The Foundation of The City
o Names of Istanbul
o Legends about the foundation of Istanbul
o First foundation of the city
Development of The City
o Istanbul before the Roman era
o Istanbul during the Roman era
o Istanbul during the Byzantine period
o Istanbul during the Turkish period
The Foundation and Development of the City
Names of Istanbul
Istanbul was formerly known as Byzantion (Byzantium in Latin), and this is the origin of the term we use today. It is not known with any certainty where the name ‘Byzantion’ came from, and it is quite clear that the legends that arose at later periods did not reflect the truth.
It has been noted that ‘Byzant’, which is the root of the word ‘Byzantion’ greatly resembles many of the place names existing in Entail during the third century. Although it can be accepted that the ‘ion’ suffix is associated with the Phrygians, who arrived with the Aegean migrations, the ‘nt’ on the end of the root ‘Byzant’ can also be found in the ancient local languages of Entail. Throughout the Early Ages the name ‘Byzantion’, which forms the core of the former name of Istanbul, was used. After the city had been re-founded in 330 AD by Constantine I (and this was towards the end of the Roman, Empire), it was referred to as ‘Deutera Rome’, or the second Rome’, and also as ‘Nea Rome’, which means ‘New Rome’. Then the name of its founder was taken as the basis, and the name ‘Konstantinoupolis’ adopted, which was the source of all the western names for the city. The Germans refer to Istanbul as ‘Konstantinopel’, the French and the British as ‘Constantinople’ and the Italians as ‘Constantinopoli’. Although the official name of the city has, ever since the establishment of the Republic, been ‘Istanbul’ and great sensitivity shown on this subject, Europe resists the adoption of the name ‘Istanbul’. It is not known with any certainty where the name ‘Istanbul’ came from. According to an opinion that has existed for many years, the Byzantines did not refer to the city by its actual name, but, because of it size, simply as ‘Polis’ (the City), and when they wanted to say ‘to the City’, they said ‘eist enpolin’ (is-tin-polin), which was the origin of the name ‘Istanbul’. Recent research has shown that the name ‘Istanbul’ was used if not during the Byzantine period, at least during the 11th century and that the Turks knew the city by this name. Istanbul has had other names at various times but none of them was used widely or for any great length of time. During the Turkish period the names ‘Dersaadet’ and ‘Deraliye’ were used (and these were adjectival more than anything else), and if official correspondence and on coins the Turkish transcription of ‘Konstantinoupolis’, ‘Konstantiniye’ was used, Although the use of the name ‘Konstantiniye’ was prohibited at one time during the Ottoman period by Sultan Mustafa III, its use continued, to be abandoned during the republican period.
Legends about the foundation of Istanbul
Although it is a legend about the foundation of the city that has come down to us over the ages in various forms, it does not cast any real light on the fact surrounding the initial foundation of the city. According to a local legend which is comparatively much older than the others, the Thracian king Byzas, who was the son of the nymph Semestra, had married Phidaleia, daughter of Barbyzos, king of a region near to Istanbul; it was this woman who is said to have founded Byzantion, or Istanbul
According to another legend to, lover of Zeus, the chief of all the ancient Greek gods, turned herself into a cow to escape the wrath of Hera, Zeus’s vengeful wife. During her flight she gave birth to a daughter, Keroessa, on the banks of the Golden Horn. Keroessa was brought up by the nymph Semestra and in due course she gave birth to the son of the sea god Poseidon, whom she named Byzas. Byzas was brought up by the naiad Byzia, and he went on to found the city of Istanbul, It is possible to fit this legend in with the geography of Istanbul. On the other hand, the names Byzas and Keroessa are to be encountered in different forms in very old place names in Anatolia. This perhaps demonstrates that the legend originates in events that took place in the depths of Anatolia’s history. According to legends originating in more recent times, (and one of these, born in the Ist century AD, is extremely well-known) Byzas had set out with the chief of a band of migrants from Megara in Greece. The oracle in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi had advised them to set up their new homeland in a place “facing the blind”. These migrants were said to have set up their first city on what is now Sarayburnu; this promontory lies opposite Kadikoy, formerly known as Khalkedon, which had been founded 17 (according to other sources 19 or 29) years earlier, and its founders had been accused of being blind because they had ignored the beauty of Istanbul. This last legend must be connected with the Greek migrations that took place between 750 and 550 BC and is certainly not related to the city’s initial foundation. The only possibility is that during these migrations anew Greek city was founded in what is now Istanbul circa 660 BC, from which the present city developed.
1. The first foundation of the City
The oldest signs of habitation in the Istanbul area have been found on the banks of the Kurbagali-dere Greek in Kadikoy, in the Fikirtepe locality; it is considered that these finds date from the end of the 4th century or the beginning of the 3rd century BC. Research carried out in recent times in a natural cave in a rocky hillside overlooking the north side of the Buyukcekmece lake 20 km west of Istanbul has proved that people lived here in prehistoric times. An interesting point is that this cave was regarded as a sacred place by the Byzantines after the extends down into the depths of the earth over a distance of 1 km and the height of some of its corridors reaches 15m in some places. At the bottom of an extremely thick layer of earth and manure a large number of fossils, stone-age tools, flint spear-heads and pieces of bone have been found. These all go to prove that the area around Istanbul has been inhabited since the dawn of history.
There is no reason at all why there should not have been another centre of habitation on the site of present-day Istanbul. However, the increase in the depth of the soil layer previously mentioned has rendered a search for these very early signs of habitation impossible. It would, however, seem more within the bounds of possibility that the very first city was bounded on Silivritepe, the high promontory between the Alibey and Kagithane creeks at the upper end of the Golden Horn. If we accept the idea that prehistoric man preferred to settle at the head of running water, as evidenced by the finds at Fikirtepe and Kucukcekmece it would be entirely convincing to suppose the existence of a settlement at the top end of the Golden Horn on Silivritepe, a place which provided a safe refuge for small boats, a plentiful supply of fish in all seasons, the banks of which were fertile and suitable for agriculture and which in addition was supplied with fresh water by these two creeks. In all probability the best place to search for the first signs of habitation in Istanbul would be at the upper end of the Golden Horn. Apart from this there was also a centre of habitation at the tip of the triangular piece of land enclosed by the city walls now known as Sarayburnu. The Roman writer Plinius, who lived in the 1st century AD, states that first of all there was a village called Lygos in this triangle. Fragments of pottery found during excavations carried out in 1937 in the second courtyard of the Topkapi Palace are extremely inadequate evidence of Istanbul’s habitation in the 7th century BC because the soil in which they were found had been brought there from another place.
