On the peninsula between Europe and Asia lies the city of Istanbul (formerly Constantinople, ancient Byzantium), built as a bridge between continents. Istanbul is the largest city and a major seaport in Turkey, and for centuries, it has been an important cultural, economic, and political center on crucial trade routes. Due to its unique geographical location, Istanbul has been one of the most central cities in the world, witnessing the influence of numerous civilizations over the ages. It has seen the rise and fall of empires, migrations of peoples, natural disasters, and wars that destroyed large parts of the city. Still, it also ultimately witnessed remarkable cultural growth. Istanbul was once the capital of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires until the establishment and declaration of the Turkish Republic, with Ankara becoming the capital. This article helps you learn more about Istanbul between the past and present.
Istanbul in the Past
Going back to the past, ancient Greece was among the early owners of the ancient city (now Istanbul). Byzantium was one of many colonies founded by Greek settlers along the Bosphorus and the Black Sea coasts by the end of the 8th and 7th centuries BC. The ancient city fell into the hands of the Persian King Darius I in 512 BC. Later, the Athenian fleet captured the city in 478 BC. Byzantium later became an essential member of the Delian League, as Greek cities allied under the leadership of Athens. Over the years, the Roman Empire took control of Byzantium after the fall of the Greek Empire.
In the 4th century AD, Emperor Constantine the Great made Byzantium the capital of the Roman Empire and renamed it New Rome. Over time, its name changed to Constantinople, becoming a significant city. The Roman Empire eventually split into the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire, which later became the Byzantine Empire, with Constantinople as its capital. Many churches were built then, including the famous Hagia Sophia, which was later converted into a mosque.
The Islamic conquest of Constantinople came in 1453, when the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror captured the city, leading to the conversion of Hagia Sophia and other Byzantine churches into mosques. Istanbul continued to be the capital of the Ottoman Empire, as the empire’s capital was moved to Constantinople in 1457. During this time, Turkey and Istanbul, in particular, witnessed developments and prosperity in Turkish architecture and construction, with the construction of fountains, mosques, and palaces like the Topkapi Palace, completely transforming the city’s appearance.
Westernization movements began in the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, which reflected on the architectural styles of that era, as Western architectural styles and railways were introduced. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the Turkish Republic by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923, Ankara was chosen as the capital of Turkey, replacing Constantinople. The city retained Constantinople until the Turkish Post Office officially changed it to Istanbul in 1930.
In the period following World War II, the population of Istanbul increased significantly as many rural inhabitants moved to the city in search of work. This population increase put tremendous pressure on Istanbul’s infrastructure. The beginnings of modern urban expansion in Istanbul appeared with the construction of modern highways. By the end of the century, major projects were implemented to connect the Asian and European sides of the city by road and rail. In 1973, the Bosphorus Bridge was built, and it is now one of the bridges connecting Asia and Europe.
With the beginning of the 21st century, pursuing foreign investment became a strong incentive for rapid urban renewal. Significant improvements were made in transportation and infrastructure, as well as the renovation and restoration of old buildings and the construction of skyscrapers. As a result, Turkey’s economy flourished, and areas like industry and tourism saw significant growth. Attention was also given to education, and universities in Istanbul were built and developed.
Important Tourist Attractions in Istanbul
Istanbul boasts numerous landmarks and historical sites that witness the city’s rich history. Some of the most important tourist attractions in Istanbul include
Galata Tower: From witnessing the Crusades to serving as a prison and finally becoming an observation tower, the historic Galata Tower is a testament to Istanbul’s history. It is one of the oldest observation towers in the world. Located in the Galata district, the tower is a tall cylindrical building with a distinctive conical roof. Galata Tower is one of Istanbul’s most significant historical landmarks. It was initially built on the site of an ancient Byzantine tower destroyed during the Crusades. It was later reconstructed and used as a prison until the Ottomans repurposed it as a fire lookout tower.
The tower has recently been renovated and opened for visitors and exploration, with a small museum attached. Visitors can ascend to the top of the tower for a view of the sunset from a unique vantage point or to get a panoramic view of the city, including the Bosphorus Strait, the Golden Horn, Galata Bridge, and many of Istanbul’s prominent mosques and landmarks.”
Hagia Sophia Mosque
Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul is one of Turkey’s oldest and most famous tourist attractions, displaying elements of Byzantine architecture. It was initially a church dating back to the Byzantine Empire. It was ordered to be built by Emperor Justinian in 532 AD, and completed in 537 AD, remaining the largest cathedral in the world until 1520 AD. After the Islamic conquest of Constantinople, it was converted into a mosque, and Islamic features were added, including the pulpit, the mihrab, and the minarets. After the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate, the mosque was transformed into a historical museum and registered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It was recently reopened as a mosque.
Topkapi Palace (The High Gate)
The palace was built during the reign of Sultan Mehmed, the Conqueror, in 1456 and is located between the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara, specifically in the Fatih district of Istanbul. The Ottomans used it as the headquarters of the Ottoman Caliphate for 400 years until its fall. The palace was later opened as a museum, showcasing Ottoman architecture and housing a vast collection of Ottoman artifacts, ceramics, jewelry, weapons, and one of the oldest world maps. UNESCO also registers it as a World Heritage Site.
Taksim Square is considered one of the important landmarks of Istanbul and one of the most iconic areas in the city, attracting many tourists when visiting Turkey. At the heart of the square stands a monument commemorating the founding of the Turkish Republic. The area around the square features a variety of cafes, restaurants, shops, cultural centers, and luxury hotels. It is also a business hub and a popular place for celebrating public events.
Studying in Istanbul
Istanbul is one of Turkey’s most important cities, being the largest in terms of area and the leading industrial city in Turkey. Istanbul is known for its multiculturalism and is home to many prestigious universities offering various advanced programs. It is also characterized by its modern facilities, advanced research centers, and opportunities for training with significant companies located in the city. These factors make it one of the preferred study destinations for students from various countries worldwide.