İstanbul is a fascinating city with a rich history and culture, and as a result, there are many interesting facts about it. Some of the most interesting facts about Istanbul include:

1. İstanbul is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world

Aqueduct of Valens, Istanbul
Aqueduct of Valens. Its construction began during the reign of the Roman emperor Constantius II (r. 337–361) and was completed in 373 by the emperor Valens (r. 364–378). Photo by Maris Teteris, CC BY 3.0, Link

İstanbul’s historic peninsula was settled as far back as the 6th millennium, which makes İstanbul one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with a history that dates back over 2,500 years.

The city’s Greek name was Byzantium and it was part of the Athens league. Then, in 73 CE, the city became a part of the Roman empire.

In 324, the ancient city of Byzantium was renamed “New Rome” and declared the new capital of the Roman Empire by Emperor Constantine the Great (272-337). On 11 May 330, it was renamed Constantinople, and dedicated to Constantine.

From 1453, the city served as the capital city of the Ottoman Empire. Since the foundation of the modern Republic of Turkey in 1923, it is the largest and most populous city in Turkey.

2. İstanbul straddles two continents [Europe and Asia] and is the only city in the world to do so

İstanbul facts: İstanbul is the only city in the world that straddles two continents. Istaanbul, Bosphorus Bridge from Ortaköy
İstanbul facts: it is the only city in the world that straddles two continents. Photo by Onur Binay on Unsplash

İstanbul is located on the boundary of two continents: Europe and Asia. The city is divided by the Bosphorus Strait, which separates Europe and Asia. İstanbul is the only city in the world that straddles two continents.

3. Istanbul was built on seven hills

İstanbul is known as the City on the Seven Hills. The city has inherited this denomination from Byzantine Constantinople which – consciously following the model of Rome – was built on seven hills too.

The seven hills of İstanbul are:

  1. The first hill on which the ancient city of Byzantium was founded. This hill is located at the tip of the peninsula that makes up Istanbul’s old city and is home to many of the city’s most famous landmarks, including the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque, constructed between 1609 and 1616).
  2. The second hill is located to the east of the first hill. It is home to the Nuruosmaniye Mosque (completed in 1755), Beyazıt Mosque (completed in 1506), Grand Bazaar (completed in the winter of 1460/61), and Column of Constantine (a monumental column built for Roman emperor Constantine the Great to commemorate the dedication of Constantinople on 11 May 330 AD. Built c. 328 AD, it is the oldest Constantinian monument to survive in Istanbul). The second hill is divided from the first by a fairly deep valley running from Babiali on the east Eminönü.
  3. The third hill is now occupied by the main buildings of Istanbul University, the Bayezid II Mosque to the south and the Süleymaniye Mosque (completed in 1557) to the north. The southern slopes of the hill descend to Kumkapi and Langa.
  4. The fourth hill on which stood the Church of the Holy Apostles (its first structure dated to the 4th century) and, subsequently, the Fatih Mosque (completed in 1771), slopes down rather steeply to the Golden Horn (Haliç) on the north and, rather more gently, to Aksaray on the south.
  5. On the fifth hill is the Mosque of Sultan Selim (completed in 1527). The fifth and the sixth hills are separated by the valley running down on the west to Balat on the shore of the Golden Horn (Haliç).
  6. On the sixth hill are to be found the districts of Edirnekapı and Ayvansaray. Its gentle slopes run out beyond the line of the defense walls.
  7. The seventh hill, known in Byzantine times as the Xērolophos (Greek: ξηρόλοφος), or “dry hill,” extends from Aksaray to the Theodosian Walls and the Marmara. It is a broad hill with three summits producing a triangle with apices at Topkapı, Aksaray, and Yedikule.
The map of Constantinople in the Byzantine Period shows the seven hills of İstanbul
The map of Constantinople in the Byzantine Period shows the seven hills of İstanbul. By Cplakidas – Own work using: Main map source: R. Janin, Constantinople Byzantine. Developpement urbain et repertoire topographique. Road network and some other details based on Dumbarton Oaks Papers 54. Data on many churches, especially unidentified ones, were taken from the New York University‘s The Byzantine Churches of Istanbul project. Other published maps and accounts of the city have been used for corroboration., CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

4. Istanbul is home to some of the most beautiful and historically significant architectural wonders in the world

These wonders include:

  • Hagia Sophia
  • The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque)
  • Topkapı Palace (home to all the Ottoman sultans until the reign of Abdulmecid I [1839-1860])
  • Basilica Cistern
  • Süleymaniye Mosque
  • Galata Tower

… and there are many more.

