Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Istanbul, the timeless city

Istanbul, historically known as Constantinople or Byzantium, is a transcontinental city in Eurasia straddling the Bosphorus strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. It is a privileged city, having witnessed the most important events in the history of humanity. 
Aya Sophia from the rooftop of our hotel
 Archaeological remains show that people have inhabited the immediate area of present-day Istanbul for tens of thousands of years. A large population lived in the area around 5000 B. C. According to legend, the colony of Byzantium was founded in 660 B.C. by a Megarian named Byzas. The colony was named after him. Because of its strategic position, Byzantium didn't take long to establish its economic dominance over the region, inviting unwanted attention. Greeks, Athenians, Persians and Spartans fought over the city early on. By 73 B. C. the city had become part of a Roman province. 
Aya Sophia
During the reign of Byzantine emperor Justinian, more than half a million people lived in Constantinople. Justinian oversaw the construction of some of the city's most spectacular buildings, including the Aya Sophia. The accumulation of wealth continued to attract enemies. In 542, a plague devastated the population, killing three out of five inhabitants, and marked the beginning of the city's decline. Its enemies besieged the weakened city but could not penetrate its walls. Between the seventh and eleventh centuries Russians, Persian Sassanids, Avars, Muslim Arabs and Bulgars attacked the city.
Topkapi entrance
 During the Fourth Crusade, the Latins broke through the walls and seized the city in 1204. They held it until 1261, when Byzantine troops recaptured the city. Under Latin rule, the city was plundered and ruined. In the distance, the advancing troops of the Ottoman Empire moved closer and closer. The Ottoman Turks attacked Constantinople for the first time in the 14th century. The Ottomans built a fort on the Asian side of the Bosporus to prevent aid from reaching Constantinople. Yet the city would not fall for several decades. Than later under leader Mehmed II. Aya Sophia was turned into a Muslim temple. It was a symbolic gesture that signalled the end of Constantinople’s Christian era and the beginning of Muslim rule.

Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque, interior
 The city had been nearly abandoned during Mehmed's siege. He began to repopulate it by moving people into the city from other communities. In 1457, Constantinople, known by now as Istanbul, became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Dynasty claimed the status of caliphate in 1517, with Istanbul remaining the capital of this last caliphate for four centuries. During the rule of Suleyman the Magnificent (152066), Ottoman Istanbul reached its zenith. Modern facilities, such as a water supply network, electricity, telephones, and trams, were gradually introduced to Istanbul over the following centuries, although later than to other European cities. 
Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque
The modernization efforts were not enough to forestall the decline of the Ottoman Empire. During the World War I Istanbul was occupied by British, French and Italians. From the late 1940s and early 1950s, Istanbul underwent great structural change and the population of Istanbul began to rapidly increase in the 1970s, as people from Anatolia migrated to the city to find employment in the many new factories that were built on the outskirts of the sprawling metropolis. The best sights in Istanbul are the already mentioned Aya Sophia, Topkapi palace(Topkapi Sarayi), Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque, Galata Tower, and many more.

Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque
I was amazed with Istanbul. It is such an enormous city, with hidden historical parts on every single corner. Also, I was surprised with the people of Istanbul, that are, despite the nowadays situation, extremely open and kind. The first thing that impressed me, was the view of the Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque at sunset. They looked so magnificent and powerful, that I couldn’t wait to see them up close. We went to explore the city. We saw the Taksim Square, which is situated in the European part of Istanbul. It is considered as the heart of modern Istanbul, it is also the location of Monument of the Republic (Cumhuriyet Anıtı), which commemorates the 5th anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. 
Galata Tower
We were amazed by the Galata tower, which was the city's tallest structure when it was built in 1348. It looked stunning at night, with all the lights surrounding it. Then we crossed the Galata bridge that is 490 m long with a main span of 80 m. It used to be a symbolic link between the traditional city of Istanbul, site of the imperial palace and principal religious and important institutions of the empire, and the districts of Galata, Beyoğlu, Şişli and Harbiye. In these districts inhabitants were mostly non-Muslim, foreign merchants and diplomats. A person who went from Fatih to Harbiye on the other side of the bridge, set foot in a different civilization and a different culture. 

The Galata bridge is the main subject of many paintings and literature. So full of different nations and cultures the timeless city of Istanbul made me fall in love with it. Then the next morning we went to visit the Blue Mosque. We saw the blue mosaics and the traditional domes, covering the mosque. Crossing the main square, we moved to Aya Sophia. It was clear that it used to be a Christian church, but it was also an important Muslim temple. It was a great pleasure exploring such a historical place. I love history, and the Aya Sophia was something that I’ve always wanted to see. So, basically this was a dream come true. We also visited the Topkapi Palace that amazed us with the beautiful view of Istanbul, well preserved and presented personal belongings of Ottoman Emperors, and the whole palace actually, it was reported to be a city within a city.
At first I was afraid because I’ve never been to Istanbul. I was scared of meeting new people, the culture and everything that comes with along with that, but I actually felt extremely safe. I loved being there and I hope I’ll get the chance to go there again some time soon. It was such a memorable experience!
And after all I think that Istanbul is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. And I’m sure that it will continue to keep its greatness and that the time will encourage that greatness to grow even stronger.
Julija Krautberger, 2. D

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