Istanbul, a city that is unique and privileged, perhaps more so than any other city, has natural beauty and unique geographical facilities; it is the city that connects Asia with Europe. Istanbul was described by Lord Byron as the intersection between East and West. To take this a bit further, it is possible to say that Istanbul is a cultural junction. In this context, Istanbul not only brings the West while representing the East, it represents both at the same time. Being the center of three great empires over the centuries has added a historical depth to Istanbul’s geographic, natural and cultural advantages. The city connects the eastern and western cultures of the Old World; that is, Asian and European cultures, via the land and the Bosporus; via the sea Istanbul connects the north and south, acting as a bridge between cultures.

Istanbul has been the center of communication systems via land and sea, and thus, it is the center of the Old World; as expressed by the poets, it is Mısr-ı sânî, meaning the second Cairo. This unique and privileged geographic and strategic position gives an advantage to whoever possesses the city; hence, throughout history and even today the eyes and attention of imperial states inevitably focus on Istanbul.

In this section, Istanbul’s historical adventure in transportation and communication with regions, near and far, as well as within the city will be discussed. The topic needs to be classified, firstly in terms of data and secondly in terms of character. Today, as we delve deeper into history, the amount of data and sources decrease, therefore details become lost and obscure; in other words, as we move from the early periods of history to today, the information increases and the details become clarified. Under these circumstances, the topic inevitably focuses only partially on Byzantium, and to a greater extent on the Ottoman State and the Turkish Republic; thus, the classification shapes itself. In other words, due to the rarity of relevant sources the long period from the formation of Constantinople/Istanbul to its conquest by the Turks serves as an introduction and forms the basis of the topic. From this point of view, it is possible to discuss the topic along two major axes: the Ottoman and the Republican periods.

Another classification is possible; this is according to character and forms two main topics: before and after the Industrial Revolution. The argument based on this approach is that the means and systems of transportation and communication preserved their conventional characteristics without major changes until the nineteenth century, and major changes in transportation and communication happened only after the Industrial Revolution. On the one hand, thanks to the Industrial Revolution durable and fast steamboats, also called ferries, were built and these made distant, even unattainable, lands approachable; the world became smaller. On the other hand, development in communication techniques redefined notions of distance and time. Moreover, due to the newly constructed railways, interior cities on several continents were now connected to ports, thus engendering major changes in the traditional way of life in these formerly disconnected regions. Once again, as developments in transportation and communication techniques reached the inner regions, local and traditional modes of production for meeting regional demands changed as people strove to make surplus production for new markets. Meanwhile, cheap methods of mass production during the Industrial Revolution reached every part of the continent and eliminated traditional industrial production facilities; these facilities reinvented themselves to cope with the standards of the Industrial Revolution. This transformation did not occur abruptly, but was rather the result of a long process.

In keeping with these considerations, the topic will be divided into the periods before and after the nineteenth century. We chose to use this characterization as our basis, but have added the Turkish Republic period as a third category due to the great transformation that occurred in that period, incomparable to previous periods, and also as it is a period that is rich in terms of sources and data. Therefore, both transportation and communication have been classified in three general periods: classical, modern and Republican. Additionally, airline transportation, which came into existence in the twentieth century and quickly overshadowed marine and land transportation with its revolutionary character, particularly in passenger transportation, has been added to the transportation section of the Republican period. Thus, this period is divided in four separate categories: land, marine, air transportation, and communication.

In the classical period, with the long shores of Istanbul, population settlements were located along the coast. Accordingly, in every historical period, the seaway plays a central role in local transportation in the city. On the other hand, the city has a privileged central position, as it is possible to make connections from here by sea to all the Black Sea shores, as well as the Mediterranean world and Europe. Modes of marine transport evolved in Istanbul in accordance with the technological developments. In this context, development and evolution from the establishment of the city until the nineteenth century was extremely slow. In other words, from the establishment of the city, passenger and commodity transportation in Istanbul tended to be carried out with different types of vessels, elegant or crude boats, large or small, according to the era, shape and use; there were boats like the pereme (rowing boats), piyade (infantry boat), mavna (barge), at kayığı (horse-drawn boat), pazar kayığı (market boat), dolmacı kayığı (hired boat) and yağlı kayık. Boatmen and other artisans carried out their trade via a hire system, directed under a kethüda (chamberlain) and yiğitbaşı (guild leader). Although the boats and number of boatman changed in different historical periods and under different circumstances, the changes were never so great as to threaten this order. The boatmen system was not open to newcomers; that would have meant sharing profit. In the Ottoman period, this system did not change much in general terms, lasting until the middle of the nineteenth century.

From 1828, ferries became a new and modern means of transportation. The ferry revolutionized marine transportation in Istanbul, and traditional transportation modes of the period started to disappear. From the beginning of 1844, passenger and commodity transportation by ferry began as a government enterprise, while in the autumn of 1850 a new type of financial organization, known as an incorporated company, came into play. Later, statesmen such as Mustafa Reşid Pasha, Fuad Pasha and Ahmed Cevdet Pasha established the Şirket-i Hayriye, which would become one of the most important actors in marine transportation. This initiative was followed by another important development in marine transportation in Istanbul, the Haliç ferries.

