Istanbul is one of the few remaining cities in the world that provide a glimpse into the ancient world. The city, once known as Constantinople, was founded around the year 330. While control of the city has changed hands, and parts of it have been destroyed and rebuilt, the city itself has existed into the modern world. The city has been the capital of two empires; first the Byzantine Empire, and later the Ottoman Empire. Today it is the capital city of Turkey, the bridge between Europe and the Middle East.
Constantinople was founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 324 AD. The city of Byzantium already existed, but was consolidated into the new city. The city was the capital of the Byzantine Empire for the duration of its existence, and proved to be a very difficult city to attack. The Byzantine Empire was among the most powerful of its time, spanning over a thousand years, during most of which it remained very powerful. The Byzantine currency even became a sort of “gold standard” among currencies across the world. The empire was so powerful people worldwide had the most confidence in their currency.
However the Byzantines, like every great empire, had their downfall. The decline of the empire truly began with the Fourth Crusade, where Crusaders destroyed large parts of the city, and eventually control of much of the city was ceded to Venice. Eventually the city was taken back by the Byzantines, but shortly after it fell to the Ottoman Empire.
Under the Ottomans, Constantinople was transformed to the center of an Islamic Empire. Mosques were constructed, as well as a home for the leader of the empire, known as the Sultan.The Sultan was not only the political leader of the Ottomans, he was a religious leader for the community as well. Ottoman government was intertwined with Islam throughout its existence. At its peak, the Ottoman Empire stretched across many modern day nations, even far into Europe and Africa. The empire lasted long enough to fight in World War 1, siding with the central powers. This coincided with the Young Turk Revolution, and that combined with the Ottoman defeat in the war lead to the formation of the modern Turkish Republic. The first President of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, established the Republic of Turkey after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, and began the shift to a more secular government. This included the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate, and the shifting of powers to the Grand National Assembly.
Throughout the short history of the modern Turkish Republic, there has been a constant struggle between secularism and islamism.The secular military, legally backed by the constitutional court, has conducted several military coups, each time restoring the government to its secular roots. The current ruling party of Turkey, the AKP, and their leader and President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have been moving the country more towards the islamist side. This has been unique in the sense that the AKP has tremendous popular support, so much so that the constitutional court backed off an attempt to ban the party in 2008. In the summer of 2016, a faction of the government attempted a military coup, that initially appeared as though it might be successful. A news organization was able to get in contact with President Erdoğan, who called upon the people to resist the coup. His pleas were heard, as thousands of demonstrators came out in support of the president, and the coup was defeated.
The storied history of what is now Turkey has included many great empires, and has greatly influenced our world today. From Byzantine and Ottoman Constantinople, to modern day Istanbul, the world has been watching, and will continue to do so through the turbulent times ahead.