Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Istanbul from Collins English Dictionary


1 a port in NW Turkey, on the western (European) shore of the Bosporus: the largest city in Turkey; founded in about 660 bc by Greeks; refounded by Constantine the Great in 330 ad as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire; taken by the Turks in 1453 and remained capital of the Ottoman Empire until 1922; industrial centre for shipbuilding, textiles, etc. Pop: 9 760 000 (2005 est) Ancient name: Byzantium Former name (330–1926): Constantinople

Summary Article: Istanbul
from The World's Population: An Encyclopedia of Critical Issues, Crises, and Ever-Growing Countries

Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, with a metropolitan area population of about 14 million. It is Turkey's primary economic, financial, and cultural center. Located partly in Europe and partly in Asia, Istanbul is the only major city in the world that straddles two continents.

Istanbul is located on the Bosporus, which is a strait that is part of a water connection between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea along with the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles. Istanbul's position on the Bosporus has given it an important strategic location and made it a major center for trade and commerce for more than 2,000 years. Archaeologists have discovered artifacts on the site of present-day Istanbul that are more than 7,000 years old, confirming that the Istanbul area was inhabited long before it developed into a major city.

The history of present-day Istanbul dates back to about 660 BCE, when Greek traders established the trading town of Byzantium on the European or western bank of the Bosporus. Byzantium became part of the Roman Empire in 73 CE. In 330 CE, the Roman emperor Constantine made Byzantium the capital city of the Eastern Roman Empire and renamed the city Constantinople, after himself. The Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476 CE, but Constantinople remained the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, which was also called the Byzantine Empire, for the next several hundred years. Constantinople was contested between Christian and Muslim forces until it fell finally to the Ottomans in 1453. The first Ottoman emperor, Sultan Mehmed II, made Constantinople the capital city of the Ottoman Empire.

Constantinople remained the Ottoman capital until the Ottoman Empire collapsed before and during World War I. In 1923, the European powers recognized Turkey, with its present-day boundaries, as the successor state to the Ottoman Empire. Independent Turkey's first ruler, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, moved the capital of the country to inland Ankara in the same year. However, Istanbul remained newly independent Turkey's major commercial and financial center. The name of Istanbul had been used colloquially for the city during the 19th and 20th centuries and was adopted officially by the Turkish government in 1930. By this time, the urbanized area of Istanbul had expanded across the Bosporus into Asia. Today, about 40 percent of Istanbul's people live on the Asiatic side of the Bosporus.

During its period of Roman and Byzantine rule, Constantinople was one of the largest cities in the world by population. Historians have estimated that as many as 500,000 people lived in Constantinople during the seventh and eighth centuries CE. After several centuries of warfare, culminating in the Ottoman conquest in 1453, the population declined to an estimated 100,000. The population of Constantinople rebounded while it was the capital of the Ottoman Empire. At the time of Turkish independence in the early 1920s, its population was estimated at between 600,000 and 650,000.

Istanbul began to grow rapidly after Turkish independence. Not only did Turkey's rate of natural increase remain high, but very large numbers of people from rural Turkey moved to Istanbul in search of urban employment. Istanbul's population surpassed 1 million in the early 1950s. It reached 2.5 million in 1970, and then nearly tripled over the next two decades, reaching 7 million by 1990 and doubling again during the next two decades. Although much of this increase was the result of continued rural to urban migration, some of these increases were due to the fact that Istanbul's boundaries were extended to encompass virtually all of the urbanized territory on both the European and the Asiatic sides of the city. Uniquely among the megacities of the world, nearly all of metropolitan Istanbul's people live within the now-expanded city limits of Istanbul itself, rather than in suburbs. Istanbul is expected to continue to grow, with some experts predicting a population between 17 and 19 million by 2030.

Istanbul has experienced many problems typical of rapidly growing large cities in developing countries including very high population densities, traffic congestion, pollution, shortages of housing, and festering slums. However, experts on urban planning have praised the governments of Turkey and Istanbul for effective management of these problems in spite of continued rapid population growth. The expansion of Istanbul's boundaries into outlying areas of both European and Asiatic Istanbul was part of a comprehensive growth management plan, motivated in part by Turkey's efforts to become part of the European Union.

Istanbul's development and prosperity have been hampered, however, by natural hazards and disasters, notably earthquakes. Istanbul is situated on a fault line known as the North Anatolian Fault, and many severe earthquakes have occurred in and near the city since its founding. Although the last major earthquake to strike Istanbul itself occurred in 1766, in 1999 a strong earthquake struck at Izmit, about 70 miles from Istanbul. The Izmit earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.6 on the Richter scale, destroyed numerous buildings and caused hundreds of fatalities in Istanbul itself.

See Also: Megacities, Rate of Natural Increase, Turkey

Further Reading
  • Barnes, Katherine . “Clock Ticking for an Istanbul Earthquake.” Nature, March 12, 2010.
  • L. Birch., Eugenie Istanbul—A Megalopolis That's Beginning to Work.” Citiscope, January 2011.
  • Cox, Wendell . “The Evolving Urban Form: Istanbul.”, August 16, 2012.
  • Copyright 2014 by Fred M. Shelley

    Related Articles

    Full text Article Byzantium
    The Classical Tradition

    Successor state to the Roman Empire in the eastern Mediterranean. As with Rome, the name Byzantium (Greek Byzantion) originated with a founding city

    Full text Article Istanbul, Turkey
    Penguin Encyclopedia of Places

    Cap. of Istanbul province on both sides of the Bosporus at the entrance to the Sea of Marmara. Turkey's largest city. Pop. (1990)...

    Full text Article Byzantine Constantinople
    World History Encyclopedia

    The ancient Greek merchant city of Byzantion (later Latinized to Byzantium) suddenly became the capital of the Roman empire in 330 CE, when the empe

    See more from Credo