In the Seventh Century B.C.E., the Megarians, following the advice of the Delphic Oracle, founded a city by the name of Byzantium in Sarayburnu. A tho...
The Megarians were the first historical people to settle in the area of present-day Istanbul. In the 680s BCE, they migrated from Greece, passed by the Marmara Sea and founded the city of Chalcedon at the site of the current neighborhood of Kadıköy, on the Asian side. The first inhabitants of Chalcedon were agriculturists, and bear the dubious honour of being known as “The Nation of the Blind”.
In the 660s B.C.E., another group of Megarians founded a city at the present-day location of Sarayburnu. According to legend, these Megarians visited the oracle at the Temple of Delphi before setting out by sea to establish a city. The oracle advised them to settle “directly opposite the Nation of the Blind”.
When they reached the present-day site of Sarayburnu, the Megarian colonists were impressed by its height and by the fact that it was naturally protected on three sides by the sea. After they noticed Chalcedon, directly across the Bosphorus from Sarayburnu, they thought to themselves, “Anyone who could establish a city in view of such a perfect site must indeed be blind!”
The Byzantion period
The Megarians decided that the oracle’s vague advice must have referred to Istanbul – Sarayburnu, and established the first settlement of their city here. They gave the name “Byzantium” to the city, after one of their captains, Byzas.
In this way, the roots of Istanbul were set during the Seventh Century B.C.E. -known as the beginning of the Byzantine Period -by Megarian colonists from Greece.
In 278 B.C.E., Byzantium was besieged by Teutonic tribes who had come from the west. After triumphing in the Macedonian Wars in 146 B.C.E., the Romans took control of the Balkans and Asia Minor; of course, Byzantium, too, became part of the Roman Empire. In 330 C.E., the Roman Emperor Constantine the First proclaimed Byzantium the new capital of the Empire, and began to renovate the city. The city was rechristened as “Constantinople”, and, from that day forward, became one of the most important locations in the Christian World.
The Roman Empire was officially split into two parts, the East and the West in 395 C.E. In 476 C.E. the Ostrogoths removed the Western Roman Emperor Romulus Augustus from the throne and thereby returned the entire Empire to Zeno, the Eastern Roman Emperor. This transfer of power marked the downfall of the Western Roman Empire and Constantinople’s establishment as the single imperial capital. Thereafter, the Eastern Roman Empire became known as the Byzantine Empire, and Constantinople became a uniquely eastern Orthodox city.
The Latin Occupation
The Crusaders first reached Istanbul is 1096 C.E. After learning of the controversy over the Byzantine throne, the Crusaders decided to take the opportunity to enter the city.
With the help of the Venetians, they were able to enter the Golden Horn, and took the city on 13 April 1204 C.E. Immediately following their arrival, they began to exploit and impoverish the city; Constantinople’s nobles and wealthy classes had fled to the city of Nicaea to the east.
Return to Byzantine
The Second Byzantine Period began in 1261 with the retaking of Istanbul from the Latins by the Palailogos Dynasty. However, the city was never to return to its former importance and glory. Throughout the Second Byzantine Period, the city began to be surrounded slowly by the Ottomans, and, eventually, the inevitability of its fall became clear. From 1393 onward, the city was forced to pay a tribute to the Ottomans. Although it was surrounded in 1393 by Sultan Yıldırım Bayezid and in 1422 by Sultan Murat the Second, neither of them was able to take the city completely.
In the year 330 C.E., the Roman Emperor Constantine the First declared Byzantium the new capital of the Empire. He had the city renovated, and, the city was rechristened “Constantine” in his honour.
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The Ottoman Era
In 1453, the seventh sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed the Conqueror, finally conquered Constantinople, a city dreamed of by many a king, emperor a...
Among all cities in the area, Istanbul was a unique prize desired by all major states and empires nearby, both for its beauty and for its strategic important. The Ottoman sultans Yıldırım Bayezid and Murad the Second had surrounded the city in 1393 and 1422, respectively, but neither of them was able to take it. In the wake of these unsuccessful attempts, Fatih Sultan Mehmed began more thorough preparations to conquer the city in 1452. In addition to building Rumeli Fortress in order to take control of the Bosphorus, he also commissioned the casting of giant cannonballs to be used in the siege. The number of soldiers in the army was increased twofold. While carrying out these rapid preparations for the attack by land, Mehmed also ordered the formation of a powerful fleet of sixteen galleys to be used in a naval attack on the city.
