The Tale Of Three Cities: History of Istanbul

A Short History of Istanbul, Byzantium, Constantinople

The city of Istanbul has had three different names throughout history. In the past, it was known as Byzantium as a Greek colony and Constantinople as a Roman city.

Since the final years of the Ottoman Empire, the city has been called Istanbul. Ottomans continued using “Konstantiniyye“, Turkish version for Constantinople, for years.

History Of Istanbul, Byzantium, Constantinople Facts

  1. Byzantium – Greek City-State

Now that we are talking about the history of Istanbul, we need to go back to 638 BC. Our story begins when a king named Byzas decided to emigrate from the city of Megara in Greece and seek the advice of an oracle at Temple Apollo, like anybody did those days.

The oracle advised him to head to the East and build his city opposite the City of the Blind. Of course, neither Byzas nor his company understood anything at all.

Arrival To The Bosphorus

As a result of their journey from Greece to the East, they arrived at a fortified point known as Sarayburnu (Seraglio Point) today. This is where the Historical Peninsula of Istanbul meets the Bosphorus in the East.

While Byzas and his staff were enjoying the beautiful scenery of the Bosphorus on this hill, they spotted a settlement on the eastern side of the Bosphorus, which is known as Kadikoy today. Those people were nobody else but the Greek colony that emigrated before them.

City Of The Blind: Chalcedon

Byzas and his staff thought Chalcedons were the blind people mentioned by the oracle, as they didn’t see that great location and chose Asian side. Therefore, Byzas decided to settle opposite to Chalcedons.  The city began to be named as Byzantium after its founder Byzas.

History of Istanbul

Map of Ancient Greece
Byzantium (Byzantion) The first name of Istanbul
  1. Constantinople – The Roman Empire

Roman Emperor Constantine decided to move the huge Empire’s center to an eastern state that was safer and more productive. He chose Byzantium due to its great location in his expedition to find such a state.

He ordered his architects to rebuild the city and build a majestic Roman city on top of the seven hills. In six years, the city’s walls were widened four times and various Roman buildings were constructed.

The New Rome: Emperor Constantine’s Constantinople

Constantinople during the Roman-Byzantine Period
The City – History Of Istanbul, Byzantium, Constantinople

Foundation of Constantinople By Emperor Constantine

The Hippodrome, the Great Palace, and the Forum of Constantine are some of the buildings that were constructed during that period.

The city was designated as Nova Roma in 330. The Emperor Constantine declared the city as the co-capital of the Empire alongside Rome and named it after himself. However, the Roman Empire was divided into two after the death of Emperor Theodosius in 395.

Division of the Roman Empire as East and West 395 A.D.

map of roman empire
The Split Of Roman Empire By Emperor Theodosios Map
  1. Constantinople – The Byzantine Empire

When the Roman Empire was divided into two, the city of Constantinople remained as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.

The Western Roman Empire fell in 476, only 81 years after the division, due to the barbarian invasion and the old capital Rome was seized by the Vizigoths.

Byzantine Empire also Known as Eastern Rome

The Eastern Rome (Byzantines) lost its twin sister and it was left alone on the stage of history. The kings of the Eastern Roman Empire conceived themselves as Cesar, while the common folks identified themselves as Romans. The reason why this civilization is known in modern history books as Byzantine is because the modern day historians derived it from the city’s first name Byzantium.

Byzantium Under Justinian’s Rule

Byzantine Empire had a deep Greek culture and Roman administrative organization. Therefore, it remained alive for years. The peak point of the Empire was the era of the Emperor Justinian who built Hagia Sophia.

Thanks to the great conquests of Justinian in the West, The Byzantine Empire‘s borders almost reached the level of the old Roman Empire. However, his successors were unable to protect these borders due to various reasons.

The Masterpiece of Byzantine Architecture: Hagia Sophia

Istanbul during the Byzantine Empire Period
Hagia Sophia – Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul History

IV. Crusade & Latin Invasion of Constantinople

The Byzantine Empire recaptured parts of the lands they lost to the Seljuk Empire, the first Turks that came from the East. However, they were invaded by the Crusaders. (Sack of Constantinople by Latins)

After the invasion period of Latins between 1204 and 1261, the Byzantine Empire entered the process of downfall and she couldn’t pick herself up from there.

The Fall of Constantinople 1453

Finally, in 1453, the Ottoman Turks seized the Byzantine Empire’s last stronghold and they made the city the center of an empire again when it was on the brink of collapse.

Byzantine Empire At Its Height Under Justinian’s Rule

map of byzantine empire
Justinian Retake Rome Byzantine Empire Map At The Peak Point
  1. Istanbul (Konstantiniyye) – The Ottoman Period

Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror (Mehmed II) the Ottoman Sultan, was a very well educated statesman. Since he knew the history of Byzantine Empire well, he wanted to see Hagia Sophia as the first thing.

The city’s buildings were not in a good condition, as they were not repaired during the last years of the Empire. Therefore, Sultan Mehmet II is rumored to have been deeply saddened not to see the glory he expected.

Hagia Sophia: From a Church to a Mosque

The Sultan ordered the immediate restoration of Hagia Sophia and its conversion to a mosque. Then, he began the construction of a palace for himself. This palace is Topkapi Palace, which is located at Sultanahmet Area today. The Palace was built on the ancient ruins of the old Greek city Byzantium. The elegant columns of various sizes that can be seen from the inside of the palace are the remnants of the ancient city.

The Topkapi Palace of Ottoman Sultans

Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire Period
The Topkapi Palace of Ottoman Sultans

The Rise of the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire enjoyed a great period of rise from 1453 to 1700, so much so that, the Empire’s borders extended to three continents and she became the biggest and the most powerful state of her time. The name of the city wasn’t changed immediately. It was called Constantinople for ages.

From Stanpoli to Istanbul

The name Stanpoli, which was given to the city’s center when the city was first built during the Byzantium era, evolved and it began to be called Istanbul. Istanbul became the capital of a strong empire for the third time.

  1. Istanbul – Modern Day Turkey

Immediately after the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699, the Ottoman Empire entered a process of decline that would last for over two centuries.

Some of the Sultans in rule attempted to make reforms in the army, social life, laws and bring the Empire to the level of the developing Europe. However, their efforts became fruitless.

The Fall of Ottoman Empire WW1

Since the Ottoman Empire fell back in terms of technology, she lost more people and more equities to preserve her lands. In 19th century, the Empire entered a process of fall in terms of economy and World War 1 (1914-1918) consumed the already exhausted Empire completely.

Istanbul During the Late Ottoman Period

Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire time
Istanbul During The Late Ottoman Period

War of Independence

We all know the incidents that followed the collapse of the Ottoman Empire from history books. While Istanbul was under the enemy invasion, the war of independence was conducted at Grand National Assembly of Turkey that was founded in Ankara.

The Foundation of Modern Turkey by Ataturk

The assembly was organized by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his friends. After the Independence War was won and the capital was moved to Ankara, Istanbul lost its title as a capital. Yet it’s the most important city of Turkey.

If you would like to review the list of top historical monuments of Istanbul, you may check historical places in Istanbul blog post for more information.

Modern Turkey was Established in Anatolia (Asia Minor)

map of turkey
Map Of Turkish Republic

Written By Serhat Engul

A Short History Of Istanbul, Byzantium, Constantinople

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