From the book “I am Istanbul” by Buket UZUNER
“I am Istanbul, city of cities, mistress of metropolises, community of poets, seat of emperors, favorite of sultans, pearl of the world! My name is Istanbul and my subjects call themselves “Istanbullu”. And of all the world’s cities, I am without doubt the most magnificent, mysterious and terrible, a city upon whose shores Pagans, Christians, Jews, and unbelievers, friend and foe alike, have found safe harbor through the ages, a place where love and betrayal, pleasure and pain, live side by side.
I, daughter of Poseidon, miracle of Argonauts, Empress of Medieval Cities, the harbinger of a New Age, whose star shines anew in the 21st century, am the city of prosperity and ruin, of defeat and glad tidings. Istanbul is my name. It is I! Place of extremes, the full gamut of human emotions experienced at one and the same time, from the sublime to the basest, the loftiest to the lowest. I! My name is Istanbul, eternal archangel and goddess of cities. They come and go, leaving their mark on my soul. I have seen them rise and fall, be born and decline; I harbor their jumbled relics in my underground cisterns and vaults.
Blue as hope, green as poison, rosy as dawn, I am Istanbul; I am in the Judas tree, in acacia, in lavender; I am turquoise! I am the unfathomable; the muse of possibility, vitality, creativity.
My name is Istanbul. That’s what they call me, what they have been calling me for a century past; but I have been Constantinople, city of Constantine; I began as Byzantium, and have had many names since: The Gate of Heavenly Felicity, Dersaadet, Dar’üssadet, New Rome, Asitane, Daraliye, He Polis, Tsargrad, Stamboul, Konstantiniyye … Mortals are like that, forever changing names, laws and borders! I laugh at these mortals taking themselves so seriously in their fleeting mortal world of false illusion, fears and shadows. Had anyone thought to consult me, I would have chosen “Queen of All I Survey”, which is what I am, anyway. I am Queen of Queens, City of Cities; I have walked with emperors and sultans, shared the confidences of travelers and poets. Aspiring authors still line up to write about me. In fact, here comes one now!”
According to Strabo, the Greek geographer from Amasya in today’s Turkey who lived 64 BC-AD 24, the city was founded on the Acropolis (Sarayburnu) in the seventh century (Around 667-657) B.C. by colonists from Megara (A Dorian city in Greece), led by Byzas, though it is known that the area had been inhabited much earlier than that. In fact, 2004 excavations during the construction work of rail and subway network revealed a port in which 8000-year old artifacts were unearthed.
According to the legend, before coming to Istanbul, Megarian leader Byzas went to oracle in Delphi to ask his advice as to where to make their settlement. The answer was a location in Istanbul “across the city of the blind”. They came and saw an earlier settlement in the Asian side, Chalcedon, today’s Kadıköy. They concluded that these people were indeed blind as they settled there instead of such a beautiful place where they settled now. They named their city as Byzantium after their leader’s name “Byzas”.
Like the other Greek cities on the edge of Asia Minor, the city experienced the Persian invasions and Peleponnesian Wars, was absorbed in the empire of Alexander the Great, and was involved in the struggles following the dismemberment of that empire and the subsequent eastward expansion of Rome. By the first century BC Byzantium had become a client state of Rome by enjoying some three centuries of prosperity.
After Constantine came to the power as the Emperor of the West in 324, the city underwent a comprehensive building program and became the capital of the Empire with its new name as Constantinople - the city of Constantine.
Following the overrun of the western part of the Empire by the barbarians in 476, the Emperor in Constantinople remained the sole ruler of what was left of the Empire.
Constantinople was exposed to assaults for more than 20 times by the Latin armies and Turks by the time it was eventually sieged by Sultan Mehmet II, the Ottoman Sultan, where he dragged the warships on a wheeled platform up and over the hills of Pera and down into the Golden Horn to bypass the iron-chain barring the mouth of Golden Horn.
The city was taken by the Latin Crusaders in 1204 until it was retaken in 1261. Thereafter, the city was captured by the Ottomans on May 29, 1453, being the third capital of the Ottoman Empire and remained so until 1923 at which the capital was moved to Ankara.
The city of Constantinople was situated on a fortified peninsula surrounded by the sea. There were battlements and moats along the 21-kilometer walls, which made the city invulnerable over centuries.
The construction of the edifice began in 1609 and was completed in 1616 with the commission of Sultan Ahmet I. The architect was Sedefkar Mehmef Ağa, the chief architect of the Sultan and one of the apprentices of Architect Sinan. The mosque is known for its beautiful turquoise blue tiles.
The complex also consisted tombs, fountains, medreses (theological schools), a hospital, kitchens for the poor, shops, a bath, rental rooms, houses and storehouses.
The word “Chora” means land, country or a suburban area and the edifice was named as “Chora” as it was located in the countryside outside the city limits.
It is thought that there was a chuch or monastery in the same location before the erection of the land walls of Theodosius II in 413 AD. The first Chora was erected on the same area in the early 7th century and it probably survived the Iconoclasm (726-843) like other many churches and monasteries.
The church was rebuilt by Maria Ducena, the mother-in-law of the Emperor Alexius I Comnenus, in 1080s.
It suffered from the Forth Crusade (1204-1261) during which Latins occupied Constantinople.
After the reestablishment of the Byzantine rule in 1261, the church gained importance and served as one of the two principal churches of Constantinople together with Hagia Sophia.
Theodore Metochites (1269-1332), who served as the Prime Minister of Emperor Andronicus II Paleologus, restored the Chora in 1321.
