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Istanbul

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Istanbul

    Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, has a long history marked by the influence of several different cultures. The city in northwestern Turkey was first known as Byzantium and became Constantinople when the emperor Constantine made it the capital of the Roman Empire. After 1453 it became known as Istanbul, the seat of the Ottoman Empire. The city served as the capital until 1923 , when the government moved to Ankara. Istanbul remains Turkey's trade and cultural center.

    Founded around 660 B.C.E. , the ancient part of the city covered a triangular peninsula on the European side of the Sea of Marmara near the entrance to the Bosporus, a narrow strait that connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea. The Bosporus is an important shipping channel that separates Istanbul's European and Asian districts. In fact, Istanbul is the only major city in the world to straddle two continents. In 330 C.E. , Roman emperor Constantine the Great moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium and renamed the city Constantinople. During his rule, Constantine, a Christian, ordered the construction of many beautiful buildings in the city. The emperor Justinian built the largest of the churches, the Hagia Sophia.

    Turkish leader Mehmed II captured Constantinople in 1453 and renamed the city Istanbul. Ottoman rulers later transformed Hagia Sophia into a mosque by adding minarets and a grand chandelier to the building's immense dome. In 1935 the mosque became a museum. The Kariye Mosque, near the Adrianople Gate, was also converted from an early Christian church. It is famous for its intricate mosaics, marbles, and frescoes. The Ottomans built many new mosques. In fact, art historians consider the mosques built between the mid-1400s and the mid-1500s to be the most magnificent of the Ottoman dynasty. The Mosque of Suleyman, designed by architect Mimar Koca Sinan and built from 1550 to 1557 , remains one of Istanbul's artistic treasures and one of the world's great buildings. The Blue Mosque, which features six minarets instead of the usual four, is perhaps Istanbul's most popular mosque.

    The Ottomans beautified their capital city in other ways as well. In 1462 Mehmed II ordered the construction of the Seraglio, a stately palace that served as the sultan's official residence until the early 1800s. The Ottomans also built about 400 fountains in Istanbul, many for public enjoyment. The most outstanding of these fountains flows from behind the apse, the semicircular room at one end of the Hagia Sophia. Istanbul's Great Bazaar, still operating and believed to be the largest covered bazaar in the Muslim world, is laid out in a gigantic grid. It includes some 4,000 shops and more than 90 interior streets. Each street specializes in a particular trade, such as the street of the shoemakers, the street of the tentmakers, or the street of the jewelers. The bazaar also includes mosques and fountains.

    Modern Istanbul has grown dramatically. In the past 50 years, the city's population has soared from one million to more than nine million. Much of this growth has been fueled by migration from rural communities, where employment opportunities are scarce. Many newcomers to Istanbul are conservative Muslims whose traditional religious beliefs sometimes conflict with the more secular views of the city dwellers of Istanbul. Since Turkey became a republic in 1923 , it has strictly separated church and state. For example, it is illegal for Muslim women to wear traditional head coverings in public offices and schools. Such restrictions frustrate some religious conservatives and have contributed to renewed interest in political changes that favor more traditional Islamic practices. See also Ottoman Empire; Turkey.

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