Just as all the characteristics and features are unique to cities where different civilizations meet and transform, they also harbor within themselves the principle contours of the general ebb and flow of history. They represent junctions where the spirit of space intersects with that of time. History draws these cities in and shapes them, just as these cities draw in and shape history.

From this perspective, Istanbul is perhaps the most privileged and distinctive city in this category. For few cities in the course of the flow of human history from the antiquity to the modernity or to the globalization have undergone as comprehensive and profound an experience of this flow as Istanbul has done. In this city, all the contours of ancient history conjoined as antiquity’s last bastion and example; the most formidable, dynamic and vibrant encounter between antiquity and modernity unfolded in the geo-cultural environment at whose very epicenter this city stood. And, as witnessed in Istanbul in recent years, the sheer dynamism of this flow has left the demonstrable marks of globalization’s most challenging aspects on the city.

To offer a comparison, Athens and Rome, the great cities of the ancient Mediterranean world, either failed to accommodate the Eastern side of antiquity, or lost such an accommodation over time; the central cities of Eastern antiquity such as Isfahan, Delhi and Baghdad were unable to undergo a shared historic journey with their Western counterparts. Unlike Rome, European cities such as Paris, Amsterdam, London and Berlin transformed themselves from feudal towns into the leading cities of modernity by utilizing the accumulated legacy of Mediterranean city culture without having assumed the characteristics of the central cities of the ancient world. Beijing encountered modernity through the period of the Cultural Revolution while encapsulating all the features and characteristics of ancient Chinese civilization, accommodating and internalizing the globalization process over the last thirty years while also feeling to a limited extent the impact of the accumulated legacies of other ancient civilizations. As for New York, recognized as the capital city of globalization, that city has had no locational or historical continuity with any legacy or accumulation of ancient civilization.

The most notable feature differentiating Istanbul from these cities, and bestowing upon the city a unique status in the history of civilizations, is the fact that the accretions of the ancient world, modernity and globalization have lived herein all their phases and all their colors, within a historic and spatial continuum. Indications of the city’s historic and geographic centrality rendered by the kaleidoscopic variety of names given to Istanbul in different languages reflect the significance attributed to the city, serving as an expression of how it was seen within each cultural environment, as well as the manner in which this was internalized. Based on the great Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi’s account, Istanbul has historically been given the following names: Byzantium, Antoninia, Alma Roma, and Nova Roma (New Rome) in Latin; Eptalofos (Seven Hills), Basilevousa (Queen of Cities), Megalopolis (the Great City), PoznatyamandKostantıniyye in Greek; Stambolli in Albanian; Yankoviche in Syriac, Alexandra inHebrew, Pozanta in Serbian; Konstantinov Grad (the City of Contantine) in Bulgarian; Yagfuria in Frankish; Kostantinopol in German; Tekurya, Tsargrad (City of Tsars) in Russian; Vezendovar in Hungarian; Kanaturya in Polish; Aliyana in Czech; Harkılban in Swedish; Istifania in Flemish; Igrandonain French; Kostiyyain Portuguese; Kostantıniyya al-Kubrain Arabic; Kayser-zemin in Persian; Taht-ıRûm in Hindu; Cakdurkan in Mongolian; Sakalibe in Tatar; and Dersaâdet, Deraliyye, Mahrûse-i saltanat, Daru’s-saltanat-ı aliyye, Âsitâne-i aliyye, Dâru’l-hilâfetu’l-aliyye, Pâyitaht-ı saltanat, Dergâh-ı muallâ, Sudde-i saâdet, Dâru’l-hilâfe (Center of the Caliphate), and Makarr-ı saltanat (Seat of the Monarchy), Islâmbol (City of Islam) in Ottoman Turkish.1

In his article “The Foundation of the City of Istanbul and its Names,” Afif Erzen argues that Istanbul is recorded in the earliest written historic sources as Byzantion, and that this name, which was common during the classical era, was most likely taken from the ancient languages of Asia Minor around 3,000 BCE.2 The city was called Byzantion throughout the primeval period until the foundation of the Eastern Roman Empire. For Erzen, after the foundation of the city by Constantinos (people started calling it Constantinopolis only after his death), “it is not possible to speak of a Byzans nation or people, or a Byzantine city or state, which no longer existed.”3 The term Byzantium entered common usage in the modern era due mainly to the fact that the French defined the Eastern Roman Empire as “Byzantium.” This fact is further illustrated in a letter written in 1886 by the Greek historian Contantinos Paparrigopoulos (1815-1891) to Zolatas, an intellectual figure from Chios (1845-1906):

My dear friend Zolotas; despite all my investigations, I have not been able to find anyone among our historians and Medieval chroniclers who uses the word “Byzantine” that you desired. They use the words “Romaios,” “Graikos” and more recently “Hellen”… I am afraid that the word “Byzantinos” is a Western invention and that we have accepted it out of our ignorance.4

What actually existed was not Byzantium, but the Eastern Roman Empire, whose capital was Constantinopolis. Upon the conquest, the city gained a new identity as the center of the Ottoman Empire. “For a long time, it has been widely accepted that Istanbul (Stanbul, Istambul, Istambol) was derived from eis ton polis.”5 The name of the city was not the source of much debate by the Ottoman State after the conquest; various names such as Kostantiniyye, Stambol, Dersaâdet, Âsitâne and Dâru’l-hilâfe interchangeably. The name of the city was settled as Istanbul following the declaration of the Turkish Republic in 1923. The Ottoman preservation of Constantinopolis’ Arabic form Kostantiniyye, and its Greek version “Stinpolis” (Toward the City) as “Stanpolis” bears comparison to the use of titles by Ottoman sultans derived from different civilizations, such as padişah, hakan, and kayzer-i Rum. Halil İnalcık records that Mehmet II (Mehmed the Conqueror) gave the city the name “İslâm-bol” in the context of his desire to transform it into an Islamic city. İnalcık adds that whereas the general public widely used the pre-Ottoman version ‘Istanbul’, the new name was maintained principally among the ulema.6

From the perspective of the accumulated legacy of the ancient world, Istanbul, which developed under the influence of Mediterranean culture to assume the form and status of a one of the central cities of ancient Rome during the Roman Empire, underwent a transformation during the Byzantine period as a result of the wisdom of the ancient East issuing from Jerusalem and carried through by Christianity in the Ottoman period, before finally emerging as the last major center of this immense civilizational accretion as an Islam-centered civilization embellished with all the tones of the ancient world. In this sense, Istanbul’s transformation from a Roman to a Christian city may be seen metaphysically as laying the groundwork for its journey towards Islamic civilization and monotheistic faith within the Abrahamic tradition.

Istanbul is thus the product of a synthesis between two diverse constituent/pioneer city prototypes: Rome and Medina. A spirit of civilization emanating from Rome journeyed, so to speak, to Istanbul, and established a certain structure/form, the first transformation of which was forged through Christianity: the passage from polytheist Rome to Christian Constantinople… Secondly, the spirit of civilization emanating from Medina underwent various quests and journeys to manifest itself in Damascus, Jerusalem, Cairo, Cordoba, Baghdad, Diyarbakir, Konya and Bukhara; at each step, it matured, refined itself and gained depth, ultimately reaching Istanbul.

On the one hand we have Rome as the summit of shape and form; on the other, Medina as the apex of moral and spiritual depth. Rome as the representative of a crushing magnificence; Medina as that of a magnificence made profound through its coalescence with humility. Rome with its linear and geometrical structure; Medina, which, for all its outward appearance of mild chaos, was a genuine totality. Rome as the standard-bearer of power; Medina as the representative of spiritual depth. A Rome whose city structure stood for an uncompromising approach and mechanical integrity; a Medina embodying harmony and organic integrity.

1- Istanbul with its silhouette reflecting the lines of the ancient

Rome as representative of naked ambition; Medina with its tranquility and inner peace. Rome, the realities of whose harsh history gave it a realist vision whose objectives were achieved by Machiavellian means; Medina as a spatial reflection of a metaphysical ideal. These two divergent worlds faced and encountered each other in Istanbul, forming here a new “subject city”.


Debates on the concept of conquest in the academic literature have not been immune to the methodological problems innate to Ottoman studies. Without making explicit what the notion of conquest exactly entailed within Islam in general, and the Ottoman world in particular, it is impossible fully to comprehend the Ottomans’ concepts of city, civilization and order. For the phenomenon defined as conquest goes beyond random military triumph, revealing perhaps the most serious encounter and blending witnessed in the entire history of civilization. Therefore it is important to clarify the difference between the concept of conquest (fetih) and military expansion.

In the second half of the fifteenth century, the eastern and western sides of the continent of Europe witnessed the change of hands of two separate large-scale political orders and civilizational legacies. Constantinople, the second capital city of the long-established Roman tradition, was conquered by the ascendant Ottoman Empire, while Granada, the final bastion of Al-Andalus (Andalusia), the grand synthesis of the ancient Eastern tradition on the continent of Europe, was captured by Spain.

A reflection on these two processes of change and their consequences also facilitates an intriguing comparison that may serve to shed light on different aspects of military expansion. An assessment and classification of cases of military expansion in the context of their times, and their consequences, is a prerequisite to a more soundly-based comparative analysis. Within this framework, we may distinguish four distinct types of military expansion.

The first type involves the destruction of the cities and civilizations taken under control, the most striking examples of which include the Aryan invasion of India and the European invasions of the Americas. These cases commonly entail the perception by the conquerors of the now-subjugated accumulation of civilization, and the human factor that constituted this legacy, as belonging to an inferior ontological category. Such a perception naturally led the former to consider the destruction they wrought as a historical, even a theological, necessity.

The second type of military expansion involves the dominant power creating a political order through the formation of a network of cities designed to facilitate the transfer of economic and political resources from the subjugated areas; Roman imperialism and modern colonialism fall into this category. In these cases, though some degree of inter-civilizational interaction took place within and between the cities located along the transfer routes and concentrations of power, the dominant powers were more interested in controlling existing resources in the most pragmatic (and sometimes the most brutal) manner, than in blending with existing civilizational accretions.

The third type of military expansion is one in which the militarily successful invaders gradually melt and meld into the civilizational entity over which they hold sway, the most striking examples of which are the Mongolian warriors who dominated vast areas with lightning speed but whose second- or third-generation (Kublai Khan in China and the descendants of Hulagu Khan in Baghdad) subsequently melded into the rich civilizational basins that their grandfathers had seized.

The historic process undergone with the conquest of Istanbul constitutes a different historic experience from these examples, such that a shared living area was established within the context of a renewed continuity with the conquered civilizational basin and its human component. Cities – principally Istanbul - that formed the spatial foundation of a shared living area witnessed a wide-ranging interaction of civilizations.7

At this point, it may be useful to reconsider the difference between two different types of military expansion, both of which occurred within the same century, namely the conquest and the reconquista, with reference to the destinies of cities. A comparison between the destinies of Cordoba and Granada on the one hand, and Edirne and Istanbul on the other, reveals a clear difference of mindset. A superficial examination of the rise and fall of states may elicit comparisons between the concurrent El-Andalus-Spain, and Byzantium–Ottoman, relationships as if they were similar processes, whereas in fact they constitute striking reflections of two utterly divergent perceptions of history and place. Three important differences between the destinies of Granada and Constantinopolis, the last outposts of resistance of two different civilizational legacies, reveal the thin line between conquest (fetih) and reconquista: changes in the human elements of each city; changes in their architectural make-up; and the change in the respective cities’ significance in the aftermath of their changing hands.