II. The Development of the city
1. Istanbul before the Roman Era
It is known that the Istanbul of Hellenic times was contained within the boundaries of what are now Sirkeci, the top of Alemdar Hill and Ahirkapi; in other words all the buildings of the first city were within the outer walls of the present Topkapi Palace. The city of that time was surrounded by solid walls made of hewn blocks of stone which had 27 towers and a gate on the inland side called the Thracian Gate. The Acropolis containing the ancient temples was on the hillside rising from Sarayburnu, and this had a separate wall around it. There was also at least one harbour in what is now Sirkeci. There is information available about is official buildings, temples, squares and the necropolis outside the city walls.
Until the end of the 2nd century BS Istanbul was a wealthy city within these boundaries protected by high walls. Revenues obtained from fishing, tolls paid by ships passing though the Bosphorus, and the fertility of the surrounding soil were the factors underlying its wealth in that period. In 193 AD the Roman Empire entered a period of crisis. One of the commanders who was trying to gain control during the battle for the throne that ensued with the murder of the emperor Pertinax was Pescennius Niger; he came to Istanbul and closed the road to Asia of Septimius Severus, who was engaged in battle. In 194 AD the severed head of Niger, who had been defeated by Severus, was sent to Istanbul, a city which had remained loyal to him but in spite of this the city had dared single-handedly to defy Septimius Severus, an emperor who ruled an empire stretching from Great Britain to the Gulf of Basra. This siege, which began in the winter of 193-194 AD, lasted two years. Istanbul, perhaps hoping that Severus’s other rival Albinius would be victorious, stood up to the terrible siege. It was said that its people were so hungry that even human corpses were eaten. As a punishment, when Istanbul finally surrendered in 196 AD, all its warriors and administrators were slaughtered, its walls pulled down, its right to call itself a city removed and, reduced to the status of village, it was bound to Perinthos (now Marmara Ereglisi). But Septimius Severius, who was sole ruler of the state from 193 to 211 AD, thought it was not right to leave a city with such perfect advantages as Istanbul in this position, and, according to an old story, upon the request of his son Aurelius Antoninus Caracalla, he rebuilt the city, making it even larger, and even endowed it with his name.
2. Istanbul during the Roman Era
The city, which had been rebuilt by Severus and named Anatonina after Antoninus extended 300m further to the west than the old city. The city walls built by Severus on the side facing inland extended from what is now Sirkeci to the Turbe neighborhood of the Cemberlitas district, and, curving eastwards, extended downwards towards the Sea of Marmara. Severus had started the construction of the Hippodrome (At Meydani) in 203 AD, but the work was not completed. The inside of the city was adorned with impressive civic buildings and public baths, temples and the Necropolis (graveyard) extended as for as the area between Cemberlitas and Beyazid. It is probable that in this period main streets lined with columns were built on either side of it. The most important of these was the main street of the city, known as Mese, which followed almost exactly the same route as the present Divanyolu (Yeniceriler) Avenue.
In deep excavations carried out inside the city, the remains of the Roman graveyard was seen at a depth of 8m. A large number of tombs and grave steles have been found between Cemberlitas and Beyazid during the last fifty years or so. The life of this city, founded some time between the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 3rd century AD, circa 200 AD, was not to be a very long one. When the emperor Diocletianus abdicated in 305 AD the Roman empire entered a new period of crisis and in the war that ensued between Maximinus and Licinius, Maximinus captured Istanbul in the winter of 312-313. However, Maximinus was defeated in Thrace and the city fell into the hands of his rival, Licinius was defeated in 323 AD; first of all he fled to Istanbul, then to Kadikoy on the Asian side. There, his army in disarray, he finally surrendered in Nikomedia (Izmit). Constantine had for some time been of the opinion that a new capital needed to be chosen for the Empire, and he considered Troy, which is near to the present-day Canakkale, to be the most appropriate choice. However, he had seen many of the virtues of Istanbul during the course of the war against Licinius, and Constantine I, who was the sole candidate for ruler of the Roman state, came to the conclusion that Byzantion (Istanbul) was, in military, economic and internal political terms, the most suitable place.
(a) Military reasons
Istanbul was a city that could be easily defended against external threats coming from the north or from the east against the state. It had been seen in the battle against Licinius that the city was easy to defend. Moreover, it was a borders of the empire, and from where their raids could be stopped. The Sasani to the east were a considerable danger to the empire and the emperor Valerianus, who had been taken prisoner by the Sasani king, had been humiliated to the extent of being used as a mounting block by the latter.
(b) Economic reasons
Due to the fact that Istanbul lay on both the land and maritime trade routes, it served as a bridge in trade relations. It was an important crossroads on these routes and a great deal of revenue was obtained from tolls and customs duties.
(c) Political reasons
Istanbul was a suitable place for the measures to be taken against disturbances within the state and was a completely new, clean place far from the old centres of corruption. Constantine’s claim to be a believing Christian was not altogether convincing but he took a number a decisions that meant that Christians, who had previously been subjected to terrible persecutions and tortures, would now be regarded with tolerance and that the Christian religion would henceforth be the official religion of the state. In Rome, which was loyal to the old polytheist religion, such an initiative would have been well nigh impossible.
Constantine began to rebuild Istanbul in 325 AD. The foundations of the city walls, which were to extend further to the west on the inland side, were laid on 26 November, 328. At this time Christianity, which was just beginning to spread, had been allowed to recruit new followers to defend it from its rivals and had moreover been made the official religion of the state; this led to the creation of Christian legend about this action of Constantine, who had in fact remained a pagan. An example of this is the belief that an angel had appeared to him and shown him the places through which the new city walls would pass on the western side.
