Apart from scheduled charter flights to the fleshspots of southern Turkey, most journeys in Turkey start in Istanbul.  Istanbul, Constantinople, Byzantium, the name may have changed over the past 2,000 years but the place is the same: the gateway or division between Europe and Asia formed by the natural thin 22 mile stretch of water called the Bosphorus running almost due north to south from the Black Sea.   But it has not been an easy ride.  Even going back to the time of Herodotus and the 5th century BC there was conflict between the Greeks and the Persians since when nations, civilisations and religions have fought over this strategically vital area on both sides of the Bosphorus which have been jealously guarded by each incumbent in turn.

Byzas the Greek realised the importance of what is now known as the Golden Horn as a natural harbour, hence the name Byzantium but at the end of the 1st century AD the Greek luck ran out and the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus ransacked the city and slaughtered most of the population.  150 years later the Romans fell out with each other and Emperor Constantine proclaimed himself Emperor of the West defeating Emperor Licinius in a naval battle in the Sea of Marmara, renaming the city after himself, Constantinople.

Turkey Istanbul Hagia Sophia

Christianity was the official religion and, to mark this, the first Hagia Sophia (literally Holy Wisdom) oly Holwas completed by Emperor Justinian in AD 537.   During the next 500 years, the city was attacked by a series of hopeful invaders including four cracks by the Russians, about whom more later.  However the city walls held firm under a succession of pretty moderate rulers until along came the ruthless Basil who rounded up one invading army and, blinding ninety nine out of each hundred, sent them packing.  Then came the Crusades and much fighting (and huge looting by the Crusaders) between the emerging Selcuk Turks, the Byzantines and the enlisted Latin mercenaries.  Due to infighting among the various factions, this situation lasted until the end of the 12th century when in the last of a succession of attacks by the now all powerful Osman Turks in 1453, the city fell with 4,000 defenders lying dead.  The city became part of the Ottoman Empire under the Sultan, Mehmet the Conqueror.

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Monday, May 20th, 2013