The church was transformed into a mosque in 1510 by Atik Ali Pasa, the Grand Vizier of Sultan Beyazıd II (1481-1512)
The mosaics in the Chora can be divided into three major goups:
1-Separate panels showing the angels, saints and imperial people
2-The panels in the inner narthex, related to the life of Virgin Mary
3-Life and miracle cycle of Christ in the walls and ceiling of most of the outer narthex
The foundation stone of Grand Bazaar, one of the greatest and oldest bazaars of the world, was laid over a Byzantine trade center in the 15th century by Sultan Mehmet II and then more parts were added when people needed more spaces in the following centuries. The complex was exposed to earthquakes and fires for a few times, but thereafter it underwent restoration. As in the Ottoman times, today more than four thousand shops, which spread over an area of 30 hectares, congregated together to sell the same kind of merchandise.
Hagia Sophia, with its fourth largest dome in the world after St. Paul’s in London, St. Peter’s in Rome and the Duomo in Florence, represents the Christian mysticism in the middle ages and this was the place where emperors were crowned and victories were celebrated. It remained as the largest shrine for a long time in the past. The church was dedicated as Hagia Sophia, which means Divine Wisdom, an attribute of Christ.
The architects of the edifice were from Anatolia: Anthemius of Tralles (Aydın), an engineer and a mathematician, and Isidorus of Miletus, an architect. One hundred master builders supervised ten thousand workers in its construction.
The first church of Hagia Sophia (Divine Wisdom) was dedicated in 360 AD during the reign of Constantius, son of Constantin the Great, though there are also few sources claiming to be built during the reign of Constantine the Great. This building was burnt in 404 during a revolt that protested the exile of Patriarch John Chrysostom by the Empress Eudoxia, wife of Emperor Arcadius.
The second church was built by Theodosius on the ruins of the first one in 415 and remained intact until Nika Riot in 532. The riot started in the Hippodrome during the chariot races. While Justinian the Great was not the legitimate heir to the Byzantine throne he had made Theodora, a circus actress, the queen. He had also been surrounded by the corrupted courtesans. After the Blues joined the discontent Greens, demonsrations and riots started and lasted for a week, during which the second Hagia Sophia and the neighboring Hagia Irene along with many other public buildings were put on fire. However, as a result of an intrigue the Blues were separated from the Greens and and then Justinian’s general Belisarius entered the Hippodrome with his Goth mercenaries and killed some 35.000 Green Partisans as well as some Blues ones.
Today’s Hagia Sophia is the third edifice that was built in 537 by Emperor Justinian. The figural mosaics of the church were destroyed during the Iconoclastic Period, which lasted from 726 to 843, and therefore, those what we see today are from after that period though there are different views with regards to the dates among the experts.
The building has a classical basilica plan, the main floor of the building being a rectangle (70 m / 230 ft in width and 100 m / 328 ft in length). Four large piers separate the central space from the side aisles. There are 107 coumns in total, 40 of them at the lower floor while 67 of them are at the upper floor. The dome is 55.60 m / 182 ft high. The dome is slightly elliptical with a diameter of 31.20 m / 102 ft. on one axis and 32.80 m / 108 ft. on the other.
Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Theerafter, it was converted into a museum in 1934 though its status was changed again in 2020, which now serves as a mosque while the visitors are still welcomed.
The Constantine Column is a monolith column built of stones at a time we do not know exactly. However, we know from its inscription that it was restored by Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus and his son Romanus II in the 10th century.It is 32 m / 105 feet high. At the bottom there is a marble base over which there are three steps. It is though that some of the pieces plundered during the 4th Crusade in 1204 were used in St. Mark’s Square in Venice.
The Serpent Column was a huge bronze with three entwined serpents that had been erected before the Apollo Temple in Delphi to celebrate the victory of 31 Greek cities against Persians in the 5th century BC. It is 5.30 m / 17.4 ft though its original size was 8.00 m / 26.30 ft high. It was brought to Constantinopolis in the 4th century. A piece of one of the serpent heads is being kept in Istanbul Archaelogy Museum.
Egyptian Obelisk is originally one of the two obelisks that had been erected in the name of Thutmose III in front of Amon-Ra Temple in Karnak, Egypt, in the 15th century BC. Though it is 19.60 m / 64.30 ft today it is only the two thirds of the original one, which was either broken during the transportation or intentionally cut to make the shipment easier. It was sent to Theodosius by the Roman Governor of Alexandria in 390 AD.
The Obelisk is situated on a Byzantine marble base that gives some details about the Emperor from the Kathisma (Seat) and the races held at the Hippodrome. Emperor Theodosius is depicted on four sides of the base.
German Fountain was built piece by piece in Germany and then assembled in Istanbul to commemorate the second visit of Kaiser (also Prussian King) Wilhelm II to Istanbul in 1898.
The construction of the second palace of the Ottoman Empire began in 1459 and completed in 1478, though more additions were made by different sultans in the following years and centuries. The palace housed 25 Ottoman Sultans from Sultan Mehmet II to Sultan Abdülmecit. The palace was turned into a museum in 1924.
There are four courtyards with the following edifices:
Bab-ı Hümayun (Imperial Gate)
Bab-üs Selam (Gate of Salutation)
Beşir Ağa Mosque
Imperial Council Hall
Tower of Justice
Weapons and Armory
Bab-üs Saade (Gate of Felicity)
Library of Sultan Ahmet III
The Holy Relics
Miniatures and Sultans’ Portraits
Mustafa Paşa Pavillion