3. The city founded by Constantine
When the major projects had been completed in the completely rebuilt and enlarged city, an impressive opening ceremony was held on 11 May, 330 AD. The city had been granted all the privileges that belonged to Rome and its governor bore the title of proconsul. From 359 onwards this post was replaced by that of a person who was both governor and head of the municipality responsible for the administration of the city, and the was referred to as ‘prafectus’ (Epakhos in Greek), or prefect. The names of these prefects of old can still be read in the inscriptions on certain works belonging to the Roman period. (For example on the Dikilitas pedestal, on the Mevlevihane gate of the city and on an obelisque known as Kiztasi, located in what was formerly the slave market of Istanbul). The city was divided into fourteen zones, twelve of which were within the city walls, the thirteenth at Galata and the fourteenth in the Blakherna district on the Egrikapi side. There is a list of all the buildings in each of these zones and the he divisions of each zone in an old document. Due to the fact that no trace is left of Severus’s walls, or of the new walls extending a further 2500m to the west, the route followed by these walls is not known. Although it is alleged that the name of the Isakapisi or Esekapisi district to the west of Cerrahpasa was taken from a piece of Constantine’s wall, which was intact until 1509, and from one of its gates, there is no scientific basis for this theory. It is assumed that these walls followed the Golden Horn from Ayakapisi on Unkapani as far as Fatih (according to some as far as Sultan Selim) and from this point continue downwards towards the Bayrampasa Greek then, passing through the Isakapisi district, follow a route to the east of Samatya end extend as far as the Sea of Marmara. The Emperor Constantine had a large forum, which was round or oval is shape, built in the centre of the city; in the centre of this forum was his own statue, placed on top of a column of reddish stone. This column is today known as Cemberlitas. The statue on the top of the column represented Constantine as Apollo saluting the sun. When the city was rebuilt, the Great Palace was constructed to the slopes of Sultanahmet overlooking the Sea of Marmara; this building was constantly added to by various emperors until the 11th century and became a veritable “city within a city”. The Senate and the Hippodrome were completed and to its development. One of these was Philozenus, who had the cistern known as Binbir Direk (one thousand columns) and the palace above it built; another was Antioch, who commissioned a private residence, the ruins of which can be seen today between the street known as Divanyolu and the present Central Law Courts building. The emperors who succeeded Constantine continued to adorn the city with new buildings and structures. The most important of these is the water supply system built by Valens (364-378). The large aqueduct belonging to this system is still standing and is also known as the Bozdogan Aqueduct. In 395 AD the city’s biggest square, known as Theodosius or Taurus square, was built in what is now Beyazid. There was a gate leading into this square, which was 200m wide, and a number of monuments around it. One of these was a gigantic monumental entrance supported by four marble columns, the remains of which were discovered in 1956. Apart from this there was also a monument erected in the name of Theodosius I, the top of which could be reached by means of an inside staircase and the side of which were adorned with relief’s depicting the battles fought by the emperor and his successes; this monument survived until the great earthquake of 1509. A few pieces of the relief’s adorning this monument can today be seen in the foundations of the Turkish bath at Beyazid.
Not long after, in 403 AD, another big forum and a impressive monument 70 metres in height were built on Istanbul’s seventh hill, now the Cerrahpasa district of the city, in the name of the emperor Arcadius. The console of this monument can still be seen. Although the statues of Arcadius on its top toppled over and were destroyed in a short space of time, the monument itself, the exterior of which was covered with marble relief’s, survived well into the Turkish period, until 1715 to be exact.
However, in spite of all this development it was considered necessary to expand the city still further and at the beginning of the 5th century, in the reign of Theodosius II, the city walls of today were built, extending the boundaries of the city still further. In a treatise entitled ‘Notitia urbis Constantinopolitinai’, considered to have been written in the reign of Theodosius II, the fourteen divisions of the city and the important buildings in each of these divisions were stated; the names of private palaces and the number of buildings are given as well. This makes it possible to arrive at a rough estimate of the city’s population at that time.
The remains of one of these private residences (together with its mosaic floor) belonging to Princess Juliana Anicia, who is known to have lived at the beginning of the 6th century were discovered during excavations for the foundations of the municipal building carried out during the 1950’s; unfortunately no effort was made to preserve them.
4. Istanbul during the Byzantine period
Istanbul remained within the boundaries of the city walls built by Theodosius II in the 5th century throughout the whole of the Byzantine period and indeed until towards the end of the Ottoman period. The only exception was the Blakherna area to the north west of the city; it was considered in the Byzantine period that its own walls were insufficient and the city walls in its vicinity were rebuilt in stages so as to accommodate it. Thus Istanbul, with its large number of churches and monasteries surrounded by high walls, was one of the main Christian centres of the Mediaeval world. The most majestic of the churches was Ayasofia which, after a number of reconstruction’s, was finally given its present form by the emperor Justinian between 532 and 537. In the centre of the city was the Church of the Twelve Apostles, where the graves of the first empire were also to be found. After the Ottoman conquest the Fatih Mosque was built on the site of this church. Information collected by R. Janin provides us within the names of more than 400 churches in Istanbul. However, it is highly improbable that all of these churches survived until the end of the Byzantine period. The names of some of them were changed and others simply disappeared. Another factor to be borne in mind is that some churches were divided into sections, each of which was dedicated to a different saint, and this resulted in a large number of churches.
The Great Palace of the Emperors fell into a state of neglect after the 11th century. The Manganoi Palace, which lay between Sarayburnu and Ahirkapi, became their residence for a short space of time but from the 12th century onwards the Blakherna district in the north-west of the city was the site of the royal residence and the scene of much development. This group of palaces, which lay between what is now Edirnekapi and Ayvansaray and was next to the city walls on the inland side, was in use until the end of the Byzantine period.
Istanbul’s water was, in the Roman period, brought to the city from its Thracian side by means of a magnificent system of supply lines and aqueducts. When this water became unusable due to the “barbarian” hordes that threatened Byzantium and actual came to the very foot of the city walls (this included the Avers, the Huns and the Bulgars), a large number of cistern of different sizes in which rain water could be collected had to be built. Apart from being basements in which water could be collected, these cisterns also resulted in terraces which gave a more level look to the undulating aspect of the city and added height and impressiveness to the buildings standing on top of them. In archaeological excavations carried out up to a century ago about 50 cisterns of different sizes were uncovered; however, in the years that followed a great deal of building took place and deep foundation pits were opened up, and in the course of this work a further 50 or so cisterns were discovered. It is worth noting that in the last years of the Byzantine empire the basement walls of all buildings were coated with a watertight mortar which meant that these basements could be used for the storage of water.
From the information gathered from various sources it is possible to pinpoint the existence of various municipal laws in Istanbul in the Byzantine period. According to these laws, there had to be definite intervals between buildings and no-one was permitted to build a house of a height that would prevent his neighbor from seeing the sea. However, it is not known how long these laws were in force and to what extent they were adhered to. The only surviving copy of a handwritten book which is now in Geneva, Switzerland, provides information about the tradesmen and craftsmen of Istanbul and their organisations. Judging from the fact that about twenty guilds are mentioned, it is evident that part of this book, which was written in the reign of Leon VI (886-911) and of which there is no other copy, is missing.
