THE FIRST SETTLEMENT
About 300,000 years ago the first inhabitants of what is now Istanbul made their home in Yarimburgaz Cave on the shores of Kucukcekmece Lake. At the end of the last ice age, when the lake formed, human beings continued to inhabit the cave through the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods. Meanwhile, on the Asian coast of Istanbul, excavations near Dudullu have uncovered tools dating from the Lower Palaeolithic Age (around 100,000 years ago). And near Agacli north of the city, Middle Palaeolithic and Upper Palaeolithic period tools have been found. There was an important culture at Fikirtepe on the Kurbagilidere river in Kadikoy around 5000 B.C.
Update: 4/4/2017: More than 1500 footsteps, dated back to 8,500 years ago, were found during the excavations of Yenikapi which is now an active excavation area since 2004, when the amazing Byzantine port, with the largest shipwrecks findings in Europe, found during the last few columns left of an ongoing bridge construction. The commercial harbor called the harbor of Theodosius, known to be used between 5th to 10th centuries. It was an alternative for the traditional berths of Constantinople along the inlet of the Golden Horn.
BYZANTIUM (660 B.C. – 324 A.D.)
Pioneers from the city of Megara on the Greek mainland, where back in 80 B.C, Dorian incursions had been causing havoc, and other settlers from Miletus on the Anatolian coast of the southern Aegean, established the city of Chalcedon, what is today Kadikoy on Istanbul’s eastern shore. Another group of Megarians consulted the Oracle of Delphi about the situation of their new city, and the oracle told them to found their city opposite the Land of the Blind. The blind turned out to be the Chalcedonians, who had failed to see the superiority of the site on the opposite side of the Bosphorus. So began the history of Byzantium, which was founded in 660 BC on Sarayburnu (‘Palace Headland’ as the Turks named it in reference to Topkapi Palace). The Chalcedonians and Byzantines got on amicably, placing both their names on coins that they minted jointly.
Walls were constructed around Byzantium, which stood on a peninsula. There was sea on three sides and abundant fish. The Golden Horn inlet was a sheltered harbor right by the city. There was fertile land for agriculture, and it was conveniently placed on the maritime trade routes. All these factors combined to make Byzantium grow quickly in size and prosperity.
But Byzantium’s unsurpassed advantages and wealth also made it a tempting target for invaders. In 269 BC, it was captured by the Bithynians and looted. In 202 BC, the Macedonian threat obliged Byzantium to seek aid from Rome and this was the first step towards Rome’s own possession of the city.
In 73 AD, Byzantium became part of the Roman province of Bithynia-Pontus. Emperor Vespasian contributed to the city’s development. In 193, after Byzantium took sides with the Parthians, the Roman emperor Septimus Severus besieged the city, looted it, and pulled down the walls. Subsequently, he had the walls rebuilt, and constructed new buildings and streets. He began constnıction of the Hippodrome. In 269, the city was attacked by the Goths, who to mark their victory erected a column close to the sea. In 313, the Nicomedians took the city but did not hold it for long before Emperor Constantine recaptured it.
CAPITAL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (324 – 395)
The lands of the Roman Empire stretched from the Atlantic in the west to the Euphrates and the Tigris to the east, and early in the fourth century the idea of establishing a second capital to control the eastern provinces had germinated. Byzantium, strategically positioned at the crossroads of the land and sea trade routes between east and west, was the obvious choice. This new status underscored the city’s significant cultural and political position in the old world.
Constantine I the Great (324-337) invited high-born Romans to settle in Byzantium, so swelling the Roman population. At the same time, he launched a building program to befit the city for its new role as eastern capital. The harbors and water supply channels were improved, and construction commenced of a new water distribution system within the city. A new wall was built to improve the city’s defenses.
