Istanbul - Ancient Constantinople
The city was founded  in the 4th century by the Roman emperor Constantine. Constantine has recently rejoined the empire after Diocletion (see pictures of Split in Croatia) has disastrously decided it was too big for one man and split it into four quarter. Constantine was able to conquer the other parts and reunite the empire. But Rome was now on the edge of the empire threatened by the Ostrogoths, Visigoths and other tribes. He decided to move his capital to the center of his empire. He chose the strategically important site of the confluence of the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara which straddled Asia and Europe. At that location was the Greek city of Byzantium, already then more than 1000 years old. He rebuilt the town into the worlds greatest city eclipsing even Rome in its prime. It became known as Constantinopolis or City of Constantine. It became fabulously wealthy with giant palaces lining its streets and the greatest churches and buildings all within a massive 20-mile system of walls and fortifications. For 1000 years, the Byzantine empire was the light of the world and from 300 AD until a disastrous defeat at Manzikert in 1071 its most powerful empire.  The end came in 1453 when Constantinople was besieged and fell to the 22-year old heir of the rising Ottoman empire which for the next 300 years was the world's most powerful empire. Istanbul ruled the world for most of 1300 years. It's an amazing city. 

ist2 The Theodosian walls of Constantinople. For 1000 years the walls made the city almost impregnable. They resisted the Mongols, the Bulgars, the Seljuks and other invading armies. Only twice were they breached. The Second Crusade, in one of the greatest crimes of the ancient world, scaled the walls of their supposed allied using the the masts of their ships. The orgy of looting and killing by the despicable French and Venetians combined with their incompetent administration economically broke financial back of the Byzantine empire and it was never the same.  The Greeks were able to throw the Latins out 80 years later leading to the second flowering of Byzantium. Many of the greatest treaures of Venice were stolen from Byzantium including the four horses statue and the doors of St. Mark to name a few. The second breach of the walls was fatal. The Sultan Mehmet II beseiged the city for three months. The Greeks, ably led by Constantine VI, were able to hold out for three months against an army that outnumbered them 300,000 to 14,000. In the end, the relentless pounding of the walls by the world's largest cannon at the time, the intelligence and sheer relentlessness of an increasingly desparate Sultan and the cowardice of a Genoan contingent who fled the city leaving a door unguarded led to the fall of the city. While most of the city was slaughtered, Mehmet did not raze the city. Instead, he made it his capital. Istanbul comes from Stamboul, an old Greek name applied to the city. ist1 Looking across the Golden Horn from the old city to what was once the Genoan trading city of Galata. Istanbul is built at the confluence of the Sea of Marmara, the Golden Horn (a freshwater river) and the Bosphorus Strait which links the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. ist3 Donor kebab, a favorite meal in Istanbul. This photo was taken at a Ramadan festival after the last prayer call when the days fast is over. ist4 Ride at the Ramadan festival. The statue behind the ride is a 5th century carved base for an Egyptian obelisk located in the Hippodrome. It dates from the Emperor Theodosius. The Obelisk was made in 3000 BC and brought to Constantinople soon after its founding. ist5 The same obelisk base shown in detail. The obelisk stands today in the area known as the Hippodrome which exactly corresponds to the infield of the ancient Hippodrome. The Hippodrome was an arena with a race track for chariot races. It was the cultural, political and social center of old Constantinople. There were two racings teams known as the Blues and the Greens; one represented the landed aristocracy and the second represented the cities craftsman and blue collar workers. The competition was so fierce that lives were lost. One riot after a race was so serious, the rioters sought to overthrow the Emporer Justinian. The emporer was able to send in an army loyal to him and slaughter some 15,000 people. The Nike riot as it became known destroyed much of the city including the ancient Haghia Sofia church (Holy Wisdom) built in the 4th century.  