Istanbul

“If the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

What are some interesting facts about Istanbul and its history?

● Istanbul is the only transcontinental city in the world located in both Europe and Asia.  The Bosphorus Strait that divides the two continents passes through Istanbul, and it is the link between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.

● In 330 AD, when the great Roman Emperor Constantine made the city the Eastern Roman Empire’s capital, he decided to build it just like Rome, on seven hills.  The city took its name after the emperor – Constantinople (City of Constantine); it was then renamed Istanbul in 1930.  However, many still call it Constantinople; to ensure the new name’s usage, the Turkish post office didn’t deliver any mail addressed to Constantinople.

● In its thousands of years of history, it has been the capital of three great empires – Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman.  Nowadays, it is Turkey’s largest city, with over 18 million population.  However, it is not Turkey’s capital; Ankara has been the capital since Turkey was proclaimed a republic by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923.

● The Grand Bazaar has been in operation since 1461; it is one of the oldest and largest covered markets globally with 60 streets and 5,000 shops. It attracts over 300,000 visitors daily.

● Istanbul is known as the city of Mosques, as you can find a mosque in every corner. There are 3,113 total mosques in Istanbul, including the historical Sultanahmet Mosque and the Süleymaniye Mosque.

● Blue Mosque is the only mosque in Istanbul with six minarets, the maximum number you can have in a mosque.

● The Hagia Sophia was built as an Orthodox Cathedral in 537 CE and was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman rule in 1453. It was the largest church in the world for 900 years until the Seville Cathedral of Spain was completed in 1520.

● The Topkapi Palace is home to the relics of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. It is stored in the section called the Chamber of the Holy Mantle. The Ottoman Sultan Selim first acquired them in 1512.  Mehmed the 3rd bought them to the Topkapi Palace in 1595.

● Under the Ottoman Empire, the city was renowned for having more than 1,400 public toilets scattered around the city, while the rest of Europe had none.

● Istanbul has one of the few Jewish communities in the Diaspora that can claim an uninterrupted existence from Byzantine times to the present and maintained its communal character for such a long period. In the cemeteries of Istanbul, Jews can find the tombstones of their ancestors from 400 years ago.

● People think tulips were first originated in the Netherlands, but that is not true! The first-ever tulip bulbs were sent in 1554 to Vienna from the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul and further distributed to the Netherlands.

● There are three suspension bridges on the Bosphorus and two tunnels under the Bosphorus, one for rail and one for automobiles. The subway in Istanbul is the third oldest subway in the world; it was built in 1875 after London and the one in New York. In addition, Istanbul has two international airports, one on the Asian side, one on the European side.

● Istanbul is surrounded by sea, with the Bosphorus cutting right through it. And yet, snow is expected in the city, with an annual average of 18 inches.

● Agatha Christie’s famous novel “Murder on the Orient Express” was written at the famous Pera Palas Hotel in Istanbul. Within the book, riding the historical train line from Istanbul to Paris, the character Hercule Poirot solves a murder that happens on the train. The Orient Express operated from 1883 to 1977. 

● There are 237 Hamams (a communal bathhouse) in Istanbul, but only 60 are still used. While decommissioned, the oldest and largest Hamam in Istanbul is the Tahtakale Hamami, dating back to the 2nd half of the 15th century.