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Klaus Kreiser
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam


Constantinople (Arabic, al-Qusṭanṭīnīyah; Ottoman Turkish, Kostantaniye), the capital of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, was attacked and besieged unsuccessfully by Umayyad armies and fleets between 674 and 678 and again in 717/718. After a long period without direct clashes between the two eastern empires and a Byzantine reconquista of Asia Minor, another Islamic power, the Turkish Seljuks, was stopped in 1091 under the walls of the city. Equally unsuccessful were the Ottoman attempts to conquer Constantinople between 1394 and 1402, and during the summer months of 1422, 1442, and 1448.

There is also evidence of peaceful commerce between the Byzantines and the Arabs. The Muslims had a mosque near the Praetorium from the eighth century. At least one other mosque was built in the twelfth century outside the walls of Galata. Al-Qusṭanṭīnīyah appears in various realistic and legendary descriptions in the works of Arab geographers and travellers.


On May 29, 1453, the army of the Ottoman ruler Mehmed II, supported by heavy artillery, entered the town. Mehmed immediately transformed the Hagia Sophia basilica into a mosque. “Aya Sofya” remained one of the most important congregational mosques in Istanbul until its conversion into a museum in 1934.

Turkish Constantinople was usually called īstanbul (from Greek eis tin polin “in the city”). Official documents and coins more often used the Arabic version Al-Qusṭanṭīnīyah and various Turkish epithets such as Darüssaltana (seat of rule), Darülhilâfe (seat of the caliphate), and İslâmbol (where Islam abounds). The Perso-Arabic Ottoman form Der-i Saadet (house of felicity) remained the official name until the end of the Ottoman empire (1923).

Organization and Development of the City.

Istanbul succeeded Bursa and Edirne as the Ottoman capital. Bursa was the revered burial place of the founders of the dynasty, and Edirne remained until the late seventeenth century a second residence for the ruling family, sometimes for extended periods. In Istanbul, Mehmed II chose the ancient acropolis for his New Palace (known as Topkapı Sarayı) which included a council hall (divan), the treasury, and women's apartments (harem). Relics of the time of the prophet Muḥammad and the first four caliphs (including the Prophet 's mantle and sword) brought from Mecca and Medina after the conquests of Selim I were kept in the Privy Chamber and are today exhibited as “holy relics” (emanat-i mukaddese).

Ottoman Istanbul was directly administered by the grand vizier or his deputy (kaymakam). The city was divided into three judicial districts under the supervision of a judge (kadı), the Old City (the historic “triangle”), Galata, and Eyüp. Üsküdar on the Asian shore was a fourth kadılık. An “experimental” modern municipality was established in Beyoğlu and Galata after 1855. Later the whole city was administered by a government official (şehremini). Galata, until 1453 a Genoese possession, preserved its character as a Frankish suburb, as it was the only district in which Catholics were allowed to have churches. All embassies of non-Muslim states were concentrated in Galata.

At the head of the Ottoman theological-juridical body (ilmiye) was the müfti of Istanbul. After the destruction of the Janissary corps in 1826 the müfti (or şeyhülislâm) received a permanent seat with offices on the site of the former barracks, the same site that is today occupied by the provincial müftilik. The müfti remained the highest religious authority until the foundation of the Republic of Turkey (1923).

In premodern times, a Muslim neighborhood (mahalle) was usually administered by the imam of the mosque, which constituted the nucleus of the quarter. During the second half of the sixteenth century, there were more than two hundred mahalles in Istanbul. After administrative reforms in the 1830s the imam was replaced by the muhtâr as headman of the mahalle.

In the sixteenth century Istanbul had about 150 medreses (religious schools); in 1914 there were 184 (including ruined buildings). Their enrollment ranged between 3,000 and 5,000 men in the last decades of the Ottoman Empire. In 1855 the Mekteb-i Nüvvâb, a new school for kadıs, was established to give professional training to future judges recruited from among medrese students.

It is difficult to estimate the number and affiliation of Dervish lodges (tekyes, tekkes) during the “classical age” (before 1800). During the nineteenth century there were nearly three hundred lodges. The Mevlevîs founded only four or five tekyes, which were relatively large institutions all situated outside the city walls. In 1820, the greatest number of permanent “full-time” dervishes belonged to the great brotherhoods, the Nakşbendiye, Kadiriye, and Rifaiye. From 1453 on, the new capital attracted large numbers of Ṣūfī shaykhs and their adepts. The most important pilgrimage center of Istanbul was and is the mausoleum of one of the sainted anṣār (companions of the Prophet), Abū Ayyūb Khālid ibn Zayd (Eyüp in Turkish), whose tomb was discovered miraculously during the siege of Constantinople in 1453 by the Ṣūfī shaykh Akşemsettin (1390–1459). The shrine of Eyüp was visited after the accession of a sultan to the throne for the Girding of the Sword ceremony.

