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• History  • Location  •Europen City of Culture 2010   •Istanbul Overview   •Istanbul Safe City


•Before Conquest Istanbul   •Conquest and Istanbul   •The Ottoman Era   •Dersaadet and Three Istanbul   •Historical Documents Before Conquest

Before Conquest Istanbul


The history of Istanbul goes back to 300 thousand years ago. The first traces of human culture were discovered in the excavations carried out in Yarımburgaz Cave on the banks of Küçükçekmece Lake. It is thought that Neolithic and Chalcolitic people had been living around there. In the excavations made in the various periods of time, some instruments belonged to the Epi-paleolithic period have been found within reach of Dudulu and  a few instruments and materials belonged to the Middle and  Upper Paleolithic Period have been found near Ağaçlı.It is estimated that starting from 5,000 B.C a concentrated settlement activity started in Çatalca, Dudullu, Ümraniye, Pendik, Davutpaşa, Kilyos and Ambarlı, led by Kadıköy Fikirtepe.On the other hand, the foundation of Istanbul is dated to 7.000 BC. Istanbul was rebuilt by the Constantine the Great (306–337) in the 4th centuryi, after that it became the capital of the Byzantine Empire. In its long history, Istanbul served as the capital city of the Roman Empire (330–395), the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin Empire (1204–1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922). In addition, the city became one of the the Christian center and after the conquest of Istanbul by Mehmet II on 29th May 1453, it also became the most important muslim city.


There have been settlements in what is now Istanbul since prehistory, but the foundation of today's Istanbul were lain in the 7 th century BC. The Megarians came into Istanbul from Greece through the Sea of Marmara in 680 BC. They established a colony on the Acropolis above the Golden Horn opposite the Greek Colony of Chalcedon, which had been established a few years earlier. The Chalcedon Colony was involved in architecture and referred to as “the Land of the Blind,” possibly because they must have been blind no to see the advantages of setting on the European side of the Bosphorus, which would be much more secure militarily. The Megarians, under the leadership of Byzas, acted according to a Delphic oracle in choosing the site. They were settled in (today’s Sarayburnu) and the town came to be called Byzantium. It is thought with the various Thracian people were living in the area and intermingled with the Megarians. Byzantium, through becoming a commercial center and as a result of its being easily defensible, became a powerful, fast-growing member of the Greek colonies. In 513 BC. Byzantine was taken by the Persian leader Darius who had captured Anatolia.

The city remained in Persian hands until it was taken by the spartan general Pausanius in 477 BC. He in turn set himself up as a tyrant and was driven out by the Athenians and their allies in 475 BC. The city revolted against the Athenians and surrendered to the Spartan commander Lysander in 403 after the final defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian wars. The city entered into an uneasy alliance with King Philip of Macedonia (father of Alexander the Great) during which the city walls were repaired but surrendered without a battle to Alexander the Great in 334 BC. After his death in 323, the city was under the leadership of one of the generals of Alexander the Great, Antigonos, but more or less governed itself. The city was overcome by hordes of Saxons arriving from the West in 278 BC. and was looted and forged to pay tibutes. It was later captured by the Allied forces of Rhodes, Pergamum and Bithynia under whose sovereigty it remained until it was bequeathed to the Roman Empire by last ruler of Pergamum. The Macedonia-Roman wars ended in the sovereignty of Rome over the Balkans, Asia minor and Byzantium in 146 BC.and period of peace ruled for the next 300 years.


The sovereignty of the Romans over the Byzantine was partially at their own consent. Fed up with being the focus of a long lasting conflict between Bithynia and Macedonia in the 2nd century, BC. Byzantium joined with Kyzikos and Rhodos in calling on Rome for aid. It became a subject of the Roman Empire in 146 BC. Formerly self administered, it became a part of the Bithynia-Pontius province, thus maintaining its importance but losing the city-state status it had enjoyed for 700 years Sheltered by the Roman administration, Byzantium experienced a 350 years period of relative peace broken only by the Septimus Severus and Pescennius Niger civil war in the 2nd century AD. 

The Byzanıines had supported Pescennius and Following his defeat Septimus wrecked his revenge on the city by massacring many of its inhabitants, burning the city on an even grander scale and Byzantium once again entered a period of relative calm, lasting up until the period of Constantine the Great. In 330 AD., the Roman Emperor, Constantine I, proclaimed the ancient city of Byzantium as his capital. The newly rebuilt city subsequently became known as Constantinopolis. The imperial city became one on the most prominent political and religious centers in Christendom during the reign of Constantine, who was said to have been baptised as a Christian on his death-bed. Throughout the 4th and 5th centuries, the city became a target of attack, especially by Goth and Vizigoth warriors. Attila the Hun besieged Constantinople in 440 and for ten years extracted taxes from its residents. During this period of chaos, sectarian arguments occasionally escalated into riots and civil wars. In spite of civilunrest, Constantinople managed to retain its international reknown.

The city's population exceeded that of Rome, especially after the huge wave of Thracian immigrants in the 5th century It was during this time that the outlying suburb of Sycae was created (today's Galata); it grew to accommodate the influx of immigrants and became a significant trading site, connected to the metropolis via a bridge. The Western Roman Empire, on the other hand, was in decline. In 476, the Ostrogoths dethroned Romulus Augustine, the Roman Emperor of the West. Constantinople was soon to become the sole capital of the Roman Empire.


