HISTORY OF ISTANBUL

All along its long and turbulent history Istanbul has lived through quite different types of urbanization and in its present structure the city is still carrying the marks of these different modes.

The fact that the city has a long history and that Istanbul had existed through all those centuries as an important center is closely related to the geographic position. The Bosphorus is a water way uniting two seas and on the other hand two continents are facing each other on its two shores. The strategic importance of such an intersection from military and commercial etc. aspects is all too apparent. Yet, from this point of view we see that Canakkale (Dardanelles) also has similar characteristics and in this position we may face the question of why an important city like Istanbul was not founded on the shores of this straight. The answer of this question is Halic (the Golden Horn). The golden Horn is a port safe in all weather conditions, and in all Eastern Mediterranean there are only two other ports as such: Izmir and Selanik (Salonica). But those two ports do not possess the other privileges of the Bosphorus.

Thus, it can be said that nature and geography had predestined Istanbul to be an important city. Still, during the interval from its foundation to Constantine the Great, this potential had not been used in the best manner. This city, believed to be founded by the legendary Byzas of Megara fell into the hands of Severius Septimus in 196 A.D., i.e., when it was 800 years old. The fact that Severius tore down the citadel of the city which fought against him, and then he had it rebuilt the very next year is an indication that the strategic importance of Istanbul was well understood.

The person who consciously decided to make Istanbul a world center is Constantine. Against the multitude of the problems facing the Roman empire, the solution found by Constantine was to divide it into two parts and a great capital which matched Rome had to be created in the eastern part. Historians tell that Troy was the first consideration of Constantine. Troy was a city which carried great importance as the hero of the greatest epic of the age, but it was in ruins. lt is seen that Constantine turned towards a more realistic decision in a short time and preferred the future presented by Istanbul to the past presented by Troy.

The result of this decision was interesting for Istanbul in this manner : The city was built in a planned way in order to make it a capital. Constantine was also the emperor who decided that Rome had to be Christian. Yet, the conception of the city was carried out in the classical Greek-Latin style. This conception foresees big public squares (forums) joined with large avenues and the building of residences in a rather symmetrical manner. The Palace and the hippodrome were built in the eastern of the city. The streets were extending to the walls at the west, multiplying at the major forums. Both sides of the main avenues were decorated with columns. Briefly, Istanbul became a magnificent city.

The rapid growth of the city proves the rightness the decision of Constantine. In only two centuries the walls Constantine built between ( Unkapani and Yenikapi was unable to contain the city and the new walls as seen today were built by Theodosius II.

After the East Roman empire turned into Byzantium, the efforts of lustianianos united the Greek-Latin tradition with Christianity quite brilliantly.

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Starting with Hagia Sophia, the greatest and most interesting monuments of Christianity were erected in the general Greek-Latin framework of Istanbul.

In the middle of thel5th century when Turks conquered Istanbul Byzantium was quite in ruins. Especially the effects of the 13 th century Latin invasion could still be seen. In a very short time Turks gave the city a brand new character.

The Turks who were running from east to west in the proceeding centuries were still carrying the remnants of their nomadic traditions and had not been accustomed to the classical Greek-Latin tradition. The articulation of their traditions with the remains of the Byzantium capital brought out new characteristics.

The first characteristic was the reentrance of nature to the city. Almost all the houses built by Turks had gardens and this met the requirement of green areas which in modern cities is satisfied by large park areas. Thus the city became greener. Besides the house gardens, even in the 20 th century there were a large number of vegetable gardens.

The second important change is related to the organization of the city. Istanbul, as the capital of Ottoman empire led to the formation of different districts than those of Byzantium. The special conditions of the post 1453 period also played a role in this development. The city which had lost its population in the Byzantine era had to be opened for resettlement. In order to fulfill this task people were called from all over the empire to Istanbul and were settled here without regarding any ethnic separation. These persons (Greeks from Karaman Turks from towns such as Carsamba and Aksaray, Armenians from different locations etc.) settled in districts which they formed on the base of their ethnical roots or with their fellow countrymen. The district, to some extent was a continuation of rural characteristics: A square containing the locations which brought the people together such as the coffee house alongside the grocer, greengrocer and the butcher, formed the center of the settlement. In the mean time, in a different manner from the growing cities of the west, the settlements of Istanbul were not marked by the differentiation of social classes. In every district the rich, the middle class and the poor lived close together. The base of the multi-ethnic way of living which was to become a trait of Istanbul was formed in this manner.