The Hippodrome begun by Septimus Sevenıs was completed. This great building, 117 m wide and 480 m long, could seat 100.000 people. Down the center was the spina, around which the chariots raced. As well as chariot racing, the Hippodrome was used for wild animal fights, athletic competitions, festivals, celebrations, and entertainments. It was mainly here that the ordinary people got the chance to see and be with the emperor. The most exciting events of all were the chariot races between four teams, the Blues representing the air, the Whites water, the Greens earth, and the Reds fire. on the walls of the Hippodrome stood numerous statues, most famous of which were the four bronze horses later carried back to Venice by the Latin invaders and installed in St. Mark’s Square.
The imperial palace was next to the Hippodrome on the site where Sultanahmet Mosque now stands, and the area where Topkapi Palace was later built was the ancient acropolis with its monumental temples.
Known earlier as Nea Roma, Constantine I named it Constantinople after himself on 11 May 330.
The same year, he built the Forum Constantine (now Cemberlitas Square) and had a bronze statue of himself placed on top of the tall column brought here from the Temple of Apollo in Rome. The 35 m high column was badly damaged at an early date, and iron hoops placed around it in the early 5th century. As a result, the Turks referred to it as the Hooped Stone or Cemberlitas.
Constantine I erected the Milion Stone which was the symbolic hub of all roads fanning out through the Eastern Roman Empire, into Russia, Persia, Egypt and Europe. Just as all roads had earlier led to Rome, they now led to Constantinople, and merchants from myriad countries found their way here from the remotest corners of the world.
When Christianity developed into a religion based on the figure of Christ and his divine mission, the concept of the church arose. Haghia Eirene, the church of the Divine Peace, was one of the oldest Eastern Roman churches and took its present form when it was enlarged during the reign of Constantine I. Before Hagia Sophia was constructed, this was the patriarchal cathedral. After the Turkish conquest, it was used as an armory by the janissaries and housed Turkey’s first military museum established in the nineteenth century. It stands in the first courtyard of Topkapi Palace.
Hagia Sophia, the largest and most magnificent of the eastern churches, was first built in 360 by Constantine I. Although the patriarch of Constantinople was the nominal head of the Orthodox Church, all authority lay with the emperor.
The city’s infrastructure quickly became inadequate for the city as its population grew, and in 375, Emperor Valens (364-378) constructed the 1000 m long Valens Aqueduct as part of a new water supply system over the valley west of the Hippodrome. Water from the Belgrade Forest beyond the city was carried over the aqueduct to the center of the city around the Great Palace.
Several sets of walls were built around the city, beginning with the time of its founder Byzas, and they enclosed areas of differing size. Beyond the outer wall was a moat 10 m deep and 20 m wide and inside this a second wall with 96 towers. As well as gates used by the general public, there were others reserved for military purposes. The walls overlooking the mouth of the Golden Horn where the city was least vulnerable to attack were the weakest. The next section to the south were the walls along the Marmara Sea which were 8260 m long and pierced by the Ahirkapi, Catladikkapi, Samatya and Narlikapi gates. The land walls were 5632 m long and contained the Belgrad, Silivrikapi, Mevlevihane, Topkapi, Edirnekapi, Egrikapi and Yedikule gates. Yedikule Gate was also known as Porta Aurea or the Golden Gate and it was the most magnificent, consisting of three archways. It was built by Emperor Theodosius (379-395). Over the gateway was a double headed Byzantine eagle carved in relief. It was through this gate that the emperors passed when returning from victorious campaigns. Istanbul’s city walls were almost invincible, and only breached twice in their entire history, once in 1204 by the Fourth Crusaders and once in 1453 by the Turks.
In 390, the Emperor Theodosius I had an obelisk brought from Egypt to Istanbul which he intended to erect as a mark of Roman supremacy. The obelisk dated from 1500 BC during the reign of Pharaoh Tuthmosis II and was one of two which stood at the entrance of the Luxor Temple in the city of Thebes. The hieroglyphic inscriptions on the obelisk tell of sacrifices made to the god Amon-Ra. The obelisk was placed on the spina in the Hippodrome, on a rectangular marble plinth bearing relief carvings depicting Theodosius watching chariot races in the Hippodrome, and scenes showing how the obelisk was set in place.
