Located in the center of the Old World, Istanbul is one of the world’s great cities famous for its historical monuments and magnificent scenic beauties. It is the only city in the world which spreads over two continents: it lies at a point where Asia and Europe are separated by a narrow strait – the Bosphorus. Istanbul has a history of over 2,500 years, and ever since its establishment on this strategic junction of lands and seas, the city has been a crucial trade center.
The historic city of Istanbul is situated on a peninsula flanked on three sides by the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. It has been the capital of three great empires, the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, and for more than 1,600 years over 120 emperors and sultans ruled the world from here. No other city in the world can claim such a distinction. During its development, the city was enlarged four times, each time the city walls were rebuilt further to the west.
Surrounded by 5th century Roman city walls and stretching over seven hills, Istanbul is adorned by the masterpieces of Turkish art, the great mosques of the Sultans that crown the hills. The city presents an exquisite, majestic and serene silhouette from all directions. The Golden Horn, which is a very secure natural harbor, has played a significant role in the development of the city.
Fortune provided such advantages to Istanbul as a location at a junction where the main overland routes reach the sea, an easily defensible peninsula, an ideal climate, a rich and generous nature, control of the strategic Bosphorus, and a central geographical position in the ancient world.
As a capital of empires, the city was not only an administrative, but also a religious center. The Patriarchate of Eastern Christians has been headquartered here since its establishment, and the largest early churches and monasteries of the Christian world rose in this city on top of the pagan temples. Within a century after the city was conquered, it was enriched with mosques, palaces, schools, baths and other architectural monuments that gave it a Turkish character, while some of the existing churches in ruins were repaired, altered and converted into mosques. Between the 16th century when the Ottoman sultans acquired themselves the title of the “Caliph of Islam” and 1924, the first year of the Republic, Istanbul was also the headquarters of the Caliphate. More Jews settled in Istanbul than any other port, and here they built themselves a new and happy life after they were rescued from Spain by the Turks in the 15th century. Istanbul has always been a city of tolerance where mosques, churches and synagogues existed side by side. The city was adorned with a large number of dazzling and impressive works even during the period of decline of the Ottomans.
During this time, the influence of European art made itself felt in the new palaces, while the northern slopes of the Golden Horn, Galata and Beyoğlu districts assumed a European character. Even when the Empire, which was a party to World War l, collapsed and the young Republic that replaced it moved the capital to Ankara, Istanbul did not lose its significance.
In the 1970s, Istanbul’s population rapidly increased, causing the city to expand into the nearby villages and forests, eventually creating a major world metropolis. Today its population is over 14 million and still increases constantly. It continues to be the commercial and cultural center of Turkey.
Istanbul’s many historical areas were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1985. In addition, because of its status as a world rising power, its history, importance to culture in both Europe and the world, Istanbul has been designated the European Capital of Culture for 2010 by the European Union.