The Byzantine Empire: more blood than beauty?

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The Byzantine Empire: more blood than beauty?

Before I left I wanted to get the geography of Istanbul a little clearer in my mind. I found it interesting once on the Alumni tour, that several people had not heard of the Golden Horn and there also seemed to be confusion about the European and Asian parts of Istanbul.

The map of modern day Istanbul shows the geographic structure of the area that made it so important as a port city and as a capital city that could control access to the Black Sea area. The Golden Horn is the inlet off the Bosphorus that divides the European part of Istanbul in two. It has served as a natural harbour since ancient times. The two European shores are connected by 4 bridges of which the best known is the Galata bridge.

As you look at the map the older areas where one finds the Topkapi  Museum, the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia are below the Golden Horn, while on the right side is more modern Beyoglu and Taksim. We stayed at two hotels in the Taksim square area.

The right hand fork of the Y is the Bosphorus that separates the Asian area of Istanbul from the European side. The stem of the Y is where the Bosphorus meets the Sea of Marmara.

The original city of Byzantium was established on the triangular promontory between the Sea of Marmara on the south and the Golden Horn inlet on the north. After 9 centuries as the city of Byzantium,  in 330 AD, Emperor Constantine, the Great renamed the city Constantinople and made it the capital city of the Byzantine Empire.

In his Short History of Byzantium, John Julius Norwich follows the structure of his Byzantium Trilogy and discusses the history in three parts. The first, from the establishment of Constantinople by Constantine the Great, who made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, extends between 330 AD to 802 AD. The second period he titles the apogee when the Empire was at its peak from 802 to 1081; and finally the decline from 1081 till 1453 when the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II at the age of 21 signaled the end of the Byzantine Empire. The history reads as an unending succession of bloody wars.  The fort pictured above was constructed  by Sultan Mehmet before his conquest of the city - its building should have given the then current ruler that his intentions were  not exactly peaceful.

I took that picture on the half day cruise up the Bosphorus on my last visit in November. Unfortunately the audio on the boat was not great  on the upper deck so I missed a lot of the commentary..