the transformation of constantinople -- 11/28/16

Today's selection -- from The Sultan and the Queen by Jerry Brotton. The ancient Byzantine city of Constantinople had a population of a mere 50,000 and was in decline when it was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453. Soon after, the Ottomans changed the name of the city to Istanbul and transformed it into one of the most architecturally breathtaking cities in the world, a vibrant international crossroads with a world-leading population of 500,000 by the late 1500s. With this architecture and its surrounding waterways, today it remains one of the world's most beautiful cities:

"[By 1578], Constantinople, one of the world's greatest imperial capitals, had changed beyond all recogni­tion since it had fallen to Sultan Mehmed II in 1453. The new city of Istanbul, from the Greek for 'to the city,' was also referred to in official Ottoman business for centuries as Kostantiniyye, or, as Christians would continue to call it, Constantinople ... The Ottomans had transformed a Byzantine city in decline with a population of just 50,000 into the capital of the Islamic world, a vi­brant multiethnic and multidenominational city.

Sultanahmet (Blue Mosque) Istanbul

"By [1578] its population was estimated at 300,000 to 500,000, much larger than London (200,000), Paris (220,000), Naples (280,000) or Venice (160,000). From sheer political and commercial necessity, Mehmed and his successors (including Murad) had made Constanti­nople into a cosmopolitan capital, repopulating it through the forced resettlement of merchants and craftsmen from various ethnic and reli­gious backgrounds. Only 58 percent of the city was Muslim, with 32 percent Christian and 10 percent 'Jews,' a category that included Greeks, Armenians and various communities deported from the re­cently conquered Balkans.

"To [visiting Europeans], the city's skyline must have appeared alien and intimi­dating. At Mehmed's command, the iconic Greek Orthodox cathedral of Hagia Sophia had been transformed into a mosque, and an ambitious program of public building had begun. A new imperial palace, the Top­kapi Sarayi, had been built overlooking the Golden Horn, as well as the Fatih Mosque and Külliye (a complex of buildings of characteristic Ot­toman architecture) and a commercial district dominated by a bedestan (the marketplace known today as the Grand Bazaar) and a series of khans (urban caravanserais).

"On the northern side of the Golden Horn, Mehmed had repopulated Galata -- still identified by its imposing Genoese tower­ with Jewish and Christian merchants. ... Under Mehmed 190 mosques, 24 madrasas (schools), 32 hamams (bathhouses) and 12 markets were erected, transforming the city from a Greek Orthodox polis into a Mus­lim capital. Under Mehmed's grandson Sultan Süleyman, the urban transformation was even more pronounced, thanks primarily to the extraordinary achievements of the architect Mimar Sinan, who built some 120 buildings in Constantinople, many of which Harborne would have seen. Foremost among these were the Sehzade Mosque and the monumental Süleymaniye Mosque and Külliye. ...


Jerry Brotton


The Sultan and the Queen: The Untold Story of Elizabeth and Islam


Viking an imprint of Random House


Copyright 2016 by Jerry Brotton


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