Istanbul is the only city in the world built on two continents. Its fate has been determined by its vital strategic location and enchanted natural beauty. It has long been coveted by powerful empires, and served as capital first to Byzantium and then to the Ottoman Empire.
Istanbul stretches along the two shores of the Bosphorus that links the Sea of Marmara in the South with the Black Sea in the North. It is Turkey's largest city with a population of approximately 12 million.
Istanbul is also at the heart of the economy of Turkey. The largest companies and banks, the main national newspapers, television networks and advertising agencies all have their headquarters in the city.
Istanbul is also the capital of art and culture with a rich tradition in opera and ballet, theater performing Turkish and foreign plays, concerts, art exhibition, festivals, auctions, conferences and of course unique museums. The city also boasts the country's largest and finest universities. As an imperial capital for 1500 years, Istanbul has acquired a highly original personality. At every turn in the city you are faced with Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman palaces, mosques, churches, monasteries, monuments, walls and ruins. Yet Istanbul is not a city living only in its past. It is a vibrant, modern and future-oriented metropolis. Bazaars and ultra-modern
supermarkets and department stores, street vendors and stock-brokers, old crumbling buildings and skyscrapers, horse-drawn carts and sumptuous limousines coexist and this amalgam gives the city a multifaceted outlook and flavor. Istanbul is like an intricately woven carpet, a subtle blend of eastern and western cultures.
A Brief History
In the seventh century BC, Byzas, the Legendary commander of the Megarians, following the advice of the Oracle at Delphi, founded the city of Byzantium and placed it under the protection of Rhea and Apollon. In 330, the Roman Emperor Constantine decided to transfer the capital of the Empire from Rome to Byzantium. In the new capital, thereafter known as Constantinople, the Emperor initiated the construction of a palace, a forum, the first basilica of Ayasofya and walls encircling the seven hills of the city. When in 476 Rome fell under assaults from the north, Constantinople remained the sole capital of the Empire and gradually moved under
Greek political and cultural influence. In the sixth century, with a population of over 400 thousand, it was already a large city.
Attacked by the Avars and the Persians in the 7th and 8th centuries, Constantinople had to defend itself four times against Arab assaults. In 1204 it was occupied by the armies of the fourth crusade which pillaged the city and demolished most of its monuments.
After several attempts over half a century, the Ottomans finally took control of Constantinople in 1453. The Byzantine Empire, now ruling from this city alone, collapsed. When it was conquered by the Turks, Istanbul was a decaying city with a very diminished population. Sultan Mehmet The Conqueror breathed new life into the city and brought in immigrants from the territories of the empire, Moslems and Christians alike.
While the Greeks and other nationalities continued to enjoy religious and cultural autonomy, the city was embellished with palaces, mosques, bathhouses and Islamic pious foundations. Benefiting enormously from the wealth of the Ottoman Empire, the city boomed and reached its golden age in the 16th century. The Ottoman rule secured a long period of peace and prosperity for the city. After the first World War, following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, it was occupied by the victorious powers and liberated by the Turkish National Government in 1923.