The type of wooden houses which again gave the city one its its main characteristics until the middle of this century had again begun in these early periods. There were many reasons for the preference of wood: Being in the earthquake belt, rural habits etc. But the main reason was economical. Wood was cheap and so was wooden cons- traction. Also, wooden houses were in conformity with the climate of the city. Its main drawback, as is known is its weakness in face of fire, and indeed, all through the centuries fires have been a disaster never lacking in Istanbul.

All through the Ottoman period, although many details of the Greek-Latin style had naturally changed, some dominant characteristics have continued up to our day.

The old avenues and squares became narrower with the new houses and shops built on them. But they never disappeared altogether. The main artery joining Sultanahmet to Aksaray, and the main streets on the axes of Cerrahpasa-Samatya-Yedikule and Fatih-Karagümrük-Edirnekapi were existing since Roman times. The avenues of Vatan and Millet were built in 1950's by enlarging the itineraries existing from the most ancient times.

Of the Byzantium churches, the ones in good condition were turned into mosques and thus protected. Even the structures representing different pre-monotheistic religious beliefs and customs were left untouched. Columns like the one in Cemberlitas is one of these. The harshness shown to pagan structures by Byzantines was not repeated by Turks for the Byzantine ones.

On the other hand, the higher locations places of the city visible from far away were ornamented by Ottoman sultans with mosques. This was also a custom from the Byzantine times. Fatih Mehmet (the conqueror) Bayezid Selim and Kanuni Süleyman (the magnificent) all chose one of the seven hills of Istanbul and built their mosques. Mihrimah, the daughter of Kanuni also followed the tradition and with the construction of Nuruosmaniye the silhouette of Istanbul was completed.

Here the interesting point is that after the Hagia Sophia of the 6 th century Byzantines had not built anything approaching it during the following period of nearly a thousand years and, paradoxically, the architectural greatness reached by Hagia Sophia was continued by Turks after the conquest. The great public building of this period were the mosques and their complexes. Leaving aside a few palaces for the sultans, no building of monumental size was erected. In fact, even the palaces were quite modest buildings. This was a result of the Islamic morality which refrained from boasting during the ephemeral life.

As for business life, here also the structure remaining from the Byzantine times was partially protected , and in some cases the guilds were settled in the very location of the guilds which had previously performed the same tasks. Since the Golden Horn was the port of disembarkation for merchandise, business centers continued to be located on its shores.

Thus, Ottomans, without totally eliminating its Greek-Latin character, created the capital of another civilization from this city. This new Istanbul perpetuated its existence without an important alteration until the 19 th century. For a few hundred years it was the most populated city of the western world.

The industrial revolution which began in west during the 19 th century commenced to change the face of the world. This change was inevitably going to make its mark on the concepts and implementations of urban development and it was impossible for Istanbul and the Ottoman state not to be effected from this event in its neighboring location.

This new understanding showed itself first not in the traditionally settled districts, but in the region north of the Golden Horn which was less populated. The history of the Beyoglu region had created the conditions for this development. Galata had represented the West in this Levant town ever since it was a Genoese colony. The Ottomans had also placed the embassies in this district after the establishment of diplomatic relations and thus this side of the city had grown as a sort of ex-Istanbul location. Thus it was natural that the the new concepts of urbanization took root in this district.

As a result of this development in the beginning of the 19th century Istanbul again came under the influence of a new civilization and its concepts of urbanization. From this point onwards this style developed with a high pace, but it too couldn't totally erase the traces of the past ages. Looking at these trends of development we can say that until the 20th century Istanbul underwent at least three very radical and serious transformations.



ISTANBUL CONTACT (Mr. Mustafa Çiplak)
Address: Ebusuud Cad. No:4, Gülhane, Istanbul, Turkey
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