As the capital of the Ottoman Empire from 1453 to 1923, Istanbul was cemented as one of the world’s most historically significant cities, following up its central role in the Roman, Byzantine, and Latin empires. Founded in the 7th century B.C.E, as Byzantium, it endured as the Eastern capital of the Roman Empire under Emperor Constantine, who had renamed it Constantinople and claimed it as the Christian capital of Nea Roma.
The Conquering Turks
The metropolis remained Constantinople throughout the Middle Ages and the Latin Empire until it was claimed by Ottoman sultans who laid siege in 1391. Constructing an impenetrable fortress in 1396 on the Asian banks of the Bosphorus, citizens were prevented from receiving aid from the outside. Then, 60 years later, it was attacked once again, with Mehmed II (“The Conqueror”) building a second fortress on other side of the strait. Inhabitants believed, however, that the Golden Horn would remain impenetrable due to a huge chain that was stretched across the mouth of the waterway to prevent ships from entering, but Mehmed II was able to enter by land, breaching a major city gate.
Architecture and Identity
When the Turks took over, they embarked upon a major urban reconstruction, repairing the old buildings, city walls, and underground cisterns. New buildings brought a new identity as mosques changed styles, now featuring several minarets or selatin. Many mosque complexes were built under his rule, in spectacular style including colleges (medrese), hospices, hospitals, shops, and Turkish baths. Foreigners from across the empire continued to stream into Istanbul, creating a diverse cultural mix that continued throughout the centuries as sultans and statesmen founded new institutions.
In 1472, construction began on Topkapi Palace. It was completed six years later and would serve as the center of government and home to the Ottoman sultans for the next 400 years, enduring countless renovations. It retains its majesty and splendor to this day.
In 1517, Selim I was appointed Caliph, and it was he who made Istanbul a major center of Islamic culture. During this time many famous buildings were erected, including the Sehzade, Semsi Pasa, Atik Valide, Süleyaniye, and Sultanahmet mosques.
Culture and Commerce
Nineteenth-century Istanbul contained many cultures living side-by-side, such as Muslim Turks, Orthodox Greeks, Jews, Levantines, and foreign merchants. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, now considered the father and architect of the modern Turkish Republic, embarked upon a series of modernizing reforms across the country. This commenced with the proclamation of the Second Constitution in 1924, ushering in sweeping change across the country; this involved political, legal, religious, administrative, linguistic, educational, and other developments.
A Marriage of Asia and Europe
Today Istanbul boasts a breathtaking synergy of its four empires, making it one of the most sought-after cities in the world. With a history that traces its fascinating culture, it continues to grow and expand. Visitors are often struck by how seamlessly it displays the unique and harmonious blend of Asian and European sensibilities. The city boasts several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, making it truly an unforgettable experience. Come make your own history here in the footsteps of the Ottoman sultans!