At no time during the Byzantine period was the entire area within the city walls built up completely, for it is known that there were open spaces within the city. Odon de Deuil, a traveler who visited the city in 1147, states that there were gardens, orchards and fields within the city walls that were capable of supplying its inhabitants within food. According to this traveler, the inside of the city was “extremely dirty, disgusting, and full of filth; there are even such places to which daylight does not penetrate and under the cover of the darkness that reigns murders and other foul deeds can easily be perpetrated.” To put it in a nutshell, Odon de Deuil considered that the city was “disproportionate in all ways”. At about the same time the city was visited by Benjamin, a rabbi from the city of Tudela in Spain. After mentioning the priceless treasures to be found in the city and its palaces and the pomp and wealth of its inhabitants, he then refers to the condition of the Jewish community in the city, saying that its filth was used as a way of insulting the Jews. In the year 1220 Anton, bishop of Novgorod in Russia, who was going on a pilgrimage, visited Istanbul. He paid individual visits to its churches and monasteries and in his manuscript makes long and detailed lists of the sacred objects and treasures in these places; at the same time he provides valuable information about the town planning concept of that period. At that time there were long streets with columns on either side, known as ’embolos’, which were set aside for the use of certain persons, tradesmen’s and craftsmen’s guilds. The European knights leading the Fourth Crusade managed to capture Byzantium in 1204 by taking advantage of the intrigues centering around the throne. They plundered the city, considering this to be a more profitable pastime than fighting the Muslims in Palestine and Syria. When they entered the city Geoffroy de Villehardouin, a French knight who was one one of the commanders of the army, stated that “it was impossible to find a person who would not be stirred by the sight,” going on to dwell upon the beauty, magnificence and wealth of the city. He then says that all of these magnificent places were badly damaged by the fire that raged for two days and two nights during the battle that took place for the possession of the city. “It is impossible to calculate the damage done, to count the cost of a fortune turned to ashes,” says the knight. Robert de Claire, one of the poor knights who took part in the same crusade, states that while the crusaders of the highest rank invaded the palaces and mansions of the city’s wealthy families those of more humble rank such as himself contented themselves with plundering the homes of its more modest inhabitants. “As the city is very big and crowded there was something for everybody, and even to spare,” he concluded.
The Latin invasion, which lasted from 1204 to 1261, was a disaster for Istanbul in the full sense of the word. Graves were plundered, churches and monasteries ransacked. The atrocities committed by the European knights, who had set out with the aim of fighting the Muslims and recapturing places that were sacred to Christians, the damage they did to Ayasofia, a Christian place of worship and the bestial acts to which the women and girls of the city were subjected are all described in detail by the historians of the period. Fifty years of Latin rule was sufficient to reduce the city to ruins.
In any case, due to the fact that during the seige of 1203-1204 more than half the city had been destroyed by fire and most of its Byzantine population had left, when it was finally recaptured by the Byzantine in 1261 it proved impossible to rebuild the city and restore it to its former glory. The Byzantine emperor Mikhael VIII tried to persuade the people to return to the city after 1261 but all his efforts proved in vain. In place of the ruined streets that had formerly been lined with columns he had tree-lined roads built. The inner city area had been completely abandoned and all that was left were monasteries surrounded by vineyards, vegetable gardens and small woods. Thus the Arab traveller Ebulfida, who visited the city at the beginning of the 14th century, stated that he saw ploughed fields, gardens and a number of ruined houses within the city. In 1403 Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo, who had paid a brief visit to Istanbul on his journey to Samarkand as an envoy to Timur, also stated that he saw fields, gardens and small groups of houses in the middle of the city. He added that the area around the Golden Horn was lively but that most of the large buildings in the city were in a state of ruin. The sad state of Istanbul during the last years of Byzantine rule is in no way surprising for the city’s financial plight was such that the emperor loannes V, who had gone to Europe to seek financial aid for Byzantium, was detained by the Venetians in Italy in 1370 due to his inability to pay his travelling expenses, in spite of the fact that he had mortgaged some of the precious stones in his crown and what is now Bozcaada (Bozca Island) to do so. He was only able to return to his homeland because his son Manuel had collected money from the inhabitants of Salonika to secure his release. And although the annual income of the Galata customs, which was in the hands of the Genoese, was 200,000 hyperpyra in the 14th century, the Istanbul customs of the Byzantines could only realise an income of 30,000 hyperpyra per year. The Hagios Makios church inside the city was demolished in 1390 so that its stones could be used to repair the city walls. Information about the ruined state of the city may be obtained from the chronicles of Cristoforo Buondelmonti who saw Istanbul in about 1420. The harbours on the Marmara coast were by then by then unusable, being totally silted up, and it was only the banks of the Golden Horn that were a lively centre of commerce. A number of buildings, including the Church of the Twelve Apostles, were in a state of delapidation. Places that had previously been harbours were vineyards. The oldest picture showing Istanbul in its present state was the work of Buondelmonti; in it we see that apart from certain important buildings the inside of the city was empty save for windmills. The original of this picture of Istanbul, which is in Buondelmonti’s book about the Aegean islands, has never been found. However, there are more than twenty copies of this work in European libraries containing more or less detailed reproduction of the picture. In a work entitled “Weltchronik” (World History) published in Nurnberg in 1493 there is another woodcut. Although this picture which is in a book (and the book is one of the first examples of printing) written by a doctor named Hartmann Schedel who possessed an extremely large library – was executed after the conquest it is obvious that the original was the work of somebody who was familiar with Istanbul and that is dates from the Byzantine period before the Ottoman conquest, and that Schedel based his work on this original. Byzantine vine trellises can be seen on the city gates and the area inside the city walls is depicted as being completely empty; even windmills can be seen in the Sehremini-Capa district o the city. It can also be seen that certain parts of the Church of the Twelve Apostles, the city’s second biggest church after Ayasofia, are without a roof. In any case the Frenchman Bertrandom de la Broquiere, who spent the winter of 1432-1433 in Istanbul, states that the open spaces far exceeded the built-up areas; this gives us an idea of the state of Istanbul shortly before the Ottoman conquest and confirms the accuracy of the engraving. Recent research leads us to believe that the population of Istanbul just before the conquest was somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000.