The fall of Granada led to a comprehensive change in the city’s human component by military means and force. The natives of the city were killed, exiled or forced to change their religion and cultural identity. A multicultural and multi-religious city for centuries, in the wake of the purge of its Muslims and Jews Granada soon turned into a monolithic cultural entity based entirely on a Catholic-Spanish identity.

By contrast, Istanbul’s human component became more diverse after the conquest of 1453, as all the human color of the ancient world was taken under its aegis. For unlike the Spanish King’s practice, Mehmed the Conqueror issued a declaration immediately following the conquest asking the city’s residents to remain in their city and guaranteeing to safeguard all kinds of religious laws and rights. In an attempt to increase its dynamism and richness in conjunction with the contributions of new members of every religion and denomination, he also offered incentives for those who had left the city in the midst of war to return. In this context Istanbul was opened for repopulation and settlement, turning it into a bustling capital city, and different ethno-religious groups were brought to Istanbul: Armenian and Greek merchants from Phocaea and Amasra in 1459, some of the Greek population of Mora, Thasos, Limnos, Imroz and the Samothrace Islands in 1460, the Greeks of Trebizond (Trabzon) in 1461, the Greeks of Lesbos in 1462, the Greeks of Argos in 1463, Muslims, Greeks and Armenians from Konya, Karaman and Ereğli between 1468 and 1474, the Greeks of Euboea in 1470, and the Greeks, Latins and Armenians of Cephalonia in 1475. After 1492, some of the Jewish population expelled from Spain, Portugal and Southern Italy were also settled in Istanbul.8

Sustained by wide-ranging religious freedoms, this settlement policy clearly demonstrates the distinction between the conquest and the reconquista. Indeed, when he conquered the city, Sultan Mehmed II assured the Byzantines that they could continue to live their everyday lives as they had previously done and asked them to elect a Patriarch in accordance with their own customs to fill the vacant position of the Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul. Georgios Skholarios, who took the name Gennadios as Patriarch and leader of the Greek community, was duly elected. The Sultan then approved Gennadios as Patriarch, granting him the same authority that all previous patriarchs had enjoyed; the Greek Patriarchate in Istanbul was turned into the center for Thracian, Anatolian, Egyptian, Syrian and Palestinian Orthodox Christians. The Serbian Church was also attached to the Istanbul Patriarchate, joining its Bulgarian counterpart, which had been bound to the Patriarchate since 870 A.D. By the same token, the Armenian Patriarchate was founded during Mehmed II’s reign, with the election of Ovakim, the Metropolitan Bishop of Bursa, as Patriarch in 1461. He was granted the same authority as that given to the Chief Rabbi and the Greek Patriarch.9

The most striking example of the distinction between these two different mindsets and approaches is the case of the fate of the Jewish community in the cities that changed hands. Backed by the Roman Catholic Church, Medieval European anti-Semitism reached its zenith with the reconquista in the late fifteenth century. As Hans Küng observes, “Unlike Muslim Andalusia, ‘Christian’ Spain is a dark and gloomy period in the Jewish memory.”10 It is said that following the Inquisition set up to force the Jews to convert to Christianity in 1481, 400 Jews were burned at the stake in Seville alone –12,000 met the same fate in Spain as a whole. When the reconquista reached its conclusion with the fall of Granada in 1492, the Jews were forced to choose between baptism and deportation. As a result, 100,000 people suffered forced migration while an even higher number were converted to Christianity. The Jews were also expelled from Portugal in 1497.11

With the conquest of Constantinople, the Jewish community found a safe environment in which to practice their religion and culture about half a century before the reconquista. The Ottoman Jewish community, which had been granted the right to establish its own neighborhood and build a synagogue in the then-capital Bursa during Orhan Bey’s reign and had formed an organized community under the Chief Rabbinate of Edirne during the reign of Sultan Murad I, were granted the status of an Ottoman millet headed by their Chief Rabbi, during Mehmed II’s reign. This community, which had become more diverse with the arrival of those who had fled the reconquista to take refuge in Ottoman lands, maintained its presence as a natural constituent part of the city’s human component for centuries to come. The fact that the ghettoization of Jews, a practice applied in almost every city in Europe, did not occur in Ottoman lands, originates from this difference in mindset, applied to the city’s social fabric.

Roger Crowley, who examines the Conquest in his book, 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West, describes this difference when he compares the respective fates of Istanbul and Andalusia:

The city that Mehmet rebuilt after the fall hardly conformed to the dread image of Islam that Christendom supposed. The sultan regarded himself not only as a Muslim ruler but as the heir to the Roman Empire and set about reconstructing a multicultural capital in which all citizens would have certain rights. He forcibly resettled both Greek Christians and Turkish Muslims back into the city, guaranteed the safety of the Genoese enclave at Galata, and forbade any Turks to live there. The monk Gennadios, who had so fiercely resisted attempts at union, was rescued from slavery in Edirne and restored to the capital as patriarch of the Orthodox community with the formula: “Be Patriarch, with good fortune, and be assured of our friendship, keeping all the privileges that the Patriarchs before you enjoyed.” […] “At the other end of the Mediterranean, the final reconquest of Spain by the Catholic kings in 1492 resulted in the forced conversion or expulsion of all the Muslims and Jews. The Spanish Jews themselves were encouraged to migrate to the Ottoman Empire – “the refuge of the world” – where, within the overall experience of Jewish exile, their reception was generally positive. “Here in the land of the Turks we have nothing to complain of,” wrote one rabbi to his brethren in Europe. “We possess great fortunes, much gold and silver are in our hands. We are not oppressed with heavy taxes and our commerce is free and unhindered.”12

It is no coincidence that Istanbul was a safe haven or a place of return for Jews fleeing Nazi persecution before and during the Second World War. Rather, it is a reflection of a profound memory left by a centuries-long historical experience. Attempts to fill the void left by the demise of the ancient world’s accumulated legacy in the wake of the retreat of the Ottoman Empire, with the homogenization of Balkan cities and the disappearance of the Jewish community from cities’ human fabric, especially in Thessalonica, may be seen as modern nationalism’s reconquista.

This change in the human fabric of cities also applies to their architectural and physical fabric. Thus, while cities seized during the reconquista were in time almost completely purged of mosques and synagogues to assume a homogenous Roman Catholic identity, Istanbul’s architectural diversity was preserved and developed after the conquest.13 A comparison between Hagia Sophia and Cordoba’s La Mezquita mosque in terms of the architectural transformations that they underwent reveals the stark distinction between continuity/concord and rupture/conflict in the field of architecture. The analysis of Hagia Sophia offered by Turgut Cansever, a leading scholar and architect, reveals a post-Conquest continuity in architecture:

The most important of Ottoman contributions to the Hagia Sophia is the addition of two minarets by Mimar Sinan. Hagia Sophia’s first minaret was built during Mehmed II’s reign, the second during that of Selim I. The two minarets designed by Sinan are incomparably thicker than the previous two, functioning as two strong focal points that firmly attach the building to the ground. Located to the west, they thus ensure the full integration of the building with its location by emphasizing the fact that it is located on a peninsula extending eastwards, thereby making more visible what the slender previously constructed minarets showed – that Hagia Sophia is oriented toward the east. (…) Located on an exceptional site on the peninsula, Hagia Sophia used to stand there alone, with all the incoherence in its internal structure and massive posture due to its hefty walls. Its form was diversified with the addition of retaining walls by the Ottoman architects, and assumed a new meaning with the addition of Sinan’s specially-scaled minarets, ending its loneliness by surrounding it with four minarets, and elevated the building to the status of one of the city’s finest adornments.

Sinan’s approach to Hagia Sophia was maintained with the decision to construct Sultan Selim II’s mausoleum next to Hagia Sophia in the 1570s, and later that of Murat III. Thus, Hagia Sophia was preserved and enhanced in value with these additions that complemented, glorified and embellished it. This is an indication of the fact that the Ottomans fundamentally respected the legacies of the preceding culture and Christian works of art.14

The studies of Western scholars into Hagia Sophia’s Ottoman-Islamic past are not as developed as those into its Byzantine past, despite the fact that Christian Byzantine Hagia Sophia owes its survival to the present day to the Ottoman Moslem Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya). It had more or less fallen into ruin by the time of the conquest, when Sultan Mehmed II and his descendants’ financial and legal guarantees and architectural additions promoted Ayasofya to the ranks of the most privileged structures. In effect they kept their word to maintain Ayasofya until the end of time:

Mehmed the Conqueror had a mihrab (an arch at the front wall to mark the place for imams to lead the prayer), a minber (pulpit for sermons), a library and a madrasa (school) added to Hagia Sophia. The two gigantic candleholders located before the mihrab were taken from King Mátyás’ palace during Suleiman the Magnificent’s Hungarian campaign. Mimar Sinan completed the building of the two thick minarets during Sultan Murad III’s reign, and added buttresses to the façade facing the Marmara Sea, thereby saving Hagia Sophia from collapse. The current minber, the muezzin mahfili (gallery) and the four other marble mahfils located in the main area, the ambo, and the Bergama marble cubes, all belong to the reign of Sultan Murad III. The oriel mahfil and the grand chandelier hanging from the dome were added by Sultan Ahmed III. The upstairs additions, including a mahfil, an imaret (a charitable institution built to meet the daily food needs of medrasah students, travelers and guests), a fountain, an infants’ school and a library, all represent Sultan Mahmud I’s gift to Turkish art. (…) The Sultan’s gallery and the adjacent Sultan’s chamber, which is now open for worship, and the clock chamber located outside, were built by the architect Fossati in the reign of Sultan Abdülmecid.15

Unlike the impact of post-conquest additions on Hagia Sophia, the changes inflicted on La Mezquita de Córdoba - the third largest mosque to be built in the history of Islam - to convert it into a cathedral during the process of reconquista are associated with a process of devastation. Many of the columns and arches in the middle of the mosque were destroyed and a cathedral was built in that section of the structure in 1523. When Emperor Charles V saw this cathedral built at the center of the Cordoba Mosque, he expressed his regret for consenting to its conversion with the words “You have built here what you or anyone might have built anywhere else, but you have destroyed what is unique in the world.”16 In 1593 the mosque’s minaret was demolished to be replaced by the bell tower that stands today.

Thus, while virtually no part of Hagia Sophia was demolished in the aftermath of the conquest, but rather the balance between continuity and change was reinforced with compatible additions, parts of the Cordoba Mosque were destroyed following the reconquista in such a way as to reflect an elimination-rupture mentality in architecture, by which means one of the most visible forced and disruptive changes in world architectural history was accomplished. Many of the windows allowing daylight into the mosque were covered up in order to create a dim environment for the cathedral that was awkwardly located in the middle of the mosque; this represents the most striking example of the architectural reflection of this mindset. The aim of this darkening operation was to transform the interior environment of the Cordoba Mosque from a place of contemplation where the architecture almost dances with light into a place that fills the visitor with gloom from the very first step. This architectural reconquista draws the visitor to compare the philosophical initiatives to enlighten Europe instigated here in its golden age, with church dogmas.

