History of Istanbul, Byzantium, Constantinople
Istanbul, Constantinople, Byzantium, over two and a half thousand years this city has had three names; each one as famous as the other. Heart of the myth of Istanbul was its invincibility.
It is fantastically situated on the Bosporus the narrow stretch of water that separates Europe from Asia. For a thousand years as Constantinople capitol of the Christian Byzantine Empire this city withstood an amazing 24 sieges.
Besides the Bosporus the other great defense was the city’s land walls and at their time they were the best fortifications anywhere in the world that no one could get through. But then in 1453 the Byzantines faced D-day. The Turks came along and using giant cannons blasted their way in.
The Byzantine empire disappeared from the map. The Turkish sultan Mehmet now called the conqueror rode in through the gate and Constantinople became Istanbul the capitol of the Islamic Ottoman empire
Ever since the Greeks first settled here in 500 BC the area now called Sultan Ahmet has been the heart of this city. The top three attractions in the city are in this small area and all walking distance from one another and together they span the whole of the city’s history as an imperial capitol.
Hagias Sophia – the church of holy wisdom – was built in the 6gth century by the emperor Justinian and when he first saw it, he was deeply impressed. When the Turks captured Constantinople, Mehmet the conqueror made a B line for this place.
He entered the city on Thursday and by Friday the Hagias Sophia was open for business as a Mosque. That’s what it remained through to the 1930s when it became a Museum. Besides praying the other thing on top of Mehmet’s agenda was a place to lay his affairs. He ordered a palace; they took him at his word.
The Top Kapi isn’t just a palace it’s a city within a city. For four hundred years, this was mission control, the legislative and executive hub of the biggest empire of its time. Four thousand people lived and worked here all at the beckon call of the Sultan. Its name was Dar-al-Satit - The house of Felicitations – a sex, drugs, Rock and Roll getaway for royalty.
The Blue Mosque, commissioned by Sultan Ahmet who gave this area its name has ever since been the center of controversy. Is it a master piece or just your run of the mill mosque but one thing is for certain it’s not very blue for sure. The name comes from the interior which is a bathroom fitters nightmare. Twenty one thousand and forty three Isnic tiles cover the walls and there are ninety nine different shades of blue.
Historically Turkey has always been a fairly Macho society – men in the cafes and women behind closed doors. Nothing summed up this attitude like the sultan’s Harem. Three hundred rooms of unimaginable delight. It was run by the Sultan’s mother – talk about having a problem mother in law – but here the Eunuchs, slaves, wives and concubines all rubbed shoulders. When this place was finally closed down in the late 19th century eight hundred people were pushed out on to the street.
Now one public place that the men and the women could share though not at the same time, is the great Turkish institution called Hammam. The Istanbul’s most famous Hammam has been soaping up since the 16th century and still has tones of bubbles left. The Turks must have seemed a mad lot to westerners back then, Elizabeth the first famously bathed once a month and people thought she was obsessive.