After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, the Eastern Roman Empire of which Constantinople was the capital, became the Byzantine Empire. Thus, İstanbul was transformed from a "Roman City" to a somewhat Orthodox one, with an eastern accent.

The mid-sixth century marked the beginning of an enlightened age for the Byzantine Empire, and thus, for İstanbul, In contrast with his predecessor, who was not even literate, Emperor Justinian I was an educated and religious man. During his reign the city prospered as an Orthodox Christian capital. St. Sofia's Church was reconstructed during this period.

However, the plague of 543 killed almost half of the city's population. Disaster followed disaster. Fortunately, the infrastructure built by Emperor Justinian I. had made the city fairly resilient against all manner of catastrophes and wars. The late 7th and 8th centuries became years of siege. In the 7th century, İstanbul was attacked by both Persians and Avars. Later, in the 8th century, Hungarian and Muslim Arabs besieged the city. Russian and Hungarian forces, in the 9 th century, also tried to conquer this desirable metropolis. Meanwhile, sectarian conflicts among Christians had become violent, fuelled by the politics of the Emperor who took a decisive position in the matters. The pro/anti-iconography split which divided the population bore a tremendous impact, not only on the city, but on the entire Empire and on Christian theology in particular İstanbul's thriving era was eclipsed by Latin occupation. In 1204 the city was conquered by the Crusaders and was looted mercilessly. The largest city of the Middle Ages, with a population of nearly 500,000 lay impoverished, and in ruins.


Istanbul first became familiar with the Crusaders in 1096. The Emperor Alexius rejoiced at the coming of the first crusaders, hoping to regain lands lost in Malazgirt. The agreement was for the Byzantines to support the erusaders and occupy lands taken from the Moslems. The Crusaders didn't go along with the plan and founded the Eastern Catholic Kingdom in Jordan in 1099. The Crusaders were despised by the residents of İstanbul who openly showed their disfavour. Mean.vhile, the Crusades continued and the fourth Crusade ended in the invasion and dividing up of Istanbul. During that period there was a great deal of dissension as to the succession to the throne. The Crusaders, realising their opportunity entered the Golden Horn with the aid of the Venetian. The attack began on 9 April and the city fell on 13 April. For three days, in an unprecedented example of barbarism, Istanbul was looted and the inhabitants murdered. Many important structures, including Haghia Sofia were damaged and hundreds-of-years-old books were burned. Important Byzantine works of art were taken to Europe. The looting became routine and the Crusaders joined with the Venetian to divide Byzantium among themselves, founding the Eastern Catholic Empire. After this, Istanbul grew smaller and poorer. The wealthy and royal and many of the populace fled to Iznik (Nikia). The Eastern Catholic Empire only managed to be sovereign in lstanbul and its environs. Iznik (Nikia), Trabzon (Trebizand) and Epiros in Greece formed a Byzance alliance and surrounded the Eastern Catholıc Empıre ın 1254. Istanbul became even more impoverished, so much so that the Emperor Baudoin II had to resort to using the wooden sections of the palace as fuel to provide heat. Finally, the Palailogos noble family regained Istanbul, thus was the ending of the Eastern Catholic period.


The second period of the Byzantine Empire starts after the Palailogos Kingdom took Istanbul from the Latins in 1261. During this period, Istanbul would not be able to regain its previous importance and individuality. During this unfortunate period, being subjected to a merciless pillage by the Latins, Istanbul lost many of its historical treasures, as well as its importance for international trade. The decline of Istanbul lasted until the end of this period. Istanbul became a farm city surrounded by fortresses. It lost its entire commercial superiority to Galata (Sycae). Galata became the center of trade and commerce leaving Istanbul behind.

Nevertheless, there was one positive improvement: during the Second Byzantine Period, the fight among religious factions calmed down. Istanbul became the center of Orthodox Christianity during this period. Byzantine art excelled to its apex during this period. The mosaics on the wall of Kariye (St. Savior-in-Chora).

Church is considered as the peak of Byzantine art. During this period, Istanbul was in the center of a gradually shrinking circle surrounded by Ottomans who were conquering Byzantine land continuously in 1373.

Istanbul started paying the Ottomans a tribute tax. In 139.3 Sultan Yıldırım Bayezid and in 1422 Sultan Murad V besieged İstanbul, but they failed. Since Orhan Gazi, the Anatolian side of the Bosphorus was under the control of Ottomans. In the l5th century most of the Thrace, with the exception of several insignificant towns, were under the control of Ottomans.

Thus, the Byzantine emperors of the l5th century were frequently forced to ask help from Catholic Rome. But, in exchange for help, the Papacy demanded the unification of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches under the authority of Rome. In 1452, the Byzantines were compelled to submit to this condition. The demand to celebrate this unification in Haghia Sophia Church, in the center of İstanbul, caused bitter reactions and harsh protests. With the fall of Constantinople in May 1453, the Byzantine Empire became history. This was the starting point of a new and a brighter period for İstanbul.


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