Quick History of Istanbul

Istanbul cruise boats from Galata bridge

Istanbul was the capital of two of the greatest empires of not only their times but also in history: Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) and Ottoman Empire.

In 324 Istanbul became the capital of the Roman Empire after Emperor Constantin moved the capital from Rome to Byzantium (Istanbul). After the final division of the Roman Empire into West and East Roman Empires in 395 and the ending of the Western Roman Empire in 476, Istanbul became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, popularly known as the Byzantine Empire.

In year 361, Istanbul (Constantinople) was the world's most populous city with a population of 300,000. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.

In 1600, during the Ottoman period, between 400-700,000 people lived in Istanbul making it the world's second most populous city after Beijing. The population numbers are significant because they relate to power and wealth concentration at those times

Istanbul was also settled by Phoenician, Greek trade colonies from around 700 BC though there are few remains from these periods. Until the conquest of Istanbul by the Turks in 1453, there were also Genoese trade colonies in Istanbul whose major sites were Genoese tower and Yoros castle (in Anadolu Kavagi).

During your visit to Istanbul, you can see Greek, Roman (Byzantine), Genoese, Ottoman historic sights and ancient remains. See also Roman and Ottoman Empire Maps, neolithic discoveries.

ISTANBUL NEOLITHIC PERIOD, 6500 BC

In 2008, excavations for the Marmaray undersea tunnel to cross the Bopshorus uncovered Neolithic installations proved Istanbul was inhabited 3500 years earlier than previously thought. The most interesting fact about the existence of Neolithic man in Istanbul is that they did not need any bridge, boat or a Marmaray undersea tunnel. They were actually crossing from Asia to Europe on foot as the Bosphorus straights which separates the two continents is only 5600 years old.

ISTANBUL, PHONECIAN TRADE COLONY AND THRACIAN TRIBES

Yoros Castle which is located in the Black sea entrance of the Bosphorus, now Anadolu Kavagi, was home to a Phoenician trade colony. Phoenicia was an ancient civilization in the Middle East (the region around Lebanon) and had established trade colonies all over the Mediterranean Sea and the Black sea due to their maritime skills. In fact Phoencians are known for their galleys, and man powered sailing vessels were. Thracian tribes had also made Istanbul their homes for short periods of time.

ISTANBUL AS BYZANTIUM, A GREEK TRADE COLONY 675BC- 196AD

Greek colonists from Megara in Corinthion peninsula (near Athens) sailed and first settled in Chalchedon (modern Kadikoy) in the Asian side in 675 BC. About 16 years later Byzas a Greek colonist settled opposite from Calchedon. The legend has it that Chalcedon was the city of blind because they had settled in Kadikoy instead of the Golden Horn which was a natural port. Byzance was a trade colony as it was on the sea routes from Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Byzance was conquered by Roman Emperor Severus in 196 and became a Roman city. Serpentine column in Hippodrome built in 479BC dates back to Greek period in Istanbul.

ISTANBUL, THE CAPITAL OF BYZANTINE EMPIRE (EAST ROMAN EMPIRE) 324-1453

Constantin the Great unified Eastern and Western Roman Empires which were divided 40 years earlier after winning the battle of Chrysopolis (Modern Uskudar, adjacent Kadikoy) against Roman Coemperor Licinius. Constantin moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Byzantium (Istanbul). He renamed the city Constantinopolis. So Istanbul had become the capital of the biggest empire of its time. He was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. He has built Great Imperial Palace and St. Irene the first Roman church in Istanbul. Istanbul would become the center of the Eastern Roman Empire also known as Byzantium.

ISTANBUL, THE CAPITAL OF THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE 1453-1923

In 1453 the Turks headed by Fatih Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror conquerod Byzantium. It was a turning point in European and World history. Istanbul continues to be a center of power in world stage until Suleyman the Magnificient, after his reign centuries long decline of the Ottoman Empire starts. Naturally, Istanbul is full of best examples of Ottoman architecture: Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii), Suleymaniye Mosque, Rustempasa Mosque and also Dolmabahce Palace and Beylerbeyi Palace, influenced by European art movements. The Grand Bazaar, castles of Anadoluhisari and Rumelihisari, wooden mansions along the Bopshorus and around the city are other prominent examples of Ottoman architecture.

ISTANBUL, CULTURE AND TRADE CENTER OF TURKEY 1923

Upon founding of the Turkish Republic, Ataturk moved the capital from Istanbul to Ankara which had become the operational and democratic center of the Independance War with a Turkish parliament making decisions in Ankara while the Ottoman Empire was occupied. Today Istanbul is the cultural center of Turkey, Emek Movie theater, Ataturk Cultural Center for music, opera and ballet, Sureyya Opera house are among the earliest buildings for making art accesible to all citizens. Istanbul Modern, Bosphorus bridge, Galata Bridge are also among the most important modern buildings.