History of Istanbul

free essayThe European continent is home to the town with one of the richest history that dates back to the Roman Empire. Some of the towns that were well established during the medieval times became the successors of the settlements created by the Romans in the Roman period. There was a big number of medieval towns spread all over Europe: Prague in Czech Republic, Carcassonne in France, Rothenberg in Germany, York in England and others (Riley-Smith 44). Two of the most remarkable towns from the medieval times that were connected with the Roman Empire include Rome and Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). Medieval towns were totally different from the modern-day towns. They were enclosed by a trench and walls usually made of bricks or stone, with towers for security and beauty (Runciman & Jeffreys 38). Access to these towns was only through vaulted gates that were closed at night.

There were numerous towns, many of them with no noteworthy impacts on the groundbreaking historical events. Many of them were poor with a small population; and the lack of proper infrastructures such as roads and security diminished their potential for growth. These towns still served purposes such as being hubs for commercial activities, although most of them had room only for commerce of the basic life necessities (Crowley 61).

Location of Istanbul

Constantinople was the only city that is situated on two continents, both Asia and Europe. The city was located on both sides of the Bosporus channel and the sea of Marmara which provides a connection between the Mediterranean and the Black Seas (Runciman & Jeffreys 37). Constantinople was founded at a crossroad between Christianity and Islam, in addition to being between Asia and Europe. The city served as the capital for the Ottoman, Roman, Byzantine Empires and the modern day Turkish republic. The city withstood numerous attacks, especially in the ancient times when the Spartans, Athenians, Greeks and Persians fought to capture it (Riley-Smith 19). The city was captured a few times, each conqueror renamed it and made it a capital for his agenda – mainly because of its strategic location.

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Social Structure in Medieval Istanbul

In medieval Istanbul, there was essential freedom within the confines of the walls. There were certain levels of freedom although it was far from the modern-day freedom or one of a democratic society. The city was highly populated, with more than 50,000 residents (Mansel 53). Some of the streets were well defined although others were unpaved and narrow, depending on the specific location in the city. Those at the center of the city and near the establishments such as churches, palaces or civil establishments were well defined and maintained as compared to others in the outskirts and commercial areas. Rural people came to the city to sell their products and to interact with the citizens on whose help they were dependent.

Physical Structure of Ancient Istanbul

The buildings in Istanbul were large and well built, especially the churches and mosques. One of the most remarkable building was the Haghia Sophia that was at one time a church and later was turned into a Muslim temple after the city was conquered by Mehmed; a Muslim leader. Haghiasophia was the largest building in medieval Istanbul. Today the Haghia Sophia is a museum in Istanbul, the capital of Turkey. The City was surrounded by a series of large defensive stone walls that were fortified, and were one of the most complex defense systems of the Roman Empire. The wall stretched from the northern point of acropolis to the west tower of Eugenios and then stretched to the southwest to the strategion and the baths of Achilles (Mansel 28).

Inside the walls, there were several religious temples located at different corners of the city. Inside the confines of the walls, buildings were made of different materials such as stones, bricks or wood depending on the purpose of the building and the social status of the builder. Different buildings had different styles of constructions and decorations (Eastmond & James 36). During this period, the decorations were depictions of different things, such as crosses or portraits of influential people in the society. The decorations were mainly made up of mosaics, a form of art that evolved significantly over the course of history. The remarkable works of art that were used as decorations in the large religious buildings and palaces in the Roman Empire cannot be traced today to Istanbul due to the period of iconoclasm that took place between 8th and 9th century A.D. when most of the mosaics were destroyed (Eastmond & James 29). Additionally, the latter half of the 19th century (726-87, 815-43) witnessed imperial legislation that banned the production and use of figural images while only promoting the cross as the only acceptable form of decorations in the Byzantine churches (Phillips 47). The end of this legislation period led to the re-decoration of the Haghia Sophia among other monuments, thus some of the decorations were not as old as the establishment (Freely & Cakmak 49).

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Istanbul has one of the richest history in the world. The history of this town began approximately in 600 B.C.E in the days of Greek colonial expansion (Mansel 47). The town was started by the legendary Byzas and a group of people from a town named Megara and renamed the city to Byzantium after its founder. Greeks from Megara and Miletus were the first to inhabit the area along the shoreline of the Black Sea and Bosporus in the second half of the 8th century B.C. in approximately 660 B.C. Megarian known as Byzas was the first to establish a colony which he called Byzantium (Freely & Cakmak 65). Due to its strategic positioning, the colony grew remarkably; becoming an economic hub and soon itstarted drawing unwanted attention (Mansel 37). Athenians, Persians, Spartans, and even the Gauls attacked Byzantium in the 3rd Century B.C. as a result, Byzantium, overwhelmed by Macedonians, decided to ask for protection from Rome, creating a relationship that make  this city become a part of the Roman province by 73 B.C. (Harris 26).

The location of Byzantium was fundamental for its growth and evolution. Over the course of history, the city evolved through different political reigns, mainly due to its location.  Byzantium was a valuable city both for the Roman and the Greeks, specifically because of its location on the land route to Asia from Europe, and the seaway from the Black Euxine Sea to the Mediterranean (Mansel 16). The city enjoyed an abundant supply of fish and food from the lush land in the adjacent countryside that suitable for cultivation. The golden horn inlet created a benign harbor adjacent to the town in addition to the major maritime routes linking the Black and the Mediterranean Seas in the Bosporus. All of the leaders who conquered this city understood and captured it for its strategic and commercial importance in the early times (Freely and Cakmak 73).