2- Hagia Sophia, the symbol of ancient continuity in Istanbul

The fundamental difference between the conquest and the reconquista in terms of the underlying mindset and approach toward cities’ human and architectural fabric stems from the difference between the capacity to internalize antiquity’s accumulated wisdom and human legacy, and the conditions of being torn away from it. The same difference accounts for the fact that while Istanbul had become humanly and culturally arid in the wake of the Latin invasion of 1204, the city flourished in both respects in the aftermath of the Ottoman conquest. By the same token, Cordoba and Granada lost their centuries-long significance and influence to became small urban units following the reconquista, whereas Istanbul became the largest city of the world within a century of the conquest.

What really distinguishes the Ottoman experience is its ability to incorporate the different elements of a rich ancient civilizational legacy of human history into different elements of life. Nourished by the experiences of those two symbolic centers of ancient state tradition, Iran and Mesopotamia, the Turkish tribes of Central Asian origin, who bore the traces of Chinese civilizational accretions, encountered Roman culture in Anatolia and, maturing it through synthesis with Seljuk elements, shaped the historic depth of a political order that took root after the conquest and stretched from the Mediterranean-Black Sea to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, from the Eurasian steppes to Egypt and down into Africa’s interior. The fact that the pioneers of the reconquista lacked this kind of historic depth drew them to eradicate the civilizations they encountered in Andalusia, as well as the Aztec and Mayan civilizational basins.

Looking at it from the perspective of this historic depth, the change that occurred in Istanbul after the Conquest of Constantinople was the embodiment of the progressive maturing and refinement of the blending of civilizations rooted in the very origins of the Ottomans, and its intensification in a certain place.

It is for this reason that when Mehmed II entered the city, just as he refused to raze it or transfer its riches to another region in the manner of a barbarian invader as in the previous examples, nor was his aim just to create just another capital city. Instead, with his knowledge of Arabic, Persian, Latin and Greek, Sultan Mehmed possessed the intellectual conscience to accomplish this blending; there is no doubt that he envisaged Istanbul as the ultimate civilizational center where East meets West, Persepolis meets Alexandria, and Baghdad meets Rome. He considered the people of Istanbul, like himself, to be integral elements of a shared “ancient” past and heirs to a preceding blending of civilizations. In this context, and with reference to continuity within the Abrahamic tradition, he granted full rights to the Orthodox Patriarchate to maintain its traditions, established the Armenian Patriarchate, invited the Chief Rabbinate to the city, and converted Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

Various narratives cite the fact that Mehmed II tried to calm the residents of Istanbul, in panic at the prospect that he would destroy the city, by guaranteeing their lives, property and faith. For instance, according to an eyewitness report by Nestor Iskander, Mehmed II went to Hagia Sophia where he addressed the residents who had hidden there, setting forth the main principles of the new order in the city:

The Patriarch, the clergy and lay people expressed their sadness with tears and moaning, and threw themselves at his feet. The Sultan stopped them with a wave of his hand, and said to them: “O Atanasios, I say unto you and those with you and to your people: As of today, do not be afraid of my anger, nor of death and enslavement.” He then turned to his Pashas and commanders, saying: “Prohibit all the soldiers of every rank in my armies from inflicting harm on the city dwellers, women and children in particular, through killing, enslaving or any other hostile act. If even a single person violates my order, he will be punished by death.” Then he ordered the city dwellers to go home.17

The Ottomans established an order based on this kind of blending, and made Istanbul its heart and its philosophical center. Indications of the historic and geographic depth to which the Ottomans were drawn were embedded in the transformation of Istanbul as a city in the aftermath of the conquest. As Bernard Lewis emphasizes, post-conquest Istanbul became a large, thriving city accommodating an extremely diverse and active population, including Greeks who opted to stay in the city, Muslim immigrants, Jews, and merchants of many races coming to the city to trade.18 The gravitational field that was formed in the wake of Mehmed’s success in attracting leading intellectual figures from the East, starting with Ali Qushji (Kuşcu), further enriched this process of socio-economic and socio-political development.

Thanks to this inclusiveness, Istanbul rapidly became a living space for all major and ancient traditions. Ottoman urban development was thus the product of a richly diverse and integrative synthesis. Though initiated with the purely Turcoman overtones of Söğüt, the birthplace of the Ottoman state, Ottoman urban culture was able to produce perhaps the most colorful and inclusive civilizational forms history has ever seen. Ottoman cities from Bursa to Cairo, Thessalonica to Baghdad, Damascus to Sarajevo, Konya to Skopje, Edirne to Bahçesaray, were transformed into smaller-scale historic localities where all the colors of various ancient civilizational basins co-existed under the umbrella of Islamic civilization. As in the case of other large-scale political structures that paved the way for civilizational interaction, the Ottoman Empire concentrated all these experiences in a central place, perfecting the example of Istanbul as its own prototype pivot city.

The historian Fernand Braudel stated that Islamic cities consisted of different quarters hosting a range of religious, ethnic, and linguistic groups. Referring to Paul Ricaut’s observations on a revolt of 1651, where the insurgents began yelling, in the fervor of the moment, in their native languages rather than Ottoman Turkish, Braudel compares this group, which consisted of Georgians, Bosniaks, Italians as well as Turks, to the historic experience of Babylon.19

To summarize, the Ottoman State’s consciousness on the ancient traditions entails the embracing of all the accretions of humanity, with Islamic civilization assuming a pivotal role.20 Thus the Muhr-i Suleyman (Solomon’s Seal or Star of David) represents the Ottoman State’s ideal within the Abrahamic tradition; that is, the Prophet Solomon’s metaphysical authority reaching into the depth of history and the vastness of geography; the title hümâyûn (imperial or auspicious) suffixed to state institutions represents the unreachable horizons of antiquity; the military and artisanal guilds generally chose emblematic personalities from prophetic history as their founders and leaders, fixing the integrity of belief-history and ethics-work as a mindset parameter in their collective memory. None of the titles and symbols the Ottomans adopted were designed to be exclusive; on the contrary, they were all internalizing and inclusive. For instance, the title of Caliph evinced a claim to be the sole representative of Islamic civilization; that of “Padişah”, the claim that ours is the ultimate refinement of the entire Iranian tradition. They expressed their continuation of the dynamic nomadic Turkish tradition with the title “Hakan.” The nomenclature “Kayser-i Rûm” announced that it was they who now represented the state they had destroyed. In addition, they tried to achieve two further objectives within this continuum: “However far back in history you go, and whatever you may encounter, its ultimate refinement is me. Likewise, however far you may look into the future, you will see me. The Eternal State (Devlet-i ebed-muddet) is me.” This finds its present day equivalent in claims of “the end of history”.

3- Fatih Complex, Mosque, and madrasas

The Ottoman order’s intellectual background rested on the ideal of embracing the entirety of history. Conquest was an event that crowned this historic depth and provided it with a physical space. It therefore follows that conquest’s equivalent within civilizational history is not a military invasion or occupation, but rather a civilizational transformation based upon an all-embracing interaction. We are talking of a civilizational transformation from the perspective of human history, as well as a second major transformation from the perspective of Islamic history, and a momentous, root-and-branch transformation from the perspective of Turkish history.


In my 1994 work Civilizational Transformation and the Muslim World, the process of transition from modernity to globalization that began with the end of the Cold War is defined as a “civilizational transformation”; I endeavored a treatment of the fundamental elements of the dynamic process of change experienced in civilizational transformations and the interaction between these elements with reference to historic examples based on the relationships between the cognitive existence-knowledge-value substructure and the institutional law-economy-politics superstructure. The general Ottoman–Turkish experience, in particular the civilizational transformation undergone in Istanbul, represents perhaps the most vivid and dynamic example of such a transformation.

During the civilizational transformation that unfurled following the conquest of Istanbul, the city’s human and physical fabric was restructured through concentric processes. The expansion and deepening of the city’s hinterland that occurred as a consequence of Istanbul assuming the stature of the capital of a rising empire increased the flow of knowledge, culture and material goods towards this new center. In turn this paved the way for processes of reciprocal interaction between the elements that constitute the main parameters of civilizational transformation such as scientific and scholarly dynamism, socio-economic structural change, the development of a new legal framework, architectural and esthetic renewal, the constitution of a socio-cultural and economic-political order, and the consolidation of military power.

The city of Istanbul underwent successive periods of change as it transitioned from a pagan Roman to a Christian city culture during the continuity of political hegemony in the Constantinian period; it evolved from a monotone Christian city culture to a more multicultural Islamic city culture during the transfer of political ascendancy in the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror; and finally there was the change wrought by modernity and globalization within a continuum of political command as the city lost the status of a capital city, all of which bears the striking marks of civilizational transformation. With its transformation from church to mosque and külliye, and finally museum, the case of Istanbul’s ancient religious edifice Hagia Sophia alone allows us to see the civilizational transformation experienced by the city.

A comparison of Constantine’s settlement policy with that of Mehmed II from the perspective of human dynamism reveals the impact on the city’s demography wrought by the difference between continuity and change in political command on the one hand, and the difference between human element-based historic/cultural backgrounds on the other. Since Constantine’s actions were motivated by his desire to create a capital city by changing the cultural / moral fabric of a city that was anyhow under his own command, he tried to adorn the city’s human fabric with the political–cultural–economic elite of the former capital Rome. While some families of members of the Senate, which formed the backbone of the Roman aristocracy, remained in Old Rome, the administrators, merchants, tradesmen, artists, architects, thinkers and philosophers for which New Rome, as a new capital, felt a need, were steered to the new center.21 The selectiveness shown in the transfer of this human factor manifested an attempt to achieve continuity between Old and New Rome on the one hand, and to form the infrastructure for cultural/theological renewal on the other. In any event, there was no significant change in the Roman identity of the city’s human fabric.

As for Mehmed the Conqueror, his resettlement policy took heed of three concurrent objectives: (i) demographically securing his political dominance in the new capital and reconstructing the city’s mindset and mentality through scientific and scholarly dynamism; (ii) renewing the city’s cultural/religious demography and (iii) maintaining its socioeconomic dynamism. In order to secure his political dominance, the Muslim Turkish population on territory in Anatolia that had been under the dominance of Old Rome for some four centuries, a population that had survived through the Seljuk and Beylik periods and had taken root in the culture of these lands, was selectively moved to the new capital. Brought especially from the central belt of the Seljuk and Karamanid states, this population named districts in Istanbul after their hometowns, as in the example of Aksaray. At the same time this resettlement policy formed the demographic substructure for the cultural/religious transformation that was to occur in the capital city.

In the context of this settlement policy, a conscious strategy of intellectual transformation was pursued with a view to ensuring a human flow into Istanbul that would weave the city’s scientific, scholarly and cultural structure (mindset) afresh. The Fatih Külliyesi (Sahn-ıSemân) madrasa complex was established as scholars, professors and artists from the great centers of the Islamic world were invited to the city. The life stories of the scholars who pioneered the foundation of Sahn-I Semân, constructed from 1462 to 1470, in particular Ali Qushji, demonstrate the central role that was played by scientific and scholastic dynamism in this civilizational transformation. The transition of Sahn-I Semân to Dârülfünun and then to Istanbul University reflects the civilizational transformations experienced in the antiquity–modernity–globalization transitions with respect to the accumulation and transfer of knowledge, information and science.

