Istanbul is a Reflection Of History
Writing About Istanbul, holding a mirror to this city, is not an easy job. Describing this city, which is impossible to cope with, requires an effort to understand it and to feel its spirit…
In fact, Istanbul is the history itself, as a city that drew the borders of huge empires and evoked passion in many emperors. Conscious about the greatness of our responsibility and asking for historians and archaeologists forgiveness, we are just trying to hold a small mirror to this huge city.
This city, of which history of settlement dates back to 8500 years ago, which has brought the Word ‘’Byzantium’’to today, which changed the world’s political map radically when the borders of states ruling on its soils changed, which closed an age and opened a new one, is sitting over a unique treasure.
The dust of Istanbul, which was the capital of both the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire, still contains the tastes of those two big empires. Byzantine Stones raise Ottoman walls, golden mosaics shine on the domes of mosques, emperors and sultans lie side by side under the shadow of minarets.
The city state named Byzantium was followed by the Byzantine Empire founded by Constantine. After being the capitals of Roman, Byzantine and Latin Empires, the victory of Mehmed II the Conqueror (Fatih) as a result of a unique siege, initiated the era of the Ottoman Empire. This great heritage was taken over by the Turkish Republic, created in early-20th century by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk out of nothing.
Although it runs rapidly, the history does not make Istanbul forgotten; on the contrary, it keeps the city firmly in its hand like a valuable jewel. The city never losses its strategic importance and attracts the admiration of people of all nations. Together with its is population, the city is growing and expanding. The intertwining streets create a city plan like a puzzle.
The inhabitants of Istanbul keep pace with th rhythm of the daily life on such a setting. A fountain smelling of Ottomans, a kiosk on the brink of breaking down, remains of a wall crying ‘’Byzantine!’’ under the shadows of the reckless skyscrapers of the modern world surprise nobody in this city.
Not only the streets but also the peoples intermingle, faiths, traditions, names and cuisines wind up into a chaotic ball and the three big religions still live together…
TOP DESTINATIONS & HISTORICAL PLACES
The Hippodrome, which is located in the famous square of Sultanahmet, is dating back to the era of Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211).
This structure, which had been destroyed during the Nika riots against Justinian the Great, was plundered again during the Latin invasion in the 13th century.
The Hippodrome, which became a sheltered square thanks to buildings constructed around it, was called Horse square in the Ottoman era. The Project aiming at transforming the square into a urban park, prepared by the French architect Bouvard in 1890, was finished nine years later.
In the Byzantine era, this era was U-shaped with one flat end, and another semicircular end. The tribunes were located along the two longer lateral edges. The race-track in the middle of the area was divided by a wall decorated with statues of legendary racers and famous emperors. Spectators were entering into the Hippodrome though the vaulted passages located in the northern end, while the emperor and his entourage were using the emperor’s loge named Kathisma.
The most important events in the Hippodrome were chairot races. The fourhorse chairots had two wheels a race consisted of 7 laps, i.e. approximately two kilometers. Successfull racers were made into national heroes. Acrobatics, jugglery and pantomime shows and concerts performed during the races were among the biggest sources of enjoyment fort he spectators.
The Hippodrome remained as one of the centers of political life during the Byzantine, Ottoman and Republican eras. Three monuments, which witnessed the striking history of the Sultanahmet Square, continue to exist today: The Serpent Column, The Walled Column and the Obelisk of Theodosius.
The Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia, which is one of the most magnificent structures of not only Istanbul,but also the whole world, passed through various phases until taking its current shape.
Two different churches had been built on the site of today’s museum in the 4th century, but both fell into ruin. The ‘’Great Church’’, inaugurated in 360 by Constantinus II was destroyed by a fire after serving 44 years long. Eleven years passed before the construction of a new one.
The second church ordered by Theodosius II burned down to the ground in 532 due to another fire. Just after deciding on the construction of a new church over the remains of the former, Justinian initiated a rapid campaign. Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus were chosen as the architects of the churchs, as masters of both architecture and enginerering, and mathematics.
Following the hard workof thousands of workers, a magnificent inauguration was organized on the Christmas day of 537. The emperor, who came to see the finished artifact, walked towards the altar, raised his hands, thanked to god and said, ’’Solomon, I have outdone thee!’’
The emperor was referring to the magnificent temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. The church, named ‘’Hagia Sophia’’, i.e. ‘’Holy Wisdom’’, was opened to prayers of the Byzantine people. However, successive earthquakes followed by repair works became the fate of Hagia Sophia. Its domes were among the most damaged and repaired parts of it.
During restorations, the structure was reinforced with exterior buttresses. The year of 1453 proved to be a turning point not only for Istanbul but also for the Hagia Sophia. After conquering the city, the first visit of Sultan Mehmed II (Fatih) was to the church.
The repair works initiated in the same year were continued during the reigns of following sultans. Some of the Sultans had made some additions to represent their reign. The minbar, mihrab, medrese (a Koranic school) and minaret added by the orders of Mehmed II, the colossal candles brought by the order of Suleiman the Magnificent (Kanuni Sultan Suleyman) from Belgrad, the minarets and the tomb added by the orders of Selim II, lustration urns brought from Bergama (Pergamon) by the order of Murad III, calligraphy disks prepared by the order of Murad IV, the big chandelier mounted by the order of Ahmed III, eight gigantic gilded calligraphy disks added by the order of Abdulmecid were just some examples.
In the republican era, Atatürk decided to convert the mosque to a museum and restoration works and research studies that lasted a long time were initiated. Hagia Sophia is serving as a museum since October 24,1934. And it is one of the most visited museums.
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