scale unseen in its history.Thousands of buildings along the Golden Horn were demolished to make way for a green belt on its shores; parks and gardens were built on the land claimed by filling up the beaches of the Sea of Marmara. In order to prevent sea pollution drainage systems were completed and physical and biological wastewater treatment plants were erected; the use of natural gas for heating has considerably reduced air pollution.
Efforts are continuing for the restoration of the Roman city walls, and Beyoglu, the main artery, was rescued by building a newavenue. Improvements were made in ihe general cleaning, maintenance, garbage collection fields and these services are now at Western European standards. Ring roads cross the Bosphorus over two suspension bridges to connect the two continents. The European side has now a fast tramway system and a subway, and comfort and speed has been ensured in sea transportation with the hydrofoil terminals built on the seashores. All industrial establishments on the historic peninsula have been moved to new facilities in the suburbs, and the new international bus terminal has reduced traffic intensity. The old jail and the first large concrete building of the city were given over to tourism and converted into 5-star hotels.
The city is growing dynamically
and developing at full speed on an east-west axis along the shores of the
The Bosphorus is approximately 30 km long, and at its narrowest point the Anadolu and Rumeli fortresses face each other across it. Here the width of the strait is about 800 meters. On the surface, the Bosphorus flows like a river from the Black Sea to the Marmara. This current gets much stronger and becomes truly dangerous around the fortresses. Below the surface current, there is another current flowing in the opposite direction. These currents have always constituted a threat for the ships crossing the strait. The Bosphorus is like a narrow valley and it has an average depth of 50 and a maximum depth of 110 meters. Because of the currents and the different temperatures on various levels, the Bosphorus is a paradise for fish. The fish migrate between the Black Sea and the Marmara according to the season. These fish, peculiar to these waters, are caught during the migration seasons. Nowhere else can one find such fine-tasting fish. Until recent times, the settlements along the Bosphorus were quite limited due to the strong currents and the lack of roads. They consisted of a few villages, some imperial palaces and the mansions of the wealthy. In the 19th century the embassies started to build their summer residences here. Today the shores and the hills are developing as residential districts. There are numerous fish restaurants and cafes on both sides of the Bosphorus. Modern villas intermingle with the relatively few old wooden seaside mansions that have been preserved. One of the most beautiful sights in the world, the Bosphorus is a strait winding between two continents and joining two seas. The Black Sea is connected to the Aegean through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. It offers a different beauty each season, and in spring it is adorned with the pink flowers of the Judas trees.
The entrance to the Bosphorus
is like a small bay, and from here one gets the best view of the old town.
The rest of the 30 km long waterway is like a series of lakes. It is only
from the air
that one realizes it is a strait. The first bridge across the Bosphorus
was completed in 1973, and the second, the Fatih (Mehmet the Conqueror)
bridge in 1988. There are plans for building either a third bridge over
or a tunnel under the strait. The settlements on the shore grew quickly
after 1852 when steamboats were put into service here, and over time they
became included in the city boundaries. The ancient name of "Bosphorus"
means "Cow Passage". As a passage that can be traversed easily, it has
facilitated the spread of civilizations between Asia and Europe and the
development of trade and other relations. In the 2,500 year history of
the city, the Bosphorus, its extension the Golden Horn and the historical
peninsula have always been coveted places, and they witnessed numerous
military campaigns and mass migrations. The earliest mention of the Bosphorus
in mythology is in the story of the Argonauts who sail through the strait
to the Black Sea. It is known that in 6th century BC the Persian armies
tied their boats together for easier passage, thus forming the first bridge
over the Bosphorus. Some of the noteworthy buildings on the European shore
are the Ciragan Palace, which was restored and converted into a hotel,
the former Feriye Police Station which is now used as a cultural center,
and the Ortakoy Mosque and square. New five star hotels and tall buildings
are springing up on the hills this side of the Bosphorus.
