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The Ottoman Centuries

Seeing himself as the successor to Constantine, Justinian and the other great Emperors, Mehmet the Conqueror at once began to rebuild and repopulate the city during the Ottoman Centuries. He choose the conspicuous promontory, Seraglio Point to build his ostentatious palace, Topkapi, and repaired and fortified Theodosius walls. Istanbul was soon the administrative, commercial and cultural heart of his growing empire. 

The building boom Mehmet kicked off was continued by his successors with Suleyman the Magnificent along with the Islam’s greatest architect Sinan responsible for more construction than any other sultan. The city was endowed with buildings commissioned by the sultan and his family, court and Grand viziers including the Suleymaniye Camii (1550),the city’s largest mosque. Later sultans also added mosques and in the 19th century numerous palaces were built along the Bosphorus, among them the Dolmabahce. 

As the Ottoman Empire grew to encompass the Middle East and North Africa as well as half of Eastern Europe, Istanbul became a fabulous melting pot of nationalities. On its streets people spoke Turkish, Greek, Armenian, Ladino, Russian, Arabic, Bulgarian, Romanian, Albanian, Italian, French, German, English and Maltese.

However, what was the most civilised city on earth in the time of Suleyman eventually declined along with the Ottoman Empire and by the nineteenth-century Istanbul had lost much of its former glory. Nevertheless it continued to be the ‘Paris of East’ and, to reaffirm this, the first great International luxury express train, the famous Orient Express, connected Istanbul  with the French capital.