The Genoese, who had suceeded in obtaining a number of privileges during the reign of Manuel Komnenos (1143-1180), began, albeit in small numbers, to settle in Galata in about 1160. In 1261 Mikhael, who wanted to regain Istanbul from its Latin conquerors, had obtained a fleet of warships from the Genoese in return for which he allowed them to settle anywhere they wished in the city. The terms of this agreement were set out in the Treaty of Nyphaion (Nif is now known as Kemalpasa). A second decree issued in 1267 guaranteed the Genoese the right to settle in Galata. In order to prevent the Genoese, who were the most expansionist of all of the Italians, from acquiring the land on a permanent basis the Byzantine emperor had the walls of Galata demolished but in spite of this, Galata, which had become a city in its own right, was already being ruled from Genoa. In 1303 a new decree defining the boundaries of their franchise was issued. The Genoese, regarding the situation as de facto, dug a moat around the area and then built tall, terraced houses which resembled the walls of a castle. At the first opportunity they closed the gaps between the houses with high walls, thus enclosing the entire area in what amounted to a city wall. In contras to the declining Byzantine empire Galata became the main commercial centre on the trade route running from Central Asia via the Black Sea. The Genoese had put a few token Byzantine coats of arms on their walls but they continued to expand the walls o Galata, which was entirely under their rule. First of all they built the Galata Tower and the walls to its north in 1349, then the walls in the Karakoy district, then the walls enclosing the Kuledibi and Sishane districts (1387), and the section in the Azapkap_s_-Sishane distric which completed the system in 1397. Finally, in 1404, the built the walls which enclosed the area between Karakoy and Tophane, thus extending the boundaries of their colony. Then they adorned these walls with the coats of arms of their administrators, thus demonstrating to whom the city really belonged. Byzantium was unable to take any action to prevent these development, which were going on right under their noses. Furthermore, the Byzantine empress Paledogina, who was of Italian origin, (she was in fact princess Sofia of Monteferrato), tired of the ill-treatment to which she was subjected by her husband loannes VIII, fled to Galata in the 15th century and the Byzantines were unable to get her back. Galata remained completely neutral while the city of Istanbul was being beseiged and captured by the Turks and in 1453 they signed an agreement with Mehmet the Conqueror. Galata had come under the jurisdiction of a cadi Muslim judge) and was thus under Turkish administration but this was achieved in a peaceful manner. However, the Ottomans turned a blind eye to the existence of the Latin community organisation, which legally administered the churches, until 1682.
Byzantium, which had been unable to prevent the Italians from setting up a colony on their land, was steadily shrinking and was now confined to the area within the city walls and one or two settlements along the Bosphorus and on the islands. In 1391 the Ottoman sultan Yildirim Bayazid built the Anadoluhisar fortress on the Asian side of the Bosphorus and later Mehmet the Conqueror built the Rumelihisar fortress on its European side and the Byzantines could do nothing but watch helplessly. The city which the victorious Turkish army entered on 29 May 1453 was by then nothing more than the last fortress of a great empire.
5. Istanbul During the Turkish period
When Istanbul came under Turkish rule Mehmet is known to have brought people from various parts of his empire and settled them in the deserted and devastated city so that it could be rebuilt. Thus the names of some of its districts, such as Aksaray, Karaman and Carsamba, are related to the places from where these settlers came. In the first years after the conquest there were areas within the city almost entirely populated by Christians. Then gradually the non-Muslims became concentrated in certain parts of the city, such as Samatya, Edirnekapi and Fener and the remaining area of the city was populated by Turks. In the late Ottoman period the Galata district was preferred by non-Muslims and the protective presence of foreign embassies meant that this part of Istanbul became almost a new city. This is how the Beyoglu district was created. The Turks settled in certain places along the Bosphorus, Uskudar (Scutari), on the bank of the Golden Horn between Tophane and Kas_mpasa and within the city walls while the non-Muslims preferred the islands, some of the villages along the Bosphorus and the villages on the outskirts of the city.
From the period of the conquest onwards the city was rebuilt on entirely Turkish lines. Running water was brought to the city by means of supply lines coming from outside its boundaries, public fountains and baths were built. The great mosques, which made Istanbul look a truly Turkish city and were great Turkish works of art, and the complexes surrounding them, were erected as well. After the construction in Bayezid of a palace known as Eski Saray (old palace), another palace then known as Yenisaray (new palace), and now known as the Topkapi Palace was built. In order to increase trade, rows of shops known as ‘arasta’ were built under archways, as were large buildings referred to as ‘hans’,in which the goods were stored. In this new centre of Ottoman-Turkish civilisation madrassas and libraries were set up so that scholarly activities could take place and hospitals (darussifa) were built.. A concept of town planning completely different from that of the Byzantines dominated all of this construction and development. In a short space of time the new palaces, water distribution systems, mosques, shipyard, Janissary barracks, markets and shopping centres, shrines, graveyards and dwellings endowed the city of Istanbul with an entirely different aspect. Together with the great mosques and surrounding complexes built by the sultans, its leading citizens built mosques both large and small, madrassas, hans, public baths, public fountains and charity fountains, all of which made Istanbul into a Turkish city. The wealthy founders of charitable trusts also played their part in this development. However, during the Turkish period the terrible earthquake which took place in 1509, known as “the Little Day of Judgment”, dealt a terrible blow to the city’s brick and stone houses. Fearing the effects of further earthquakes people began to build their houses of wood instead and in a short space of time Istanbul became a city of wooden houses. In keeping with this trend, the palaces and mansions of the artistocracy were all made of wood. In spite of decrees regarding fire precautions which even aimed at preventing the construction of wooden buildings in the commercial and shopping centres, the use of wood could not be halted. This inevitably led to a rapid increase in the number of fires in the city. As well as the earthquakes of 1765 and 1894, which also caused terrible destruction, Istanbul’s greatest enemy has always been fire. I one of these fires, which were fanned and driven south-wards by the north wind, happened to start anywhere on the banks of the Golden Horn this meant that the city would be doomed to burn for days, leaving thousands of people homeless, and that priceless treasures and magnificent mansions would be reduced to ashes. Sometimes these fires would start from the banks of the Golden Horn and burn until they reached Aksaray or even the Sea of Marmara. The last great fires of Istanbul were the Hocapasa fire of 1865, the Beyoglu fire of 1870, the Laleli fire of 1912 and the Cibali-Fatih-Altinmermer fire-fighting organisation in the city and the prevention of further construction in wood meant that fires were contained to a given area. The last big fire of this kind destroyed a large pat of the Fener district in 1941. The effects of the fire of 1782, which reduced almost half of the city to ashes, can be judged be looking at a map of that period published by a Spaniard. However, it should be stated that after these big fires leading statesmen paid for the rebuilding of pious foundation buildings out of their own pockets. Wooden houses were built to replace the ones that had been destroyed and within a few months the traces of the fire had, to a great extent, been removed. It was only the effects of the fires that took place between 1908 and 1918 that could not rapidly be removed, due to the fact that the country was then at war.