The modern Turkish name Istanbul (IPA: [istambul] or colloquial [istanbul]) is attested (in a range of different variants) since the 10th century, at first in Armenian and Arabic and then in Turkish sources; it has been the common name for the city in normal speech in Turkish even since before the conquest of 1453. It derives from an ancient Greek phrase meaning "in the city" or "to the city".
Byzantium is the first known name of the city. When Roman emperor Constantine I (Constantine the Great) made the city the new eastern capital of the Roman Empire on May 11, 330, he conferred on it the name Nova Roma ("New Rome"). Constantinople ("City of Constantine") was the name by which the city became soon more widely known instead of Nova Roma, in honour of Constantine I. It is first attested in official use under emperor Theodosius II (408-450). It remained the principal official name of the city throughout the Byzantine period, and the most common name used for it in the West until the early 20th century.
The city has also been nicknamed "The City on Seven Hills" because the historic peninsula, the oldest part of the city, was built on seven hills (just like Rome). The hills are represented in the city's coat of arms with seven mosques, one at the top of each hill. Another old nickname of Istanbul is Vasileousa Polis ("Queen of Cities"), which rose from its importance and wealth throughout the Middle Ages.
With the Turkish Postal Service
Law of March 28, 1930, the Turkish authorities officially requested foreigners
to adopt Istanbul as the sole name also in their own languages.
“ If the Earth was a
single state, Istanbul would be its capital. ”
The first human settlement in Istanbul, the Fikirtepe mound on the Anatolian side, is from the Copper Age period, with artifacts dating from 5500–3500 BC. A port settlement dating back to the Phoenicians has been discovered in nearby Kadiköy (Chalcedon). Cape Moda in Chalcedon was the first location which the Greek settlers of Megara chose to colonize in 685 BC, prior to colonising Byzantion on the European side of the Bosphorus under the command of King Byzas in 667 BC. Byzantion was established on the site of an ancient port settlement named Lygos, founded by Thracian tribes between the 13th and 11th centuries BC, along with the neighbouring Semistra, of which Plinius had mentioned in his historical accounts. Only a few walls and substructures belonging to Lygos have survived to date, near the Seraglio Point (Turkish: Sarayburnu), where the famous Topkapi Palace now stands. During the period of Byzantion, the Acropolis used to stand where the Topkapi Palace stands today.
After siding with Pescennius Niger against the victorious Roman emperor Septimius Severus, the city was besieged by the Romans and suffered extensive damage in AD 196. Byzantium was rebuilt by Severus and quickly regained its previous prosperity, being temporarily renamed as Augusta Antonina by the emperor, in honor of his son.
The location of Byzantium attracted Constantine I in 324 after a prophetic dream was said to have identified the location of the city; but the true reason behind this prophecy was probably Constantine's final victory over Licinius at the Battle of Chrysopolis (Üsküdar) on the Bosphorus, on September 18, 324, which ended the civil war between the Roman Co-Emperors, and brought an end to the final vestiges of the Tetrarchy system, during which Nicomedia (present-day Izmit, 100 km east of Istanbul) was the most senior Roman capital city. Byzantium (now renamed as Nova Roma which eventually became Constantinopolis, i.e. "The City of Constantine") was officially proclaimed the new capital of the Roman Empire six years later, in 330. Following the death of Theodosius I in 395 and the permanent partition of the Roman Empire between his two sons, Constantinople became the capital of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. As well as being the centre of an imperial dynasty, the unique position of Constantinople at the centre of two continents made the city a magnet for international commerce, culture and diplomacy. The Byzantine Empire was distinctly Greek in culture and became the centre of Greek Orthodox Christianity, while its capital was adorned with many magnificent churches, including the Hagia Sophia, once the world's largest cathedral. The seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople, spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, still remains in the Fener (Greek: Phanar) district of Istanbul.
