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The foundation of Istanbul is dating back to second millennia BC, when the first inhabitants were settled on the Asian side of the city. Its name comes from king Byzas who guided his colonists to this site in the 7th century BC and established the Byzantium at the entrance of the Bosphorus. King Byzas consulted an Apollonian oracle which told him to settle across the "land of the blind", and that he believed that earlier settlers must have been "blind" to settle on the Asian side underestimating this perfect location on this side of the Bosphorus strait controlling the only access to the Black Sea.

In the 6th century BC Persians captured the city then in the 4th century BC Alexander the Great took it over. In the 2nd century BC Roman emperor Septimus Severus conquered the city and it remained under the Roman rule until 4th century AD.


After the division of the Eastern and Western Roman Empire, emperor Constantine the Great made Byzantium the capital of the new Byzantine Empire and gave the city his name; Constantinople. The city was built on seven hills, like ancient Rome.

Byzantine emperors filled their city with the treasures of the ancient world between 4th and 6th centuries. In 532 riots destroyed the city, but Justinian I rebuilt it with important structures such as Hagia Sophia and the cisterns, and thus marked the golden age of the Byzantine Empire.

In the 7th and 8th centuries Istanbul was besieged by the Arabs, then by the Barbarians in the 9th and 10th, but they were not able to capture it thanks to the walls. Between 1204 - 1261 Constantinople was ruled by the Fourth Crusade who sacked all the wealth, the city also lost its strength.


In 1453 Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople under the reign of Sultan Mehmet II, known as "The Conqueror". Constantinople was renamed Islambol and it became the last capital of the Ottoman Empire until 20th century. Between 15th and 16th centuries the sultans built major mosques and public buildings, making the city a cultural, political, and commercial center. The name "Istanbul" was derived from a combination of "Islambol" ("city of Islam" in Turkish) and "eis tin Polin" ("to the City" in Greek).

During the decline of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul preserved its global importance thanks to its location, but this wasn't enough for the salvation of an Empire.


At the end of World War I, the Ottomans were defeated and Istanbul was occupied by the allies. After years of Ataturk's struggle against the allies and loyal soldiers to the sultan, Turkey became a republic in 1923. The capital was moved to Ankara but Istanbul continued to expand and hold its importance. Today, the population of Istanbul is around 13 million and counting. It's the commercial, financial, and cultural center of Turkey.

© Burak Sansal 2006–2024, licensed professional tour guide in Turkey.