The city has been conquered, fought over and rebuilt many times over the centuries. İstanbul’s history dates back to the first settlement, possibly in the 13th Century BC, although it was founded by Byzas the Megarian in the 7th Century BC, who also gave the city its first name: Byzantium.
The city has been conquered, fought over and rebuilt many times over the centuries. İstanbul’s history dates back to the first settlement, possibly in the 13th Century BC, although it was founded by Byzas the Megarian in the 7th Century BC, who also gave the city its first name: Byzantium. A small colony of Greeks inhabited the area until 3rd Century BC, and over the next 1000 years Byzantium became a thriving trading and commercial centre. Whilst continuing life as a trading city during the Roman Empire, it was then conquered by Emperor Septimus Severius in 193 AD.
With a great ceremony, in the year 330, the city was officially announced as the capital of the Roman Empire, by the order of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. It was a strategic choice: Built on seven surrounding hills – echoing that of Rome – the city would have control of the İstanbul Strait and easy access to the harbour of the Golden Horn. The city was re-organized within six years, its ramparts widened and many temples, official buildings, palaces, hamams and a hippodrome were constructed.
The imperial city of Constantinople was for nearly a thousand years the last remaining outpost of the Roman (later termed Eastern Roman or Byzantine) Empire. 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.
The Byzantium Empire and İstanbul’s latter history is full of palace and church intrigues. It 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 it 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 but did not regain its former richness. It was finally conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II on May 29th, 1453 after a 53-day siege, an event often used to mark the end of the Middle Ages.
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. Mehmet the Conqueror began to rebuild it, with a new palace and mosque (Fatih Camii), and tried to inject new life into the economy.
The reign of Süleyman 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 the architect Mimar Sinan. The city was also the centre of the Islamic work and domes and minarets from hundreds of mosques dotted the skyline. By the mid 1500s, Istanbul, with a population of almost half a million, was a major cultural, political, and commercial center.
But a century after the death of Süleyman, 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 becoming more interested in Western institutional models. There was a short-lived Ottoman parliament and constitution in 1876 but by the end of World War I, during which allied troops occupied the city, the once great empire was in shambles.
When the Republic of Turkey was born in 1923 after the War of Independence, Kemal Atatürk moved its capital to the city of Ankara. However, Istanbul has continued to expand dramatically; today its population is approximately 16 million and increases at an estimated 700,000 immigrants per year. Industry has expanded even as tourism has grown. It continues to be a city that creates its own history at the intersection where both continents meet.