The city of Constantinople sits at the juncture of two continents, two seas and countless empires across time. Since the cities’ founding, it’s mercantile, political, and religious significance ensured its constant growth and the covetous desire of others. The Greeks, the Romans, and the Christians once possessed this strategic city, and now it is the shining gem in the increasingly tarnished crown of the diminishing Ottoman Empire. In 1853, the Russian Czarina used a squabble over religious sites to threaten the Ottoman Empire with war, pulling the city into greater international import. With more English, French and Italian forces passing through the city each day, and its young Sultan’s new progressive policies, Constantinople faces enemies and allies unused to its exotic ways and ancient dangers.
The Ottoman capital, Constantinople, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Its bright blue waterway reflects hilltops covered in enchanting minarets and domes rising over the city. Brightly painted houses in all colors built to the shore, peak out in the fog of morning and blaze at sunset. The panorama of cypress groves, ancient walls, mosques, palaces, ships, terraces, and lighthouses is overwhelming.
Waterways separate the sprawl and grandeur of Constantinople into three cities. The Bosporus Strait divides Scutari on the Asian continent from Stambul and Pera-Galatia in Europe, and the Golden Horn estuary further divides Pera-Galatia from Stambul. Each section of Constantinople holds diverse peoples, pleasures, and secrets.
Although not the oldest inhabited part of Constantinople, Stambul’s monuments, and walls show the majesty left over from the cities’ days as ancient Byzantium. As the center of Turkish culture, Stambul houses the finest mosques, most opulent palaces, the Grand Bazaar, and the Government for the Ottoman Empire.
Few foreigners live in Stambul, and its labyrinthine streets puzzle all outsiders.
The Crimean war changed Scutari from Asian trading town at the feet of mount Bulgurlu to a mustering site for cavalry, fleets of ships, and casualties back from the front lines. Florence Nightingale and her nurses famously tended to the wounded here. The largest cemetery in Constantinople ominously lies near her hospital.
Pera-Galata houses the Europeans of Constantinople along with all the embassies, hotels, and shops catering to foreigners. Spreading away from most populous centers, the suburbs fan out from Galata-Pera into the cyprus groves and hills of the Turkish countryside. In the east, great harbors and shipyard cut into the northern shore of the Golden Horn where the Ottoman Navy is docked and Admiralty is headquartered.
The Bosporus flows from the Black Sea into the Sea of Marmara which flows into the Dardanelles, which flow into the Aegean Sea, which flows into all the way into the Mediterranean connecting central Europe and Easter Asia to the rest of Europe and North Africa for trade and transport. Whoever controls Constantinople controls this vital merchant route.
Although Turkish Nithamiyeen make up the majority of Constantinople’s population, the cities colorful cosmopolitan history ensures an incredibly ethnic and religious diversity among the minorities. Turks, Greeks, Kurds, Bosniaks, Jews, North Africans, Armenians, Bulgars, Circassians, and Levantines live and trade in a confusing mélange of languages, customs, and beliefs. Its population of about 800,000 is nowhere near London or Paris, but to anyone in the Great Bazaar or near the shoreline, its crowds will be both shocking and familiar.
Now that we’re past the overview, we can move into the real stuff. After covering the foundational facts, I’ll post information helpful to adventuring in the city, and then a guide to the districts and suburbs of Constantinople. Next week we’ll start our look at Constantinople’s history, starting with its days as Byzantium.