İstanbul is a unique city. Part of it lies in Europe and part in Asia. The city is Turkey’s most important port and is situated on both sides of the Bosporus Strait (the stretch of water that separates Europe from Asia). İstanbul has 11,174,257 inhabitants and is the largest city in Turkey.
BYZANTIUM, CONSTANTINOPLE OR İSTANBUL?
İstanbul was founded on the site of the Ancient Greek city of Byzantium in ad 330. From that time onwards, it became known as Constantinople, after its founder—Roman emperor Constantine the Great. Constantine the Great made the city the eastern capital of the Roman Empire. He called it Nova Roma (which means “New Rome”), but this name never became popular. The city was known as Constantinople for more than 1,500 years. In 1930, seven years after Turkey gained independence, its name was officially changed to İstanbul—this is what the people who lived there had been calling it for many centuries.
Constantinople was built on seven hills and was surrounded by walls. The walls are now mostly in ruins. The city has a very colourful history and has been attacked and occupied by invaders from all over the world on many occasions. These invaders included the Arabs (in 673-678 and again in 717-718), the Bulgarians (in 813 and 913) and the Christian Crusaders, who took control of the city twice (in 1203 and 1204).
The Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453 and the city became the capital of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. During the Turkish War of Independence (1918-1923) troops from Britain, France and Italy occupied the city. It remained as the capital of Turkey until 1923, when the city of Ankara was chosen as the country’s new capital.
İstanbul’s skyline is dominated by the domes and spires of the city’s many mosques. The Suleimaniye Mosque is the largest mosque in Turkey and is widely considered to be İstanbul’s finest Ottoman monument. It was built between 1550 and 1557 for Sultan Suleiman I. Another famous mosque is Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), which was built in the 6th century. It was originally an Orthodox Christian church, but was later converted into a mosque and is now a museum. The Blue Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616, and is decorated with blue and green tiles and paintwork. Nearby, the Kariye Mosque contains some of the world’s finest Byzantine mosaics and murals.
The Topkapi Palace was the main residence of the Sultans (the rulers of the Ottoman Empire) and the headquarters of their government from 1465 to 1853. It is now a history museum, and is one of Turkey’s most popular tourist attractions. Also popular with visitors to İstanbul is the Grand Bazaar—a huge covered market, with more than 4,000 shops, banks and restaurants. It is one of the largest markets in the world and has been an important trading centre for the city since 1464.