Istanbul is the only city in the world built on two continents. Istanbul is a province designed to be the capital and it has been the capital of three empires which used to dominate the world. In its south stretchesMarmora Sea and in its north is Black Sea. Its west part is in Europe and east part is in Asia. The only alternative to reach the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, therefore to open sea is to use Istanbul and the Bosphorus.
Istanbul is both the nearest Asian city to Europe and the nearest European city to Asia. What adds to Istanbul’s significance is its being a port city and all trade paths’ passing through the city for thousands of years.
Another important feature of Istanbul is that it has a highly sheltered structure. Especially the center which is presently called as the “historical peninsula”, which was made capital city by both Byzantine and Ottoman Empires and its being located on a hill surrounded by three seas made it almost impossible to be conquered.
St. Sophia Museum
St. Sophia Museum, which is among the most significant monuments of world’s architectural history, is considered as the only application in terms of its architectural property, its magnificence, greatness and functionality. St. Sophia has been an inspiration for Ottoman mosques thought in idea, and is reviewed as a product of east-west synthesis. St. Sophia served for 916 years as church and 481 years as mosque since its year of construction. Recently, St. Sophia was turned into a museum in 1935.
Kariye Museum which is located in Edirnekapı in Istanbul was originally built as achurch ofKhora Monastery. While it is known to exist in the 8th century, the monastery is claimed to have been built in the 4th century.
Kariye Mosque which has a kiboion section, whose dome is held by four arches, had a very desolate state during the Latin Invasion in 1204-1261. Towards the turn of 1313, during the period of Andronikos the 2nd (1282-1328), a leading figure of the era, Theodoros Metochites who was a literarian, poet and minister of treasury, commissioned for the repairs of the church and added an appendix to the north, an exonartex to the western, and a chapel (paraecclesion) to the south sides.
Mosaics Museum was built on he ruins of Grand Palace from the Byzantine period and a section of Sultan Ahmed Mosque Complex. As well as the mosaics surviving from Grand Palace to date, some mosaics found in Istanbul and nearby are displayed in this museum.
Yerebatan Cistern Museum
Yerebatan Cistern was built in the left side of Sultanahmet Square towards St. Sophia-Gülhane Park direction. Yerebatan Cistern which is also called “Yerebatan Palace” was commissioned in about 540 by Byzantine Emperor Justinianus the 1st. The area which was gained by the underground carving of a rocky surface, the cistern which is supported by more than 300 columns, have become the most important water resource supplying water to Istanbul. The cistern which was cleansed and repaired by the Municipality of Istanbul during 1985-1988, is today one of the open-to-public places of visit with its mystifying and exotic atmosphere.
Naval Museum is presently serving across Beşhiktaşh Pier, under Navy Forces Commandership, as a museum where pieces and information about maritime are kept.
Although the naval museum was originally built in Kasımpaşa, upon the decision to move the naval archive to Konya during the Second World War, the collection of the museum was moved to Anatolia. After the war, the museum was open to service in Kasımpaşa and it was moved to Dolmabahçe in 1949. The museum was opened to public in its present location in 1960.
The mosque was commissioned in 153 by Sultan Abdülmecid to Architect Nigoğos Balyan. The mosque which has a rather elegant structure is of Baroque style. As in all mosques built by the sultan, it is made up of two parts of harem and sultan’s office. Wide and high windows are arranged in a way to carry the changing lights of Bosphorus inside the mosque. The stair cased building has two minarets with single balcony each. The walls are made of white hewn stone. The walls of the single dome are made of pink mosaics.