Sultan Mehmed II and his successors until Süleyman I (1520–1566) transformed the city energetically into a flourishing capital of the expanding empire. The cityscape was characterized by the classical Ottoman style created by the master architect Sinan (around 1550). Typical foundation complexes consisted of a Friday mosque, medreses, hospital, guesthouse, caravansary, hospice, elementary school, bath, and library.

Mehmed II 's great Fatih Mosque replaced the Church of the Holy Apostles, where members of the Byzantine imperial family were buried until the eleventh century. Other important churches or monasteries survived only by their transformation into mosques (e.g., Stoudios into İmrahor [or Mirahor], Pantokrator into Zeyrek, Pammakaristos into Fethiye).

As a result of voluntary and forced settlement, Muslims outnumbered Christians and Jews as early as 1477. A census of tax-paying households counts 16,326, of which 9,517 were Muslims, 5,162 were Christians, and 1,647 were Jews. During the sixteenth century there were about 80,000 households (implying more than 400,000 inhabitants). In the early nineteenth century, the population was 359,890. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, there were 910,000 inhabitants (including 350,000 Christians). After a decline in the first years of the Turkish Republic, metropolitan Istanbul had more than a million inhabitants in 1950. In 2000 the megalopolis of Istanbul counted 9,085,599 people, as well as a large number of unregistered migrants from Anatolia.

After the Armistice that ended World War I in 1918, Istanbul was occupied by Allied troops. With the flight of the last Sultan, Mehmed VI Vahideddin (1922), and the expulsion of Caliph Abdülmecid (1924), the former capital lost its last symbols of national centrality. The creator of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Pasha (since 1934 known as Atatürk), had chosen Ankara as the capital (1923) and did not visit Istanbul between 1919 and 1928.

Although Istanbul was not completely neglected by the new regime—there was, for instance, a university reform in 1933—all important institutions, including the state-controlled administrations of Religious Affairs and Pious Foundations, were concentrated in Ankara. Under a law enacted in 1935, the “classification” of mosques according to “real necessity” led to the destruction and neglect of a great number of buildings, including those which had been sacrificed for creating new traffic arteries. Political friction over the secular character of the city persists.

Contemporary Istanbul.

Although Istanbul 's development was set back by great fires—those in 1633 and 1865 were particularly destructive—by catastrophic earthquakes (1509, 1894), by the influx of refugees after the wars of 1877–1878 and 1912, and by the loss of its central function, the city remains a great center of learning and Islamic tradition. The most important manuscript libraries and archives of the Islamic world are housed in Istanbul. The Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı (Foundation of the Turkish Religious Administration) established a research institute under the name İslâm Araştırmaları Merkezi (İSAM), which edits the most comprehensive encyclopaedia of the Islamic world (Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı İslâm Ansiklopedisi). The Ottoman Archives and the Archives of the Istanbul Müftülük with its huge collection of juridical records attracts thousands of scholars. Many public collections preserve objects of Islamic art. Outstanding is the Museum for Turkish and Islamic Arts, founded in 1914. The Research Centre for Islamic History, Art, and Culture (IRCICA) of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference is an international institution devoted exclusively to Islamic studies. Departments of Islamic Studies exist at the major state universities.



  • Crane, Howard, trans. The Garden of the Mosques. Hafiz Hüseyin Al-Ayvansarayî 's Guide to the Muslim Monuments of Ottoman Istanbul. Leiden and Boston, 2000.
  • Dünden Bugüne İstanbul Ansiklopedisi. 8 vols. Istanbul, 1993–1995. An Istanbul encyclopedia.
  • Kreiser, Klaus. Istanbul: ein historisch-literarischer Stadtführer (Istanbul: An Historical-Literary City Guide). Munich, 2001.
  • Kuban, Doğan. Istanbul: An Urban History: Byzantion, Constantinopolis, Istanbul. Istanbul, 1996.
  • Mills, Amy. Streets of Memory: Landscape, Tolerance, and National Identity in Istanbul. University of Georgia Press, 2010.
  • Müller-Wiener, Wolfgang. Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls (Illustrated Topographical Dictionary of Istanbul). Tübingen, 1977.
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