A civilization undertaking its own internal transformation always feels the need to reinterpret its inherited accumulation of knowledge; this gives rise to great scholarly and scientific dynamism in a political scope. The migration to Istanbul of poets, religious scholars and physicians seeking political asylum or for other reasons is a significant indication that the conquest was accompanied by a change of axis in Islamic civilization. This is not unique to Islamic civilization. For example, a large-scale movement of science and learning from Europe to America accompanied the emergence of the Atlantic – US axis in Western civilization. Most US universities were founded by German academicians. In the Islamic world, the great blending that stemmed from the havoc inflicted by the Mongols had a significant impact in terms of the exodus of scholars towards Istanbul. The disarray created by the Mongols served to demonstrate the success of the Ottomans in achieving the systematic settlement of people.

Sometimes this intellectual dynamism manifests itself most strikingly in the life story of a single person. More than being about their physical selves, the passage of these pioneering figures from one place to another speaks of the flow of their mindsets and treasure troves of knowledge. Looked at from this perspective, the life story of the theologian, mathematician, astronomist, linguist and professor Kuşçu-zâde Ebü’l-Kâsım Alâeddin Ali b. Muhammed, more widely known as Ali Qushji (in Turkish, Ali Kuşçu), heralds the sheer gravitational pull of the Ottoman State in its ascendancy to the status of a world state, as well as the birth of Istanbul as a new center of science and scholarship. Born in Samarkand, where he completed his studies, Ali Qushji spent time in Herat, Tashkent and Tabriz for further scholastic studies, before coming to Istanbul in 1472 to serve Mehmed II at the Sultan’s invitation. He remains without question an important symbol and one of the pioneering figures in the intellectual blending upon which the Ottoman order was based. The accumulated knowledge of the great scholastic centers of Central Asia and Iran, Samarkand and Tabriz coincided in Ottoman Istanbul in the intellectual guise and personality of a single person.22

The flow of people to Istanbul from other important centers yet to come under Ottoman control that began in this period heralded the birth of a major new center of that historic era. In this context, the intellectual dynamism and interaction between Istanbul and Central Asia, Khorasan and the Iran basin and the Levant, attracted numerous scholars to this new center of learning and culture in the century following the Conquest. Among the most noteworthy figures from Damascus and Aleppo are Umar b. Uthman b. Umar al-Husaynī al-Dimashqī al-Usturlābī, known as Umar al-Dimaskqī (who had also studied under Ali Qushji in Istanbul and worked in the field of astronomy), Radıyyuddin Muhammad b. Ibrahim al-Halabī, known as Ibn al-Hanbalī (d. 971/1563, mathematics), Khalil b. Ibrahim al-Halabī, known as Ibn al-Naqīb (d. 971/1563, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy and medicine), and Takiyüddin al-Rāsıd (d. 993/1585, one of the most celebrated of Damascene men of science, mathematics, astronomy, optics, mechanics and medicine).23

Just as from various other parts of the empire, the conquest of Istanbul brought many scholars to the capital city from the former capital, Edirne. Many scholars, intellectuals and scientists who had worked in the service of the state, taught or been brought up in and around Edirne were now integrated into the intellectual and cultural life of Istanbul.24

As for maintaining socioeconomic dynamism, the native population in the city, with their centuries of experience in this field, were encouraged to remain, while those who had left the city were invited to return as efforts were made to safeguard Istanbul’s status as an economically open city. In this context, Mehmed the Conqueror sent Zaganos Pasha to the Genoese in Galata (probably on 1 June 1453), in order to prevent potential panic and flight; the maintenance of the economic order was guaranteed by means of a pact that formalized this desire. This document, which in the nature of such pacts was not the outcome of bilateral negotiation but a unilateral declaration reflecting the legal substructure of the economic, social and cultural order envisaged by the new political imperium, as well as the mentality of urban life that nourished this substructure:

I ordered that […] they keep their churches and perform their customary rites in them with the exception of ringing their church bells and rattle (nākūs); that I do not take away from them their present churches and turn them into mosques, but that they also do not attempt to build new churches; that the Genoese merchants come and go on land and by sea for trade, pay the customs dues as required under the established rules and be free from molestation by anyone. And I, also, ordered that their sons not be taken as janissaries; that no infidel be converted to Islam against his will; that they elect freely someone from among themselves as kethudā, steward, to look after their own affairs; that no doghandji or kul, Sultan’s men, will come and stay as guests in their houses.25

4- In Ottoman Istanbul, adherents of different faiths coexisted in the scale of districts and streets. Even though it was possible to find adherents of various religious groups in all districts, there were also some concentration areas. Population concentrations and cemeteries in the 19th century based on religious affiliations are shown in this map, which is prepared based on examination of various maps and plans especially the maps of Imperial School for Artillery Officers dated 1845 (see this book, vol. 1. p. 525, 527), Islambol with Sultan Abdulaziz’s imperial signature dated 1863 (see this book, vol. 3, p. 478-479), and J. R. von Scheda’s Demographics of Istanbul (see this book, vol. 1. p. 506-507).

Even during periods of tension and conflict between Western Rome’s successor state and the Holy Roman Empire, the Papacy, the Genoese and Venetians, and in order to guarantee this continuity, every endeavor was made to protect the human fabric of Galata, a district which provided liaison and contact with the Mediterranean and European economies.

Thus, while the fundamental elements of Mediterranean commercial traditions were sustained, a socioeconomic transformation was also accomplished through the proliferation of institutions such as ahîliks (guilds) and vakıfs (foundations; waqf) that were transformed in line with the behavioral principles of Islamic civilization’s moral and ethical norms. The socioeconomic institutions and experiences that emerged and developed during the Islamicization and Turkification of Anatolia underwent an era of refinement and maturation within the city culture of Istanbul. The Ottoman State successfully reorganized the socioeconomic structure that had disintegrated under the impact of the Mongols in those areas where they had spread. This was achieved by a process of consolidation, using idiosyncratic features to form the substructure of a dominance that would endure for centuries. The conquest, which opened the way to the up-scaling and restructuring of the state not only politically but socially, economically and culturally, also facilitated the transformation of this substructure into a city culture of great depth.

After the conquest, feudal structures in Eastern Europe and nomadic-type socioeconomic structures rooted in Turkish tradition were rendered fit for settlement in a major center of civilization in Anatolia – that is, for urban life. Even by itself, a study of the institution of the vakıf, a key building block of Islamic, especially Ottoman, urban development, is of great importance in terms of grasping the nature of the mindset that underlay Ottoman urban development. One may safely assert that the vakıf institution, which followed a particular course of development in general Islamic history through progressive implementation of practical needs and administrative models, transformed into a legal structure that achieved “economic, social and administrative integration”26 between all the intra-city and intercity components that made a city a city in the Ottoman Empire, principally places of worship, but also markets, madrasas, hans (large commercial buildings), public baths, soup kitchens, almshouses and hospices. The Ottoman vakıf emerged as the city’s most important continuity mechanism by taking center stage in urban construction and demolition projects, and provided linkages between newly conquered places, the capital and other cities.

Steps taken in the field of finance with a view to strengthening the urban economy in building the economic order also played a significant role in this linkage process. In this context, the post-conquest circulation in Istanbul of standardized gold coins (akçe) called sultânî from 1477 as an indication of conclusive supremacy had a transformative impact on the economic structure of the conquest and Istanbul. The flexible nature of the system is revealed by the fact that while this Istanbul-based sultânî coin system spread to the core basin of the Balkans and Anatolia, local silver coins (sikke) and other countries’ money remained in circulation elsewhere.27

Referring to the depiction of pre-conquest Istanbul by Skholarios, elected Patriarch in 1454, as “in large part empty, a ruined city wracked by poverty”, Halil İnalcık describes how Istanbul was rebuilt and resettled by Mehmed II after the conquest and draws attention to the role played by the vakıf–imâret (public soup kitchens, almshouses and hospices) system in the reconstruction process:

That winter [1455], important decisions were made regarding the reconstruction of the City. The Conqueror ordered a vast market to be built near the new Palace that had been erected at the centre of the City. This was going to be the famous Kapalı Çarşı (Covered bazaar) of Istanbul, the Büyük Bedestan, or Bezzâzistân as it was styled in the days of the Conqueror. (...) A Bedestan is a building, more especially destined to the storing and sale of valuable goods such as cloths, furs, jewelry. It is the meeting place of the great merchants. (...) The Conqueror arranged that the rent-income from this Bedestan should flow into the fund out of which the keeping in repair and the services of the Saint-Sophia Mosque should be defrayed. In addition to the Bedestan the Conqueror, within the same year, ordered some public baths to be built, and for the purpose of abundantly supplying the City with water, directed the old canals and aqueducts that had suffered damage to be repaired.28

Apart from the above-referenced backing of the bazaar, large vakıfs were established for the restoration of Hagia Sophia, which had fallen into ruin before the conquest in spite of its status as the symbol of Constantinople, and for the salaries of those working on it. İnalcık states that the entire annual income of 2,350 shops, 4 caravansaries, 51 public baths, 987 commercial ventures, 32 boza (fermented millet drink) houses, and 22 soup kitchens in Galata and Üsküdar were allocated to Hagia Sophia.29 In 1459, a mosque, madrasa, mausoleum and soup kitchen were built at the presumed site of the death of Prophet Muhammad’s companion Ebu Eyyüb el-Ensarî, following which the construction of Yeni Saray (New Palace), which was to become known as Topkapi Palace, was completed in 1464, and of the Çinili Köşk (Tiled Pavilion) in 1473.30

Conscious of his accumulated experience and understanding of the legacy of antiquity, and in order to be able to keep this human element in the capital city, Mehmed the Conqueror was also aware that the establishment of a new legal order guaranteeing religious/cultural areas of freedom was a sine non qua condition for the realization of this great transformation. Thus we observe how socioeconomic and political change was encapsulated within a specific legal framework during the reign of Mehmed II by means of codes of law (kanunnameler). A similar change took place during the period of Khalifa Umar bin al-Khattab, who seized the Iraq, Iran and Egypt basins. During this period a new école of Islamic jurisprudence emerged in commercial hubs, notably Kufa and Basra. We observe the emergence of just such a new legal framework after the conquest, within which, and shaped by codes of law, the Ottoman State established a distinct, exceptionally well-organized system of settlement based on their evaluation of the accumulated civilizational legacy to which they were heir.

Having achieved intellectual and scientific dynamism, changed the socioeconomic structure, set forth an appropriate legal framework for structural changes, and transformed this legal framework into a new civilizational power and civilizational axis through military consolidation, the Ottoman State developed a centralized sociocultural and economic-political structure/order that represented all the diversity of the past. While restructuring the city’s cultural/religious demography with a Muslim Turkish population brought in from Anatolia within this order, steps were also taken to legally guarantee the religious structuring of other faith communities.

One of the most significant features unique to the Ottoman order was its establishment of a legal framework that managed to hold together so many religious–cultural elements31 in such a way as to safeguard their cultural continuity. This structure, which over time became more diverse and complex in its religious–cultural differentiation, not only assured the peaceful coexistence of diverse religious communities, but also elicited an organizational model that foresaw the elimination of struggles between churches that exhibited their own heterogeneous structures. For example, the post-conquest preservation of the Patriarchate that had existed in Istanbul before the conquest facilitated the administrative structuring of the Orthodox Greeks as well as paving the way to the Patriarchate gaining a superior hierarchic status over the religious institutions of other communities. Unlike the Greeks, the Armenians had never had a Patriarchate in Istanbul before the conquest; Mehmed II prompted the formation of the Armenian Gregorian Orthodox people (millet) under the umbrella of the Armenian Patriarchate by inviting the Armenian Bishop Ovakim in Bursa to Istanbul. The existence of another religious center in the Caucasus in Eçmiadzin did not prevent the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul from being the center of reference. After the conquest, the Jews, who had previously enjoyed absolutely no authority within the state, nor any concept of religious leadership, gained an organizational basis centered on the Chief Rabbinate.