Justinian was determined to rebuild the church and make it the greatest in Christiandom. He succeeded in 567. It stands today. ist_bm1 The Blue Mosque is one of the great religious buildings in the world. Built by the Sultan Amhet in 1609-1616, it is a marvel of proportion, harmony and beauty and one of the highest achievements of Ottoman architecture. It is called the blue mosque because of the blue Iznik tiles that line the interior. When entering the mosque you feel a sense of timelessness. The architects modeled it somewhat on the Haghia Sofia which stands across the street. In a testament to the brilliance of the 6th century Greeks, the dome of the Blue Mosque uses four massive pillars which are unnecessary in the Haghia Sofia even though it was built 1000 years before! Ride at the Ramadan festival. It is still today one of the cities most active mosques. ist_bm2 The interior of the Blue Mosque. Note the remarkable tile work and stained glass windows. There are 21,000 tiles used in the mosque. The mosque was designed by Mehmet Aga, a student of the greatest Ottoman architect Sinan. ist6 Ramadan festival outside of the Blue Mosque. ist_bm3 The Blue Mosque at night during Ramadan. While popularly known as the Blue Mosque, its real name is the Sultan Ahmet Camii. The district around the mosque is also known as Sultan Ahmet where you can find a plethora of old Ottoman houses that have been turned into boutique hotels. ist_ch1 The Monastery of Saint Saviour in Chora -- now the Kariye Museum. This treasure is one of the few remaining Byzantine churches extant in Istanbul. It was converted into a mosque (Kariye Camii)but some of the magnificent frescos and mosaics were saved showing the Byzantines at their artistic heights. The church, originally built in 534 and rebuilt in the 11th and 12th century, may have the largest collection of Byzantine mosaics work left on earth. Literally every vault and ledge was once covered. This is one of the last remaining jewels in the lost crown of Byzantium.  Chora means ist_ch2 Christ Pantocrator mosaic in Chora Church. The image of Jesus is very similar to the mosaic in the Haghia Sofia. Historians believe it was modeled after the famous giant icon that stood over the city's main gate since the earliest years of the city. It was destoyed by the Iconoclasts in 729 AD -- a movement that felt icons were blasphemous. They destroyed most of the greatest works of art in Byzantium and over the centuries iconoclasm would flare up destroying more.  This, most of the mosaics and frescoes date to the 14th century when Theodore Metochites, a official under the Emperor Andronicus II became the church's principal patron. ist_ch3 Three Orthodox saints in a fresco in Chora church. Most of the mosaics and frescos survived because it is likely that they were plastered over after the fall of Constantinople. Fire and earthquakes damaged many of the covered pieces. In 1876 they were found and in 1948 the Byzantine Institute of American and the Dumbarton Oaks center helped restore them. ist_ch4 The Pareclession of the Anastasis. In this fresco on the apse of the funerary chapel, Christ breaks the gates and descends into hell (Anastasis) to pull Adam and Eve from their tombs. Behind him stands John the Baptist, David and Solomon. The risen Christ is arrayed in white and his cape is studded with stars. Symbolically it represents Christ's salvation of mankind (represented by Adam and Eve) by rescuing them from death and granting eternal life. The depiction of Christ is unusually stong and poignant and Byzantine scholars consider this painting maybe the greatest single piece of Byzantine art and among the greatest religious paintings of all time. ist_ch5 The Holy Saviour in Chora on the south dome of the esonarthex ist_tk1 The Harem at Topkapi palace. The harem was the private quarters of the Sultans and their families from Mehmet II in the mid-15th centry until the mid-1800s. Up to 400 concubines were brought from every corner of the empire for the Sultan and his sons. The most prized women were Serbs and Circassians. No man except the Sultan and his heirs were allowed in the harem. The women of the harem would do all chores, cooking, cleaning and entertaining. They were administered by the mother of the Sultan called the Sultan Valide. It was a heirarchical system with the women bearing sons given more preferential treatment. ist_tk2 The music room of Topkapi. The women of the harem were not only selected for their beauty but for their talent as well as the whole orchestra had to be women. The harem was guarded by black eunuchs who were not actually allowed into the harem. That the guards must be eunuchs was understandable since the sultan wanted no hankey-panky. The further requirement that they be African was insurance. A black baby showing up in the harem meant the surgery didn't take or someone was holding out on the royal family. ist_tk3 A sofa in the music room. ist_tk4 A pavilion in the rear of the palace. These pavilions were built to honor military victories...in this case the capturing of Baghdad by Murad IV in 1638. ist_tk5 The palace is decorated extensively with the finest tile work of the workshops of Iznik. Ottoman tile work was revered around the world but the very finest examples ended up at Topkapi. Many of the tiles date from the late 1400s to the mid-19th century. Tile wears well making them as bright and beautiful as the day they were made. ist_tk6 The Gilded Cage in Topkapi.  