I was less than a year old when the song, “Istanbul Not Constantanople” was recorded by “The Four Lads”. I apparently picked up on the numerous airings of the song on the radio when I was an infant, because the refrain plays in my head whenever I see a map of Turkey or some reference to Istanbul is made. I’m not writing about the song, today, in fact, I wish it would go away for the time being.
Today is the 83rd anniversary of the renaming of two major Turkish cities mandated by the Turkish Postal Service Law of 1930. Their capital city became known officially as Ankara, and their largest city officially became Istanbul. Both cities have been around since antiquity.
In the middle of Ankara, archaeologists have discovered evidence of the Bronze Age civilization of the Hattic peoples, they were eventually merged into the Hittites around 2000 to 1700 BCE. The city, which became known as Ancyra, grew exponentially in its early years around 1000 BCE. The population of Phrygia migrated en masse to Ancyra. Their folklore claims that King Midas was the founder of the city. However, other historians and archaeological evidence shows the city is much older than that.
Ankara fell under the jurisdiction of the Celtic peoples until the Roman and Byzantine eras. After the invasion of the conquest of the area by the Turkish Sultan Alp Arslan, the city became known to outsiders as “Angora”. This name is linked to the furball-like domesticated Angora Rabbit. The city is also home to the beautiful Angora Cat that sports the luxuriant silky white medium long haired coat. If you’ve ever enjoyed the comfort of a mohair or Angora sweater, you’ve worn wool from the fleece of Angora goats.
The modern era might be marked by the official name change in 1930 from Angora to Ankara. Today’s city is a major metropolitan area that is the capital of Turkey. It is a major destination for anyone interested in ancient history, religious sites, shopping and culture.
Meantime, Turkey’s largest city was founded a bit later than Ankara. Evidence of Neolithic people has been discovered in the area of Istanbul. It is believed these peoples lived in that area as early as 7000 BCE. There are stories of ancient Thracians and Phrygians settled on the European side of the Bosphorus straits about the late 6000 BCE to early 5000 BCE times. Then, on the Asian side of the straits, evidence of a Phoenician trading center has been dated to around 1000 BCE.
The formal history begins after 600 BCE as Megaran tribes, commanded by King Byzas founded Byzantium on the European side of the Bosphorus straits. After a few years under Persian Empire rule in the 500’s BCE, the Greeks recaptured the area. Byzantium became a part of the Athenian League before independence in 355 BCE. Byzantium became absorbed into the Roman Empire in 73 AD. Civil war against Emperor Septimius Severus left Byzantium in ruins in 195 AD at its surrender to Rome. In its wake, Emperor Severus started the rebuilding programme which eventually led to an even greater city.
In September, 324, Emperor Constantine became the effective ruler over the entire Roman Empire. He developed plans for a new Christian city to overlay Byzantium. Constantine officially named the city “Nea Roma” (New Rome), but inhabitants of the Empire called it Constantinople. On May 11, 330, Constantinople was named the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. We know it as the Byzantine Empire.
In May of 1453, the forces of Sultan Mehmed II captured Constantinople and proclaimed it the capital of the Ottoman Empire. From that time, through the era of the Ottomans, the city was known as Constantinople and Istanbul.
The last major changes happened in the 20th Century. At the conclusion of the First World War, Allied occupation of the defeated former Triple Entente member, the Ottoman Empire led to the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne. In turn, the Republic of Turkey was declared by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
With the reconstruction of Constantinople and the new secular nation, the city experienced many structural improvements. Then, the city’s name officially changed to Istanbul on today’s date in 1930. Nowadays, Istanbul is the major metropolitan center that is important to Turkey and that part of the world.
The Blue Jay of Happiness has this Turkish quote for you today. “A nation devoid of art and artists cannot have a full existence.”–Kemal Atatürk