The Divine Spark and the Soul of Europe

'The Cheeky Chick', cartoon 1878, Romania and Bulgaria emerging from an egg called Treaty of Berlin. Source: R. Aldrich (Ed.)The Age of Empires(London 2007).

Byzantium, renamed Constantinople in 330 and Istanbul in 1930, has always been a meeting place and a centre for cultural encounters. The site, which has been occupied since the Neolithic period, around 8000 B.C., became a focal point as a result of its location between Europe and Asia, separated by the Bosporus. Byzantium was founded by the Greeks in the 7th century BC, at the same time as Chrysopolis, today’s Üsküdar, on the right side of the Bosporus. Roman occupation did not alter this identity, but added activities related to the stationing of garrisons. The recent discovery of a port from the time of Theodosius I (347-395) is the sign of an eminent and prosperous trading point, the key point in a route running from north to south.

The city became a capital following the split between the Eastern and Western Roman Empires in 330 and was renamed Constantinople in tribute to the Emperor Constantine, who had chosen Constantinople in 324, after his conversion to Catholicism, as capital. Constantine and his successors, among whom Justinianus, modernized the city. The port, city walls, main thoroughfares, the forum, the hippodrome, the palace and Hagia Sophia and many other public works were added to by Venetian and Genoese influences from late medieval time. The Venetian invasion and plunder which took place throughout the fourth crusade saw Western law imposed between 1204 and 1261 didn’t contribute to the city’s grandeur, but reintroduced Byzantine (and ancient Greek) culture into Italy and beyond Its position as a commercial, political, military and religious centre grew and declined until 1453, the year of the city’s fall to Sultan Mehmed II in 1453. The face of the city was transformed, reflecting the growth of the Ottoman Empire. In terms of power, many accounts and numerous representations have been left to tell about official ceremonies, processions, religious festivals, hunting expeditions, ambassadors’ receptions and great royal events. Constantinople remained cosmopolitan. The change of name in 1930 symbolizes the gradual integration of Istanbul into the West.