In is known that apart from the destructive effects of these frequent fires and the major earthquakes that strike the city at intervals of between 120 and 150 years, Istanbul has also occasionally been affected by hurricanes. One of these took place shortly after the conquest in 1492, leaving in its wake many casualties and a great deal of destruction. In Hartmann Schedel’s book “World History”, mentioned in the preceding paragraphs the writer describes this event, recounted to him by “reliable” Italian traders and brings it to life in an engraving. In Turkish records of this event mention is made of a thunderbolt which fell onto an old Byzantine church then being used as a powder arsenal, causing a violent explosion. This event is also depicted in Schedel’s engravings.
After the conquest an immediate and planned campaign was launched to make it a Turkish city. A count was made of the number of dwelling houses in the city on a scale quite impressive for that age and Istanbul was redeveloped according to certain principles. Twenty five years after the conquest according to records kept by Muhiddin Celebi, the cadi (Muslim judge of Istanbul and Mahmud Celebi, zaim (the person who held the fief of the city), of Istanbul there where were 975 Muslim Turkish, 31 Romany, 4893 Christian and 1647 Jewish households in Galata. Mehmet the Conqueror, who possessed all the qualities of a European renaissance ruler, brought craftsmen to Istanbul from Italy. This tradition continued for many years. After Bellini had been employed in the palace, mention was made of inviting Michaelangelo and even Leonardo da Vinci to Istanbul to build a bride over the Golden Horn. Towards the end of the 15th century, in the reign of Bayez_d II, Istanbul was visited by a German named Arnold von Harff, who stated that is was “a great and magnificent city”, and went on to remark that the system of administration in the city was an extremely vigilant one. Von Harff, who had left his ship at Galata and entered a han without notifying anybody was horrified to hear the next day that he had been summoned to the palace. With the aid of an interpreter known as Frenk Hasan, a German converted to Islam, the traveller had an audience with the Sultan, and was unable to conceal his astonishment when asked to work in the service of the Ottoman authorities. The first of the European travellers to carry out a detailed archaeological survey of the city was the Frenchman Pierre Gilles. Gilles (or Gyllius). He lived in Istanbul between 1544 and 1547 and carried out investigations. He wrote two separate books about he results of his survey, one about Istanbul and one about the Bosphorus. These books are still considered to be valuabla source material. Gilles, who had been sent by the king of France and was in fact a botanist, appreciated the natural beauty of Istanbul and the value of its geographical location. He had the following to say about it “All the earth’s cities are doomed to perish sooner or later, but as long as mankind remains on earth this city will endure.” M. d’Aramon, who was French ambassador to Istanbul during the same period, that is, in the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent, had the following to say in the travel memoirs he dictated to his private secretary Jehan Chesneau; “It is abundantly clear that Istanbul is now an entirely Turkish city. Its hills are adorned with mosques, the hillsides are covered with houses and groups of buildings can be seen between the trees.” With the aid of certain paintings executed during this period it is possible to geta better impression of the appearance of the city. Two woodcuts by the Dutch painter Pieter Koeck van Alst were published in 1533. In the first we can see the city from the other side of the Golden Horn and in the other, Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent passing through the Hippodrome with his suite. In the background we can see a statue brought from Budin by the art-loving grand vizier Ibrahim Pasa in 1526, which was still standing at that time but was later destroyed after the murder of the latter. However, the picture which depicts Istanbul in the reign of Suleyman most accurately and is at the same time the liveliest and the most monumental is that by Melchior Lorch (or Lorich) of Flensburg. This panorama, eleven metres in length, was painted in 1599 and is now kept in the Dutch city of Leiden. It depicts, perhaps with a certain amount of imaginative additions, and attractive view of he city from the hills of Galata, Kas_mpasa and Haskoy. The flotilla of boats and sailing ships that fills the Golden Horn, the cupolas and minarets to be seen at frequent intervals between the groups of houses, the magnificent mosque complexes adorning the high ground all combine to convey a far more accurate and colourful impression of the Ottoman capital during the reign of Suleyman than many books of travels. Lorich took a considerable interest in the Suleymaniye Mosque and surrounding complex, construction of which was being completed when he was in the city. He painted a fine picture of Sinan’s great work and later published it in the form of an engraving.
Together with this panorama of Istanbul, executed in the reign of Suleyman (which can also be considered the golden age of the Ottomans), by Lorich of Flensburg, there is a travelogue by another German, Hans Dernswan, who lived in Istanbul and in Turkey and in Turkey in around 1554. It is possible to find the Turkish Istanbul, with all its beauty and individual features in Dernswan’s book. This traveller, who was also a keen researcher, tried to see and investigate everything in the reign of Suleyman and he did not neglect to keep a detailed record of his life in the Istanbul of that time. It is also possible to judge what 16th century Istanbul looked like from the miniatures of the Turkish artist Nasuh-u Silahi (Matrakci Nasuh), for at the beginning of his book about the Iraq campaign there are some miniatures of Istanbul and Galata. These graceful compositions show Istanbul with the great mosque complexes, the shipyard at Kasimpasa, the royal palace, (Saray-i Humayunlari), all of which had been built before that date, and details of the inner city with all the structures that existed at the time such as its covered markets and wooden shops (for they had still not been rebuilt in brick and stone). In the miniature of Istanbul that adorned Seyid Lokman’s work “Hunername”, written in the 16th century, we see the main mosque complexes and a tightly-packed mass of houses. In some of the versions of Piri Reis’s navigation guide “Kitabu’l-Bahriye” (the author died some time between 1553 and 1554), we see another miniature of Istanbul. The quality of the copies made of the pictures in this handwritten work varies. In the best of these we see Istanbul with its major mosque complexes, its houses and the Golden Horn, which resembles an inner harbour.
Augier Ghislain de Busbeck (Busbeke), who came to Istanbul an ambassador and lived in the ambassador’s residence opposite Cemberlitas (now the Darussafaka block) between 1555 and 1562 states, in a description of Istanbul in a book of travels that he wrote in the form of a letter: “It is as if Nature has created this place to be the world’s capital.” “It is impossible to conceive a more beautiful, better laid out city,” he goes on to say, but he complains about the narrowness of its streets and the densely-packed character of its houses, saying without hesitation that they are “an obstacle to a good view of any kind”. A writer who stayed in Istanbul for three months in 1573 had this to say about the view of the city he say from the high ground of Galata: “When I behold all this beauty, the extraordinary quality o the hills leaning against the gentle green slopes of the city, it cast such a spell on me that I felt an astonishment amounting to an assumption that I had arrived in a new paradise.” This young French aristocrat goes on to say that the Turks refarded flowers “with the love accorded to a sacred object and states that in Istanbul “there are so many gardens and cypress trees that when viewed from afar Istanbul appears to consist of a number of small buildings within a forest. No large palaces can be discerned and it is only the minarets that are outside the framework of each group of buildings. “The well-arranged and beautiful shops of this prosperous city, which was adorned with more than 300 mosques of magnificent construction, more than 100 public baths, hospitals and caravansarays are also lavishly praised by the same traveller. In the summer of the same year the German priest Stephan Gerlach visited the city. He stated that he literally “drank in” the view of the city that confronted him, adding that he considered no-one else capable of experiencing its beauty so strongly. Another German, Michael Heberer, who was a prisoner in Istanbul from 1585-87, remarked that apart from the public buildings and mansions of the pasas, the houses were small and made of wood and the streets rather narrow.