Ahmed I, who ascended the throne at the age of fourteen, was an extremely religiousminded sultan, who displayed his religious fervor in his decision to construct a mosque to compete with Ayasofya. For the site, a suitable place was long sought before the decision was taken. At last the mosque decided to build on the site of the palace of Ayse Sultan. The owner of the palace was compensated and the site prepared by the architect Mehmed Aga, who began the construction in 1609. This architect poet and inlayer completed this great work in 1617. An imperial lodge, school, service kiosk and single and double storied shops were included in the complex, which spread over the area around the mosque. The mosque itself is surrounded on three sides by a broad courtyard, and is entered on each side by a total of eight portals. The inner court is reached through three gates, and is paved in marble, and surrounded by revaks supported on columns of pink granite and marble, and two of porphyry, and surmounted by 30 cupolas. A fine fountain for ablution takes up the center of the courtyard, surrounded by six marble columns. The mosque is unique with its six minarets inIstanbul
. Four of these have three balconies, two have two balconies each, a total of 16 in all.
The building which is presently used as a mosque was originally thechurch of Pantocrator Monastery, one of the greatest monasteries of Istanbul at that period, which was commissioned by Ionnes Comnenos’s wife Eirene. Its construction was completed in 1136. During Latin invasion, this monastery was captured by Catholic priests. And after the conquest of Istanbul, the monastery was transformed to a medresse and its church to a mosque by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. It got its name from its first professor Molla Zeyrek Mehmet Efendi. The mosque which underwent serious repairs at the end of 18th century was restored for the most part from 1966. The building which is comprised of three adjacent structures is made of tile. The roof of the building is covered with five domes. It has a minaret with single balcony. The floor tiling which were discovered during restoration is one of the unequalled examples reaching from that period to date and is of amazing beauty.
Stephan (Bulgarian) Church
This church which belongs to Bulgarian minority is may be the most interesting church of Istanbul. Bulgarian residents ofOttoman Empire previously performed their religious rituals in the churches of Fener Orthodox Patriarchy. And probably under the influence of nationalism, Bulgarian people received permission from the state to have their own churches. At first, a small wooden church was built on the area between Balat, where the church is located today and Fener, by theGolden Horn coast. Later, an activity began to build a larger church. Since the ground was weak, iron frame method was preferred for being lighter, rather than concrete.
Surp Krior Lusarovich Armenian Orthodox Church
It is the oldest Armenian Church in Istanbul. A text from 1360 mentions another church with the name of Surp Sarkis in the place of the present church. The present church was built in 1431.
Neve Shalom Synagogue
The name which means “oasis of peace” was built with the restoration of a Jewish primary school. This hall was first turned into a prayer room, but was unable to be opened for use because the necessary approvals weren’t obtained. This approval was granted in 1949, and the project was designed by two Jewish men named Elio Ventura and Bernard Motola, recently graduated from Istanbul Technical University
The signs of first communal settlements in Istanbul and its surroundings date back to long years ago. While the first traces extend back to 6. Century B.C., it was discovered by research that some communities have lived in both Anatolian and European side of Istanbul. These first habitants had first lived as nomads and semi-nomads. Then they adopted a communal way of life based on fishing, agriculture and cattle breeding.
Especially in researches in Fikirtepe, it was found out that back in year 6000 B.C, animals such as dogs, goats, cattle and pigs were domesticated and the habitants took up fishing.
In the advent of 3000 B.C., there is an intense settlement activity starting in Istanbul. This period enabled the arising of small governed city units (beylik). Researches reveal that Sultanahmet Square of today and its surroundings had been center to a major settlement.
The foundations of today’s Istanbul were framed by Megarians coming from Greece during 7th Century B.C., a time which was also called “Period of Byzantine”. Megarians, who reached Istanbul passing through the Sea of Marmara in 680 B.C., established a city in Kadiköy of today called “Halkedonia”. The community of Halkedonia, which was also referred as “Country of the Blind”, dealt with agriculture in those periods.
In years of 660 B.C., another branch of Megarians set up another city where Sarayburnu is located now. According to the legend, Megarians who chose this area upon the advice of the oracle in Delphi Temple named the city “Byzantine”, after their commander-in-chief. Byzantine developed in a short period of time thanks to its location, making it a trading-based and strategically privileged city of defense, and became an independent and powerful site with its currency exchangeable within Greek Colonies.
