Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey and the fifth-largest city in the world by population, is considered European, yet it occupies two different continents. One part of Istanbul lies in Europe and the other part lies in Asia. Istanbul’s European part is separated from its Asian part by the Bosphorus strait, a 31-km-long waterway that connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, and forms a natural boundary between the two continents. Two suspension bridges across the Bosporus - the Bosporus Bridge and Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, also called Bosporus Bridge II, connect the two sides, yet many tourist prefer to visit the European side of Istanbul because of its historical significance. The European side is also the city’s commercial center with banks, stores and corporations and two-third of its population. The Asian side feels more relaxed, with wide boulevards, residential neighbourhoods and fewer hotels and tourist attractions.
Istanbul is one of the few cities in the world to be shared by two continents. Examples of other cities that are half European and half Asian include the Russian cities of Orenburg and Magnitogorsk, and Atyrau, a city in western Kazakhstan. Similarly, Suez, an Egyptian city straddling the Suez Canal, belong to both Africa and Asia. But Istanbul is by far the largest and the only metropolis in the world to do so. (See: The Curious Case of Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog and Diomede Islands)
Being the only water route between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea, the Bosporus has been the site of significant settlement and cities for a long time. In particular, the Golden Horn, an estuary that joins Bosphorus Strait at the immediate point where the strait meets the Sea of Marmara, and forms a large, sheltered harbour. It was here, on the European side of the Bosphorus, the city of Byzantium was founded by the ancient Greeks around 660 BCE, the city which later became Istanbul.
When Constantine the Great became the new Roman emperor, the city was renamed as Constantinople in 330 AD. For the next sixteen centuries, Constantinople served as the capital of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Latin Empire and the Ottoman Empire, during which over 120 emperors and sultans ruled over this land. Istanbul was a Christian city during Roman and Byzantine times, before the Ottomans conquered the city in 1453 and transformed it into an Islamic stronghold and the seat of the last caliphate. After the Turkish War of Independence, the modern Republic of Turkey was established in 1923, and although Ankara was chosen as its capital, the city did not lose its significance. Many palaces and imperial mosques still line Istanbul's hills as visible reminders of the city's previous central role. Today Istanbul is a huge metropolis connecting continents, cultures, and religions and being home to fifteen million people and one of the greatest business and cultural center of the region.
Aerial view of Bosphorus Bridge. Photo credit
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