After taking control of all of the routes by which the Byzantines might receive foreign support, the Ottomans made sure that the Genoans, who were in control of the Galata Tower, remained neutral. Following all of these preparations, the Ottoman Army mounted a fearsome attack by both land and sea. The Turks breeched the city from all sides and destroyed all of the Byzantine defenses. Around noon on 29 May 1453, Fatih Sultan Mehmed entered the city through the Topkapı gate and immediately paid a visit to Ayasofya.
The Conquest of Istanbul changed the world history
Order was returned to Istanbul quickly after the conquest. It was immediately announced that the inhabitants of the city would be able to continue practicing their own religions and traditions without interference. Sultan Mehmed, who took on the title of “Conqueror” (Fatih) after the conquest, ordered that the Greek community choose a head for the Orthodox Greek Patriarchate, which was without a patriarch at the time. The city’s Jewish community, whose positive behaviour during the conquest had been noticed, retained the right to maintain their synagogues. İ
Furthermore, a house of worship was appointed for the Turkish-Jewish Karayim Community at the site of the Arpacılar Mosque. Istanbul had become a world city containing a mosaic of different religions.
Fatih Sultan Mehmed’s first action after the war was to begin the repair of damaged areas in the city. The first major reconstruction effort involved repairing the city walls, which had been seriously damaged during the conquest. As the work of the city’s reconstruction continued, several new areas of settlement were also formed. Furthermore, property that had been abandoned was given to those who had served in the conquest.
In order to increase the Muslim population in the city, Muslims living in Anatolia and Rumeli were encouraged to migrate to Istanbul. When this did not suffice, a sultanic decree was sent to the empire’s provinces that required a certain number of people from every class to relocate to Istanbul. Christians and Jews from a number of different regions were also brought to the city, where they settled in several specific neighborhoods.
Near the end of 1457, a large fire in the former Ottoman capital of Edirne caused new migrants to come to Istanbul. In 1459, the city was divided into four administrative districts, each one with unique demographic features. Within fifty years after the conquest, Istanbul had become the largest city in Europe.
Although Istanbul entered the Fifteenth Century as a large city, it suffered significant damage in the earthquake of 14 July 1509, which is known as the “Minor Doomsday”. Aftershocks of the earthquake continued over forty-five days, and, in total, thousands of buildings in the city collapsed. In 1510, Sultan Bayezid the Second employed around eighty thousand people to rebuild the city yet again.
The Rise of Istanbul during the Reign of Süleyman the Lawgiver
Throughout the history of the Ottoman Empire and under the administration of every sultan, Istanbul remained the privileged first city of the empire. New works and monuments were continuously added to the city, and the historical monuments of every period and people were protected with care. In particular, the forty-six year period between 1520 and 1566, when Sultan Süleyman the Lawgiver witnessed the “Era of Ascendance” for both Istanbul and the empire as a whole.
During the reign of Süleyman, a large number of important architectural works were built in Istanbul. In particular, the works of The Architect Sinan, the most important architect in the history of the Empire, provided the city with a fantastic new appearance.
Among the most important works that were built during this period—almost all of them Mimar Sinan’s buildings—are the Süleymaniye Mosque and Dome, the Şehzadebaşı Mosque and Dome, the Sultan Selim Mosque and Dome, the Cihangir Mosque, the two Mihrimah Sultan Mosques, built in Edirnekapı and in Üsküdar, and the Haseki Dome and Haseki Hamam, which were built in the name of Hürrem Sultan.
Throughout the era of westernization, which began in the Eighteenth Century, the face of Istanbul began to change under the influence of European cities. The process of modernization continued and even increased in the Republican period.
When the capital of the Ottoman Empire was transferred from Edirne to Istanbul, the city became an imperial capital for the third time.
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Istanbul, like the country as a whole, acquired a radically new identity during this period. Most notably, Istanbul—the former capital of three histo...
Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire and her allies in World War I, the National War of Independence was waged from 1919 to 1923. Following the war’s completion, the Turkish Republican State was formed. The first president of the new republic was, of course, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the commander-in-chief in the War of Independence.
As a result of the modernization process that has characterized Turkey’s Republican history since its beginning, Istanbul has developed an identity as a modern, global city that is unique to itself. From an economic and cultural perspective, Istanbul is the heart of contemporary Turkey. Due to the city’s unparalleled historical heritage, it continues to be a uniquely important city, not only for Turkey, but also in the eyes of the world as a whole.
