Byzantium/Constantinople/ Istanbul

Napoleon said: “If the world were one country, Istanbul would be the Capital.”

Maiden’s Tower Lighthouse Istanbul

Istanbul stays on top because the city straddles Europe and Asia. Istanbul is where the East truly meets the West. Like New York, London, Singapore and Tokyo it is expensive to live there, but a must to visit.

First inhabitants of Istanbul are dating back to second millennia BC, they were settled on the Asian side of the city. Its first name comes from Megara king Byzas who took his colonists here in the 7th century BC to establish a colony named Byzantium, the Greek name for a city on the Bosphorus. Byzas chose this spot after consulting an oracle of Delphi who told him to settle across from the “land of the blind”. Indeed, Byzas believed that earlier settlers must have been “blind” for overlooking this superb location at the entrance of the Bosphorus strait, only access to the Black Sea.

Balat historic district Istanbul


In the 6th century BC Persians ruled the city and than Alexander the Great took it over after 4th century BC, which was a peaceful period until the 2nd century BC.

In 193 AD Roman emperor Septimus Severus conquered the city and it remained under the Roman rule until 4th century AD, when emperor Constantine the Great made Byzantium the capital of entire Roman Empire and gave it his name: Constantinople, and Eastern Roman Empire was called Byzantine Empire after 5th century. The city was built on seven hills, like Rome.


The cylindrical Galata Tower stands sentry over the approach to ‘new’ İstanbul. Constructed in 1348, it was the tallest structure in the city for centuries and it still dominates the skyline north of the Golden Horn. 

Early Byzantine emperors filled their city with the treasures of the ancient world, especially between 4th and 6th centuries with a population exceeded half a million. In 532 during the reign of Justinian I, riots destroyed the city. But it was rebuilt and outstanding structures such as Hagia Sophia stand as monuments to the golden age of Byzantines.

Istanbul’s latter history is full intrigues and sieges, it was besieged by the Arabs in the 7th and 8th centuries and by the Barbarians in the 9th and 10th, but ruled by the Fourth Crusade between 1204-1261 who destroyed and sacked all the wealth. After this, Constantinople did not regain its former richness nor strength.

Ottoman Turks lead by Sultan Mehmet II conquered Constantinople in 1453. Renamed Islambol, the city became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Between 15th and 16th centuries, sultans built many mosques and public buildings, topping the population again around half million by the mid 1500’s, Istanbul was a major 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) throughout the centuries.

Ottoman rule lasted until World War I when Istanbul was occupied by the allied troops. After years of struggle led by Ataturk against the occupying forces, the Republic of Turkey was born in 1923 and the capital was moved to Ankara province. But Istanbul has continued to expand dramatically; today its population is over 13 million and still increases constantly. It continues to be the commercial and cultural center of Turkey.

Hope to see you soon in Antalya after you have viewed Istanbul.


Many people have a love/hate relationship with the ever-bustling (Istiklal Street or Istiklal Avenue – İstiklal Caddesi in Turkish) that runs from Taksim Square nearly all the way to the landmark Galata Tower. Although it is the beating heart of the city, the three million people that pass it every day, can make it rather challenging to traverse. Yet it serves as a microcosm of Istanbul itself and although chains and fast food joints are starting to edge out the more old fashioned shops, there’s still traces of old Istanbul here.
I stayed awake long enough in our History of Architecture class on Saturday mornings, to remember that after the Pyramids, the Hagia Sophia was second must see creation in the Eastern Mediterranean

The third Hagia Sophia construction combined the three traditional basilical plans with the central dome plan in design. The structure has three nefi, one apsi, and two narthex, internal and external. The length from the apsis to the outer narthex is 100 m, and the width is 69.5 m. The height of the dome from the ground level is 55.60 m and the radius is 31.87 m in the North to South direction and 30.86 in the East to West direction.

Emperor Justinianos ordered all provinces under his reign to send the best architectural pieces to be used in the construction so that the Hagia Sophia could be bigger and grander. The columns and marbles used in the structure have been taken from ancient cities in and around Anatolia and Syria, such as, Aspendus Ephessus, Baalbeek and Tarsa.

Balat District Istanbul

The white marbles used in the structure came from the Marmara Island, the green porphyry from Eğriboz Island, the pink marbles from Afyon and the yellow from North Africa. The decorative interior wall coatings were established by dividing single marble blocks into two and combining them in order to create symmetrical shapes.

More Balat

In addition, the structure includes columns brought in from the Temple of Artemis in Ephessus to be used in the naves, as well as 8 columns brought from Egypt that support the domes. The structure has a total of 104 columns, 40 in the lower and 64 in the upper gallery.

Beyoglu Street

All the walls of the Hagia Sophia except the ones covered by marble have been decorated with exceptionally beautiful mosaics. Gold, silver, glass, terra cotta and colorful stones have been used to make the mosaics. The plant-based and geometric mosaics are from the 6th century, whereas the figured mosaics date back to the Iconoclast period.

Galata Tower up close

During the East Roman period, the Hagia Sophia was the Empire Church and, as a result, was the place in which the emperors were crowned. The area that is on the right of the naos, where the flooring is covered with colorful stones creating an intertwining circular design (omphalion), is the section in which the Eastern Roman Emperors were crowned.
Istanbul was occupied by Latins between 1204 and 1261, during the Holy Crusades, when both the city and the church were damaged. The Hagia Sophia was known to be in bad condition in 1261, when Eastern Rome took over the city again.


Following Fatih Sultan Mehmed’s (1451-1481) conquer in 1453, Hagia Sophia was renovated into a mosque. The structure was fortified and was well protected after this period, and remained as a mosque. Additional supporting pillars were installed during the East Roman and Ottoman periods as a result of the damage that the structure experienced due to earthquakes in the region. The minarets designed and implemented by Mimar Sinan have also served to this purpose.

Kitabevi Kafe

Pera Palace Hotel


Renowned crime author Agatha Christie was a constant guest of Pera Palace Hotel, and she always stayed in Room 411. It is rumored that, it was the room, Christie wrote her popular novel, Murder on the Orient Express. Now, Room 411 is recognized as the Agatha Christie Room.

After check in at Pera Palas Hotel, you get to ride on the first elevator in Istanbul, the 1892 Schindler.
I read the book review of “Midnight at the Pera Palace” on our maiden voyage to Istanbul. Had to buy the book and have the Hotel staff autograph it. Included in the $250 cost of the room they gave us a free copy of Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express.’