Definitely unique, İstanbul is dreamt by famous writers, painters and poets; each quarter drags you into another fantasy world...
You cannot find another city, where the sea and land make such a great match. This city is İstanbul. It did not take too long before it was discovered by people. The history of the city goes so far back that most of the time we have no other way but too look for the truth in legends. Among the many hearsays about the foundation of the city, the most interesting one involves Solomon.
Prophet Solomon’s legend
It is related that once upon a time there was a prophet who ruled every living creature on earth, the land and the skies, the spirits and souls, in short everything or -better yet- anything...His name was Solomon (Suleiman). There was only one ruler, who refused to obey to this prophet. This was King Ankur, who lived in Maghreb, on an island in the middle of nowhere. Ankur would never abase himself in front of anyone. Having heard about this arrogant ruler, Solomon launched an expedition to Maghreb at once. Accompanied with an army, comprised of soldiers, animals, fairies and demons, he set off by his gigantic ship. Traveling over hills and dales, the convoy arrived in Maghreb. Suddenly Ankur appeared and confronted Solomon. He could not resist long to the master of people, demons, birds, seas and winds. Soon he was routed. Prophet Solomon ordered Ankur: “Leave the false belief and convert to the religion of God!”. Ankur refused to obey. In contrast, he kept acting arrogantly.... Upon this attitude, Prophet Solomon beheaded Ankur with his fire spitting sword. He confiscated all what Ankur used to have.
Ankur’s daughter Ankur had a daughter, outstandingly beautiful. Her name was Şemsiye.
Prophet Solomon married her before he went back to his homeland. However, Şemsiye could not get used to this new life. She was in such great agony that she got thinner and weaker each day. Prophet could not bear seeing his wife in such a pain. So one day he said to her: “Instead of crying and wearing yourself out, tell me what your wish is!” Şemsiye asked her husband to have a magnificent palace build on a unique spot.
Prophet Solomon addressed to the birds, fairies, demons, giants, to every single creature on earth in their own languages. He ordered each and every one of them to look for an exceptional, unrivalled place. His subjects wandered around the entire word, from north to south, from east to west. They looked at all the islands on the oceans, the Arabic Deserts, to the unreachable mountains... Finally, they found some place, surrounded by
three seas, on the shores connecting Marmara to Black Sea. Here fish were playing in the glittering sea; the grass was brighter than in anywhere else.
The sad finale
Prophet Solomon had a palace build on this unprecedented spot of the world. The walls were marble. The windows and doors were made of solid gold. The ceiling and the balconies were silver plated. Şemsiye started to live happily in this splendid palace. However, she still could not forget her late father. In order to remember her father all the time and to keep him alive in her heart and memory, she had a picture of her father drawn. In this painting, Ankur was welcoming the shahzadah, who wished to marry his daughter. The picture increased Şemsiye’s yearning. Missing her past, Şemsiye secretly started to practice her old religion. After he found out what Şemsiye was doing, Solomon, the prophet of birds, seas, winds, demons, spirits and demons, had her beheaded. Later Prophet Solomon left that great and magnificent palace and returned to the Holy Land. There he died, while he was completing Masjid Al-Aqsa, he inherited from Prophet David.
Scientists estimate that Prophet Solomon lived around 10.000 BC. In other words, according to the legend İstanbul is founded 12.000 years ago. There is another tale about the foundation of the city. This tale sounds more realistic. Since all these events took place before Christ legend and truth are somehow blended. In 5th century BC the Greek colonialists started to conquer lands and colonize in West Anatolia and Black Sea coasts. Megarans, a group of colonialists, were the first community to have settled in İstanbul. They founded a quarter in Khalkedon (today’s Kadıköy) in 675 BC.
Across the Land of the Blind
Exactly 17 years after this first settlement, another Megaran colonialist named Byzas, applied the clairvoyant of Delphi. Telling the clairvoyant that he did not know where to settle, he asked him to point the most appropriate place. The clairvoyant says “Found your city across the Land of the Blind!” Receiving the most unexpected answer from the clairvoyant, Byzas sailed with his immigrant subjects, having a lot of questions in his mind. Crossing the Bosporus Byzas and his company landed on a pier in Sarayburnu. Impressed by the beauty of the place, the second group of Megarans wondered why the first group founded a settlement in Kadıköy, instead of this unique spot. Remembering the words of the clairvoyant Byzas interpreted this choice of Khalkedonians as some sort of blindness.
Byzantion of Byzas
It was thought that the population this city founded in Sarayburnu would not be more that a couple of hundred. The colony settled under the leadership of Byzas grew in time. Named after its founder the city was called Byzantion. Addition to the one in Sarayburnu, there were other settlement centers in İstanbul. According to Dyonissos of Byzantion, there were two more settlements: one on the banks of Kidaro River (Alibeyköy) and barbisos River (Kağıthane), where the renowned Semistra Altar lies.