In 1204, the Fourth Crusade was launched to capture Jerusalem, but had instead turned on Constantinople, which was sacked and desecrated. The city subsequently became the centre of the Catholic Latin Empire, created by the crusaders to replace the Orthodox Byzantine Empire, which was divided into a number of splinter states, of which the Empire of Nicaea was to recapture Constantinople in 1261 under the command of Michael VIII Palaeologus.
In the last decades of the Byzantine Empire, the city had decayed as the Byzantine state became increasingly isolated and financially bankrupt, its population had dwindled to some thirty or forty thousand people whilst large sections remained uninhabited. Due to the ever increasing inward turn the Byzantines took, many facets of their surrounding empire were now falling apart, leaving them vulnerable to attack. Ottoman Turks began a strategy by which they took selected towns and smaller cities over time, enveloping Bursa in 1326, Nicomedia in 1337, Gallipoli in 1354, and finally Adrianople in 1362. This essentially cut off Constantinople from its main supply routes, strangling it slowly.
On May 29, 1453, Sultan Mehmed II "the Conqueror" was led into Constantinople after a 53–day siege, proclaiming that the city was now the new capital of his Ottoman Empire. Sultan Mehmed's first duty was to rejuvenate the city economically, creating the Grand Bazaar and inviting the fleeing Orthodox and Catholic inhabitants to return back. Captured prisoners were freed to settle in the city whilst provincial governors in Rumelia and Anatolia were ordered to send four thousand families to settle in the city, whether Muslim, Christian or Jew, to form a unique cosmopolitan society. The Sultan also endowed the city with various architectural monuments, including the Topkapi Palace and the Eyüp Sultan Mosque. Religious foundations were established to fund the construction of grand imperial mosques (such as the Fatih Mosque which was built on the spot where the Church of the Holy Apostles once stood), adjoined by their associated schools, hospitals and public baths.
Suleiman the Magnificent’s reign was a period of great artistic and architectural achievements. The famous architect Sinan designed many mosques and other grand buildings in the city, while Ottoman arts of ceramics and calligraphy also flourished. Many tekkes survive to this day; some in the form of mosques while others have become museums such as the Cerrahi Tekke and the Sünbül Efendi and Ramazan Efendi mosques and türbes in Fatih, the Galata Mevlevihanesi in Beyoglu, the Yahya Efendi tekke in Besiktas, and the Bektasi Tekke in Kadiköy, which now serves Alevi Muslims as a cemevi.
In 1883, a Belgian entrepreneur,
Georges Nagelmackers, began rail service between Paris and Constantinople,
using a steamship to ferry passengers from Varna to Constantinople. In
1889, a rail line was completed going through Bucharest to Constantinople,
making the whole journey via land possible. His company, La Compagnie Internationale
des Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Européens, provided the trains,
which were renowned for their luxury and their beautiful Oriental style.
The route was known as the Orient Express, made even more famous by the
works of Agatha Christie and Graham Greene.
When the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923, the capital was moved from Istanbul to Ankara. In the early years of the republic, Istanbul was overlooked in favour of the new capital. However, in the 1950s, Istanbul underwent great structural change, as new roads and factories were constructed throughout the city. Wide modern boulevards, avenues and public squares were built in Istanbul, sometimes at the expense of the demolition of many historical buildings. The city's once numerous and prosperous Greek community, remnants of the city's Greek origins, dwindled in the aftermath of the 1955 Istanbul Pogrom, with most Greeks in Turkey leaving their homes for Greece. The result of the pogrom left 4,000 shops, 70 churches, and 30 schools destroyed, while those responsible for the mob violence were left unpunished.
During the 1970s, the population
of Istanbul began to rapidly increase as people from Anatolia migrated
to the city in order to find employment in the many new factories that
were constructed at the outskirts of the city. This sudden sharp increase
in the population caused a rapid rise in housing development, and many
previously outlying villages became engulfed into the greater metropolis
of Istanbul. Illegal construction, combined with corner-cutting methods,
have accounted for the reason why 65% of all of the buildings in Istanbul
are not up to standard. The concerns have increased due to the serious
nature of the Izmit earthquake of 1999.