It was not possible for these Christian traveller, who came from various countries in Europe, to be able to see absolutely everything in an environment which was foreign to them. Some Muslim travelers, who arrived in Istanbul in the same year provide more useful information in this repsect; they include El-Gazzi who arrived from Cairo in 1530, Kudbuddin Mekki (from Mecca), who saw Istanbul in 1536 and finally Ebul Hasan Ali bin Muhammed, who came as far as the Bosphorus leading an ambassador’s delegation from Morocco in 1590. The latter states that the city occupied a magnificent site and was one of the biggest cities in the world, that the Golden Horn was literally swarming with ships and smaller craft, and that all parts of it were inhabited, so much so that there were even houses built on piles over the water along the coast. He then goes on to provide a breakdown of the damage inflicted by a catastrophic fire that broke out on 7 April 1588, stating that 28 mosques and mesjids, 22,000 houses, 15,000 shops and 9 public baths were completely destroyed. After describing this disaster, which was one of a number of famous fires in Istanbul, the Arab ambassador commends the paved streets of the city, emphasises that fruit of all kinds can be found even in winter and ends by saying “Be it in the public libraries or in the secondhand bookshops, there is an astonishing quantity of books to be found. Books from all over the world come here.” This last statement points to the fact that the city was a major cultural centre. We gather from the book of travels of the Englishman John Sanderson, who arrived in Istanbul in 1594, that a great deal of building was taking place. This traveller, who was ingenuous enough to statethat there were 18,000 mosques and mesjids in the city, goes on to describe Suleyman’s water supply system, the magnificent additions to the Topkapi Palace, the organisation of and the rich income derived by the Fatih Mosque, reflecting the powerful impression left by Istanbul on all foreigners in its golden age. In that period Istanbul was such an object of curiosity andinterest for Europeans that to see a picture of the citysufficed for those unable to visit it. In the middle of the 16th century, which was the golden age of the Ottoman empire, a large volume entitled “Cosmographie” was published circa 1544 by a German named Sebastian Munster (he died in 1552). The book contains, apart from descriptions of various European cities, an engraving of Istanbul occupying two pages. The picture of Istanbul in this book, which was published in German, Latin, Italian and French until 1628, representeda sort of bird’s eye view of the city from the Anatolian side. The original of this picture, which appeared in thirty editions over a period of eighty years, was in fact a woodcut. This was published in about 1520 by Giovanni Andrea Vavassore, who is known to have worked as an editor in Venice. In these engravings of Istanbul, first seen in Munster’s work and then in the extended editions of the book published in Cologne by Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg, the presence of the Fatih Mosque and surrounding buildings and, on the other hand, the absence of the Bayezid Mosque complex, completed in 1505, demonstrate that the source of these engravings must have been a picture executed towards the end of the 15th century, between the construction dates of these two great mosques.
This Picture , in the various engravings of which small differences can be detected, constitutes an important documert as far as many details of Istanbul, the great Turkish capital, are concerned. It can be seen in the engraving that the Kad_rga Harbour was still being usedas a shipyard. The Fatih Mosque and surrounding buildings, the Tekfur palace with its roof still intact, the walls which surrounded it in Bayezid, the Old Palace (Saray-i Atik), the walls surrounding the New Palace (Saray-i Cedid), only referred to as the Topkap_ Palace in the comparatively recent past, the shops in the Buyuk Carsi, the streets, and the Hippodrome, which although its is in a semi-ruined state, has been shown as a semi-circular structure on the Marmara side, are all marked in this engraving However, the buildings inside the walls of the Topkapi Palace are a production of the imagination. In some versions of this engraving there is a row of sultan’s portraits at the bottom. The last of these, all of which are in round frames, is that of Selim II, who died in 1574. In other editions the last sultan to be depicted is Murad III (1574-1595). It would be deceptive to assume from these details that this picture dated from the reign of Selim II or Murad III. However, in spite of everything, these pictures, which are referred to as the Vavassore, munster or Braun-Hogenberg engravings, provide a valuable record of the Istanbul of the early 16th century.
As far as the Italian Pietro Valle, who wrote letters about Istanbul
between 1614 and 1615, was concerned, the streets of the city were dirty and full of potholes and the houses did not look solid. This sentence demonstrates that, according to Della Valle, the inside of the city “was not in keeping with its beautiful exterior” . A Spanish priest, Otavio Sapienca, noted that the exteriors of the houses were not appealing. On the other hand the Flemish traveller De Stochove, who visited Istanbul in 1630, states that upon seeing the city he forgot all the fatigue and hardships of the journey; But like all the other travellers, he complains of the narrowness of its streets and the small and unassuming appearance of its houses. In the books of travels written by two French travellers, Du Loir, who was in Istanbul from 1639 to 1641, and de Monconys, who arrived in 1648, there are long descriptions of the works of Turkish architecture adorning the city. In the same years another Frenchman, Jean de Thevenot, mentions the discrepancies between the exterior and interior view of the city. He gives detailed information about its commercial buildings, palaces, fires and public baths, in short, about everything that is Turkish. Laurent d’Arvieux, who came here in 1672 as an official at the French embassy, states that because he had previously lived in other Islamic countries he had no difficulty in harmonising with his surroundings andwas able to comprehend the spirit of this city far better than that of the others. This Frenchman, who adopted the Ottoman mode of dress, took long walks on the cypress-covered hills and strolled among the small houses on the hillsides, experiencing the beauty peculiar to them and falling in love with it all. Robert de Dreux, appoin-ted chaplain to the French embassy, explored Istanbul between 1665 and 1669. “I cannot remember having seen anything so beautiful,” he says, continuing with these words: “There are seven hills in the city on the peninsula, and on the summit of each of these hills, which give the impression of having been created especially for the purpose, there is a large mosque… The houses are surrounded with evergreen trees such as cypresses and pines. However, one is forced to confess that however attractive the city may appear from the outside its interior is, on the contrary, extremely ugly. The roads are bad, and because of the hilly nature of the place they are not level. However, the rooms of houses whose exteriors are not in the least attractive are comfortable and very clean. On the other hand the shopping centres… the hospitals, the palaces and mosques are all beautiful buildings,” he remarks in conclusion. G. Joseph Grelot, who visited Istanbul, which he described as “the city of wonders” at about the same time, adorned his book of travels with both general views of the city and with engravings of some of the mosques. The Frenchman Jacob Spon and the Englishman Smith, who managed to endow their travelogues with an unpleasantly pedantic air, and the Frenchman Jouin de Rochefort, who compared Istanbul to all the cities of Europe, both large and small, between Amsterdam and Warsaw are personages who visited Istanbul in 1675 or thereabouts. They expressed their displeasure at being unable to find the pretty views and the orderliness of European cities in Istanbul, while on the other had the Dutchman Cornelis de Bruyn had greatly admired “the world’s most beautiful fort”. The latter, who visited Istanbul in 1680, in spite of all his good intentions fell ill before he was able to carry out much work and was only able to draw a few good pictures. Among the pictures in his travelogue is a broad panorama depicting Istanbul from the Galata side, and this picture can be described as a successful work of art.