In his criticism of approaches that interpret religious–cultural pluralism in the Ottoman order as a “multi-law” system and their conceptualization of the millet system within that interpretational framework, and his suggestion of the concept of an iltizam (upholding) system instead, Macit Kenanoğlu stresses the fact that these principles of religious–cultural pluralism were actually found in Islamic civilization’s conception of law, and that “the practices that were implemented in this regard were fundamentally taken from the institution and arrangement of Islamic law relating to non-Muslims”.32 The zimmî hukuku (law on non-Muslims) was based on religious–cultural pluralism and formed the foundation of the Ottoman order. It was not a practice initiated in the Ottoman Empire; rather, it was a juridical arrangement originating in Islamic law that had been recognized and implemented to varying degrees in previous Islamic states. The Quran’s “no compulsion in religion” verse in the al-Baqarah surah (256) has generally been interpreted as a call to tolerance, and forms the basis of the zimmî law. Moreover, the word zimme, which conveys the meaning of “promise / giving ones word” and “assurance / agreement”, appears in two verses of the Quran (at-Tawbah 9/8, 10).

In any case, the fact remains that regardless of nomenclature, this religious–cultural pluralism, fed by Islamic civilization’s ontology–epistemology-axiology paradigm, developed under the Ottoman order to reach its most inclusive point of refinement.33 Subsequently, especially during the reigns of Sultan Selim I and Suleiman the Magnificent, the urban life that developed in post-conquest Istanbul represented this order’s first comprehensive area of application and reference gauge. Needless to say, it became ever more complex as further conquests unfurled.

At the same time, Istanbul’s status within the Ottoman order became a fundamental reference point of legitimacy in terms of the perpetuation of political dominance. The words below, from a letter written to Mehmed the Conqueror by George of Trebizond, are an indication of the legitimacy bestowed on Istanbul under Sultan Mehmed’s leadership by virtue of the Ottoman order:

No one doubts that you have become the Emperor of the Romans (Byzantines) by your own endeavor. Indeed you are in legal possession of the capital of the Empire. Because the capital of the Roman Empire is Istanbul. The person who rightly holds this city is Emperor. The throne of which I speak is a throne bestowed on you, by grace of your sword, not by people but by God. You are the legitimate Emperor of the Romans (…) and the Emperor of the Romans is at the same time the Emperor of the World.34

Therefore, although it is recognized that the legal structure underpinning religious communities was not unique to the Ottomans and that all empires established in the region had a tradition of granting autonomy to allies, albeit to differing degrees, the fact is that the Ottoman Empire was the first to institutionalize it so comprehensively and extensively.35 This institutional structuring formed the legal framework of the Ottoman order’s claim to universality and represented the basis for the acceptance of its legitimacy by the native people of Rome.

Beyond ongoing debate about the millet system, there is an absolute consensus on the pluralistic character of the Ottoman order and its authenticity. The Ottoman order’s ultimate ability to internalize different religious–cultural elements is brought out in İlber Ortaylı’s apposite emphasis on the system’s sui generis nature when he states that “in as far as it was a distinctive administrative organization, it was an organization that developed in the distinctive Ottoman social environment”, and Benjamin Braude and Bernard Lewis’ description of the Ottoman State as a “chaotic empire administered in a manner rarely encountered in history” and “a classic example of a pluralistic social structure”36. This system originated in Islamic law in the context of Islamic law’s recognition of church law and the experiences of past states. It diversified further through capitulations and international treaties and relied on all the regulations and practices37 subsequently modernized in the nineteenth-century reform movements based on the Edict of Tanzimat (Reform) and the Edict of Islahat (Reform), and it constituted the foundations of a sociocultural structure that lasted until the advent of the nation-state order, modernity’s political unit that envisages a more homogeneous sociocultural structure.

5- Istanbul from Süleymaniye to Hagia Sophia: Süleymaniye Complex, Old Palace / Istanbul University, Beyazıt Complex, Second hand book dealers market, Grand Bazaar,Nuruosmaniye Complex, Mahmut Paşa Complex, Çemberlitaş (Column of Constantine), Atik Ali Paşa Complex, Çorlulu Ali Paşa Complex, Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Paşa Complex, Little Hagia Sophia, Sokullu Mehmet Paşa Complex, Hippodrome / Horse Square, Obelisks, Sultanahmet Complex, Hagia Irene, and Hagia Sophia

Nourished by ancient cultures, this multicultural urban life began to change after the French Revolution, which brought in new values and identities that profoundly shook all political and social structures; it was then reshaped by the nation-state structures that constitute the political building block of modernity. This change does not apply only to Istanbul. On the contrary, as an ancient capital city Istanbul resisted it for a long time, but was forced in time to bow to the pressure of the cultural/religious demographic change being experienced in the cities.

The nationalist movements that developed especially in the Balkans and Caucasia, and the resulting wars, prompted a major migration of the Muslim population in the regions impacted by conflict to the capital and its surrounding area. Waves of migration – from Caucasia at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and from the Balkans at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries – uprooted people from cities where human communities of diverse faiths and ethnicities had lived side by side for centuries. The struggle to establish homogeneous nation-states turned into a priority struggle to make cities homogeneous. This disintegration, which intensified in the Russo-Turkish War, gained pace with the Balkan Wars and assumed its ultimate form with the First World War and the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, brought with it a rupture from ancient traditions in terms of the human fabric of cities in the old Ottoman basin, especially Istanbul.

The socioeconomic need to transition from a traditional agricultural society to a modern industrial society and the internal migrations that gathered pace in the second half of the twentieth century led for a time to a geometric growth in the population of large cities, in Istanbul in particular. While this growth was accompanied by a reduction in the religious–ethnic diversity of the city, it boosted the presence of communities of people from the same hometown. This new diversity, based on differences of dialect and customs, was gradually lost with the expansion of educational and communication opportunities in the second and third generations.

Developments experienced in parallel to the globalization process over the past quarter century have paved the way to a fresh period of change leading to a diversification of Istanbul’s human fabric. A number of factors serve to influence this change. Firstly the end of the Cold War and the lifting of the Iron Curtain steered the peoples of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, who have historically always had a connection with Istanbul in terms of human fabric, back to Tsargrad. Characterized as Istanbul’s open market, the district of Laleli has mirrored this change. There has been a spread of business signs in Eastern European languages, especially Polish, and the gradual replacement of the human element of those who had previously come from various provinces in Anatolia to work with people who have come from Eastern Europe to trade. A similar process associated with Turkey’s opening up to the Middle East also applies to peoples from that region. During this period, Arabic, Polish, Bosnian and Persian have begun to combine in certain neighborhoods and streets.

The economic development that has taken place in the past decade, combined with the economic crisis in neighboring regions, has naturally resulted in the gravitation of cheap labor to Istanbul. The rise in the number of migrants, mainly from Armenia but also Moldovans, Gagauzians, Turkmens, representatives of other Caucasian and Central Asian countries and even migrants of African origin, shows that Istanbul has again begun to form a gravitational field for the entire surrounding region. Turkey’s EU accession process and Istanbul’s assumption of the status of a hub, especially for transit air travel and global economic–political operations, bring with them numerous opportunities as well as risks with respect to the transitioning from modernity to globalization, and Istanbul is in effect becoming a vast social laboratory for this comprehensive transformation process.

6- Eyüp Sultan Mosque which keeps alive in Istanbul the memory of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari who hosted the Prophet Muhammad


This transformation in the human fabric of Istanbul as regards the processes of modernity and globalization also applies to the city’s ontic consciousness and thereby its developing architectural form. Constantine had to take care to maintain a delicate balance in terms of the continuity-change dialect as he built a new capital of antiquity. The basis for the continuity dimension was the necessity to maintain the magnificence of Rome from the perspective of the capital city’s state continuity. This meant reflecting the Mediterranean’s Western antiquity in architectural/ esthetic form. The change factor in the new capital was about the city’s ontological world of consciousness, so to speak. And this necessitated transporting the ontological essence of Jerusalem, the spiritual capital of Eastern antiquity’s transition from polytheism to a Christianity-based Abrahamic tradition, to the city. Emperor Justinian’s leaving the Patriarch’s side to walk to the altar from where he cried “Oh Solomon, I have surpassed you” at the time of the opening of Hagia Sophia reflected not only his claim to have conveyed Jerusalem’s ontological essence to Constantinople, but to have brought it to a point of maturity and perfection in this place.

Any consideration of the elements of continuity between New and Old Rome requires a primary focus on their topographic similarities. It is striking that just as in Old Rome, the area enclosed by Constantine’s city walls contained seven hills and fourteen districts. The city squares were adorned with monuments brought from every corner of the empire in a manner designed to reflect the splendor of Old Rome:

From the beginning, Constantinople was also called New Rome. In imitation of Old Rome, it was laid out with fourteen regions and seven hills, linked by wide avenues leading from the centre to the gates in the western wall. Its squares were decorated with ancient sculptures collected from all parts of the empire. On its acropolis overlooking the Bosphoros there were two temples dedicated to Rhea, the mother of the gods, and to Fortuna Romae (the Fortune of Rome). (…) Constantine brought sculptures from all parts of the empire to embellish his new capital, including the Serpent Column dedicated after the Greek victory over the Persians at Plataea (479 BC) from Delphi, and an Egyptian obelisk from Karnak celebrating a much earlier triumph. The Hippodrome became an open-air museum adorned with protecting, symbolic and victorious Greaco-Roman images. Statues of pagan gods (Zeus, Heracles), wild and fantastic animals, and rulers including Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Augustus, and of Rome, in the form of the wolf with Romulus and Remus, vied with trophies of military victory.38

7- Süleymaniye Mosque designed as a decorative unity of architectural structures in an infinite space

The construction of the Holy Apostles Church as the city’s spiritual center where Fatih (Mehmed II) Mosque stands today represents a significant turning point with respect to this change in ontological essence. Construction of the church began during the reign of Constantine and was completed during that of his son Constantine II; as well as imprinting Christian identity on the city’s architectural form, Constantinople was transformed into a central city with the sanctity bestowed by bringing the bones of Saint Timothy, Saint Luke and Saint Andrew. The moving of the imperial cemetery to the church precincts after the burial of Constantine was an attempt to unify the new religion with the continuity of the State. The opening of Hagia Irene coupled with churches named after the local martyrs Mokios and Akakios initiated a period of transformation in which old pagan Rome and new Christian Rome lived side by side.

These differentiations, diversities and contradictions in the city’s architectural and religious identity even led some to question Constantine’s loyalty to Christianity. While stressing Christian devotion as one of the emperor’s most prominent characteristics, his biographer Eusebius (313-340) recounts secular historians’ claims that, like his father, he believed in the invincible sun god Sol Invictus. Zosimus, who lived in the late fifth century, accused him of inflicting massive damage on the empire by abandoning the religion of his forefathers.39

This continuity-change dialectic between the form of pagan Rome and the essence of Abrahamic ontology found reflection in city architecture in a kaleidoscope of tones and colors during the roughly two hundred year period from Constantine to Justinian. In terms of both the city’s architectural and human fabric, this process of transformation was accelerated by an intensification of its Christian identity during the time of Theodosius I, a devout Christian who convened the Second Ecumenical Council in 381. It then reached its apogee with the building of Hagia Sophia in the reign of Justinian.