Another monument on the spina of the Hippodrome was a bronze statue of three entwined serpents brought from the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. It had been made from the shields of Persian soldiers killed in the Battle of Platea. Originally there was a gold cauldron resting on the heads of the three serpents, but this was apparently melted down for minting coins during the Latin occupation of the city, along with the bronze plates which covered the third of the ancient monuments on the spina, a stone pillar 32 m. in height.
CAPITAL OF THE EASTERN ROMAN (BYZANTINE) EMPIRE (395 – 1453)
Upon the death of Theodosius in 395 AD, the empire was partitioned into East and West, and Constantinople became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, subsequently known as the Byzantine Empire. The first Byzantine emperor was Arcadius (395-408). The short reign of Arcadius was followed by the long one of Theodosius II (408-450), who in 439 constructed new additions to the three sets of walls, closing up all weak points in the land and sea walls.
The first synagogue built in Istanbul was located in the district of Bakircilar, and was converted into a church by Theodosius II in 450. In the sixteenth century, there were over thirty synagogues in Istanbul.
The great cistern built in the sixth century by Justinian I (527-565) to supply the palace with water became known as the Basilica Cistern. Because the commercial basilica stood on top of it. Two of the 336 columns in the cistern stand upon carved heads of Medusa taken from earlier buildings.
Hagia Sophia had been burned down twice during insurrections and was rebuilt by Justinian in 537. Various stories about the church were current aınong the people of Istanbul. One of these related that during mass one day the Emperor Justinian dropped the holy bread in his hand. Before he could bend down to pick it up, a bee seized the bread and flew off with it. The emperor sent messengers to beekeepers throughout the empire, telling them to look out for this bread in their hive and offering a reward for whoever found it. A few days later, a beekeeper came to the capital with an unusually shaped honeycomb thought to have resulted from the effects of the holy bread. Justinian decided to construct a splendid church on the same plan as the honeycomb. Anthemius of Tralles and Isidor of Miletus were appointed architects of the church, which rose up in its full splendor. The church was renovated and restored on numerous occasions over the next fourteen centuries, the last major changes being carried out by the Swiss Fossati brothers at the request of Sultan Abdulmecid in 1847 – 1849.
Another Byzantine Church, the Chora, contains what are thought by many to be the most spectacular examples of Byzantine frescoes and mosaics depicting biblical scenes. This church took its present form in the fourteenth century; and was converted into a mosque by Sultan Bayezid II (1481-1512).
Byzantine Constantinople never recovered from the destruction and plunder of the Fourth Crusaders, who occupied the city and established a Latin Empire there. The Byzantine Empire regained control of Constantinople in 1261, but even an ambitious building program could not restore the city to its former splendor and prosperity. The population, which had once been 500,000 steadily declined to 50,000. Production levels diminished and famine broke out. A thousand-year-old chapter of history was drawing to an end, and the city was on the brink of a new era as the Ottoman Turks gradually advanced through Asia Minor and the Balkan peninsula.
The Ottomans first laid siege to Istanbul in 1391. The siege dragged on for years, and in 1396 Bayezid I (1389-1403) constructed a fortress on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus to prevent aid getting through to the besieged city from the Black Sea.
WHEN DID CONSTANTINOPLE BECAME ISTANBUL
The name of Istanbul was still used even before 1453, in daily life, while it was rather known as Kostantiniyye on coins and some official courts.
Sixty years later, Mehmed II (1451-1481) besieged Istanbul again. He built a second fortress, Rumeli Hisari, on the other side of the Bosphorus face that built by his grandfather Bayezid I, so exerting an even tighter stranglehold on the city. The fortress, which was completed in the brief time of four months, had an irregular plan following the contours of the hilly site. The three great towers were named after three of Mehmed II’s vezirs, Halil Pasa, Zaganos Pasa and Sarica Pasa.