Scutarion, aka Üsküdar
Another famous settlement founded in İstanbul is Hrisopolis (The Golden City), about which we do not know much. Hrisopolis was used as a shipyard after the boost of Byzantion. Named after “Skitos”, the leather shields of the Empire Guardians, who used to live in the region, the quarter was called Scutarion
Hill of temples
Byzas and his colony who settled in Sarayburnu chose the northward hill as the holy arena (Acropolis) for building their temples, repeating the pattern in Athens. Centuries later, the same hilltop was pointed by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror and the first Ottoman Palace was built on top of it.
A city of the Roman Republic
Byzantion grew in time. Khalkedon was conquered around 357-355 BC.
During this era, Byzantion had a friendly relation with the neighboring cities like Selimbria (Silivri). This friendly atmosphere disturbed the Macedonians. Finally, Filippos II, father of Alexander the Great, besieged the city (340 BC). The city endured the siege thanks to fishery and its fertile lands. The most important reason of the survival was the lively commerce between Anatolia
and Southeast Europe and maritime trade from Black Sea towards Egypt. After a certain time, Byzantion could no
more cope with the kingdoms growing around it. In 2nd century BC the city asked Roma’s help for their struggle against
Macedonians. When the Romans defeated the Macedonians in 146 BC, the land under their rule was expanded to the Balkans, Aegean regioan and Anatolia. Consequently, Byzantion turned into a city-state annexed to the Roman Republic.
In this issue we will try to tell you about İstanbul’s evolution during the Roman Empire and the historical heritage from the Roman Era to date
City walls The first 50 years of the Roman Empire passed quite smoothly. However, in 193 AD during the Roman competition over the throne, the Byzantions back Gaius Perscennius Niger, the Roman Governor in Syria, against Septimus Severus (r. 193-211), who later conquered the entire empire. Septimus Severus besieged the city for three years. By the end of the third year, the Byzantions cannot endure the siege anymore and hand the city over to Severus, who in turn plunders the city and puts the residents to the sword. He has the city walls torn down to avoid further rebellion. After a while, influenced by the recommendations by his son Caracalla (who later became Roman Empire) Septimus Severus decides to have the city reconstructed due to its strategic location. This time the city is expanded and the city walls are moved 300m westwards. Thus, the walls start from the region where Yenicamii stands today and passes through Çemberlitaş and reaches the seaside at Çatladıkapı. Çemberlitaş, the second of seven hills of old-İstanbul, which was used as a graveyard by the Byzantions, is annexed to the city during Septimus Severus. Upon the order of the empire, the road named after him
The first 50 years of the Roman Empire passed quite smoothly. However, in 193 AD things started to change
Constantinus the Great realized a large-scale constructional activity, which lasted from 324 until 330
“Septimus Severus Portico” was built. Today, this road still stands as the street from Sultanahmet to Çemberlitaş. On those days, this road had porticos on both sides. Unfortunately, nothing more but the axle is left over. Emperor Septimus Severus, who started a sizable construction activity throughout the city, initiated the construction of the Hippodrome (today Sultanahmet Square), which hosted the horse races of the time. The empire took one step forward and gave the city his original name: Antonius. However, this name was not used in practice. İstanbul kept to be called Byzantion. Later, Septimus Severus has a bath (Zeuksippos) built in the spot, where the Haseki Bath stands today. In the excavation of 1927, some findings unearthed were believed to belong to this bath, but this fact was not proven until the excavations in 1952.
From Byzantion to Constantinopolis
After a large-scale constructional improvement Byzantion went back to its calm life. Things went smoothly until it witnessed another fight over the throne almost a century later. In the sovereignty competition between Licinius and world-famous Constantinus the Great, the people of Byzantion supported Licinius. Constantinus defeated Licinius in Edirne. Licinius is once more overpowered during the battle in Üsküdar. Byzantions could not avoid facing the same consequences. The city was once more plundered and torn down by the forces of Constantinus the Great. All the ramparts were demolished. This damage was soon compensated through an even- larger-scale constructional activity, which lasted from 324 until 330. During this time Constantinus resided in his palace in İzmit. On 11 May 330 the city was re-opened with a splendid ceremony and was announced as the new capital of Roman Empire. İstanbul has been the capital city of empires in power from 330 until 1923. Constantinus moved the city walls and expanded the city borders. The new ramparts were built 2.5 km. westwards of the older ones. Of these city walls, the only one survived today is the Esekapısı (İsakapısı) in Kocamustafapaşa. Constantinus did not have the walls repaired only. He also had new roads, squares, porticos, forums (avenues), public buildings, ports, palaces built. Moreover, monuments and statues were imported to the city from around the empire. The city was turned into a corner in paradise. Certainly, all these were insane taken the power and technology of the time. The city was named Constantinopolis. This name soon became widely used.
The first arrangements by Constantinus were the squares, which are well-liked in Rome and which are attached importance by the Roman people. The new square was regarded as the heart of Constantinopolis. Constantinus dedicated the square to his mother Helena and named it “Augusteion”, a word derived from Augusta. This square
The first arrangements were Constantinus were the squares, which are well-liked in Rome and which are attached importance by the Roman people.