In this sense, the construction of Hagia Sophia represents the pinnacle of the harmony that was attained between architectural form and ontological consciousness, between state splendor and metaphysical essence. From then until the conquest, the city’s religious identity and architecture were influenced by the tensions that arose within Christianity. The iconoclastic40 movement that raged from the beginning of the eighth century until the first half of the ninth century, and the Latin Invasion that began with the onset of the Fourth Crusade in 1204, left a profound mark on the history of the city in this context. In fact, iconoclasm itself bears the marks of civilizational interaction. The spread of Islam41, whose fundamental precepts of Tajseem and Tashbih reject anthropomorphism as a kind of polytheism, and the arguments to which the rise of Islam gave rise, also had a profound impact on Eastern Christianity. A similar interaction was observed during the emergence in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a period of increasing Ottoman influence in Europe, where Martin Luther and Protestantism rose up in defiance of the privileged status of the clergy.

The conquest was associated with the introduction of a fresh ontological consciousness and the architectural form upon which it was based to an ancient capital, which, from the perspective of the continuity-change dialect, then witnessed one of the most vivid civilizational transformations that history has ever seen. The difference between Justinian’s roar “Oh Solomon, I have surpassed you” at the inauguration of Hagia Sophia, and Mehmed the Conqueror’s stance when he first set eyes on Hagia Sophia, also reflect traces of two different mindsets:

When he arrived at the square in front of Hagia Sophia, he dismounted from his horse and touched the ground with his forehead. As he gave praise to Allah, he wiped the dust from his head, looked up in wonder at the vast edifice, and said: “Indeed, these people lived but have gone, and there will never be another kind after them!” upon which he entered the church.42

Unlike Constantine, and in spite of the fact that he entered the city in the wake of a military victory with the power to impose more radical and rapid change, Mehmed the Conqueror preferred to steer through a change in ontological essence without destroying the city’s architectural identity and continuity. In stark contrast to the entrances of the Babylonians to Jerusalem, Alexander to Persepolis, Hulagu to Baghdad, or the Spanish to Cordoba, Mehmed refused to allow any harm to come either to the city’s human, or architectural, fabric. His determination to be the last ruler to unify ancient East and West drove him to establish a constructive balance and harmony between continuity and change. Even when converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque as a symbol of the conquest, he took care to protect and conserve the internal esthetic elements and mosaics; his respect for this accretion of Christian art was shown to be greater than that of the iconoclasts. As we have stressed before, a harmony/continuity-based study comparing the transformation of Hagia Sophia with the conversion of the Great Mosque in Cordoba into a cathedral provides a defining insight into the parameters of two different mindsets.

As Mehmed II maintained the city’s continuity, he also acted decisively to give the city a fresh ontological consciousness and identity. In spite of the fact that the city was home to all this diversity and continuity, and as Halil İnalcık has described, Istanbul gained an Islamic urban culture during Mehmed’s reign by virtue of his exceptionally well-planned policy; he shaped and upheld the social culture that this identity required:

Tolerant enough to resettle the city with Greeks, Armenians, and Jews, Mehmed the Conqueror nevertheless took measures to ensure that ‘Islambol’ had a Muslim majority – a policy applied to the major cities conquered for Islam (...)The World view of Islam determined the physical and social landscape of the city which was prepared as a space where the prescriptions of the Islamic religion could be observed properly and in their entirety. (...) It can safely be said that the reconstruction process of Ottoman Istanbul depended essentially on the Islamic institutions of waqf and ʿimāret..43

8- Different faiths and historical places coexisted in continuity in Ottoman Istanbul. When the above given map was drawn and the locations of various historical places, mosques, churches and synagogues of Istanbul in the last century of Ottoman Empire were shown on it, the map of Imperial School for artillery officers dated 1845 was used  as its basis and various maps and plans, especially German Blues, were examined. (Map: Ebru Şener, Advisor: Yunus Uğur)

On occasion, this transformation bears comparison to the transformation undergone during the transition from pagan traditions to Christianity, in its symbols as well as its essence and architecture. Just as during the transition from pagan tradition to Christianity apostles’ bones were brought to the Church of the Holy Apostles in an effort to develop a sanctity rich in symbolic value, the discovery of the grave of the Prophet Muhammad’s close companion Abu Ayyūb al-Ansārī even before the conquest, served to grace the city with Islam and in this sense achieved the realization of a metaphysical renewal. The building of Fatih Mosque on the site of the Church of the Holy Apostles and Mehmed the Conqueror’s burial close to Constantine’s burial site are also indications of the renewal of consciousness and essence through locational continuity.

Just as happened during the transition from pagan tradition to Christianity, in time the city’s architecture gained an Islamic identity. To make a comparison by way of explanation, a similar change in the city’s architecture to that which occurred between the reigns of Constantine and Justinian also took place between the reigns of Mehmed the Conqueror and Suleiman the Magnificent, reaching its peak with the construction of the Süleymaniye Mosque at top the city’s most splendid hill. The presence of Hagia Sophia and the Süleymaniye Mosque silhouetted side by side on the city’s skyline symbolized the final great blending of civilizations achieved in the Ottoman Empire.

In order to be able to comprehend this new silhouette, itself a reflection of the city’s change in ontological consciousness, one needs to penetrate the true meaning of Mimar Sinan’s profound esthetic sense, infused as it was with the Islamic monotheist concept of the Oneness of God (Tawhid). Turgut Cansever states that Tawhid, which is Islam’s most fundamental concept, was reflected in Islamic architecture, encompassed the entirety of problems belonging to different levels of existence, and offered a response to these problems.44 The factors he emphasizes as he compares the Süleymaniye Mosque and Hagia Sophia evince the importance of spatial perception in the ontology-architecture relationship:

The Süleymaniye was designed as the open adornment of architectural units within an endless space, while […] the interior of the structure was designed as a kind of extension to that endless space. Yet in Hagia Sophia, its sidewalls follow the inner face of its pillars and these pillars are hidden between the wall and the exedra; therefore the structure became an entirely closed area space from the level of the human eye.45

When Cansever says “For Sinan, the Süleymaniye was a starting-off point both in terms of ennobling Hagia Sophia, and overcoming its deficiencies”46, he is actually explaining the architectural essence and form of a civilizational transformation achieved within the ancient tradition’s continuity-change dialectic.

This transformation of Istanbul’s architectural form and urban culture was also reflected in internal changes to the city’s less elevated districts. The Islamicization of Istanbul involved a backbone within the city walls and two wings beyond the walls. The backbone sat on an axis extending from Topkapı Palace to the Süleymaniye and Fatih Mosque; this backbone was enfolded by two wings outside the walls with the establishment and development of the district of Üsküdar to the east on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, and Eyüp to the west directly in front of the walls. The mosques built on the central backbone’s hills served to bestow a fresh identity on the city’s silhouette while the surrounding külliye, public soup kitchens, almshouses and hospices precipitated the change in the city’s human fabric and sociocultural structure in a natural, organic manner.

Districts like Üsküdar and Eyüp that were established as Islamic districts from the outset were given the function of transporting the spirit of the ancient Eastern urban traditions of Damascus, Baghdad, Bukhara and Cairo in their entirety to this new place. To take inspiration from the “New Rome” sobriquet that Constantine used while establishing his city, the backbone of a “New Medina” was developed on the central Topkapı-Süleymaniye-Fatih axis between the reigns of Mehmed the Conqueror and Suleiman the Magnificent; the metaphysical and architectural wings of this New Medina were fortified by Üsküdar and Eyüp, the two wings of the bilâd-ı selâse (Eyüp-Galata-Üsküdar).

9- Dolmabahçe Palace, the monumental symbol of Ottoman modernity

Eyüp was metaphysically linked to Medina by virtue of the mausoleum of Abu Ayyub al-Ansārī (Eyüp Sultan), in whose house the Prophet Muhammad had stayed; in terms of geographic continuity Üsküdar was seen as the starting point in Anatolia of a line that extended directly to the Harem-i Şerif. Elements such as the Surre Alays (the Ottoman parade of gifts to be sent to Mecca and Medina), Harem Pier and Ayrılık Çeşmesi, which created direct symbolic links between Harem and the Hejaz, served to make Üsküdar one of the principle places that defined the Islamic character of Istanbul. Thus the Islamic concept of urban life and urbanism, which had developed through a process of blending with ancient cultures throughout the spread of Islamic civilization, reached a peak of perfection and refinement in Istanbul, be it from the perspective of ontological essence, or architectural form.

The Greek, Armenian and Jewish quarters concentrated on the fringes of the backbone formed along a line within the walls running from Topkapi to Fatih to Süleymaniye and descending to the shores of the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara transformed over time into the fundamental elements that reflected the ancient city’s religious-cultural pluralism. The Fener district gained prominence as a spiritual center of Greek Orthodoxy after the settlement of the Patriarchate in Hagia Yorgi Church there in 1601. The district of Balat where Sephardic Jews fleeing Spain settled after coming to Istanbul on the invitation of Sultan Bayezid II remained one of the most vibrant centers of Jewish culture up until the middle of the twentieth century. In addition, the presence of the Armenian Patriarchate, which had originally been established in Samatya in the Sulu (Water) Monastery renamed as Surp Kevork (Saint George), but later moved to Kumkapi, brought with it a concentration of the existing Armenian population along the Marmara coast.

10- 21<sup>st</sup> century Istanbul which is expected to meet its ancient and profound culture

Up until recent times, the streets running down to the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara from the Süleymaniye, Fatih and Yavuz Selim slopes represented the last corridors where ancient city tradition, infused through cultural interaction and contact into neighborhood culture, continued to live on. With a multi-faith culture reflecting all aspects of the Abrahamic tradition, Istanbul in the classic centuries of the Ottoman State had an identity not only as New Rome and Medina, but also of New Jerusalem.

Thus accommodating Eastern antiquity, Istanbul’s final synthesis of the ancient Western identity of the Mediterranean found in Western Rome was kept alive in Galata, the third foot of bilâd-I selâse, where it became fully integrated. In fact, as a Genoese colony that had developed through being granted special privileges ever since Byzantine times, especially after the beginning of the Crusades, Galata had managed to forge a spirit of neighborliness between Western, or Old, Rome, and Eastern, or New, Rome. In this sense, both sides of the Golden Horn mirror the eastern and western traditions of Rome and Christianity; this picture was complemented by the existence of a veiled rivalry between the two sides.

Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror and his successors saw Galata as a cultural and economic gateway to the West. They took a highly pragmatic line in protecting this cultural mosaic, further reinforcing the characteristic linkage of East and West within the context of Istanbul’s ancient tradition. While the boundaries of Galata were defined with Mimar Sinan’s construction of Sokullu Mehmed Pasha Mosque in Azapkapı (1578) and Kılıç Ali Pasha Mosque in Tophane (1580), meticulous care was taken to maintain the cultural fabric within these boundaries. It might be said that Mehmed’s desire to conquer Western Rome played a role in his maintenance of Galata as a gateway to the West.

