History of Istanbul

Brief history of Istanbul summarized

A brief history of Istanbul, a city that was first Byzantium and then Constantinople.


Although Istanbul may have been inhabited as early as 3000 BC, it was not a city until Greek settlers arrived in the area in the 7th century BC.

These settlers were led by King Byzantium and settled there due to its strategic location along the Bosphorus Strait. King Byzantium named the city Byzantium after himself.

The Roman Empire (330-395)

Byzantium became part of the Roman Empire in the 300s. During this time, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great undertook the reconstruction of the entire city. His goal was to highlight it and give the city monuments similar to those found in Rome.

In 330, Constantine declared the city the capital of the entire Roman Empire and renamed it Constantinople. As a result, it grew and prospered.

The Byzantine Empire (395-1204 and 1261-1453)

After the death of Emperor Theodosius I in 395, however, there was a huge upheaval in the empire, as his sons permanently divided it. Following the division, Constantinople became the capital of the Byzantine Empire in the 400s.

As part of the Byzantine Empire, the city became distinctly Greek, as opposed to its former identity in the Roman Empire. Because Constantinople was at the center of two continents, it became a center of trade, culture, and diplomacy and grew considerably.

In 532, however, the Nika anti-government revolt broke out among the city’s population and destroyed it. Later, many of its most prominent monuments, one of which was the Hagia Sophia, were built during the reconstruction of the city, and Constantinople became the center of the Greek Orthodox Church.

The Latin Empire of Constantinople (1204-1261)

Although Constantinople prospered significantly for decades after its integration into the Byzantine Empire, the factors that led to its success also made it a target for conquest.

For hundreds of years, troops from all over the Middle East attacked the city. For a time it was even controlled by members of the Fourth Crusade after the city was desecrated in 1204. Constantinople later became the center of the Roman Catholic Empire.

As competition persisted between the Latin Catholic Empire and the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire, Constantinople was caught in the middle and began to decline significantly. It went financially bankrupt, the population declined, and it became vulnerable to further attack as defense posts around the city crumbled.

In 1261, in the midst of this confusion, the Nicaean Empire recaptured Constantinople, and it was returned to the Byzantine Empire. Around the same time, the Ottoman Turks began to conquer the cities surrounding Constantinople, effectively isolating it from many of its neighboring cities.

The Ottoman Empire (1453-1922)

After being considerably weakened, Constantinople was officially conquered by the Ottomans, led by Sultan Mehmed II on May 29, 1453, after a 53-day siege.

During the siege, the last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI, was killed while defending his city. Almost immediately, Constantinople was declared the capital of the Ottoman Empire and its name was changed to Istanbul.

By taking control of the city, Sultan Mehmed attempted to rejuvenate Istanbul. He created the Grand Bazaar (one of the largest covered markets in the world) and brought back fleeing Greek Orthodox and Catholic residents.

In addition to these residents, he brought in Muslim, Christian, and Jewish families to establish a mixed population. Sultan Mehmed also began the construction of architectural monuments, schools, hospitals, public baths, and great imperial mosques.

From 1520 to 1566, Suleiman the Magnificent controlled the Ottoman Empire, and there were many artistic and architectural achievements that made the city an important cultural, political, and commercial center.

By the mid-15th century, its population had grown to nearly a million. The Ottoman Empire ruled Istanbul until it was defeated and occupied by the Allies in World War I.

The Republic of Turkey (1923-Present)

After World War I, the Turkish War of Independence took place, and Istanbul became part of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. Istanbul was not the capital of the new republic, and during the first years of its formation, Istanbul was overlooked; investments went to the new central capital, Ankara.

In the 1940s and 1950s, however, Istanbul made a comeback. New public squares, boulevards, and avenues were built, and many of the city’s historic buildings were demolished.

In the 1970s, Istanbul’s population increased rapidly, causing the city to expand into nearby villages and forests, ultimately creating a great world metropolis.

Istanbul today

Istanbul’s many historical areas were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1985.

Furthermore, due to its status as a rising world power, its history and its importance for culture both in Europe and the world, Istanbul was designated the European Capital of Culture for 2010 by the European Union.

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