THE SIEGE OF ISTANBUL
Mehmed II had artisans brought from Europe to cast great cannon powerful enough to demolish the Byzantine walls. When everything was ready at the beginning of March 1453, the Ottoman armies gathered outside the city walls. The siege had begun. On 4 April Turkish cannon began to bombard the walls along the Marmara Sea.
The Golden Horn was, as the Byzantines thought, impenetrable thanks to the great chain stretched across the mouth of the waterway to prevent vessels entering. They had not reckoned with Mehmed II’s decision to drag fifty of his galleys on wooden runners over the hilly ridge of land between Dolmabahce on the Bosphorus and Kasimpasa on the Golden Horn. This nasty surprise undermined what remained of Byzantine morale.
CAPITAL OF THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE (1453 – 1923)
Istanbul will without fail be conquered. What an excellent commander is he who will take it, And what excellent soldiers will his soldiers be? Hadith (traditions of the Prophet)
In the attack launched on the morning of 29 May, the land walls were breached at Topkapi (not the palace of that name but a city gate several kilometers to the west). The same day Mehmed II entered the city on horseback and performed his prayers in the church of Hagia Sophia. In accordance with Ottoman tradition, the city’s cathedral was converted into a mosque. The church of the Holy Apostles and numerous others remained as churches for the time being. Thereafter, Mehmed II was known as Fatih or the Conqueror.
The Byzantine Great Palace which had stood between Hagia Sophia and the Hippodrome had been looted and razed during the Latin occupation. With the restoration of the Byzantine rulers in 1261, they used the Palace of Blakhernai situated inside the land walls where they descended to join the sea walls along the Golden Horn. Immediately after the conquest, Mehmed II had a fortress and palace built in the area which was to become known as Beyazit west of Hagia Sophia. A large bazaar was constructed beneath the walls of the fortress.
The once splendid city was falling into nıin when it was taken by the Turks, who set about repairing the old buildings and city walls. Others beyond repair provided foundations on which new Ottoman buildings were constructed. The huge underground water cisterns were also repaired.
Those who had fled the city began to return, while new settlers of diverse ethnic origin and faith arrived from all over the Ottoman Empire, creating a colorful cultural mosaic.
ACQUIRING AND OTTOMAN ARCHITECTURAL IDENTITY
Gradually, the city developed its distinctly Ottoman identity. Mosques founded by the sultans and members of their families were distinguished by having more than one minaret and were known as selatin, the plural form of sultan. Istanbul’s first selatin mosque was that built by Mehmed II, with its symmetrically arranged complex of colleges (medrese), hospice (tabhane), hospital (darussifa), shops, and baths (hamam). Its architect was Atik Sinan (‘Old’ Sinan to distinguish him from the later and more celebrated Sinan). Over the next few centuries sultans, other members of the dynasty, and statesmen founded mosques in their names, and around them various institutions. Small mosques with modest complexes built by statesmen were known as vezir cami or vizier mosques.
When the Umayyads had besieged Istanbul in the year 668 Eyyub el-Ensari, standard bearer to the Prophet Muhammed had died in the fighting. In 1459, Mehmed II had Eyup Sultan Mosque built in his memory, together with a complex consisting of medrese, imaret (public kitchen) and hamam. It was in this mosque that the Ottoman Sultans girded their sword of office upon acceding to the throne.
Construction of Topkapi Palace began in 1472 and it was completed in 1478. Although it was a success – five sultans added new buildings to the complex over the centuries. The outer entrance which led into the first court, the Alay Meydani (Parade Square), was the Imperial Gate or Bab-i Humayun. At the further end of the first couıt was the main entrance gate called Babusselam (gate of greeting), which led into the second court, the Divan Meydani. Here were the palace hospital, bakery and arsenal buildings, the royal mews along the left side and the kitchen buildings along the right.