A rich and colourful description of everything to do with Istanbul in the 17th century is to be found in the first volume of the book of travels of a distinguished Turkish traveller known as Evliya Celebi. The latter, who is thought to have been born in 1611 and to have died in or around 1680, dealt with the features of Istanbul at that time in a truly encyclopaedic manner. We learn from him how, just before the sultan was due to return from his Revan (Iran) campaign, its buildings, were repainted and spruced up in a very short space of time, how a coast road was built which ran parallel to the Sea of Marmara along the foot of the city walls from Sarayburnu to Yedikule. Again, we learn about palaces the whereabouts of which are unknown today. If we regard the Ibrahim Pasa standing on one side of Sultanahmet Square (and of which half has undergone considerable changes) as an exception, we can obtain information about the Mihrimah Sultan Palaca in Bayezid and the palace of Siyavus Pasa, with its three hundred rooms, seven Turkish baths and bay windows on enclosed balconies, which “had the whole sea at its feet, and kitchens and stables the like of which would not be seen even in the royal palace”. No trace remains of either of these palaces. Evliya Celebi also describes, in minute detail, the social topography of Istanbul; this is done in a suave, tongue- in-cheek manner. The famous taverns of Galata are described in the following words; “Behind the inner wall of the city there are two hundred or so disreputable taverns, one on top of the other, and in each one of them five or six hundred sinners are guzzling, swilling their liquor and raising their voices in such a drunken cacophony that it defies description.” In Evliya Celebi’s time the Yahya Efendi picnic place in Besiktas was described by him as “a narrow valley with green turf in which the sun never shows itself so thickly adorned is it with planes, willows, gum trees, cypresses and walnuts.”
Another product of Europe’s interest in Istanbul was the work of Matthaeus Merian (1593-1650). Merian had producted a number of etchings in which general views of Europe’s main cities were depicted and when these were published in volumes as series, a view of Istanbul was added to the set. This engraving, which is 70cm in length and was published in 1653, like Lorich’s broad panorama, claims to represent a view of Istanbul from the heights of Galata and Beyoglu. However, the view of Galata in the foreground bears no resemblance whatsoever to that district. It does, however, convey the main feature of the city stretching along the side of the Golden Horn, the silhouettes of its great mosques which appear to “crown” its heights. This engraving of Merian’s was reproduced many times in the years that followed and it was even placed below the map of Istanbul contained in atlases published in Nurnberg. This engraving was the first of a number of a number of strange 18th century engravings depicting Istanbul as a city consisting only of minarets.
At the beginning of the 18th century another Frenchman, Paul Lucas, made a detailed study of the Turkish aspect of the city and on 1July 1715 he witnessed the fire that cut a great swathe through the city from the Old palace in Bayez_d as far as Kumkapi, destroying 15,000 houses in the process. The beauty of the city’s location was described by the French nobleman Comte de Caylus in 1716; “minarets rise at intervals among the small, unassuming houses”. Indeed, strangely enough, it would seemthat in the whole of Turkish architecture it was only the minarets that appealed to the taste of this art critic. As Comte de Caylus describes a fire that destroyed 7000 homes, he also mentions the dangercaused by brigands who took advantage of the panic and chaos that always accompanies such disasters to commit various offences. On the other hand we gain what is perhaps the very first information from a European about prostitution in Istanbul. According to Caylus, it was possible by slipping some money into the hand of one of the hand of one of the employees of the Galata Palace (which was close to the French embassy) to obtain the services of a woman. Judging by the fact that, in older Turkish documents, there are references to so-called concubines, purchased in order “to gain experience” and a few days after this had been “accomplished”, being returned to their owners in return for a fee and a gift for the woman in question it is quite obvious that prostitution had existed for a long time in this big, cosmopolitan city and in Beyoglu in particular. At the beginning of the 18th century an attractive young Englishwoman, Lady Montague, described Istanbul in letters far superior to Caylus’s dull descriptions, letters that matched the warm, lively personality of their author. This lady was the wife of the English ambassador, and she had the following to say about Istanbul: “It is an extremely large city. The fact that its site is not a level one makes it look even bigger. Here the elegant gardens, pine and cypress trees, palaces, mosques and other public buildings are set out in the well-arranged manner of pieces of china and porcelain in a glass-fronted cupboard.” After referring to Ayasofia, she then precedes to a description of “other Turkish mosques which I liked much more”. This young Englishwoman, who accompanied a bridal party to a Turkish bath and admired everything about Istanbul, made a great deal of effort to correct some of the erroneous impressions that existed about the Turks and about Istanbul “because I have become accustomed to the air, have learnt the language and like this place very much.”
We now encounter Abbe Sevin, who had come to Istanbul in 1729 to collect rare handwritten books for the king of France. In one of his generally pompous and pedantic letters he recounts a small incident worth noting because it reflects two features of the city, namely its stray dogs and the population’s talent for witty remarks. “When the news was received that an ambassadorial delegation was to arrive from a foreign country, the Grand Vizier ordered that all the houses along the route he was to take be painted red (probably with red ochre paint)…And because here, just as in other places, there are persons who try to make the state’s regulations look ridiculous, they painted a large number of stray dogs the same colour and let them loose…” The author adds this brief sentence of his tale: “This j
The Foundation of The City