As the first labor pains of the Renaissance began to make themselves felt in the more monolithic cultural environment of Western Rome based on its Catholic Mediterranean legacy, Istanbul accommodated an entrancing diversity as antiquity’s last great city of synthesis.

As James Mather states,

When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453, they allowed the city to retain something of the autonomy it had enjoyed in the Byzantine days as a city-state under Genoese sovereignty. For the three centuries thereafter, it remained a Christian island in an Ottoman-Islamic sea. Geographically, it might have been held apart from the great metropolis only by a narrow stretch of water ‘not above half so broad as the broadest part of the Thames’. Culturally speaking, though, it clung to its distinctive Italianate milieu throughout the early-modern era, resisting the allure of the great ‘anti-Europe’ and Islamic ‘counter-Christendom’ on its southern doorstep. It seemed, even to an eighteenth-century visitor, ‘no more a suburb of Constantinople than Westminster is a suburb to London’.47

Yet, in the pasha’s heyday, Galata’s distinctive character owed more to the Ottomans’ impervious might48

The signature of Zaghanos on the bottom of the Greek texts can be explained by the fact that Mehmed II had appointed him to organize the last assault against Constantinople on the 27th of May and from the beginning of the siege he was entrusted to watch the Genoese of Pera. Upon the fall of Constantinople, the sultan sent him to appease the terrified Genoese in Pera, and to prevent panic and the ruin of this mercantile center, which was so important for the reconstruction of his imperial capita. Upon the arrest of the grand vizier Çandarlı Khalīl on May 30, Zaghanos succeeded him in the grand vizierate.49

The architectural change reflecting the civilizational transformation undergone by Istanbul under the influence of modernity may be said to have taken place in two major waves. In the first wave, which began towards the end of the eighteenth century in the reign of Selim III and continued throughout the nineteenth century, Western architectural traditions penetrated the city’s spatial fabric; at the same time the city’s expansion along the Bosphorus began with the establishment of new Western-style districts. The first phase in this modernity-influenced architectural transformation began with the architect Antoine Ignace Melling’s restoration in the neoclassic style of Selim III’s sister Hatice Sultan’s palace in Ortaköy and continued with the construction of summer palaces and pavilions during the reigns of Mahmud II and Abdülmecid; it reached its zenith with the construction of Dolmabahçe Palace. Just as Hagia Sophia was the refined symbol of Roman antiquity, and the Süleymaniye that of Ottoman antiquity, so Dolmabahçe Palace became the monumental symbol of Ottoman modernity. Even the opening date of the palace, built by the Armenian architect Garabet Amira Balyan and his son Nigogos Balyan, has important symbolic value from the Western perspective. Recognized as a symbolic monument to Western influence in architecture, the palace was opened on 7th June 1856, a few months after the signing of the Treaty of Paris (30th March 1856) that settled the Crimean War, in which the Ottoman State had fought alongside the European powers.

Just as Mimar Sinan had embellished the city as an architectural reflection of the Ottoman past through his syntheses of the architectural traditions that had existed up until that time, so the Balyan family stamped their mark on the city, especially on the Bosphorus silhouette, through an architectural form influenced by modernity. The Balyan family, who built palaces (e.g. Dolmabahçe, Çırağan and Beylerbeyi), barracks (e.g. Aynalıkavak, Çağlayan, Zincirlikuyu etc.), pavilions (e.g. Malta, Çadır, Ayazağa etc.), and government office buildings (e.g. Harbiye Nezareti/Taşkışla, Mekteb-I Tıbbiye/Galatasaray Lycée, Darphane-I Amire etc.), replicated their new architectural concept in the field of religious architecture. A comparison between Mimar Sinan’s masterpiece Kılıç Ali Pasha Mosque, and Krikor Balyan’s Nusretiye Mosque, both of which have a significant stature on the Bosphorus silhouette, reveals the impact on religious architecture of the city’s antiquity-modernity transition.

This change in the city’s architectural fabric also manifested itself in the structuring and settlement of districts. The most striking example of this is the expansion of Galata, which represented Western antiquity, with a new architectural style that would come to represent the modern West, in the construction of the Beyoğlu district and İstiklal Caddesi; Sultan Abdülmecid’s pioneering role in the establishment of the Teşvikiye neighborhood50, opened to settlement after the restoration of Teşvikiye Mosque (1853-4) and, as the city spread along the Bosphorus, the development (once again by a member of the Balyan family, Sarkis Balyan) of the Beşiktaş district centered on Akaretler, a district that had been established by order of the Sultan (irade-ihümâyun) in 1875.

To use another comparison, just as Üsküdar and Eyüp came to life as the pivotal districts of a cultural transformation at a time when Eastern antiquity was giving the city its identity, so the impact of modernity manifested itself in new districts such as Beyoğlu, Teşvikiye and Beşiktaş. Just as Eyüp and Üsküdar constituted the extramural wings of the backbone of Eastern antiquity established within the city walls, so the backbone of Western antiquity and modernity developed along the Galata-Beyoğlu axis, its wings (along with fresh cultural and architectural elements) along the Teşvikiye-Harbiye-Beşiktaş axis. Peyami Safa’s novel Fatih-Harbiye is in a sense a literary reflection of the cultural confrontation of this historic outcome.

Modernity’s second wave of influence over city architecture was observed mainly in the second half of the twentieth century. This impact manifested itself in a process of rupture from the city’s organic integrity; a more geometric and categoric city identity was assumed with the opening of new boulevards in the ancient area within the city walls. The vast accumulated historic legacy of mosques, masjids, lodges (tekkes), social complexes and public baths fell victim to a severe purge as new avenues cut across the city’s east-west and north-south axes, principally Ordu, Millet and Vatan Avenues. This purging process, undertaken in the 1950’s in the name of modernity after the destruction and change wrought during the period of one-party rule when foundation assets were sold off, was more the product of antithesis and conflict than any continuation of the antiquity-modernity relationship.

The destruction of the historic fabric and mosques in order to open these streets and avenues brought with it a transition from ancient culture’s urban life based on places of worship and human social communication networks, to the avenue/street-centered vehicular social communications networks upon which modernity relies. This situation also had a negative impact on elements of spatial continuity within and between neighborhoods. With the added pressure of a rapidly expanding population driven by internal migration, Istanbul houses more or less juxtaposing across alleys and dead end streets were replaced by the spread of high rise concrete buildings facing main traffic-filled roads and avenues, which were regarded as a yardstick of modernization. This new city culture, which favored houses facing main traffic arteries and denigrated neighborly homes on alleys and dead end streets as antediluvian, was nourished by the subsequent development of residential estates which were even more isolating and distancing from any shared urban space.

The sense of isolation and rupture experienced within neighborhoods was also noted in terms of the disconnection of “partitioned” areas. Neighborhoods and districts that had previously thrived in an environment of social intimacy were turned into “opposite sides” with the opening of main avenues and streets. A striking example is the separation of the districts of Vefa and Zeyrek, which had been known as neighborhoods of science and scholarship, by the opening of huge traffic-infested boulevards, following which they began to be seen more or less as two separate neighborhoods on opposite sides of the street. Parallel to this rupture, the Süleymaniye and Fatih mosques that used to steer the human flow of urban life were now effectively turned into “visitor-only” spaces by being effectively pushed to the edges of main traffic arteries. This state of affairs severed the ancient central backbone within the city walls that had been established during the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror. Populated by migrants from other parts of the country, the new districts, which stretch out from Silivri on one side of the city to Gebze on the other, were developed far from any trace of ancient city culture within a conjunctural spatial perception that was disconnected from those traces. These districts emerged as randomly stuck-on units that reflected neither ancient organic culture nor any concept of modernity’s urban planning.

Istanbul was obliged to confront a new wave, which intensified with globalization, without yet having been able to overcome the shocks associated with modernity. The unregulated encroachment like an invading army of the skyscrapers that began to cluster in Maslak as the Turkish economy opened up to the global economy in the 1980’s first into the districts established by nineteenth century modernity and then towards the old city walls, represented the second major blow to the city’s spatial fabric. To give a striking example, whereas Hagia Sophia and the Süleymaniye continue to act as custodians of the city’s identity as twin monumental chef d’oeuvres of antiquity, however, and from wherever, you look at it, Gökkafes (the downtown skyscraper housing the Ritz Carlton hotel) is a dagger driven through the heart of the city’s very identity, an object of shame whose removal is eagerly awaited.

The increase in the number of such cases stems from a failure to grasp an integrated mindset within which to carry out transformations in the period and process of antiquity-modernity-globalization. The feature that most distinguishes Istanbul among cities is its possession of a geographic and historic background which has obliged it to undergo an in-depth experience of all these periods and processes. In the end, these kinds of cities are living subjects, which is why their inhabitants cannot escape the test of history. Istanbul’s replacement of ancient Rome as the place to where all roads lead, and its status as the largest city on earth joining the ancient Eastern and Western worlds, is no coincidence. Through its accumulated legacy, Istanbul and the elements it has added and linked might have presented a fine example of how to develop modernity without clashing with antiquity. Using fresh forms of the Akaretler model, it might have developed without destroying or replacing its ancient past. Instead of this, and based on an urban logic that runs precisely contrary to the case of Paris, which has developed as a city of perspectives by refining a modern mindset that has more or less no experience of antiquity, the attempt to drag modernity into the area within the city walls is an injustice both to ancient Istanbul and to modern Paris.

In today’s period of globalization, the experience of a new Singapore or Manhattan being monstrously squeezed into a space from which the ancient past is progressively being removed, challenges spatial and historic continuity. It is an inescapable reality that Istanbul, having maintained its status as a pivot city in every phase of its ancient past and during the modern period, will remain a center of the flow of history in the globalization period. In this context, Istanbul’s existence as a transport hub, a center of trade and finance, and a focal point for culture and the media, is the natural destiny of a living, vibrant city. However, the question of which ontological essence and architectural/esthetic form will reshape this destiny is perhaps our greatest test before the court of history. It is still possible to re-establish a renovation/improvement-construction balance by means of a concept that protects and conserves the ancient past’s spatial and historic continuity, reinterprets modernity’s eclectic legacy by redressing its destructive impact, and envisions superb globalization outcomes for city culture. However, this is an issue of mentality and mindset more than a run-of-the-mill mechanical planning operation.

The fourth important dimension consists of military consolidation. In moments of civilizational transformation such as this, there is an absolute necessity for a consolidation of political power based on political and military supremacy. Thus, the military technology used during the conquest, the military success of the use of cannon against the walls and the coming into play of the navy clearly shows us that the Ottoman State achieved an infrastructure that would subsequently establish a genuinely new world order in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Another indication that one of the Ottomans’ key post-conquest objectives was the development of their fleet and that the order they established in the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe and the Balkans was to some extent based on naval power, is the fact that the unraveling of this region began with the destruction of the fleet at the Battle of Navarino in 1827.

The conquest was no flash-in the-pan, upstart occurrence. Conditions developed in such a way that the conquest could have been achieved much earlier. The population of Istanbul – and that of the Balkans – was ready for the conquest. More than just the entry into the city of a foreign invasion force, the conquest was the blending of the ancient legacy and its transformation into a new order. If no such order had been established around the conquest of Istanbul, it might have turned into a military occupation. But an order was established with the conquest. Thus all the main elements of the Ottoman order began to be defined.

