Connecting the continents of Europe and Asia, Istanbul’s vital location has made it a cultural crossroads beyond comparison. Its geographical position alone looks to have made it destined to be the capital of a mighty empire. It was the epicentre of two great but very different kingdoms, the Byzantine and Ottoman, for some 1,700 years. Yet even before it climbed the imperial throne, it sparkled as a dynamic city for almost a thousand years, from the moment it was first founded as the Greek town of Byzantium.
It is hard not to communicate in superlatives when explaining this heroic cradle of civilisation. No other capital on the planet has been surrounded so often, so significantly was it desirable by peoples outside its walls. No other city in the world sits across two continents. Not just age-old, for centuries, it was the very diverse city in Europe, on whose streets more than a dozen languages were talked, from Greek to Arabic and Italian to Persian. Above all, it was a city made for business, built for trade.
Inaugurated on a triangular spit of land (the vicinity today dominated by the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya), the new town was surrounded by water on three sides. This was no shy retiring tiny society but a secure centre of business designed to manage one of the extensive waterways in the world, the Bosphorus. Control of this narrow channel connecting the Mediterranean and the Black Sea confirmed political authority, a constant flow of innovative suggestions, and money in the form of traffic and taxes.
Cruising on the Bosphorus today offers an ideal opportunity to explore the city as sailors would have seen it spans ago, its seven hills bejewelled with the utmost splendid mosques. Daily boat visits stop at several points along its length, like Anadolu Kavagi approximately at the entrance to the Black Sea. Here you can leave the yacht, dine at one of the fish restaurants by the beach, and roam up to the devastated castle for breath-taking views and a leap of creativity back to the time when Jason was sailing beneath in search of the Golden Fleece.
These Days oil tankers knock with passenger ships on the waters of the Bosphorus, but their numbers are but a small portion of the boats that used to flock to Turkey. In Ottoman days fifteen thousand small vessels worked in the dock, concealing its very waters. Chaotic it may have been, but disorganised it was not. When it came to the capital, the city was a strict and disciplined government. In the Golden Buzzer, the capital’s sheltered and marvellous deep-water harbour, yachts chained directly by the beach to unload, and their shipments were carefully checked by a waiting army of customs officials that calculated their payable duty.
When the Byzantine Territory and the ruined city of Constantinople finally fell to Mehmet the Conqueror and his Ottoman army in 1453, shockwaves vibrated all over Western Europe and the whole Christian world. Yet Mehmet was a futurist. Just as Constantine had done over a period, refounding Byzantium as his new capital, a new Rome, Mehmet was established to rebuild the city’s futures and position it on an even higher base.
He issued a gathering call for individuals of all competitions and religions to come and live and work in the town. It was an open-door policy based on acceptance and liberty to invite talents, innovation, and energy. As a 15th-century pasha informed the Sultan, the market would set Constantinople and the Ottoman Empire on the road to accomplishment:
“View with favour on the sellers in the land; always care for them; let no one bother them… for through their dealing the land becomes wealthy and by their products, cheapness flourish in the earth; through them, the brilliant fame of the Sultan is brought to adjacent lands, and by them, the treasure within the land is grown.”
Within a few years, a whole host of external affairs had walked over the welcome mat and set up shop. Armenians grew as jewellers, artisans, and merchants. Jews became famous perfumers, blacksmiths, and investors. Italians were busy importing silk, paper, and crystal. Even the English were welcomed to the party when in 1579, Sultan Murad III wrote to Elizabeth. I received English traders to manage in his free business empire.
Lots of these businesses run out of the covered bazaar built by Mehmet the Conqueror, which still holds at the very heart of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. You can still feel something of the pictures, scents, and sounds of what old Constantinople must have been like if you take a specific time to search this complex city within a city. Down the hill to the Spice Bazaar, the streets are crowded with tiny shops and meetings full of artists banging out their secret deals. They give a minor indication of the cornucopia of stocks that once came to the royal capital from every corner of the earth.
For periods, the Ottoman Empire was the wholesaler of the world; its renowned merchants bring together three continents – Europe, Africa, and Asia, as far east as China. The price of the world didn’t come only from the ocean. All roads led to Constantinople. Convoys of camels and scuffs up to 2,000 strong landed every month, uniting from all points of the horizon – Poland to Arabia, France, and Persia.
Turkey had been a magnet for both supplies and individuals long before the Turks landed. A regular halting location for Christian tourists on the way to Jerusalem, once the Byzantine king Justinian constructed the Haghia Sophia in the 6th century, the centre itself became a pilgrimage spot and a top tourist destination. The Haghia Sophia was not any old spot of worship, and it was the best church in Christendom for nearly a thousand years. Converted to a mosque by Mehmet the Victor, today it remains a breath-taking museum open to individuals of all beliefs.
All over the Aya Sofya are potent reminders of the city’s longevity and its glorious history. A few hundred metres to the north are Topkapi Fort, where the Ottoman sultans resided and dominated in luxurious splendour. A few hundred metres to the south are the Blue Mosque, whose small towers describe the city’s skyline. Alongside that is the old Roman hippodrome, decorated with an Egyptian building. Walking around Istanbul, it isn’t easy to think about another city that can rival it as an open-air museum.
Yet this is no ghost city, no decorated in the wool city trading on old recollections. Following the death of the Ottoman Empire, it’s renaming as Istanbul and its demotion from the capital city, and the older city is yet again on the rise. However, Ankara is now the political capital of Constantinople, located at the nation’s geographic centre, Istanbul gnomes it in inhabitants and enthusiasm. Decorated with some of the best architectural and creative wonders globally and with a unique historical legacy on every street corner, Istanbul remains Turkey’s actual social, imaginative, and business hub, filled with strength and activity. Expanding at an exponential ratio, from 3 million in 1970 to a giant with some 11 million populations today, the capital continues to be the best cultural landmark. Its entices and pull more demanding than ever – for several fantastic folks; its streets still appear covered with gold.