The Sultans initially used a succession system based on fatricide. The death of a Sultan would lead to a flurry of stranglings, stabbings and other grisley acts as the rightful heir made sure that no one had second thoughts about his abilities. In the 17th century the system was changed and all heirs were allowed to live but within the strict confines of the harem often as prisoners. A future sultan may ascend the throne without ever having left the gilded cage, interacted with men or even seen the outside world. This building housed the heir and the first runner up. ist_tk7 Janissaries were the elite army of the Sultan and a potent political force in the Ottoman empire. They were gathered by means of a titheing system. Christian lands occupied by the Ottomans where required to give two boys from every village to the Sultan. These boys were trained rigorously, educated and converted to Islam. The Janissary system was a meritocracy where the ablest would move up the ranks of government service. In fact, the highest position in the government, the Grand Vizier, who was the administrative ruler of the empire, came from the ranks of the Janissaries. Most prized were Serbs, Bulgarians and Albanians who were tough and fierce. At one point at the height of the empire under the ablest Sultan, Suleyman the Magnificent, the Vizier was Bosnian. The Janissaries later became a powerful powerful political force but equally corrupt. They could actually overthrow a Sultan as they did on occassion. The Sultans tied to abolish the system in the later years but found them too strong. Eventually, one of the Sultans formed another army and one night ambushed and slaughtered the whole Janissary army in Topkapi finally putting an end to the system. ist_hg1 The Aya Sofia Museum or Haghia Sofia Church. After the Nike revolt of 532 destroyed the old Haghia Sofia, the Emperor Justinian had the Greek architect Miletus plan a building that was twice as large as anything that had ever been built. The result was one of the truly great buildings of the world. Finished in a remarkable 6 years, the Haghia Sofia is a masterpiece. While a little homely on the outside, the building sports an unobstructed interior space that is truly breathtaking. The history of the building is no less remarkable. It was the most important church in Christiandom for 1000 years. While Europe was in its dark ages, the Byzantine Empire ruled the world. Almost all of the Byzantine Emperors were crowned in its main hall. When Constantinople fell in 1453, Mehmet II made it a mosque and it was the most important mosque in the Caliphate for another few hundred years. It has been standing in an earthquake zone for over 1400 years. Inside, it features breathtaking mosaics, many over 1000 years old. In its youth, it must have been awe inspiring. The walls ceilings were covered with gold leaf sandwiched between glass which was angled in patterns to reflect light around the church. It made the church sparkle gold. Over the years, the prayer towers were added along with flying buttresses to shore up the dome. Neverthess, this may be the greates building on earth. ist_hg2 The interior of what is now the Aya Sofia museum. This picture can not do justice to this building. ist_hg3 The Deeis from the second level of the church. This large and remarkable mosaic work has fortunately survived under layers of plaster. In it, Christ Pantocrator is shown with Mary and John the Baptist (not shown). The mosaic is built of tiny chips of glass and marble against a gold tiled background but the artist is able to create a sensitive and emotional image of Christ. It is likely this mosaic dates from the around 1270. ist_hg4 Mosaic of the Emperor John II and the Empress Irene with the Virgin Mary from the 12th century. ist_hg5 The Empress Zoe with her third husband, the Emperor Constantine Monomachus. If you look closely, you will note that his face has replaced the previous husband's face. This dates from the 11th century. The Empress was one of the more colorful figures in Byzantine history. ist_su1 The Suleymaniye Mosque built by the greatest builder of the empire and its greatest general: Suleyman the Magnificant. It is also his final resting along with his wife Roxanne. This mosque, built in the mid-16th century, sits on a large hill overlooking the city. Suleyman would reverse a series of setbacks and enlarge the empire to its greatest size. During his reign, the Ottoman empire stretched from Morrocco and Spain in the west to Persia,the Caucasus and the Steppes in the East. It also controlled much of the Levant, the Holy Lands, Egypt and Northern Africa. In the north it covered most of south east Europe including the Balkans. Suleyman pushed to the very gates of Vienna which he beseiged although he was never able to capture Vienna. If he had, much of Europe would be Muslim today. ist_su2 Suleymaniye mosque. ist_su3 Inside the Suleymaniye mosque ist_dm1 Dohlmabace Palace. In the mid-19th century, the Sultans decided Topkapi was too old fashioned and built a series of opulent palaces across the Golden Horn. As the power of the Ottoman empire waned, so the palaces became more opulent. Dohlmabace is a huge, rambling palace with hundreds of rooms, massive chandeliers, ornate throne rooms and everything you would expect from a once wealthy empire seeking to show off. ist_dm2 Dohlmabace with its quay on the Bosporus.

All material Copyright 2003-2004 Drew Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.
All Rights Reserved

valid HTML 4.01! valid CSS!