Istanbul History information
Istanbul’s rich history is a product of layer upon layer of civilizations and it’s of little wonder that this strategically important and majestic city has been so bitterly contested since its existence. Istanbul served as the capital of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires and has been witness to several invasions by foreign forces. All of these influences have helped add to the archaeological, architectural and cultural diversity in this colossal metropolis. Istanbul’s position over two continents continue to make it as unique as it is mysterious.
The origins of Istanbul are under some dispute. Neolithic sites dating to an incredible 7000BC were recently discovered, while evidence of human settlement from the Copper and Bronze Ages has also been found. The most commonly accepted legend relating to the foundation of Istanbul centres around the 7th century BC, when Greek colonists led by King Byzas established a colony in Chalcedon (modern day Kadikoy, on the Asian side of the city). In 667BC, the settlers expanded their colony to include the European side opposite and named it Byzantium in honour of the King.
The Roman Empire (330-395 AD)
During the 6th century BC Byzantium fell to the Persians. In 64BC, however, it was conquered by the Romans and Byzantium became a province of the Roman Empire; it wasn’t until many years later - in 330AD - that the city became the official capital of the Roman Empire under Constantine the Great and was renamed Constantinople. The Emperor went about extensively rebuilding Byzantium to a position of glory.
The Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire (395-1204 & 1261-1453 AD)
In 390AD the Roman Empire split in two- East and West- and though the Western Roman Empire quickly collapsed, the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire remained strong for over a millennium. Christianity dominated while the Roman legal system was adopted. Still, Eastern style ceremonies remained.
In 532, the city witnessed the most terrible riots in its history following a built up of tension between the Emperor Justinian and the general populace in what was dubbed the Nika Revolt. In just one week, almost half of the city was destroyed by fire and many thousands were killed in the Hippodrome. Following the riots, Justinian went about reconstructing the city and erected several important buildings such as the great Hagia Sophia.
Latin Empire (1204 – 1261)
Latin forces invaded in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade. For almost 60 years the city remained under Latin control and many of the city’s prime monuments, precious artefacts and churches were subjected to extensive looting and desecration until the Byzantines finally regained control again in 1261AD.
The Ottoman Empire (1453-1922)
In 1453, Sultan Mehmet II conquered Constantinople, earning him the title ‘The Conqueror.’ Mehmet made use of cannons to attack the city and it was taken over in a relatively short time. Following the conquest, Constantinople was renamed Istanbul and as the new capital of the Ottoman Empire the city underwent an intense religious, economic and cultural transformation. Most of Istanbul’s churches were converted to mosques, with Christian motifs and symbols plastered over or destroyed and minarets added. Some of the more well known of these churches include the Hagia Sophia and Chora Church. The Grand Bazaar and Topkapi Palace were also constructed during this period.
During the 17th century, the Ottoman Empire began to decline in importance, with a series of revolts, territory losses and the 1778 Plague which resulted in huge loss of life. The 19th century saw a number of architectural, political and economic changes take place in the city. In 1845 the first Galata Bridge was built and eight years later Dolmabahce Palace was completed. The stock exchange in Istanbul opened the following year and in 1877 the first Ottoman parliament was established.
The city was to experience the effects of many conflicts in the 20th century, including the first and second Balkan wars and the two World Wars. World War I marked the collapse of the Ottoman Empire as Istanbul was defeated and occupied by the Allies. Between 1919 and 1923 Turkish people fought during the War of Independence. Under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk), Turkey was declared an independent republic in 1923 and the capital was moved to Ankara.
Turkish Republic (1923 - )
Atatürk carried out a series of reforms in an effort to modernise Turkey. Among these reforms include the modernization of the constitution; a commitment to democracy and secular government. Women gained the rights to vote and legal equality between the sexes was established. The new civil code modeled after the Swiss civil code was introduced. Educational system was restructured and a struggle against illetracy was started. The modernisation efforts were especially noticeable in Istanbul and main cities of Anatolia, which underwent major redevelopment and reconstruction in housing, transport and industrialization.
Modern Turkey & Istanbul
The first democratic elections in Turkey took place in 1950; in the years following there were 3 military coups, the last of which occurred in 1980, causing great tensions in Turkey and especially in Istanbul.
In the last few decades, Istanbul has seen a period of huge population increase and it continues to expand at a rapid pace.
Despite this, Istanbul has developed into a major tourist destination. The city’s beautiful location and weather, friendly locals and seemingly never ending array of attractions make it a popular holiday choice for many.
Galata Bridge © Yildirim Incea...
"Travel and change of pace impart new vigor to the mind" - Seneca