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In approximately 196 A.D. Byzantium happened to be aligned with the mistaken side in an internal power brawl and the results were catastrophic (Crowley 90). A Roman Emperor named Septimus Severus devastated most of the town and exterminated its residents. Then he rebuilt the city which prospered despite rebellions, attacks and civil wars that raged all over the rest of the Roman Empire (Mansel 31). In 324 A.D., Constantine I gained victory over his opposing ruler Licinius and began uniting large Roman territory under his control. He made Byzantium the headquarters of his Empire, which was spread over Asia, Europe and Africa (Mango & Dagron 19). Byzantium was renamed to Constantinople in tribute to Constantine who became the first Roman Leader that accepted Christianity. The city grew to become one of the most powerful and wealthiest cities of that time. Up to the 11th century, Constantinople was virtually untouchable; commanded large quantities of wealth and dictating Christian spiritual principles. All roads now lead to Constantinople, the converging point amid east and west (Harris 71).

The death of Theodosious in 395 A.D. led to the split of the Empire into West and East. Byzantium became the headquarters of the eastern Empire and continued with its Christian principles to become the center of  Greek Orthodox Christian world (Mango & Dagron 55). As the city had large amounts of resources and capital available, Constantinople was built into a gorgeous city, with the best designers and architects designing palaces and churches. More than 500,000 people lived in Constantinople during the rule of the Emperor Justinian. And the Emperor supervised the construction of the most remarkable buildings, such as the Haghia Sophia, and it was under his leadership that Constantinople reached its pinnacle (Crowley 43).

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Continued prosperity and accrual of treasure attracted  many adversaries. In 542, an epidemic hit the city and the results were catastrophic (Mansel 28). Three out of five residents were killed, marking the start of the downfall. Although the enemies overwhelmed the enfeebled city, they were unable to climb over the walls. From the 7th to the 11th century, Persian Sassanids, Muslim Arabs, Russians, Avars and Bulgars confronted the town but were unable to conquer it. The city was later seized in 1204 by Roman Catholics (Latins) who broke through the walls during the fourth crusade. This was after successions of religious confrontations between Muslims and Christians for the control of the Holly Land (Phillips 66).

The Latins would rule the city until 1261 when soldiers recaptured their city. The Latin rule looted and destroyed the previously glorious city. The assailants took most of the city’s valuable civic and religious symbols, took almost everything valuable that could be removed , and even melted the city’s bronze statues for coins. This left the city at its weakest, and it has never recovered its lost glory (Norwich 51). The populations shrank from 500,000 to 50,000 and the inhabitants lived in the brink of deprivation and pestilences. From a distance, the troops of The Ottoman Empire were approaching Constantinople

The Ottoman troops attacked Constantinople in 1396 for the first time. They created a stronghold on the Asian front to stop aid from getting to Constantinople, although the city did not tumble for a few decades (Crowley 61). In 1452, the Ottomans built another stronghold on the European lateral of the Bosporus to isolate from Constantinople under the leadership of Mehmed II. He also made the arrangements for making large cannons to bring down the strong city walls. In 1453 the Ottoman multitudes attacked Constantinople by land and water (Norwich 61). Although a large chain disallowed opponent vessels from reaching the golden horn, a few months later Mehmed moved his fleet by land into the golden Horn. Mehmed conquered the town and prayed in Haghia Sophia, marking the end of the Christian period and beginning the Muslim era in Constantinople. He immediately turned Haghia Sophia into a Muslim temple (Freely & Cakmak 33).

As a result of the constant attacks on the city, by the time Ottomans conquered Constantinople, it was almost completely abandoned. Mehmed repopulated it by bringing people from the outside communities (Harris 94). By 1457 Constantinople was the headquarters of the Ottoman Empire and it was the first time when this city was called Istanbul. In a few years, the city was populated back to over 50,000 inhabitants. This marked the beginning of the medieval Istanbul that would continuously grow to its peak in the later years of the 16th century. The Ottoman Empire designed establishments in the excess of 300; such as palaces, government buildings, Mosques and tombs. For some time, it became the epicenter of Islam (Mango & Dagron 37). By the 19th century, “moderate’ sultans welcomed the west in search of better relations. People from different backgrounds stared to populate Istanbul; from Unorthodox Greeks, Armenians to Christians, Jews and different Europeans. Europeans invested substantially into the Ottoman Empire, and later they did not hide their desire to influence the Empire’s wealth and territories (Phillips 73).

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The Ottoman’s administration incorporated Germans, British and French in almost all aspects of the Ottoman’s society. They started adopting wester cultural practices such as clothing, which marked the start of the modernization of Istanbul (Yiannias 49). By the 1870s, the Europeans started constructing railroads to connect with the city of Istanbul. This modernization came at a high cost as the Empire became heavily indebted in European powers.  Many young Ottoman rulers tried to minimize the powers vested upon sultans and  it adopted a ‘western-style’ way of leadership (Yiannias 38). This resulted in power struggles in the late 19th and early 20th century that led to the start of the Turkish Republic (With Istanbul as the capital) and the end of the Ottoman Empire.