The gate leading from the second to the third couıt was the Babussaade (Gate of Felicity), and in the third court was the Arz Odasi or Throne Room where foreign ambassadors and statesmen were granted the audience. The buildings behind here date from the eighteenth century and were occupied by the pages and men of the Enderun who served in the private household of the sultan. The Has Oda or Hall of the Privy Chamber, occupied by the officials who served the sultan in person, stands on the west side of the court next to the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle containing relics of the Prophet Muhammed and the first caliphs. In the fourth court are several lovely kiosks (pavilions) built by different sultans. These are the Bagdat, Revan, Sofa and Mecidiye kiosks.
Topkapi Palace was home for both the Ottoman sultans and center of government for four hundred years, and over this time the palace was in a constant state of fluctuation, with additions and alterations carried out by various sultans.
Sultan Bayezid II (1481-1512), the son of Mehmed II, built a mosque complex in his name between 1500 and 1505. Located in a central position west of the Hippodrome, it was almost certainly the work of two architects, Kemaleddin and Hayreddin. The complex is an important link in the history of Turkish architecture, in terms of its relationship to its site, its architectural composition, decoration, and the institutions housed in the secondary buildings. As well as the mosque itself, there was a turbe (mausoleum) for Sultan Bayezid, an imaret, children’s school, hospices, medrese, hamam, and kervansaray. The mosque had a square prayer hall covered by a large dome supported on either side by two semidomes. The arches of the colonnades around the court were of white and red marble. Exquisite stone carving decorated the mihrab (niche), minber (pulpit), muezzin’s gallery, and the women’s gallery, while the woodwork decoration of the doors and windows was the finest of its period.
On his return from the Egyptian Campaign in 1517, Selim I (1512-1520) brought back the Islamic holy relics and took the title of caliph. From that point on, Istanbul became the center of Islam.
During the reign of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566), Mimar Sinan built the Sehzade Mosque in memory of Suleyman’s son Mehmed, overlooking both the Golden Horn and the Marmara Sea. This was the first royal mosque built by Sinan, and the one which he was to refer to later in life as ‘the work of my apprenticeship’. The complex consisted of mosque, medrese, hospice, stables, school, imaret and the tomb of Sehzade Mehmed.
Selim’s royal mosque complex, which was completed posthumously in 1522, consisted of his turbe, and an imaret, medrese and a hospital.
From this point on, the new Ottoman capital began to find its own identity through buildings constructed by Mimar Sinan. In 1548 he built Mihrimah Sultan Mosque for Mihrimah Sultan, the daughter of Suleyman the Magnificent, in Uskudar. It was surrounded by a complex consisting of medrese, guest house, stables, food store, warehouse and a han. The two great pillars inside this mosque were in the shape of a four-leafed clover.
Suleymaniye Mosque, which Sinan referred to as his `journeyman’s piece’, was constructed in 1557. The genius of Sinan’s architecture seemed to symbolize the power of Suleyman. The composition of the great domed inner space illustrates the culmination of Ottoman mosque design. In order to draw off the smoke from the burning lamps and candles, and keep the air fresh when the mosque was full of people, he created a ventilation system whereby the air circulated through a chamber over the main entrance. Moreover, the particles of carbon in the smoke were deposited in this chamber and scraped off for making the lamp black ink used by calligraphers.
The Atik Valide Mosque was constructed between 1570 and 1579 for Nurbanu Valide Sultan, the mother of Murat III (1574-1595). Again the mosque and its complex were designed by Sinan and consisted of the mosque, medrese, tekke (dervish lodge), children’s school, darulhadis (school for teaching the hadith), darulkurra (school for teaching the Koran), imaret, hospital and hamam. The courtyard encircling the mosque to the north, east, and west, contained a sadirvan (fountain for ablutions) and gave access to the mosque through four doors. The finest of the tiling decoration are two exquisite panels on either side of the mihrab niche. The wooden doors and window shutters are inlaid with the mother of pearl and ivory.
