With a population over 14 million people, Istanbul is one of the largest cities not just in Europe, but also in the world. You’re visiting a city that has not only become confident of, but shows off it’s contrasts – that is, it is both Western and Eastern or European and Asian, modern and traditional, historical and making history, and for us tourists, the familiar and the unfamiliar.
Wandering around the city of Istanbul is like taking a walk through thousands of years of history. All throughout the city you will see structures from the ancient Greeks and Romans, to the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Empire and more! With it’s incredible and rich history on display for all to see, there’s a story to tell at every turn. Without a doubt, the city of Istanbul is incredibly vibrant and exciting. Let’s learn a bit about Istanbul and make a connection to it by understanding the major factors that molded the city to what it is today.
History of Istanbul
A brief version of a long history
New Rome? Byzantium? Constantinople? These are just some of the names the historic city of Istanbul has been given over the years. It has been thrown from one empire to the next resulting in a tumultuous and bloody history. It has always been a big, grand city. Strategically located and appropriately nicknamed ‘The City of the World’s Desire’, every nation/empire wants to bring this city into it’s fold. Once conquered, it becomes the jewel of the empire.
For the Byzantine Empire (the Eastern Roman Empire), the city was named Byzantium and the capital was shifted there. To honor the great Emperor Constantine after he died, Byzantium was renamed to Constantinople. Hundreds of years go by and in 1204, the Crusaders from Europe managed to break into and conquer Constantinople. The crusading knights ransacked the city, damaging many structures all the while looting what they could get their hands on. These Catholic Crusaders of the Latin Empire make Constantinople their capital until the Byzantines re-take it in 1261.
When the Ottomans rolled through and the city fell to them in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II, naturally, made Constantinople the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The era of the Ottoman Empire ended when The Republic of Turkey was formed in 1923 after the end of The War of Independence, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. In an interesting twist, the Republic shifted the capital away from Constantinople to the city of Ankara. In 1930, Constantinople is officially renamed to Istanbul and goes on to become the cosmopolitan city that we know today.
Geography of Istanbul
Geographically, Istanbul could not have asked for anything better. Situated up in the north west reaches of Turkey, the city is separated by the Bosphorus Strait, considered as one of the boundaries between the continents of Europe and Asia. (internationally-significant waterway). Thus, it is a city which has one foot firmly planted on the Asian continent while the other is standing steadfastly on the European continent – the only city in the world that spans 2 continents. It is, literally, at the intersection of where east meets west.
Furthermore, it has easy and strategic access to the seas. With the oil-rich Black Sea to it’s north and the Sea of Marmara (which links to the Aegean Sea and in turn, the Mediterranean Sea) to it’s south, connected to each other by the north-south Bosphorus running down the heart of the city, this has provided Istanbul with great opportunities in trade and commerce as well as in warfare all throughout it’s history.
With trade routes over land and through the sea at such a strategic location, it’s no wonder why Istanbul has been at the center of several major empires! With it’s first-rate geographical location, it literally has been and is, one of the greatest cities in the world.
Economy of Istanbul
To a great extent, Turkey is a free-market economy with the main engines of its economy being led by the services sector with a 64.2% contribution to GDP, followed by the industry sector at 27.7%, and agriculture at 8.1%. The main industries within these sectors are textiles, food processing, tourism, mining, construction, electronics, steel, and petroleum.
As these industries have matured, they helped launch an economic boom for Turkey this past couple of decades, with the country delivering impressive GDP growth rates, notwithstanding the global financial crisis. With GDP growth rates numbers like 9.36% (2004) and 9.16% (2010), it is now sitting as the 18th largest economy in the world as ranked by nominal GDP.
At the forefront of all this growth, leading the way for Turkey has been it’s largest industrial center, Istanbul. Istanbul is the main engine of Turkey’s economy contributing around 27% of national GDP, 50% percent of Turkey’s total imports and exports and 38 percent of it’s total industrial output. The city alone contributes more than 50% of services and generates 40% of tax revenues for Turkey. These numbers clearly show the importance of Istanbul’s favorable geographical location.
Let’s have a closer look at Turkey’s travel & tourism sector. As a % share of GDP, this alone contributes 12.86% to the country’s GDP in 2015, led by Istanbul (and Antalya). This should come as no surprise as Istanbul has been awarded multiple accolades as the world destination of choice. Here are a few samples:
Winner TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice World Destination for 2014 (also winner of the European Destination for 2014)
Voted European Best Destination 2013
Winner Destination of the Year 2012 at the Food and Travel Reader Awards
Winner Best Travel Destination category at the National Luxury & Lifestyle Awards
It’s no wonder then, why the tourism industry plays such a big part in Turkey’s economic surge. These awards coincide with the increasing inflow of tourists visiting the country. Have a look at this eye-popping statistic – the number of foreign tourist arrivals to Turkey in the last 5 years:
2015 36 244 632
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tourism_in_Turkey#Tourism_statistics which in turn is sourced from UNWTO.
This places Turkey as the 6th most visited tourist destination in the world. If we are to look at numbers only within Europe, Turkey moves up to being the 4th most visited tourist destination.
As you can see, as Istanbul goes, so goes Turkey. Their fortunes for better or for worse, are intricately intertwined.
Upcoming Istanbul Topics
With that backdrop, let me provide you with some practical insights and tips for your Istanbul research. Over the course of the next little while, there are many articles planned for my Istanbul Mini Guide. If you have plans to visit Istanbul, then come back to this post as I’ve got tons of information being planned for your research.
- Visiting Turkey? Learn to Read These Turkish Words for a Stress Free Trip.