The Blue Mosque, (Sultanahmet Camii)

History of Istanbul

Istanbul is the only city in the world which is situated on two separate continents. ît is located on both sides of the Bosphorus, which separates Asia and Europe and is, at the same time, the single passageway connecting the Black Sea and the MarmaraSea. The fırst settlement of the area was in the 7th Century BC. In 627 BC Byzas, the Commander of Megara, camefrom Greece and, settling strategically in what is now Sarayhurnu, founded an important trade center, Byzantium.

From this date onward for the next thousand years, thefate of Byzantium followed thefate ofother Greek cities in the Middle East: the Persian invasions, the Peloponnesian wars, Alexander the Great’s conquests that brought the borders of the Roman Empire to Byzantium. Thanks to the “Pax Romana” treaty with Rome, the three centuries before Christ were years ofpeace.

However, in 196 AD the army of the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus toppled the ramparts and pillaged the city. In the 4th Century AD due to internal divisions within the Roman Empire Byzantium was occupied by the Eastern Roman Emperor Constantine in 324 AD. Emerging as the single ruler, Constantine transfered the throne of the Roman Empire to Byzantium. Beginning in 326 AD and continuing for four years, the city was ftlled with the magnificence of an imperial capital and its ramparts extended from the Golden Horn to the MarmaraSea.

Finally on May 11, 330 during a ceremony at the Hippodrome Constantine declared the city, which was later to he named Constantinople, “New Rome” (“Nova Roma”). Thus, in four years the Byzantium of 1000 years, took on a new identity.

The New Rome, like the old Rome, was built on seven hills, beginning at the MarmaraSea, including the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. Today six of these hills can be seen from the GalataTower. They are ornamented with either a Byzantine church or an Ottoman mosque, forming the magnificent Istanbul silhouette. Beginning with TopkapıPalace, going up the Golden Horn crowning the hills are the church of St. Sophia, Nuruosmaniye mosque, Süleymaniye (the Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent), Fatih, Selim, and Mihrimah Mosques.

In the Century following Constantine’s reign, the Roman Empire underwent enormous changes. In 395 after the death of Theodosius, Honorius took command of Rome in the West while Arcadius ruled Constantinople in the East. In 476 with the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the ruler of Constantinople became the single leader of the Roman Empire. This situation brought about several fundamental changes in the region. With the majority of the population being Greek-speaking Christians, the Eastern Roman Empire became the Byzantine Empire and a new era began.

Coming to the throne in 527, Justinian decided to make his capital a more splendid city. In a matter of years, Constantinople entered its Golden Age as the most magnificent capital in the world. The crown of Justinian’s new city was the church of Hagia Sophia” (St. Sophia).

In Justinian’s time the Byzantine Empire stretched from the EuphratesRiver to Hercules. Within fifty years following the death of Justinian in 565, the decline of the Empire had begun. A defeat by the Selfuk Turks in 1071 in the Malazgirt War followed invasions by Arabs, Slavs and Bulgarians. The Crusaders struck a final blow. On April 13, 1204 the Crusaders Army surmounted the city walls and ravaged the city. Byzantium never again regained its former glory.

Beginning in 1204 Latin kings ruled Byzantium for a time, loosing so much territory that within a century Constantinople was squeezed within its own environs. Finally on May 29, 1453 the Ottoman army under the command of Sultan Mehmet conquered Constantinople, and the Byzantine Empire was lost to history.

The name of today’s city, Istanhid, evolved in different ways over various time periods. In some history books “Stimpoli” is used as a shortened form of “Constantinople,” the name given by the Roman Emperor Constantine. During the time of the Emevi Moslems the name “Istinbol” was assimilated. In the 18th century, Turkish Moslems used the name “Islambol” for a short time, but soon “Istanbul” became the city’s identity.

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Popular Destinations in Istanbul


  • Hagia Sophia
  • Topkapi Palace


  • Blue Mosque
  • Grand Bazaar