Semsi Pasa Mosque on the water’s edge in Uskudar was built by Sinan for Semsi Ahmed Pasa in 1580. This is the smallest of the mosque complexes built by Mimar Sinan. It is in classical Ottoman style and consists of the founder’s türbe and a medrese as well as the tiny mosque.
Sultanahmet Mosque was built at the southern end of the ancient Hippodrome between 1609 and 1616 for Sultan Ahmed I (1603-1617). Its architect was Sedefkar Mehmed Aga. On the eastern side of the mosque was an arasta bazaar (market of shops) to provide income for the upkeep of the mosque and to the north a hunkar kasir, or suite of private rooms for the sultan’s use prior to and following prayers. The mosque was celebrated not so much for its architecture as for its exquisite Iznik Tiles of the last great period.
The Galata Tower built in 1349, was a part of the defenses of the old Genoese city facing Istanbul proper across the mouth of the Golden Horn. Its original name was the Christ Tower. During Ottoman times, it was used first as a prison and later as a fire tower. In the seventeenth century, during the reign of Murad II (1623-1640), a scientist by the name of Hezarfen Ahmed Celebi launched himself off the top of the tower wearing wings which he had made for himself and successfully completed the flight across the Bosphorus to Uskudar.
In 1660, during the reign of Mehmed IV (1649-1687), the Misir Carsisi (Egyptian Bazaar) was built, and between 1661 and 1663 the half-finished Yeni (New) Mosque was completed by Hatice Sultan. This mosque had been begun in 1597 by Safiye Sultan, the mother of Mehmed III. After the death of Davud Aga, the original architect, Mimar Dalgic Ahmed Aga continued with the construction until 1603. With the accession of Ahmed I the project was left unfinished, and meanwhile Ahmed I began construction of his own mosque in Sultanahmet.
The magnificent baroque fountain of Sultan Ahmet III (1703-1730) which has a fountain in each of its four walls and a sebil where cups of water were distributed to passersby at each corner, was built outside the main gate of Topkapi Palace.
The ancient Hippodrome, known in Turkish as Atmeydani, was used for playing the equestrian game of Cirit (jereed) and for public celebrations of the circumcision of royal princes. One of the monuments on the spina of the Hippodrome was a stone column originally sheathed in bronze, but this was melted down to mint coins by the Fourth Crusaders after they occupied Istanbul in the thirteenth century and set up a latin empire which lasted until the middle of the century. During the Turkish period climbing, this bare column was regarded as an acrobatic feat, as recorded by eyewitnesses and contemporary miniatures.
In 1755 Mahmud I (1730-1754) built the Nuruosmaniye Mosque at one of the entrances to the Covered Bazaar. With its polygonal projecting mihrab and western stylistic influences, this mosque was very different from its predecessors. It’s complex consisted of an imaret, medrese, library, turbe, sebil, fountain and shops.
In 1763, Mustafa III (1757-1774) built his royal mosque in Laleli, with its complex of imaret, fountain, sebil, turbe, han, medrese, muvakkithane (horologe room), houses for the imam and muezzin, and shops. Its architect is thought to be Haci Mehmed Aga.
DERSAADET OF THE OTTOMANS
In the nineteenth century, Istanbul’s population consisted of Muslim Turks, Orthodox Greeks, Gregorian and Catholic Armenians, Jews, Levantines and colonies of foreign merchants.
This century was a time of modernisation and reform for the Ottoman Empire, and naturally, the capital city was at the forefront of these changes. In the process of westernization in the military, economic and social fields foreign experts from Europe were appointed to impoıtant posts, particularly in the army, which had German, Swedish, British and French paSas in its ranks. The sultans adopted the dress of their western counterparts, rejecting kaftans and salvars in favor of trousers and jackets, and replacing the turban with the fez. In the cultural field, western style painting, architecture, and music became popular.
