22 Jul 2013

14 things you might not know about Istanbul

Istanbul BosphorusThis summer we are highlighting various aspects of Istanbul to better equip you for your stay during the 25th Annual EAIE Conference.  While preparing for the event, we’ve come across a great deal of interesting facts about this fascinating city that will be home to our milestone conference. All of them are bound to make your journey even more special so here’s a list of of quirky facts to add to your conference enthusiasm. 

1. Istanbul has been the capital of some of the biggest empires: Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman. It is now Turkey’s largest city with over 13 million people – more than the population of Belgium – and the second largest in the world by population within city limits. However, it’s not Turkey’s capital. Ankara has been the capital since Turkey was proclaimed a republic by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923.

2. When Roman Emperor Constantine the Great made the city the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire in 330 AD, he decided to build it on seven hills just like Rome. The city also took his name – Constantinople (“City of Constantine”) after having been called Byzantium since 660 BC. It was officially renamed Istanbul in 1930 but many still called it Constantinople. To ensure the usage of the new name, the Turkish post office didn’t deliver the mail addressed to Constantinople.

3. During the times of the Ottoman Empire, there were 1400 public toilets around the city while in the rest of Europe there were none.

4. Istanbul has the third oldest subway in the world. It was built in 1875 after the ones in London and in New York in 1863 and 1868, respectively. It is 573 meters long and it is located in the Beyoglu district.

5. British author Agatha Christie wrote her famous novel, Murder on the Orient Express at Pera Palas Hotel in Istanbul. The Orient Express train ran between Paris and Constantinople (Istanbul) from 1883 to 1977.

6. The Blue Mosque is the only mosque in the city with six minarets. Legend has it that when it was built, it had one minaret more than the Grand Mosque in Mecca (four was the common maximum at that time) and this was considered disrespectful in the Muslim world. In order to solve the issue, one more minaret had to be added to the Grand Mosque.

7. Hagia Sophia was the largest church in the world for about 900 years until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. It was also one of the 20 finalists for the New 7 Wonders of the World.

8. You might think that tulips originate from the Netherlands. However, the first tulips bulbs were sent from the Ottoman Empire to Vienna in 1554 and they were distributed further to Augsburg, Antwerp and Amsterdam. Afterwards they grew in popularity in the Netherlands as they proved to be able to tolerate the harsher weather conditions.

9. The four bronze horses decorating the San Marco Cathedral in Venice were taken from Istanbul (Constantinople at that time) by the crusaders in the 13th century.

10. The Grand Bazaar is the oldest and largest historical bazaar in the world with 3000 shops covering 61 streets. You would need three days to see them all.

11. Tea has become a national drink only recently. Before that it was Turkish coffee but when it became expensive and tea leaves could be grown in the Black Sea region, tea took its place. Coffee cannot be produced in Turkey because of the unfavourable climate for its production.

12. Istanbul was the European Cultural capital in 2010. Two years later it became the world’s fifth-most-popular tourist destination. Currently it’s bidding for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

13. A global city, Istanbul is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan economies in the world and accounts for more than a quarter of Turkey’s GDP.

14. And of course it’s common knowledge that Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents but still worth mentioning. The historic centre lies on the European side of the city. The Bosphorus Strait divides the city (and implicitly the two continents) and is the link between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.

Have you come across any other fun facts? Feel free to share them below. Looking forward to seeing you in Istanbul!