In addition to government enterprises, such as Hazine-i Hassa Vapurları, Fevaid-i Osmaniye, İdare-i Aziziye, İdare-i Mahsusa and Osmanlı Seyr-i Sefain İdaresi, the existence and activities of foreign lines, such as the Australian Lloydand French Messageries Maritimes companies, which connected Istanbul with other Ottoman and even European harbors, is another matter that are dealt in this section. Our knowledge about these foreign companies is very limited, however, these limitations have been overcome for at least two of the foreign companies mentioned above; for the first time in this work the Messageries and Lloyd companies have been described in two comprehensive texts based on original sources.

Before the establishment of the Şirket-i Hayriye and while it was being established, foreign companies transported passengers through the Bosphorus; however, there was no legal regulation controlling this. The fact that the government, perceiving such activities as being in contravention of their sovereign rights, set out to prevent these enterprises and that as a result the foreign transportation of passengers was forbidden are matters that should be emphasized when discussing foreign transportation in Istanbul. Moreover, it is necessary to indicate that some locally incorporated companies were established to transport passengers and commodities between Istanbul and other harbors in the region after the declaration of the Second Constitutional Period. As a result, the Şirket-i Hayriye, Haliç Vapurları Şirketi and Osmanlı Seyr-i Sefain İdaresi companies were all transferred to the Turkish Republic, along with all of their commodities. During the Republican period, the Şirket-i Hayriye and Haliç Vapurları Şirketi were purchased and nationalized; they still function today under different names.

Due to the natural conditions, land transportation in Istanbul, compared to marine transportation, was slower and more problematic. There were some road connections to the neighboring region and harbors; these passed through the gates in the walls of Istanbul. In addition, Istanbul had three connections to both Anatolia and Rumelia, via main roads that were referred to as the sağ (right), orta (central) and sol (left) kol (route). In the Ottoman period, except for some main streets, the city roads were not suitable for traffic, as they were too steep and too narrow. Additionally, Ottoman statesmen did not like using horse-drawn vehicles, preferring to ride. People walked either because they lacked vehicles or because transportation was too costly. However, from the beginning of the eighteenth century, people started to use carriages. In parallel with Westernization, from the middle of the nineteenth century the use of carriages became widespread; at that time, the wealthy and courtiers brought carriages from Europe. The spread of carriages created a need for good and wide roads. Great fires during the nineteenth century in Istanbul destroyed old structures and streets and offered opportunities for reconstruction and allowed for the expansion of urban roads to meet the needs of new trends; Divanyolu was expanded and Eminönü was renovated to accommodate vehicles. It should be added that the roads were made of dirt, and therefore on rainy days they were muddy and on sunny days they produced a great deal of dust.

At the beginning of the 1870s, residents of Istanbul encountered new land vehicles that they had not used before. These vehicles were horse-drawn carriages, omnibuses and suburban trains. As a matter of fact, the Istanbul Tramvay Şirketi (Tram Company) was established with concessions being given to Konstantin Karapano Efendi; the Azapkapı-Beşiktaş carriage route was put into operation on July 31, 1871, and the Perşembepazarı-Pangaltı omnibus route was put into operation in August 1872. At this time, large horse-drawn vehicles started to be used in public transportation. After these first routes, new carriage and omnibus routes were established in various parts of the city. People called these vehicles dolmuş. Because these popular vehicles were constantly on the road, some roads became damaged and rough. Shop owners petitioned the Şehremaneti (City Council) to cancel the omnibus routes because the vehicles were destroying the roads. The conflict between the Şehremaneti and the Tramvay Şirketi resulted in the cancellation of the permit for omnibuses on the European side of Istanbul in 1876, while horse-drawn carriages continued to operate on new routes. In 1914, with the first trolleys, horse-drawn carriages became a thing of the past; however, after the First World War, the shortage in coal caused serious problems for power generation and paralyzed the trolley system. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the new actor in Istanbul’s road transportation was the suburban train. In the first half of 1870, two major sections of suburban rail transportation in the city were laid: the section of tracks between the inner city parts of Rumeli Railway on the European side were built on an agreement with Australian investor Baron Hirsch, and the beginning of the Baghdad Railway, which went from Haydarpaşa to Pendik, was laid. Another rail transportation vehicle and one of the oldest metros in the world, the Tünel, came into operation in 1875 via the concessions granted to the French engineer Henri Gavand; the Tünel connected Istanbul’s financial center, Galata, with Beyoğlu.

Another important means of transportation in this period, although not having as widespread a function as these vehicles, was the automobile (zâtü’l-hareke). After the proclamation of the Second Constitutional Period the presence of automobiles on the roads of Istanbul became permanent. The automobiles were used in particular by government agencies, and as a result, the first traffic rules of the Ottoman Empire were established in 1913.