The reign of Mahmud II (1808-1839) marked the first most important phase of these changes. In 1824 the empire’s first newspaper, Smyrnéen, went into publication in Izmir. Convinced that the tradition-bound Janissary Corps was no longer capable of defending the empire, Mahmud II laid plans to found a new modern army, resolving to pick 150 of the ablest soldiers from each of the 51 janissary regiments in Istanbul for this purpose. When the news got out, it sparked off a janissaıy revolt on the night of 4 June 1826. The janissaries rampaged through the city looting, but when they found that they had no popular support from citizens wjıo backed the sultan’s plans, they retreated to their barracks. The sultan’s own forces surrounded the barracks and bombarded them, killing all those inside and then set fire to the building. Thus, after 465 years, the Janissary Cops were dissolved on 15 June 1826. Sultan Mahmud II set about founding his new army.
Mahmud II’s own royal mosque, the Nusretiye, was built by Kirkor Amira Balyan for the sultan in 1826. The sadirvan in the stone courtyard has twelve taps and a conical roof resting on twelve slender columns.
The first steam-driven vessels began to replace sailing ships around this time. Meanwhile, fires continued to ravage the city at frequent intervals, since almost all the houses were made of wood. In 1828 the Balyan family of architects built the 50 m high Beyazit fire tower.
The first bridge connecting the walled city of Istanbul to Galata on the other side of the Golden Horn was constıucted in 1836. It was a pontoon bridge designed by Admiral of the Fleet Ahmet Fevzi. Since no toll was charged to cross it, it was known as the Hayratiye (Charity Bridge).
Mahmud II was the first Ottoman sultan to have his portrait hung in government offices. He also had a decoration inaugurated bearing miniature portraits of himself, known as Tasvir-i Humayun (Imperial Portrait), which he presented to his most loyal state officers, hanging the decoration around their necks himself. Conseıvative factions began to stir up public opposition on the grounds that poıtraiture contravened religious doctrine, and following the death of Sultan Mahmud in 1839, his portraits in government buildings were covered over by cuıtains. But gradually, people became used to the idea, as they were to become used to photographs. Mahmud II’s son Sultan Abdulmecid (1839-1861) proclaimed a series of reforms known as the Tanzimat Ferman or Gulhane Hatt-i Humayun almost immediately after his accession to the throne. The reforms had been drawn up by Mustafa Resid Pasa and were proclaimed by the latter in Gulhane Gardens behind Topkapi Palace on 3 November 1839.
In 1847, the first demonstration in the Ottoman Empire of the newly invented telegraph was conducted at the large wooden palace of Beylerbeyi in the presence of Sultan Abdulmecid, who himself sent the first message over the line. He then ordered that a telegraph line is set up between Istanbul and Edirne.
In 1850, Sirket-i Hayriye, Istanbul Maritime Lines was established and began to organize regular steam ferry services across the Bosphorus and to the Islands.
In 1851 Sultan Abdulmecid had the Empire style Hirka-i Serif Mosque (Mosque of the Holy Mantle) constructed in Fatih. Here the mantle presented by the Prophet Muhammed to Veysel Karani was to be kept and visited during the month of Ramadan.
Another member of the Balyan family of architects, Nikogos, built the neo-baroque Ortakoy Mosque on the European shore of the Bosphorus in 1853. The same year the Ottoman Empire and its allies France and Britain began fighting Russia in the Crimean War.
Topkapi Palace, which had been both the sultan’s private residence and seat of government since the fifteenth century, lost this status in 1853 when the court moved to the new palace of Dolmabahce. This palace, designed by the Balyan family of court architects, was in an eclectic style heavily influenced by contemporary western architecture.
Two years later Dolmabahce Mosque, one of the last examples of Empire style in Istanbul, was designed by Garabet Balyan. Its founder was Bezmialem Valide Sultan, the mother of Abdulmecid, who completed its construction after his mother’s death.
