The Ottoman Era
In 1453, the seventh sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed the Conqueror, finally conquered Constantinople, a city dreamed of by many a king.
Among all cities in the area, Istanbul was a unique prize desired by all major states and empires nearby, both for its beauty and for its strategic importance. The Ottoman sultans Yıldırım Bayezid and Murad II had surrounded the city in 1393 and 1422, respectively, but neither of them was able to take it. In the wake of these unsuccessful attempts, Fatih Sultan Mehmed began more thorough preparations to conquer the city in 1452. In addition to building Rumeli Fortress in order to take control of the Bosphorus, he also commissioned the casting of giant cannonballs to be used in the siege. The number of soldiers in the army was increased twofold. While carrying out these rapid preparations for the attack by land, Mehmed also ordered the formation of a powerful fleet of sixteen galleys to be used in a naval attack on the city.
After taking control of all of the routes by which the Byzantines might receive foreign support, the Ottomans made sure that the Genoese, who were in control of the Galata Tower, remained neutral. Following all of these preparations, the Ottoman Army mounted a fearsome attack by both land and sea. The Turks breeched the city from all sides and destroyed all of the Byzantine defenses. Around noon on 29 May 1453, Fatih Sultan Mehmed entered the city through the Topkapı gate and immediately paid a visit to Ayasofya. The Conquest of Istanbul changed the world history. Order was returned to Istanbul quickly after the conquest. It was immediately announced that the inhabitants of the city would be able to continue practicing their own religions and traditions without interference. Sultan Mehmed, who took on the title of “Conqueror” (Fatih) after the conquest, ordered that the Greek community choose a head for the Orthodox Greek Patriarchate, which was without a patriarch at the time. The city’s Jewish community, whose positive behavior during the conquest had been noticed, retained the right to maintain their synagogues.
Furthermore, a house of worship was appointed for the Turkish-Jewish Karayim Community at the site of the Arpacılar Mosque. Istanbul had become a world city, containing a mosaic of different religions. Fatih Sultan Mehmed’s first action after the war was to begin the repair of damaged areas in the city. The first major reconstruction effort involved repairing the city walls, which had been seriously damaged during the conquest. As the work of the city’s reconstruction continued, several new areas of settlement were also formed. Furthermore, property that had been abandoned was given to those who had served in the conquest.
In order to increase the Muslim population in the city, Muslims living in Anatolia and Rumeli were encouraged to migrate to Istanbul. When this did not suffice, a sultanic decree was sent to the empire’s provinces that required a certain number of people from every class to relocate to Istanbul. Christians and Jews from a number of different regions were also brought to the city, where they settled in several specific neighborhoods. Near the end of 1457, a large fire in the former Ottoman capital of Edirne caused new migrants to come to Istanbul. In 1459, the city was divided into four administrative districts, each one with unique demographic features. Within fifty years after the conquest, Istanbul had become the largest city in Europe. Although Istanbul entered the Fifteenth Century as a large city, it suffered significant damage in the earthquake of 14 July 1509, which is known as the “Minor Doomsday”. Aftershocks of the earthquake continued over forty-five days, and, in total, thousands of buildings in the city collapsed. In 1510, Sultan Bayezid the Second employed around eighty thousand people to rebuild the city yet again.
The Rise of Istanbul during the Reign of Süleyman the Lawgiver
Throughout the history of the Ottoman Empire and under the administration of every sultan, Istanbul remained the privileged first city of the empire. New works and monuments were continuously added to the city, and the historical monuments of every period and people were protected with care. In particular, the forty-six year period between 1520 and 1566, when Sultan Süleyman the Lawgiver witnessed the “Era of Ascendance” for both Istanbul and the empire as a whole.
During the reign of Süleyman, a large number of important architectural works were built in Istanbul. In particular, the works of The Architect Sinan, the most important architect in the history of the Empire, provided the city with a fantastic new appearance. Among the most important works that were built during this period—almost all of them Mimar Sinan’s buildings—are the Süleymaniye Mosque and Dome, the Şehzadebaşı Mosque and Dome, the Sultan Selim Mosque and Dome, the Cihangir Mosque, the two Mihrimah Sultan Mosques, built in Edirnekapı and in Üsküdar, and the Haseki Dome and Haseki Hamam, which were built in the name of Hürrem Sultan. Throughout the era of westernization, which began in the Eighteenth Century, the face of Istanbul began to change under the influence of European cities. The process of modernization continued and even increased in the Republican period.
When the capital of the Ottoman Empire was transferred from Edirne to Istanbul, the city became an imperial capital for the third time.