Istanbul, which is home to many international political, cultural, fine-arts and sports organizations, is rapidly climbing toward the most elite level of world cities. As a unique synthesis of east and west, Istanbul is home to all of the colours of a world that no longer exists within borders.
Istanbul, Turkey’s open door to the West, has redefined its former status as an imperial capital through becoming a world-class centre of trade, business, tourism and culture.
Before the Byzantine Empire
The first evidence of human life in Istanbul, one of the world’s oldest cities, dates back 300 thousand years.
Excavations conducted at Yarımburgaz cave have uncovered evidence of human culture in the region of Küçükçekmece Lake. Collective inhabitation of Istanbul, which would later become one of the most crowded cities in the world, dates back to the Sixth Millennium B.C.E. These societies inhabited caves on both the European and Anatolian sides of the city.
While the first societies to exist in the area of Istanbul were nomadic and semi-nomadic, more culturally-developed groups, whose livelihood relied upon fishing, agriculture, and animal husbandry, emerged over time.
Research conducted at Fikirtepe has shown that these societies engaged in fishing and raising such animals as dogs, sheep, goats, oxen, and pigs from the Sixth Millennium B.C.E. onward.
With the arrival of the Third Millennium B.C.E., settlement in Istanbul and the surrounding areas grew rapidly, and city-states began to form.
Throughout the area’s entire history, and particularly during this era, the area near Sultanahmet Square—which would later become the seat of three different empires—was an important focus of settlement.
The first societies to reside in and around Istanbul—which is today such an important economic centre in the global arena—were nomadic and semi-nomadic. In the Third Millennium B.C.E., after the establishment of permanent settlements, Sultanahmet Square and the area nearby became an important centre of growth.
Turkish cuisine maintains a place of great importance among the cuisines of the world. Indeed, the fame of Turkish dishes, whose flavors are unparalleled, is known throughout the world.
Turkish Delights Turkish delight or Lokum is a family of confections based on a gel of starch and sugar. Premium varieties consist largely of chopped dates, pistachios and hazelnuts or walnuts bound by the gel; the cheapest are mostly gel, generally flavored with rosewater, mastic, or lemon. The confection is often packaged and eaten in small cubes dusted with icing sugar, copra, or powdered cream of Tartar, to prevent clinging. Other common types include such flavors as cinnamon and mint. In the production process, soapwort may be used as an emulsifying additive.
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Floss Halva Pişmaniye (Turkish) or floss halva is a traditional sweet, prepared in Kocaeli, Turkey, made by flossing thin strands of halva into a light confection. Made primarily of wheat flour and sugar, the strands are continuously wrapped into a ball shape and then compressed. The result is a halva with a light consistency, similar to cotton candy.
Floss halva can be found in regular and pistachio flavors, and there are brands with halal or kosher certifications.
A similarpistachios-based version of floss halva is popular in North India. It tends to be slightly denser and is often referred to as patisa or sohan papdi. In Chinese cuisine, a floss-like candy similar to pismaniye or pashmak halva, known as dragon beard candy, is eaten as snack or dessert.
A raw version of halva also has become popular amongst proponents of raw food diets. In this version, a mixture of raw sesame tahini, raw almonds, raw agave nectar and salt are blended together and frozen to firm.
To visit Istanbul without eating döner is unthinkable!
Döner, which has been a crucial part of Turkish cuisine since the second half of the 19th century, is a type of kebab prepared with lamb, which is turned and roasted on a spit over a coal fire. In addition to red meat, döner made with sausage and chicken is also widely consumed.
While different types of döner are typically served on a plate over rice, döner is also sold with pide (long bread) and as dürüm (wrap). The most famous way of döner is probably the İskender Kebab in which döner is combined with a tomato sauce and butter, and served with yoghurt.
Eating fish on the Bosphorus is superb!
Turkey’s sophisticated culinary culture involving fish, stems from the fact that the country is surrounded by seas on three sides. The Bosphorus is a particular fishing ground in Turkey, where many different species of fish, with substantially different flavors are caught. For this reason, the area of Istanbul that is most associated with seafood is Boğaziçi. You can sample both seasonal fish and seafood mezes at any restaurants that are found all along the Bosphorus, on both the European and the Asian Side.
Istanbul: A meyhane paradise
Meyhanes are unique locations. Alcoholic beverage is drunk, and special mezes are eaten with rakı. Deep conversations occur, troubles are cast away, and, the music starts up and the dance begins. Meyhanes are indispensable locations for conversations among friends.