From the Roman period on, one of the indispensable components in the traditional communication system and in particular, in communication with the provinces, was a road network and a well-organized system of stages. In the Roman and Byzantine periods, the city proclamations from the ruler were transmitted via decrees known as tellals or çığırtkans; decrees were also hung in certain places, or spread via private messengers. In addition, the fire towers established on high mountains were a means of rapid communication. In the Ottoman period, communication with the provinces was carried out with a developed messenger (posta tatarı) and stage-system. The Anatolian-Rumelian road network, which, as mentioned above, consisted of three routes: right, central and left, was the most indispensable part of this system. The sultan’s orders were conveyed to the relevant places in the city by special officials known as peyk, and important announcements were publicized through tellals and münadis, as in Byzantine times.

After the Industrial Revolution, particularly from the beginning of the nineteenth century, railways and communication opportunities developed in a manner that cannot be compared to earlier times. Sultan Mahmud II made some regulations for establishing an organized mail system and providing mail service not only for official tasks, but also for the public, bringing the Istanbul-İzmit mail route into life. But the main developments in communication occurred after the establishment of the Postahane-i Amire Nezareti (Postal Ministry) in 1840; post was generally sent from Istanbul to the rest of the state once a week. After 1871, post was sent every day except Fridays; with railway and maritime lines the time required to send and receive post became less. The first post office in Istanbul was built in 1840 in Eminönü, and central and provincial organizations improved the quality of service. In 1865, the Dersaadet Şehir Postası (Istanbul City Post Office) was established; this institution had the sole responsibility of delivering mail in Istanbul.

In this context, another matter that should be emphasized is that starting in the second half of the eighteenth century European states started to provide regular postal services in the Ottoman lands, with capitulation and commercial treaties. Austria started organized postal services in 1746 for diplomatic purposes, and a regular service from 1821. This country played a leading role in postal service in Istanbul; other states also started to establish their own post offices in the city. These post offices accepted a great variety of goods for delivery, including money, letters and commodities. Although from time to time attempts were made to close down the foreign post offices on the grounds that they brought in publications against the state, that enemies of the state were able to communicate through them, that the earnings from the post were negatively affected and the government’s sovereign rights were infringed, these attempts failed. These problems, despite the great discomfort they caused the state, could only be solved after the National Struggle, with the Treaty of Lausanne; the result was that the foreign post offices were closed down.

The telegraph was a device that opened a new era in communication and which attracted the attention of Ottoman leaders immediately after its invention. It entered Ottoman lands as a result of the Crimean War (1853–1856), and after the war spread rapidly; establishing a network, the Ottoman State was connected to Europe. The Telgrafhane-i Amire building was constructed by the Italian architect Fossati, close to the Alay Pavilion; as the technology spread, new telegraph offices were established in Istanbul. At the beginning, telegraphs were written in French; as a result of efforts by Mustafa Efendi, from 1856 on the Turkish alphabet could be used, and thus the public could use the telegraph as well. The telegraph sent messages rapidly and safely, and financially made the world a smaller place, providing information to state administrators about events in the country and allowing them to intervene in any situation as soon as possible. During the reign of Abdulhamid II, who was trying to create a centralized government, the telegraph system was spread to the furthest ends of the state, thus enabling the centralized government to have control over the provinces.

The telephone, a more direct and individual mean of communication as compared to the telegraph, began to be used five years after its invention in Istanbul; however, Abdulhamid II forbade the use of the telephone in 1886. After the proclamation of the Second Constitutional period the telephone became widespread in state buildings. Individuals started using the telephone after 1911; the Dersaadet Telefon Şirketi was established in that year and the necessary infrastructure and organization was created in 1914. The first telephone call of Istanbul with another city was the call Ankara, which took place in July 1, 1928.

These developments in communication have continued with great speed until today, transforming our era into one of telecommunication and communication. This great technological transformation—while enabling mass manipulation, the spread of misleading information and misinformation via means of communication, in other words, information pollution—has become the most important means of those in power pulling the wool over the people’s eyes, transforming what is valuable into the worthless and that which is worthless into the valuable. Leaders have realized that by using these means of communication they can easily manipulate opinion or, in other words, create blindness in society; instead of caring about individual and social will, that is caring about people, they have chosen to possess these tools in order to control the masses.

In conclusion, telecommunication and communication reached their peak after the technological developments that followed the Industrial Revolution, particularly in the second half of the twentieth century and well into the twenty-first century. These technologies crossed over the traditional and regional civilizations that had been established by humanity before the Industrial Revolution.

Under the influence of a powerful civilization and the power of communication, the local and regional cultures of Europe have been portrayed as a universal culture, and the residents of the world, which has become smaller day by day, are limited in their communication with one another; everyone has something to say, right has been confused with wrong and good with bad, transforming our world into a Tower of Babylon.

In this Tower of Babylon, instead of the humane values and justice that have been developed over the centuries, we find wretched rules of power and tyranny with no humane aesthetics, laws or values. In this order, in which virtual heroes and facts preoccupy the masses, communication tools which suspend the real world have become the indispensable actors.

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