In year 513 B.C., Byzantine and Halkedonia were conquered by Persians who marched passing through Anatolia. However, Spartan commander Pausantas who achieved a victory against Persians in year 489 B.C. saved Byzantine from the rule of Persians and reigned the city until 4777 B.C. At this date Athenians took over the control of the city and Byzantine became a part of Delos Union led by Athens in 4767 B.C.
Byzantine survived the attack of Germanic tribes coming from the west in year 278 B.C. Then the city was governed by Roman Empire when Romans were stretching their territory from Balkans to Asia Minor in 16 B.B. after Macedonian Wars. By Byzantine's being taken over by Romans, its status of city-country of 700 years was over. However, it sustained its privileges.
Until 2.century A.D., the only occurrence which shook Byzantine which lived a 350-years period of tranquility was its support of Pescenius in the war between Septimus Severus and Pescenius Niger. Septimus, who won the victory in 195-196 A.D., took revenge by destroying Byzantine and slaughtering its people.
In year 330, Roman Emperor Constantine the First declared Byzantine as the new capital. The city was re-built and named “Constantinopolis”. In the period of Constantine the First, it became one of the most influential religious and political center of the world of Christianity.
The city was a scene to some attacks during 4th and 5th centuries. The attacking forces were particularly Goths and Vizigoths. In 440, Hun Emperor Atilla attacked the city. Taxes were paid to Huns until year 450.
However, in spite of all these, Constantinopolis maintained its significance in this period. The population of the city exceeded that of Rome in 5. Century, with the communities brought from Thrace.
In 476, Ostrogoths dethroned Western Roman Emperor Romulus Augustus and handed the Empire to the reign of Eastern Roman Emperor Zenon. Therefore, Western Roman Empire became a thing of the past. But at the same time, Constantinopolis became the only capital of Roman Empire.
Eastern Roman Empire had turned into Byzantine Empire and Constantinopolis was no more a Roman city and became a peculiarly eastern Orthodox city.
The middle of 6th Century became the beginning of a new rising period for Byzantine Empire, and therefore, for Istanbul. In the period of Emperor Justinian, who was a religious and educated person in contrast to his even illiterate predecessor, the city gained a vision of a proper Orthodox Christian capital. St. Sophia, which was damaged previously, was built in its present form in that period.
The plaque epidemic which spread in the city in year 543 killed almost half of the inhabitants of the city. The city had undergone constant catastrophes. Nevertheless, the structure built particularly by Emperor I. Justinian equipped Istanbul with a resistance against every kind of war and disaster.
In 1204, the city was taken over by Crusaders and raided ruthlessly. The greatest city of the Middle Age turned into a poor, devastated city with a population of 40-50 thousand.
The preparation for a conquest of Istanbul, which served as the capital of religions and cultures actually started a year ago. While Fortress of Rumelia was being constructed in 1452 in aim of controlling the Boshporus, huge canons were cast to be used in the siege. The armed forces were doubled in number. While hectic preparations were being made on land, a very powerful navy force comprised of 16 galleys was formed for the attacks from the sea.
To prevent Byzantines from receiving help, the aiding passages were taken under control and Galata, under Genoese rule, was neutralized at war. And onApril 2, 1453, Ottoman leading forces took position before Istanbul fronts.
Conquest of Istanbul was a turning point for Turks, Islam and the world, in a way to shape the course of history. Most important of all, from the point of view of many historians, was the ending of Middle Age by the conquest of Istanbul.
After the ending of days of invasion, Istanbul gained a new look with the declaration of the republic. Istanbul, which was a capital to three great empires, left this title to Ankara. The population which was around 850 thousand at the turn of the century, decreased to 700 thousand in the census of 1927.
While the efforts for westernization were shifted to Ankara particularly in cultural, political, economical, architectural, ideological respects, Istanbul was seriously neglected. And Istanbul, in its history of over two thousand years, started to be governed from the outside for the first time. Much less resources than it produced were allocated to the city, which continued to be the economical and commercial center.