• Istanbul

    Mehmet II by Bellini (1480)

    Mehmet II by Bellini (1480)

    “If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.”

    -Alphonse de Lamartine

    There are many misconceptions concerning Istanbul. People ask me questions, often with good intentions. Other people, out of fear of seeming idiotic or intrusive, don’t ask me questions at all. But I prefer the questions! And, of course, I’m still learning, too.

    Well, here’s a brief crash course:

    Originally called Byzantium, the land (now Istanbul) was first settled by Greek colonists in the 7th century BC. Many important classical city-states flourished along Turkey’s Mediterranean coasts, including Troy and Smyrna. The famous island, Lesbos, inhabited by the first woman poet, Sappho, is also very close to Turkey.

    Istanbul then became the imperial capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, known at the time as Constantinople. When the Western Roman Empire fell, Constantinople became the last remaining vestige of the Roman era — a cultural gem in the “dark” ages, inhabited by a Greek-speaking Eastern-Orthodox populace. So, it was quite an interesting mix: Roman (politically and historically), Greek (linguistically) and Eastern Orthodox (religiously). The greatest, and most beloved, architecture triumph of the Byzantine era was the Hagia Sophia. It still stands today in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district.

    Did you know that the Byzantines were responsible for the First Crusade? Fearing the Seljuk Turks, the First Crusade (1095-1099) was the brainchild of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I, who appealed to the Latin Pope for military assistance.

    So, originally, the Eastern Orthodox and Latinate sects got along just fine — that is, until, the Crusaders sacked Constantinople in the 14th Crusade, bringing many of the spoils back to Venice. And why, do you ask? Well, Constantinople was Eastern Orthodox — not Latin Catholic. And this would also be their downfall, as Western Europe idly sat by in the 15th century when a new threat came to bloom …the mighty, fearless Ottomans.

    The Siege of Constantinople, 1499

    Interestingly, it was the cannon that brought Constantinople to its knees. In 1453, Ottoman invaders, supplied with cutting-edge cannons, blew through the mythical walls of Constantinople. Thus, Islam and Ottoman rule came to Turkey with Istanbul as the imperial capital. For 500 years, the Ottoman Empire grew in geographic size and administrative capacity. This vast empire, which reached the gates of Vienna, lorded over a complex, multi-ethnic and religiously heterogeneous area. You can find some of my writing on Bulgaria, a former Otttoman holding, in my blog…

    The Ottoman Empire ended after WWI — and, at that time, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk thoroughly modernized the country, introducing the Latin alphabet and even banning the headscarf. Today, Istanbul, which means “in the city” in Greek, is a throbbing metropolis, surrounded by water and cloaked in centuries of architectural delights.

    Can you see why I find this place interesting?


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