Which city connects two continents
No city in the world can claim to be home to two continents and two cultures. A city of contradictions and a city that has always understood how to live together different cultures - and that has a long history.
According to legend, the Greek Byzas received a recommendation from the Delphic Oracle. He should build a settlement opposite the "city of the blind". In search of this city, Byzas reached Chalcedon, today's Kadikoy.
Opposite Chalcedony, however, on the other side of the Marmara Sea, Byzas discovered a peninsula, the arm of which was ideally suited for a port. How blind those must be who had not yet discovered this, thought Byzas and built a settlement opposite the "City of the Blind": Byzantion, where the old town of Istanbul is today.
In fact, Istanbul is one of the oldest continuously existing cities in the world. Dorians (Greeks) settled here in 660 BC. The settlement soon grew into a flourishing trading town, for which changing rulers fought. Sometimes it was the Persians, sometimes Sparta, sometimes Athens.
In order to defend herself against the attacks, she joined the emerging Roman Empire as an ally. Byzantion was relatively independent for 400 years, until the Roman Empire incorporated the city and soon gave it a new name.
The Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, who ruled between 306 and 337 AD, wanted to build a new capital in the east of the Roman Empire, a new "Rome". He found it in Byzantium. 330 AD it was named Constantinople after him, or simply "the city", because even at that time Constantinople could not be compared with any other place.
While ancient Rome and the Western Roman Empire were doomed, the Byzantine Empire grew more and more and with it its capital. In the 6th century, in the time of Justinian, it was the economic and religious center of the western world, as evidenced by the building of the magnificent church of Hagia Sophia.
However, the success also meant that Constantinople had to repeatedly defend itself against attacks from outside. The Byzantine court looked for allies and found them in Venice, one of the Italian city-states that had gained ever greater power during the course of the Crusades.
But the friendship with Venice was short-lived. When the two regimes fell out, the Venetians stormed Constantinople in 1204 and sacked the city.
With the help of Genoa, the Byzantine court regained power some 50 years later, but had to cede Galata, a city on the other side of the Golden Horn, to the Italians. But just 200 years later, the balance of power would change again. The Ottomans, descendants of the Seljuks, conquered Constantinople.
The conquest of Constantinople
As early as the 13th century, the Ottomans had advanced further south and west. The Byzantine Empire had become smaller, on the one hand in the hands of the Italians and on the other hand in the hands of the Ottomans.
Constantinople with its strong walls withstood the attacks again and again. It was not until 1453 that the young Sultan Mehmet II (Mehmet, the Conqueror) succeeded in taking the city with the help of artillery.
He saw his most important task in making Constantinople a Muslim city after he had decided to build his residence here. He had Hagia Sophia converted into a mosque and built the Topkapi Palace.
But siege, conquest and pillage had driven the people from the city. To get new residents in the city, he settled Turks from other Ottoman provinces in the city.
Mehmet II promised the remaining Greeks the undisturbed practice of their religion. In order to stimulate the economy again, he had market halls built, which would later become the "Grand Bazaar". A new period of prosperity began for Constantinople.
Konstantinye in the Ottoman Empire
In the 16th century "the city", as many still called it, had grown again into a center of culture and economy that housed many cultures. Jewish immigrants who had to flee from Spain or Portugal found a place to stay here, as did Persians, Armenians and other ethnic groups.
Non-Muslims had fewer rights: for example, they were not allowed to testify against Muslims in court and their houses were not allowed to tower above those of their Muslim neighbors. However, there was no religious persecution.
As the city grew in importance, the sultans lost leadership over time. The Ottoman Empire began to weaken. At the same time, important states grew up in Europe thanks to industrialization. They became Istanbul's new role models.
The city received a bridge over the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus Bay that divides Istanbul, and a horse-drawn tram. The railway network was expanded and more and more tourists were able to travel to Istanbul on the legendary Orient Express.
The earthquake-proof but fire-prone wooden houses were increasingly being replaced by modern buildings, and Art Nouveau also found its way into Istanbul.
Istanbul became the Paris of the East, with coffee houses and artists' quarters, far removed from the rest of the Ottoman Empire, which was increasingly falling apart. The First World War eventually led to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and that also had consequences for Istanbul.
When exactly the city was called Istanbul is not entirely clear. Probably its name comes from the Greek expression "ei stan polis", "go to town". For more than 1,500 years it had been the capital of various governments.
In 1923, the first government of the new Turkish state decided that the capital should be moved inland, to Ankara. The country should become Turkish. Hundreds of thousands of Greeks and Armenians had to leave the country and were expelled from Istanbul.
Despite all the resettlements and expulsions, Istanbul has been able to maintain a cosmopolitan atmosphere and has remained the economic center of the country.
In just a few decades it has grown from a city of over a million people to a city with well over twelve million inhabitants. The immigration to this day comes mainly from the Turkish hinterland. Since the 1950s, the rural population from Anatolia has been pouring into the metropolis on the Bosporus: Entire quarters have emerged as a result.
Gecekondus are the names of the small houses and huts that people have set up. Translated, this word means "built overnight". It refers to a type of common law from the Ottoman Empire that says that a house built overnight on public land belongs to the builder.
The city of Istanbul has not only allowed this type of urbanization, it has also encouraged it. These unplanned quarters were later connected to the public supply and the makeshift houses were replaced by multi-storey apartment buildings.
In contrast, a modern Istanbul has now emerged north of the Golden Horn with shopping centers and high-rise buildings reminiscent of Hong Kong or London. In the Beyoğlu district, night turns into day, young people from all over the world enjoy themselves in discos and nightclubs of all kinds.
There are 2000 mosques in the same city, in whose narrow old town streets you can find a life like from another time. Istanbul has remained a place where you can live multiple cultures. And if you only want to live one culture, you can usually do it too.
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