To offer a symbolic explanation, the Ottomans had two capitals before the conquest: Bursa and Edirne. Neither held sway over the other. At that time Bursa was the center of cultural and economic life, Edirne that of the bureaucracy and politics. Comparing the two cities manifests a “first among equals” situation. Its equivalent in terms of political authority and from the perspective of the consolidation of power is a kind of Çandarlı-Ottoman relationship. While before and during the conquest the relationship between the two was one of “first among equals”, having achieved the conquest, the Ottoman ruling family could not recognize any rival authority from that moment on. Neither the Karamanoğlus nor any other… As soon as an order based on this consolidation of power was established, the city reemerged as a “subject city” onto the stage of history. The city’s change of name is also of significance at this point. In time it changed from Constantinople to Dersaâdet, meaning “The Gate to the Realm of Felicity”. This is not a mere change of name, but the expression of the transition from a city named after a person and identified by its emperor and his power, to a city concept identified by a philosophy of life and a metaphysical idea.

Two fundamental characteristics are critically important in the endurance of the conquest. The first is that the Ottomans consciously possessed a remarkable historic depth. The second is their possession of geographic depth. Pre-conquest Istanbul was very far from playing the central role of an emblematic power. In addition, it appeared cut off from Anatolian and Rumelian political/geographic continuity. With the conquest of Istanbul, the Ottoman State was transformed into one that owned the depths of geography evinced by the term Afro-Eurasia. And Istanbul became the center of this political consciousness. The Ottoman State was able to resist all external attacks for as long as both of these characteristics were sustained. In the wake of the French Revolution and certain other developments, this historic depth began to falter as restrictive ethnic identities and other factors replaced the embracing identity of humanity and Islamic civilization; this served to weaken the Ottoman order. Another ingredient in this weakness, and running parallel to these developments, was the beginning of the loss of the Ottoman Empire’s chief geographic elements.

If there is to be any question of a civilizational opening in the coming period, this will undoubtedly be realized by civilizations whose consciousness embraces their ancient past. It would be very difficult for such an opening to be achieved by the West, whose culture lacks the concepts of “ancient” and “depth”. And the possibility of an opening of this kind requires the coming together of a spirit and a place, just as the conquest achieved.


1 Evliya Çelebi, Seyahatnâme, edited by YücelDağlı et al., Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 1999, vol. 1, p. 24. Many of these names are also mentioned with reference to Evliya Çelebi in the following: Hayati Develi, “Evliya Çelebi’nin Izinde”, Evliya Çelebi Atlası, edited by Coşkun Yılmaz, Istanbul: Mahya Yayınları, 2013, p. 50. See also, Erol Ölçer, Şehir Sokak Hafıza: Kuyulu’dan Biçki Yurdu’na Osman Nuri Ergin ile İstanbul Sokak Adları, Istanbul: Zeytinburnu Belediyesi, 2014, pp. 96-101.

2 See Afif Erzen, “İstanbul Şehrinin Kuruluşu ve İsimleri”, TTK Belleten, 1954, vol. 18, no. 70, pp. 131-158 also for discussions on the etymological roots of the word Istanbul and for the history of Byzantion, Konstantinopol and Nova Roma as the names of the city.

3 Erzen, “İstanbul Şehrinin Kuruluşu ve İsimleri”, p. 145.

4 Dimitri Kitsikis, Turk-Yunan İmparatorluğu: Arabölge Işığı Altında Osmanlı Tarihine Bakış, translated by Volkan Aytar, Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 1996, pp. 11-12.

5 Erzen, “İstanbul Şehrinin Kuruluşu ve İsimleri”, p. 147.

6 Halil Inalcık, “Istanbul: An Islamic City”, Journal of Islamic Studies, 1990, no. 1, p. 5.

7 See Feridun Emecen, Fetih ve Kıyamet: 1453 İstanbul’un Fethi ve Kıyamet Senaryoları (Istanbul: Timaş Yayınları, 2012); Coşkun Yılmaz (ed.), Duşten Fethe İstanbul (Istanbul: Üsküdar Belediyesi, 2015) for historical analyses of the conquest of Istanbul.

8 Halil İnalcık,“İstanbul: Türk Devri”, DİA, XXIII, p. 233.

9 For a detailed examination of the legal status of non-Muslims in the Ottoman Empire, see Gülnihal Bozkurt, Gayrimuslim Osmanlı Vatandaşlarının Hukuki Durumu 1839-1914, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1989; for its historical background, see particularly Bozkurt, Gayrimuslim Osmanlı Vatandaşlarının Hukuki Durumu, pp. 12-13.

10 Hans Küng, Judaism: Between Yesterday and Tomorrow, New York: 1999, p. 166.

11 Küng, Judaism, pp. 165-166.

12 Roger Crowley, 1453 The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West, New York: Hyperion, 2005, pp. 245-246.

13 For an examination of the architectural and aesthetic significance of the fetih, see Turgut Cansever, “Fetih Nice Kapılar Açar”, İstanbul: Şehir ve Medeniyet, Istanbul: Klasik Yayınları, 2004, pp. 35-41.

14 Turgut Cansever, Mimar Sinan, Istanbul: Klasik Yayınları, 2010, p. 307.

15 Ahmet Akgündüz, Said Öztürk and Yaşar Baş, Üç Devir de Bir Mabed: Ayasofya, Istanbul: Osmanlı Araştırmaları Vakfı, 2005, p. 15.

16 A. J. Arberry, “Muslim Cordoba,” in Cities of Destiny, edited by Arnold Toynbee, London: Thames & Hudson, 1967, p. 166.

17 Agostino Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi: Çağdaşların Tanıklığı, translated and critical edited by by Mahmut H. Şakiroglu, Istanbul: İstanbul Fetih Cemiyeti, 2004, vol. 1, pp. 261-262.

18 Bernard Lewis, Istanbul and the Civilization of the Ottoman Empire, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963, p. 103.

19 Fernand Braudel, A History of Civilizations, London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1995, p. 62.

20 For an examination of the Islamic character of the Ottoman Empire and its political ramifications, see Halil İnalcık, Essays in Ottoman History, Istanbul: Eren Yayıncılık, 1998, pp. 229-239.

21 Judith Herrin, Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire, New York: Princeton University Press, 2008, p. 8.

22 See İhsan Fazlıoğlu’s studies on the history of philosophy-science for his contributions on the life of Ali Kuşçu and the history of Turkish science. E.g., İhsan Fazlıoğlu, “Ali Kuşçu”, Yaşamları ve Yapıtlarıyla Osmanlılar Ansiklopedisi, Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Kültür Sanat Yayıncılık, 1999, I, 216-219.

23 For detailed information about these figures, see “Scholastic Relations between Istanbul and Bilâdü’ş-Şâm: the examples of Damascus and Aleppo”, Shared Points Between Two Cultures, Istanbul Culture Days in Damascus, Damascus University, 11-16 May 2006, Damascus. (24 February, 2014).

24 For a detailed study of the formation of Ottoman intellectual circles in and around Edirne, see Aziz Nazmi Şakir-Taş, Adrianopol’den Edirne’ye: Edirne ve Civarında Osmanlı Kültür ve Bilim Muhitinin Oluşumu (XIV.-XVI. Yüzyıl), Istanbul: Boğaziçi Üniversitesi Yayınevi, 2009. For their impact on Istanbul see Şakir-Taş, Adrianopol’den Edirne’ye, pp. 153-168.

25 İnalcık, Essays in Ottoman History, pp. 276-277.

26 Richard van Leeuwen, Waqfs and Urban Structures The Case of Ottoman Damascus, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1999, pp. 200-215.

27 Şevket Pamuk, “Ottoman Interventionism in Economic and Monetary Affairs”, Revue d’Histoire Maghrebine, 1998, vol. 25, pp. 91-92, 366; Şevket Pamuk, The Ottoman Economy and Its Institutions, Farnham: Ashgate, 2009, p. 2, p. 366.

28 Halil İnalcık, “The Rebuilding of Istanbul by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror”, Cultura Turcica, 1967, vol. 4, pp. 1-2, 9-10., see the same article for a detailed analysis of Mehmet II’s settlement of Istanbul. Also see “Istanbul: An Islamic City”, pp. 1-23 for the role played by the vakıf – imaret system in Istanbul’s reconstruction.

29 İnalcık, “The Rebuilding of Istanbul by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror”, p. 14.

30 İnalcık, “The Rebuilding of Istanbul by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror”, p. 11.

31 Bozkurt, Gayrimüslim Osmanlı Vatandaşlarının Hukuki Durumu, p. 11.

32 M. Macit Kenanoğlu, Osmanlı Millet Sistemi, Istanbul: Klasik, 2004, p. 31.

33 For the ontological foundations and political consequences of the religious – cultural pluralism that developed in Islamic civilization, see Ahmet Davutoğlu, Alternative Paradigms: The Impact of Islamic and Western Weltanschauungs on Political Theory, New York: University of America, 1994, pp. 151-163.

34 Franz Babinger, Mohamet II le Conguerant et son temps, 1432-1481, Paris: Payot, 1954, from p. 299 ref. Kitsikis, Türk-Yunan İmparatorluğu, p. 36.

35 Kitsikis, Türk-Yunan İmparatorluğu, p. 41.

36 For detailed analyses of the subject see Benjamin Braude, Bernard Lewis (ed.), Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire, New York - London: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1982.

37 See Bozkurt, Gayrimüslim Osmanlı Vatandaşlarının Hukuki Durumu.

38 Herrin, Byzantium, pp. 6-7.

39 Herrin, Byzantium, p. 8.

40 Iconoclasm filled the agenda of the Byzantine Empire from 726-843, representing a key breaking point in the conflicts between Church and Emperors in Byzantium, and the differentiation between East and West. For a detailed analysis of Iconoclasm, see George Ostrogorsky, The History of Byzantine State, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1969, pp. 147-200.

41 For debates and interactions in this context in the history of Islamic thought, see Davutoğlu, Alternative Paradigms, pp. 56-78. See also Ahmet Davutoğlu, “İslâm Düşünce Geleneğinin Temelleri, Oluşum Süreci ve Yeniden Yorumlanması”, Dîvân, 1996, vol. 1, issue1, pp. 1-44.

42 Agostino Pertusi, La Caduta di Contantinopoli, p. 261, referenced by Akgündüz, Öztürk and Baş, Üç Devirde Bir Mabed: Ayasofya, p. 237.

43 For a superbly systematic analysis of Istanbul’s transformation into an Islamic city, see İnalcık, Essays in Ottoman History, pp. 249-271; Halil İnalcık, “Ottoman Methods of Conquest”, Studia Islamica, 1954, vol. 2, pp. 122-129.

44 Cansever, Mimar Sinan, p. 25.

45 Cansever, MimarSinan, pp. 181-183.

46 Cansever, MimarSinan, p. 183.

47 Anita Desai (ed.), The Turkish Embassy Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, p. 126, referenced by James Mather, Pashas: Traders and Travellers in the Islamic World, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009, p. 106.

48 Mather, Pashas: Traders and Travelers in the Islamic World, p. 107.

49 See Halil İnalcık, Fatih Devri Üzerinde Tetkikler ve Vesikalar, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1954, p. 127-133, referenced by İnalcık, Essays in Ottoman History, p. 277.

50 Two memorial stones remain in Teşvikiye that carry inscriptions in Ottoman Turkish marking the establishment of the neighborhood.

This article was translated from Turkish version of History of Istanbul with some editions to be published in a digitalized form in 2019.