The history of meyhane culture among Turks stretches back to the 15th century. In those times, this culture was prevalent in neighborhoods of Galata, Tahtakale, Ortaköy, Tarabya, Kumkapı, Balık Pazarı, Kadıköy, Yeniköy and Çengelköy, which were inhabited by non-Muslim communities. In the area near the Galata Tower alone, there were hundreds of meyhanes.
The king of the table: Rakı
Rakı, an alcoholic beverage with a history not as old as that of wine or beer, was first produced by the Ottomans. Because rakı was known as “lion’s milk”, it was served in containers decorated with embossed figures of lions. In fact, the color of rakı does indeed resemble milk. Rakı is produced from the razaki grape, and, in the past, was known by such names as “araka”
Rakı is made from grapes. First, water is added to both dry and moist grapes. After the mixture becomes must (unfermented grape juice), the process of fermentation begins. Later, after this mixture is distilled, its extraction becomes a type of alcohol known as “suma” (in essence, rakı before it has been flavoured with anise). Finally, after aniseed added, the suma is fermented again, and turns into rakı.
Rakı must be drunk according to certain customs. Above all, rakı must be consumed slowly at a table set specifically for this purpose, adorned with different kinds of mezes, hot dishes, meats, and fruit. Rakı can either be drunk with water or dry, and ice may be added to it if so desired.
The exquisite flavor of kebabs
Kebab is the name generally given to different types of meat that are roasted over a coal fire. Among the most common types of kebab are the spicy Adana kebab and the mild Urfa kebab, both of which are made out of mincemeat, shish kebabs, made out of small pieces of veal or lamb. Kebabs are typically served with different types of vegetables, such as peanuts, tomatoes, and eggplant.
Kebabs are typically eaten at restaurants known as “grillrooms” (ocakbaşı), where one can sit around the coal fire and dine while watching the different stages of grilling that occur. Kebabs can also be eaten with various condiments as dürüm (wrap); it is even possible to eat on your feet at dürüm restaurants.
Lahmacun: Turkish fast food
Lahmacun is a dish peculiar to Turkey’s Southeastern cuisine. It is made from a mixture of onions, spices, and mincemeat, which is spread over a thin layer of dough and cooked over a coal flame. Lahmacun can be either spicy or mild, there is a similar dish known “peymacun”, which is made with a mixture of cheese and parsley. It is often eaten as a wrap with condiments. Ayran (a salty yoghurt drink) is the most appropriate beverage.
Fruit syrup: A sweet voyage
Fruit syrup (şerbet), which is prepared by boiling fruits such as apricots, cherries, plums, and oranges together with sugar or honey, is a traditional Turkish drink that originated in Ottoman times. Fruit syrup was an essential part of both palace cuisine and home cooking during the Ottoman era. It was so popular then that one could easily find fresh types of fruit syrup, stored in glass containers, at candy shops every day.
Today, fruit syrup is typically drunk with a meal, and is often offered to guests. In particular, it is customary to offer fruit syrup when making visits to a family to propose a marriage engagement or after the birth of a child.
The term narghile (hookah, or water-pipe) comes from the Persian word nargil, which means coconut. Narghiles play an important part in many Eastern cultures, and first became a part of Turkish culture in the 16th century, during Ottoman times. The narghile is a crucial aspect of deep conversations in our own time. Narghile cafes are certainly prominent in many areas of Istanbul. Above all, a large number of narghile cafes are found in the neighborhoods of Tophane, Çemberlitaş, Beyoğlu and Kadıköy.
A narghile consists of several different parts: The marpuç (the section from which smoke is inhaled), the lüle (the bowl into which tobacco is placed), the tepsi (tray) and the rüzgârlık (a metal partition to prevent the tobacco ashes from blowing away). Additionally, a mouthpiece known as sipsi is attached to the tip of marpuç. A special type of oak coal is used to light the narghile, which gives it a unique, aromatic taste. Narghile tobacco goes by the special name of tömbeki. In addition to tömbeki, you might try one of the many different flavored tobaccos with your narghile.
Simit: A sesame feast
Simit is one of the most traditional and common types of Turkish food. It is made from flour, formed in the shape of a ring and cooked in an oven, and is typically covered with a large quantity of sesame seeds. Simit is both inexpensive and flavorful.
One can find fresh simit at every hour of the day in bakeries and shops which sell baked flour goods. You also might encounter simit merchants, with their glass-pane wagons, walking along the city’s bustling streets. In the past few years, several simit chain restaurants, which only sell different types of simit have become popular.
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