Around the same time the small summer palace of Kucuksu designed by Nikogos Balyan, chief architect to Abdulmecid, was constructed on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus in the area known to Europeans as the Sweet Waters of Asia.
The nineteenth century saw a rush of new inventions and an expansion of world trade, and from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards the fashion for trade and industrial exhibitions began. Here goods from all over the world and the latest inventions were displayed to the public. The first Ottoman trade fair was held in Sultanahmet in 1863 during the reign of Sultan Abdulaziz (1861-1876). The exhibits ranged from commodities like Turkish Coffee and silk production to the fine arts, including architectural models. The first two days of each week the exhibition was opened to women only. The same year Sultan Abdulaziz visited Cairo.
In 1865 the architect Sarkis Balyan built the new Beylerbeyi Palace in place of the old wooden palace on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus.
On 21 June 1867, Sultan Abdulaziz became the first Ottoman sultan to pay a state visit abroad. He traveled by the royal yacht, the Sultaniye, to Toulon, from where he took the train to Paris, and then traveled to England. He returned by land via Belgium, Coblenz, Prussia, Vienna and Budapest, arriving back in Istanbul on 7 August.
In 1871, Ciragan Palace was built by Sarkis and Agop Balyan according to a design by Nikogos Balyan. A royal hunting lodge was then built at Ayazaga in Maslak, and the Valide Mosque founded by Pertevniyal Valide Sultan, mother of Sultan Abdulaziz in Aksaray, which had been commenced in 1869 but left unfinished, was completed in 1871. This mosque complex, consisting of school, turbe, muvakkithane and sebil, was designed and built by Sarkis Balyan. The diverse and ornate decoration on the facades distinguishes it from other nineteenth century mosques, as do the neo-Gothic features of the interior.
Horse-drawn trams and the short underground funicular railway which carried passengers up and down the steep hill between the commercial district of Karakoy on the shore and the residential district of Pera introduced alternative means of transport in Istanbul.
On 23 December 1876, the year of his accession, Abdulhamid II (1876-1909) proclaimed the First Constitutional Government. For a brief time the Ottoman Empire was ruled by a constitutional monarchy, but three months later the sultan dissolved Parliament and repealed the constitution. The Academy of Fine Arts (Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi) was founded, primarily due to the efforts of Osman Hamdi Bey, who was also instrumental in the founding of the Archaeological Museum, later housed in a building designed by Vallaury.
Sultan Abdulhamid II appointed photographers to document events, buildings, and sights around the empire, and was the principal patron of photography in Ottoman Turkey. He sent albums of photographs to fellow heads of state around the world, as a means of illustrating the progress and achievements of his empire.
The area northwest of Besiktas had been a forest in Byzantine times and was a hunting ground for Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent and his successors. When the waterfront palaces were constructed there, the woodland was preserved as a park belonging to the palace grounds. Early in the nineteenth century, Sultan Selim III had a country house constructed in this woodland for his mother Mihrisah Valide Sultan, and in 1834 Sultan Mahmud II had another country house known as Yildiz built here. In 1842 Sultan Abdulmecid had a third house built here for his mother Bezmialem Valide Sultan. The area became known as Yildiz, and the small complex of royal summer residences here grew into a full-scale palace with the accession of Sultan Abdulhamid II in 1876. He constructed new state apartments, the Sale Kasir (so named because its architecture was inspired by the chalets of Switzerland), and the kiosks (pavilions or country houses) of Malta and Cadir designed by Sarkis and Agop Balyan. The Italian architect Raimondo d’Aronco designed the Winter Gardens and conservatories, the guard pavilion, the Harem Kiosk, the Aides Kiosk, the stable building, theater, and exhibition building. In 1896 the terraced stone houses on Akaretler Hill were constructed to house palace officials.
The Second Constitution was proclaimed on 23 July 1908, and in 1909, the year that Haydarpasa Railway Station was opened, Abdulhamid II was deposed by the Young Turks.