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia is one of the most beautiful and historically significant architectural wonders in the world. It was where the rulers were crowned, and it was also the biggest operational cathedral in the city throughout the Byzantine period. Resources show that on the opening day of the Hagia Sophia, Emperor Justinian entered the church and said, “My Lord, thank you for giving me a chance to create such a worshiping place,” and followed with the words “Suleiman, I beat you,” referring to Suleiman’s temple in Jerusalem.

5. İstanbul is the largest city in Europe

With a population of more than 15 million, İstanbul is the largest city in Europe. As of 2022, it is also the 15th largest city in the world.

It is also the most populous city in Turkey. About 1/5th of the Turkish population lives in İstanbul.

Istanbul Bosphorus bridge at night.
İstanbul is the most populous city in Europe and the 15th largest city by population in the world. Photo: Bosphorus bridge at night on Deposit Photos

6. İstanbul has more than 450 kilometers (280 miles) of coastline

İstanbul is a city located on the Bosporus Strait, which separates Europe and Asia. The Bosporus Strait is an important waterway that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, which in turn is connected to the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. As a result, İstanbul has a long coastline from the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea that stretches along the Bosporus Strait.

Bosphorus from Rumeli Lighthouse road
The view of Bosphorus from the Rumeli Lighthouse (Rumeli Feneri) road. I took this photo on April 20, 2017.

7. There are many beaches in İstanbul

There are many popular beaches and seaside neighborhoods in Istanbul, including Kilyos, Kısırkaya, Karaburun, and Uzunya on the Black Sea, Florya and Yesilkoy on the Marmara Sea, and the Princes’ Islands, a group of nine islands located in the Sea of Marmara.

Karaburun (İstanbul) beach
Karaburun is a district located on the Karaburun Peninsula near the Black Sea in the western part of İstanbul, Turkey. The district is known for its natural beauty, with forests and beaches. It’s also near the beautiful lake of Terkos (Durusu).

8. İstanbul has served as an imperial capital for over 1500 years

The city was the capital of the Eastern Roman (330-1204), Latin (1204-1261), Byzantine (1261-1453), and Ottoman (1453-1922) empires.

But, it is NOT the capital city of Turkey. Ankara is the capital of Turkey.

Night view of Topkapı Palace, İstanbul
Topkapı Palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for nearly 400 years, from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Photo: Night view of Topkapı Palace, İstanbul, Turkey on Deposit Photos

9. It snows in İstanbul

And some years a lot. In fact, İstanbul receives more snow than any other city in the Mediterranean Basin.

Because of its many hills and valleys, İstanbul has many microclimates, with rainfall (and snowfall) varying considerably between them. You can experience heavy snowfall in one area while other areas are enjoying the sunshine.

Snow-covered Belgrade forest and Topuzlu dam
Snow-covered Belgrade forest and Topuzlu dam. I took this photo on January 25, 2022.

10. İstanbul is home to a diverse array of wildlife

Despite being the largest city in Turkey, İstanbul is home to a diverse array of wildlife. The city is located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and this geographical location has contributed to the diversity of its flora and fauna.

Birds are a common sight in Istanbul, and the city is home to over 300 species of birds. Some of the birds that can be found in Istanbul include seagulls, sparrows, pigeons, crows, and swallows. The city is also home to a number of migratory bird species, such as the white stork and the purple heron, which visit Istanbul during the winter months.

Istanbul is also home to a number of mammals, including wild boars, foxes, coyotes, bats, rabbits, and hedgehogs. The city is also home to several species of reptiles, including snakes and lizards.

Wild boars in İstanbul Belgrade forest. I took this video in June 2022.

The city has a number of parks and green spaces that provide habitat for wildlife, including Belgrade Forest (where I live), the largest urban forest in Europe, and Emirgan Park, which is home to a variety of plants and animals.

A crane in İstanbul Technical University
A crane in the artificial lake of İstanbul Technical University
Sea turtles are sunbathing in the artificial lake of İstanbul Technical University
A group of sea turtles sunbathing in the artificial lake of İstanbul Technical University
A wild boar in Bahçeköy, İstanbul
A wild boar in Bahçeköy, İstanbul

Sources

Published by Özgür Nevres

I am a software developer, a former road racing cyclist, and a science enthusiast. Also an animal lover! I write about the city of Istanbul on this website. I live in Istanbul since 1992.

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