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History of Fatih, the Historical Peninsula


The area which is surrounded by the Byzantine city walls, the Golden Horn and the Marmara Sea is Fatih, the Historical Peninsula. Facing the district of Eyüp in the north, the Golden Horn in the northeast, the Marmara Sea in the south, Zeytinburnu in the west and Bayrampaşa in the northwest, Fatih is a peninsula surrounded by the sea from three directions. This area, which has harbored many civilizations throughout its thousands of years of history, is currently the most significant historical, touristic and commercial center of İstanbul. The area is also called Suriçi İstanbul (meaning the actual city behind the city walls).

The area which is surrounded by the Byzantine city walls, the Golden Horn and the Marmara Sea is Fatih, the Historical Peninsula. Facing the district of Eyüp in the north, the Golden Horn in the northeast, the Marmara Sea in the south, Zeytinburnu in the west and Bayrampaşa in the northwest, Fatih is a peninsula surrounded by the sea from three directions. This area, which has harbored many civilizations throughout its thousands of years of history, is currently the most significant historical, touristic and commercial center of İstanbul. The area is also called Suriçi İstanbul (meaning the actual city behind the city walls).

As a transition point between Asia and Europe, the area has been home to various civilizations since the paleolithic, neolithic and bronze eras. The first historical findings about the Historical Peninsula belong to the neolithic era and they were unearthed during the Marmaray excavations in Yenikapı. The neolithic era, which corresponds to about 6500 B.C., was when mankind first engaged in agriculture, started growing crops and tamed animals. The alphabet, mathematics, the art of architecture and the approach of building cities were all firsts realized during this era.

The excavations under Sultanahmet Square in Sarayburnu also resulted in findings which date back to 5000-3000 B.C. being unearthed. Under the light of these findings, it is safe to say that the area has been a point of settlement for 8500 years.
The first significant civilization to be established on the historical peninsula was the Megara civilization which was located in the east of the Mediterranean Sea sought to become a part of the Mediterranean trade network and benefit from wheat trade. The Megarans settled in Sarayburnu in around 660-670 B.C. for the purpose of establishing a colony. Before the Megara civilization, the Tracian, Phyrigian and Bythinians lived in the area. The Megarans enslaved the people of this land in accordance with the Spartan tradition and built the city of Byzantinum there. The city was relied on sea trade, its sea port being the Prosphorion Port which can be accessed by moving towards the Golden Horn from Sarayburnu.
Founded about 100 years before Byzantinum, Rome grew bigger conquest after conquest and became the greatest power on the Mediterranean Sea. The live trade network on the Mediterranean was the security of the Roman Empire’s strength in terms of both politics and economy. As the empire aged, its power and influence began to fade soon resulting in a state divided into two in 295 A.D.: the East and Western Rome. Unable to resist the pressure from the north any more, the Western Roman Empire withdrew from the stage of history in 476 A.D. leaving behind the Eastern Roman Empire, which later became Byzantium.

The Eastern Rome (New Rome) remained intact for a period of one thousand years after the fall of Western Rome. One of the prime reasons in its survival was its being a great harbor and a center of production, its strong city walls and the New Rome’s position as a political capital. The city walls protected the city from invasions for a long time. However, the fact that the active trade routes in the area belonged to the Venetians and Genovese led the New Rome to its downfall. Although the city was the capital of the European civilization until the Latin Invasion in 1204, it gradually lost its power and surrendered to the armies of Fatih Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453.
Being the new capital to the Ottoman Empire, the Historical Peninsula soon regained its former glory it held before the Latin Invasion. Fatih Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror started reconstructing the city soon after the conquest. Firstly, the city walls, which were damaged during the conquest, were repaired. The unkempt and damaged Hagia Sophia was repaired and converted into a mosque. Construction of a mosque and külliye in Fatih bearing the name of the sultan and the Topkapı palace started. The Sahn-ı Seman madrasahs, which were a part of the Fatih Külliye and formed the foundations of the current İstanbul University, were also introduced to service at that time. This was also when the water arches descending from the Byzantium were repaired, the Grand Bazaar was built and the municipal organization of the city was established. Fatih Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror assigned Hızır Çelebi the Şehremini (mayor).

After the conquest, new housing areas were founded in order to develop the city. The Muslim population of Anatolia and Rumelia were encouraged to migration to the city. Christian and Jewish citizens were also invited from several other locations and they were offered housing. The Historical Peninsula being its center, İstanbul became Europe’s greatest city and a center for science and art 50 years after the conquest.


The earthquake of September 14, 1509, which was called the “Small Doomsday” and left its traces in the 16th century, damaged the city greatly. Continuing for 45 days, the earthquake left behind thousands of damaged buildings and not a single intact minaret. Many architectural works were destroyed or damaged on the Historical Peninsula, the center of city.

