Some Stray Facts About Istanbul


Somehow, I ended up not feeling very inspired after reading Philip Mansel’s Constantinople: City Of The World’s Desire, 1453-1924 (great title by the way). But I require of myself to do at least one post (often several) on every read in order to help the book “set deeper” in my mind. So for this book, I thought I’d just run though a few of the things that caught my interest whilst I was perusing it…

300s AD – Roman Emperor Constantine founds “The City Of Constantine” — “Constantinople” in Greek. The site is a peninsula perfectly situated for trade and defense. Until big cannons are invented, Constantine’s City will remain basically impenetrable (some Crusaders took The City, but treachery was involved in that dastardly deed)

500 – Emperor Justinian builds the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople

1261 – Constantinople reverts to local rule (but it sounds like it still has an “emperor” whose vast domains are pretty much just The City by this time)

1300? – at some point, the Turks start calling The City “eis teen polin,” a corruption of the Greek phrase, “into the city.” “Eis teen polin” is further corrupted to become “Istanbul.”

1400s – the peninsula is by this time home to a mere collection of small towns; from a peak of about 400,00 inhabitants, there are about 50,000 living there by the 1400s

1453 – Ottomans conquer Constantinople; the last “emperor” of Constantinople had the same name as the first, Constantine; 92 emperors had reigned in The City since its founding

1453-5- The Ottomans straightaway build the massive Seven Towers, a citadel on the western side (land side) of the peninsula

1915 – the Allies of WWI promise Constantinople to Russia; didn’t happen; two big reasons: 1) Lenin’s revolution takes Russia out of war, and 2) Mustapha Kemal a.k.a. Ataturk isn’t exactly welcoming to foreign invaders

1915 – Armenian Massacre – Writes Mansel… “in Anatolia, between six and eight hundred thousand Armenian men, women, and children died during deportations, epidemics, and massacres.” Foreign diplomats at the time were convinced that the deaths were part of a conscious policy of the Turks to destroy the Armenian race in Turkey. The Young Turk movement demanded to the “Turkification” and modernization of Anatolia.

Aftermath of WWI:

Kemal / Ataturk moves the capital of his new Turkey to Anakara; he felt Constantinople had become too polluted by immorality

Kemal does away with the Caliphate

Ottoman titles for rulers:

Sultan = ruler (Arabic)

Khan = emperor (Turkish)

Padishah = great king (Persian)

Shahinshah = king of kings (Persian)

A few other terms associated with Constantinople:

Galata – a suburb of Constantinople, situated to the North across the Golden Horn harbor; the city was run by traders and settlers from Genoa, Italy (at some point, I’d like read about the Italian city-states in Byzantium; they seemed to have controlled a lot).

Janissaries: an elite force of warrior-slaves controlled by the Ottoman leader; a corruption of the Turkish phrase, “yeni ceri” meaning “new troops”

Lingua Franca – “language of the Franks”; a pidgin Italian (mixed with other languages) which helped traders communicate in a Empire full of people speaking many different languages

Bosphorus – straits leading from Constantinople north to the Black Sea

Sea Of Marmara – sea to the south of Constantinople; bordered on the north by the Bosphrous straits and on the south by the straits of the Dardanelles (which lead to the Aegean Sea


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