History in Istanbul

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Byzantium was one of the many colonies founded from the end of the 8th century onward along the coasts of the Bosporus and the Black Sea by Greek settlers from the cities of Miletus and Megara.

In 343 BC Byzantium joined the Second Athenian League, throwing off the siege of Philip II of Macedon three years later. The lifting of the siege was attributed to the divine intervention of the goddess Hecate and was commemorated by the striking of coins bearing her star and crescent. Byzantium accepted Macedonian rule under Alexander the Great, regaining independence only with the eclipse of Macedonian might.

A free city under Italy, it gradually fell under imperial control and briefly lost its freedom under the emperor Vespasian. When, in AD 196, it sided with the usurper Pescennius Niger, the Roman emperor Septimus Severus massacred the populace, razed the walls, and annexed the remains to the city of Perinthus (or Heraclea, modern Marmaraereglisi), in Turkey.

Septimus Severus rebuilt the city on the same spot but on a grander scale. Although sacked again by Gallienus in 268, the city was strong enough two years later to resist a Gothic invasion. In the subsequent civil wars and rebellions that broke out sporadically in the Roman Empire, Byzantium remained untouched until the arrival of the emperor Constantine I--the first Roman ruler to adopt Christianity. Overcoming the army of the rival emperor, Licinius, at nearby Chrysopolis, on September 18, 324, Constantine became head of the whole Roman Empire, east and west. He decided to make Byzantium his capital.

Constantinople

Within three weeks of his victory, the foundation rites of New Rome were performed, and the much-enlarged city was officially inaugurated on May 11, 330.

Constantinople was to become one of the great world capitals, a font of imperial and religious power, a city of vast wealth and beauty, and the chief city of the Western world. Until the rise of the Italian maritime states, it was the first city in commerce, as well as the chief city of what was, until the mid-11th century, the strongest and most prestigious power in Europe.

Culturally, Constantinople fostered a fusion of Oriental and Occidental custom, art, and architecture. The religion was Christian, the organization Roman, and the language and outlook Greek. The concept of the divine right of kings, rulers who were defenders of the faith - as opposed to the king as divine himself - was evolved there.

Constantine's new city walls tripled the size of Byzantium, which now contained imperial buildings, such as the completed Hippodrome begun by Severus, a huge palace, legislative halls, several imposing churches, and streets decorated with multitudes of statues taken from rival cities. In addition to other attractions of the capital, free bread and citizenship were bestowed on those settlers who would fill the empty reaches beyond the old walls. There was, furthermore, a welcome for Christians, a tolerance of pagan beliefs, and benevolence toward Jews.

In 1203 the armies of the Fourth Crusade, deflected from their objective in the Holy Land, appeared before Constantinople - ostensibly to restore the legitimate Byzantine emperor, Isaac II. Although the city fell, it remained under its own government for a year. On April 13, 1204, however, the crusaders burst into the city to sack it. After a general massacre, the pillage went on for years. The crusading knights installed one of themselves, Baldwin of Flanders, as emperor, and the Venetians - prime instigators of the crusade - took control of the church. While the Latins divided the rest of the realm among themselves, the Byzantines entrenched themselves across the Bosporus at Nicaea (now Iznik) and at Epirus (now northwestern Greece). The period of Latin rule (1204 to 1261) was the most disastrous in the history of Constantinople. Even the bronze statues were melted down for coin; everything of value was taken. Sacred relics were torn from the sanctuaries and dispatched to religious establishments in western Europe.

Istanbul

In 1452 Mehmed II, proceeded to blockade the Bosporus by the erection of a strong fortress at its narrowest point; this fortress, called Rumeli Hisari, still forms one of the principal landmarks of the straits. The siege of the city began in April 1453. The Turks had not only overwhelming numerical superiority but also cannon that breached the ancient walls. The Golden Horn was protected by a chain, but the sultan succeeded in hauling his fleet by land from the Bosporus into the Golden Horn. The final assault was made on May 29, and, in spite of the desperate resistance of the inhabitants aided by the Genoese, the city fell. The last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI Palaeologus, was killed in battle.

When Constantinople was captured, it was almost deserted. Mehmed II began to repeople it by transferring to it populations from other conquered areas such as the Peloponnese, Salonika (modern Thessaloníki), and the Greek islands. By about 1480 the population rose to between 60,000 and 70,000. Hagia Sophia and other Byzantine churches were transformed into mosques. The Greek patriarchate was retained, but moved to the Church of the Pammakaristos Virgin (Mosque of Fethiye), later to find a permanent home in the Fener (Phanar) quarter. The sultan built the Old Seraglio (Eski Saray), now destroyed, on the site occupied at present by the university, and a little later the Topkapi Palace (Seraglio), which is still in existence; he also built the Eyüp Mosque at the head of the Golden Horn and the Mosque of the Fatih on the site of the Basilica of the Holy Apostles. The capital of the Ottoman Empire was transferred to Constantinople from Adrianople (Edirne) in 1457. jkbbb

After Mehmed II, Istanbul underwent a long period of peaceful growth, interrupted only by natural disasters - earthquakes, fires, and pestilences. The sultans and their ministers devoted themselves to the building of fountains, mosques, palaces, and charitable foundations so that the aspect of the city was soon completely transformed. The most brilliant period of Turkish construction coincides with the reign of the Ottoman ruler Süleyman the Magnificent (1520-66).

The next major change in the history of Istanbul occurred at the beginning of the 19th century, when dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire was approaching. This period was known as the era of internal reforms (Tanzimat). The reforms were accompanied by serious disturbances, such as the massacre of the Janissaries in the Hippodrome (1826).

In the first quarter of the 20th century, there were various disruptions marking the death of the Ottoman Empire and the birth of modern Turkey. In 1908 the city was occupied by the army of the Young Turks who deposed the hated sultan Abdülhamid II. During the Balkan Wars (1912-13) Istanbul was nearly captured by the Bulgarians. Throughout World War I the city was under blockade. After the conclusion of the Armistice (1918) it was placed under British, French, and Italian occupation that lasted until 1923. The Greco-Turkish War in Asia Minor, as well as the Russian Revolution, brought thousands of refugees to Istanbul. With the victory of the Nationalists under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the sultanate was abolished, and the last Ottoman sultan, Mehmed VI, fled from Istanbul (1922). After the signing of the Lausanne Treaty, Istanbul was evacuated by the Allies (October 2, 1923), and Ankara was chosen as the capital of Turkey (October 13, 1923). On October 29, the Turkish Republic was proclaimed. Because of Turkey's neutrality during most of World War II, Istanbul suffered no damage, although a German invasion was feared after the Balkans had been conquered by the Axis. The influx of automobiles brought acute traffic problems to Istanbul, and large tracts of the city were demolished or cleared to make way for modern highways.

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