Historic Areas of Istanbul (1985)

Back to index

UNESCO (Paris) 1983. Istanbul.

With its strategic location on the Bosphorus peninsula between the Balkans and Anatolia, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, Istanbul has been associated with major political, religious and artistic events for more than 2,000 years. Its masterpieces include the ancient Hippodrome of Constantine, the 6th-century Hagia Sophia and the 16th-century Süleymaniye Mosque, all now under threat from population pressure, industrial pollution and uncontrolled urbanization. 
  • UNESCO (Paris) 1983. Istanbul. 

According to legend, Istanbul was founded in 667 BC by a Greek colonizer, Byzas the Megarian, from whom the city’s original name, Byzantium, is derived. Because of Byzantium’s strategic and economic importance, Athenians, Persians, Spartans, Macedonians, and Romans fought over the city for centuries. 

In 324 AD Roman emperor Constantine the Great defeated rival emperor Licinius at Chrysopolis (now Üsküdar) and became the sole Roman emperor. Constantine made Byzantium his capital in 330, expanding the city until it rested on seven hills, like Rome. The city was soon called Constantinople, meaning “city of Constantine.” 
  • Turkey 1995. Aerial view of Istanbul. 

Turkey 1995. Aerial view of Istanbul.

Constantinople reached its peak during the reign of Byzantine emperor Justinian I (527-565), who is responsible for some of the city’s greatest architectural monuments, including Hagia Sophia. Following a plague in 542, the city entered a period of decline. Between the 7th and 11th centuries Persians, Avars, Arabs, Bulgarians, and Rus (East Slavs) attacked Constantinople. In 1204, during the Fourth Crusade, the city was seized by the Latin (Roman Catholic) Crusaders, who held it until 1261 when Byzantine rulers recaptured the city. 

Tyrkey 1918.  Hagia Sophia and the Obelisk on Constantine's Hippodrome.

Constantinople became the capital of the Byzantine Empire -- the eastern part of the Roman Empire, which survived the fall of Rome in the 5th century -- and subsequently developed into the center of the Greek Orthodox Christian world. 

Hagia Sophia, also known as the Church of the Holy Wisdom, is the most famous Byzantine structure in Constantinople, (built (532-37) by Emperor Justinian I, and now a museum. Its huge size and daring technical innovations make it one of the world's key monuments. 

  • Turkey 1918. The Hagia Sophia and the Obelisk on Constantine's Hippodrome. 
The Fourth Crusade and its aftermath, which included a long series of family struggles for the title of emperor, sapped the Byzantine Empire of its resources and wreaked havoc on its capital city. In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, who made it the capital of the Ottoman Empire and called it Istanbul. Under Ottoman rule, the city flourished as a political, commercial, and cultural center, reaching its height under Sultan Süleyman I (1520-1566). 
  • Turkey 1913. The Süleyman Mosque in Istanbul, erected in honour of Sultan Süleyman I. 

Turkey 1913. The Süleyman Mosque in Istanbul.

Soon after, however, Istanbul entered a period of slow and steady decline. The Ottoman Empire grew weaker as the sultans became less effective leaders. Istanbul was the site of several riots and rebellions, most notably the 1826 revolt of the Janissaries, the elite Ottoman military corps, which ended in the dissolution of the corps. After this point, Istanbul saw reforms along Western lines, as European ideas of administration and development were brought into the city by increasing numbers of foreign visitors. 

Turkey 1913. The Theodosius Obelisk on the Hoppodrome of Istanbul. Turkey 1313. Europe Castle at Bosporus, Istanbul.

Turkey 1913. View of Bosporus, Istanbul.

Turkey 1913. The Constantine Column in Istanbul.

Turkey 1926. Mustafa Kemal Pasha (also known as Kemal Atatürk).

During World War I (1914-1918) Allied forces defeated the Ottoman Empire. At the end of the war, Istanbul came under Allied occupation. Following the Turkish War of Independence (1919-1922), the nationalist army of Mustafa Kemal (later known as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk) expelled Allied troops from the city. In 1923 Mustafa Kemal made Turkey a republic and moved the capital from Istanbul to Ankara, which was the center of the nationalist movement. The city’s name was officially changed to Istanbul in 1930. Istanbul remains Turkey’s economic center, despite no longer being the capital. Its population has grown steadily, and in recent years, demands for improved road systems have led to some demolition of historic portions of the city. 
  • Turkey 1926. Mustafa Kemal Pasha (also known as Kemal Atatürk). 

Theodora (circa 508-48), Byzantine empress (527-48), wife of Emperor Justinian I, probably born in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). According to the Byzantine historian Procopius, her father was a trainer of circus animals, and she was an actor and a courtesan before marrying Justinian in 523. Four years later Justinian became emperor and made her joint ruler. 

Byzantine Mosaic on the Basilica of Ravenna (Italy). Empress Theodora with courtiers. Byzantine Mosaic in the Basilica of Ravenna (Italy). Emperor Justinian I with courtiers.

Many decisions concerning the government of the empire were made by Theodora. In 532, as a result of high taxes and religious and political controversies, an insurrection, called the Nika riot, broke out in Constantinople. Theodora helped save the throne by preventing Justinian from fleeing the city. Historians take issue with Procopius's description of Theodora as tyrannical and cruel, but they agree upon her beauty and intellectual gifts. 

Sources and links:


Other World Heritage Sites in Turkey (on this site). Inactive links are not described on stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, section Turkey for further information about the individual properties.  

Back to index

Revised 21 jul 2006  
Copyright © 1999 Heindorffhus
All Rights Reserved