The city was almost rebuilt with the efforts of Sultan Bayezid II (1510) who employed 80.000 people for this purpose.

The Historical Peninsula, too, benefited from the reconstruction and many immortal works of the time survived into the present.

The 46 years between the years 1520 and 1566, the period when Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent was at the throne, was a rising period not only for the empire but also for İstanbul. During this period, many priceless works were built in İstanbul and they are still intact today. The city got water with its new arches, waterways, dykes and fountains. İstanbul looked completely like a capital with madrasahs, caravansaries, bathhouses, private gardens and bridges. At this time, the harbor of Golden Horn also became one of the most visited harbors of the Mediterranean.

The works of the period of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, especially those built by Architect Sinan, gave the city an entirely fresh look. Süleymaniye Mosque and Külliye, Şehzadebaşı Mosque and Külliye, Mihrimah Sultan mosque, and Haseki Külliye and Bathhouse, which were dedicated to Hürrem Sultan, were built in this period. The madrasahs of Süleymaniye made İstanbul the center of education and science.

İstanbul witnessed some great disasters during the period of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent as well. The plague often hit İstanbul and the fire of 1554 inflicted great damage on the area between Hagia Sophia and Tahtakale.

The storm of 1554 over-flooded streams and many people drowned. And the floods of 1563, which were the result of excessive rainfall, resulted in even greater damage. 
The city went through various changes and innovations during the Tulip Era. Grand Vizier Nevşehirli Damat İbrahim Paşa engaged in reconstruction of İstanbul under the influence of the projects he took from Paris and Vienna in particular. First, the Golden Horn area was improved and the banks of the sea were turned into promenades. Many manors and gardens were built in districts both within and outside the city walls. The districts destroyed by the fire were rebuilt. 

The Period of Reorganization (Tanzimat) started after the relevant decree was read in the Gülhane Garden of Topkapı Palace in November 3, 1839. In this period, when the approach of westernization gained acceleration, various innovations took place in İstanbul and the Historical Peninsula in a number of fields from architecture to lifestyle and education institutions to industrial organizations. The city began to spread over Bakırköy from the center and over Teşvikiye from Galata. It also expanded towards Sarıyer from the Bosphorus, and towards Bostancı and Beykoz in the Anatolian side. 

The classical Ottoman architectural style was abandoned during the Period of Reorganization. New buildings were built in baroque, rococo, neo-gothic and empire styles. This change in style was observed even in minarets. 

These years also witnessed significant improvement in infrastructure and municipal services. The said improvements included building of a bridge on the Golden Horn, foundation of the tram line and the Rumelian Railroad, opening of Şirket-i Hayriye which provided local sea transportation services, establishment of the Şehremaneti (Municipality) organization and other municipal offices, furnishing of the first telegram line, foundation of police organization and affiliated headquarters, and the construction of the Vakıf Gureba hospital.  

A new page was opened in İstanbul during the Period of Reorganization (August 31, 1876). Unfortunately, however, the Turkish-Russian war which broke out soon on April 27, 1877, left the city in panic. İstanbul suffered a lot from this war particularly because of its close proximity to the Rumelian front. Transfer of soldiers to the west from the city on one hand and Rumelian emigrants who ran away with their diseased and wounded people on the other hand caused a lot of distress in the city. These poor emigrants tried to live in madrasahs, mosques and patched-up makeshift huts.  

The Historical Peninsula experienced yet another big earthquake in this period. The earthquake of 1894, which was publicly known as the “earthquake of three hundred and ten”, damaged the city badly but reconstruction and repairing activities started soon enough. 

During the time of invasion and truce, the Historical Peninsula saw some great demonstrations it was not used to. The Fatih Meeting, where female speakers also spoke, took place in Sultanahmet Square on May 19, 1919. The meeting was attended by over 50 thousand people.

During the Republican Era, particularly at the time of Menderes’ development movements (1954-1960), the frequent migration gave birth to a problem of housing and the number of multi-floor buildings soon increased. Wide avenues were built on the Historical peninsula and the migrations which took place after 1950 began to change the socio-cultural structure of the city.
The Historical Peninsula has maintained its significance since the times of Eastern Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires although it lost its position as the center of government when Ankara was pronounced the capital of the country in October 13, 1923. The negative impacts of the World War I and the capital’s movement to Ankara caused İstanbul (the Historical Peninsula) to suffer poverty for a while but the city regained its power due to its strategic location and natural structure becoming a center of trade, industry and tourism.

Today, the government centers of the Governorate and Metropolitan Municipality of İstanbul are located within the boundaries of the Historical Peninsula.