Despite having become a Christian, Emperor Constantinus build a brand new city with typical Roman qualities. When examined closely, this city shows itself from among the overwhelming details of modern İstanbul
Augusteion Square; when Constantinus converted into Christianity Augusteion Square also became the religion centre of the empire. The first church was built across the square
is the empty area facing the Hagia Sophia Mosque. When Constantinus converted into Christianity Augusteion Square also became the religion centre of the empire. The first church was built across the square. The main gate of the Hippodrome, which was completed during the reign of Constantinus, was in the Augusteion Square. Moreover, the main entrance of the empire palace used to open to this square. There were colossal statues standing on large columns. The most impressive of them was the monument of Justinianus, who was depicted on a horseback, raising his right hand. On his head, he had a stone embroidered with ruby and pearls.
Constantinus Forum (Avenue)
Another important arrangement by Empire Constantinus was the Constantinus Forum. This avenue, named after the empire, was simply magnificent. Today, traces of this avenue can still be found on the second hilltop of İstanbul. The empire had his own monument erected right in the middle of the avenue. In this sculpture, he looked like Apollon. Although a great percentage of his people were followers of polytheistic religions, the empire was a devoted Christian. The reason why the statue reminded both of him and of Apollon, was to address both sides. The
column of this gigantic monument is still standing and is called Çemberlitaş. The avenue did not a rectangular or square shaped plan. Instead, it was oval; something was not seen until that day. It is known that both sides of the avenue were surrounded by porticos. It was covered with marble panels. The two entries on east and west sides were connected to the main road with arched gates. This main road is the tram route, which is still being used today. Unfortunately, nothing more than Çemberlitaş and the axle of the road survived to-date. In the entry from Sultanahmet, the visitors were welcomed by the gigantic statues of the empire and his mother. As one of the first Christian Roman emperors, Constantinus had also a cross erected in the avenue. There were numerous columns on the avenue. The most famous of them were the 12 gold plated statues of mythological creatures and sea fairies. On another corner stood the statues of elephants and pigs. There was a large pool in the center. In the middle of the pool, there was a bronze statue of the Prophet David surrounded by lions. The senate building stood next to the avenue. In other words, the avenue was the headquarters of the empire. The governor made public announcements in this avenue. On certain occasions, the people were distributed free food. This impressive avenue hosted the people of İstanbul for 900 years. In 1204, the Latin, who invaded İstanbul during the Fourth Crusade, plundered all these avenues and squares. The statue of Constantinus, made of solid gold, was melted down and turned into coins. The statue of goddess Junon, which used to stand on the same avenue, was stolen by the Crusaders. It is related that it took four couples of ox to pull the head only.
This large square covered a vast area, including today’s Atik Ali Paşa Mosque and Çemberlitaş Theatre. It gradually shrunk during the last days of Byzantine era and the Ottoman reign. Nothing but Çembelitaş is left from the square. As the marble blocks of the column were cracking due to the devastating fires during the Ottoman era, they were attached together with the metal rings to avoid the collapse of column. From that day on, the Constantin Column was called Çemberlitaş (the ringed stone). The exact size of the square is not known. However, it is estimated that an excavation would unearth marble flooring stones in 6-8 m. depth. It is also believed that pre-Byzantine tombstones are laying beneath these marbles.
As we have already mentioned, the Hippodrome’s construction was started during the reign of Empire Septimus Severus. However, the real creator of the Hippodrome is Constantinus. The word Hippodrome means race course. It is the place, where the horse or chariot races took place. In this area, which stands on the west side of Sultanahmet Mosque, there are monuments dating back to Constantinus’s era. The exact size of the Hippodrome is not known either; but it is believed that it was around 117 x 400 m. During the Byzantine era, around the U-shaped race track, there were lodges of amphitheatre seating order. The seats had 40 lines, with a total capacity of 30.000 seats. There was a wall in the middle of the track. The chariots had to turn around the wall to complete the race. There stood columns and statues on the wall. Today, the axle of the three obelisks enables us to locate the place of this wall. As the soil excavated from the basis of the Sultanahmet Mosque (during its construction) was poured on this square, the hippodrome seems to be lower than it used to be. Originally, the three obelisks used to stand on the wall. Beneath the concave-shaped part of the U-planned hippodrome, there were rooms. These rooms were used for caging the wild animals or cells for gladiators or drivers of the chariots. Despite having become a Christian, Emperor Constantinus build a brand new city with typical Roman qualities. When examined closely, this city shows itself from among the overwhelming details of modern İstanbul. Having built a city to last for many centuries, Constantinus could enjoy its breathtaking beauty for six years only.
With its numerous stories, Maiden’s Tower is one of the symbols of İstanbul...
The word Hippodrome means race course. It is the place, where the horse or chariot races took place. In this area, which stands on the west side of Sultanahmet Mosque, there are monuments dating back to Constantinus’s era