History of Fatih, ancient Constantinople

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The history of the Fatih district, the historical core of Istanbul corresponding de facto to ancient Constantinople

The cradle of everything

The district of Fatih is the oldest on the European side of the Istanbul province and corresponds de facto to the ancient perimeter of Constantinople, extending across the historical peninsula up to the Theodosian Walls, rendered useless by the Ottoman conquest. To tell the history of this district, a brief summary of the history of the city is therefore necessary, founded in 657 BC. by the legendary king Byzas.


According to tradition, the founders of Byzantium were colonists from Megara who arrived there shortly before visiting the Oracle of Delphi, who suggested that he “do the opposite of the blind man”; the suggestion was interpreted as “doing the opposite of the inhabitants of Chalcedon”, who had not noticed that incredible territory. The first settlement was built on today’s Sarayburnu, an area consisting of the promontory that separates the Golden Horn from the Sea of Marmara.


If you want to be picky, the very first settlement in today’s Fatih would be the port of Lygos, but very little is known about its history and it soon became part of Byzantium. In the 4th century BC the city will give life to one of the most famous and celebrated symbols of all time: the crescent. According to tradition, in fact, the foundation of the city was dedicated to the goddess Artemis who, among various symbolic elements, also had the Moon; in the 4th century BC, Philip II of Macedon tried to besiege the city by attacking at night by surprise but, thanks to a particularly bright crescent, the troops were sighted and then defeated. Since then, this symbol has become an integral part of local iconography, joining any subsequent culture. Over time, the city came under the influence of the Kingdom of Pergamum, which ceded the entire domain to Rome by testament. Byzantium initially had some difficulty in emerging under the new lords, but this choice will be more decisive than ever for its future.

Constantine and the New Rome

Between 235 and 284 the Roman Empire experienced one of its deepest crises, resolved only with the rise to power of Diocletian, a Roman soldier of Dalmatian origin who in 285 defeated Carino becoming emperor. Among the reforms made by the latter there is certainly the tetrarchy, a key passage for the history of the future Constantinople. Diocletian divided the Empire into 4 parts: he controlled the easternmost part of the Empire by electing Nicomedia (the current İzmit) as capital, the Balkans were entrusted to Galerius, Italy, North Africa and Spain to Maximian and finally, Constantius Cloro, father of Constantine I, was entrusted with Gaul and Britain. These characters were not of equal rank and it was no coincidence that Diocletian and Maximian were named “Augusti”, while the other two, to the latter, “Caesars”. This system worked very well until 305, when the two Augusti abdicated in favor of their Caesars; pity that Costanzo Cloro died in 306, thus giving rise to a decisive crisis of power.

Constantine the Great

From 306 to 324, in fact, Constantine took advantage of the situation to pass from being Caesar of Gaul and Britain to the sole ruler of the whole Empire, thus moving the capital from Rome to Byzantium, which was proclaimed “New Rome”. This proclamation was not a way of saying but, according to tradition, the new emperor would have carried out the ancient auspicious rites with which Rome was founded. From that moment on, Byzantium was renamed Constantinople and became the capital of what would become the Eastern Roman Empire.

The Byzantine Constantinople

After Constantine there were other great emperors to give prestige to the city, affecting both its urban planning and its history. The first was certainly Theodosius, who, with the construction of his Theodosian Walls in 413, endowed the city with one of the most effective defensive lines in history, so much so that only the Crusaders first and the Ottomans then managed to overcome it; the Theodosian walls also delimit the boundaries of today’s district of Fatih. Another emperor of incredible importance will then be Justinian I, initially due to his repression of the Nika Revolt and, subsequently, for the construction of Hagia Sofia in 537, then the largest Christian basilica. In reality, on the site of the current Hagia Sofia, 2 much older structures were built: the first in 360 (it is not known for certain whether by Constantine himself or by his son, Constantine II) and the second in 415 by Theodosius II. Unfortunately, however, both buildings were destroyed following some terrible fires, the second, specifically, during the Nika Uprising; it must be said that the current structure is decidedly different and larger than the previous ones and therefore it is not wrong to say that it was Justinian I who gave life to the current Hagia Sophia. Starting from the 7th century, Constantinople became one of the most coveted places in the world and, for this reason, it was forced to undergo several sieges in its long and complicated life.


The first was the last roar of theSassanid Empire that in 626, besieged it together with the support of the Pannonian Avars and some proto-Slavs, but was rejected in Asia thanks to the intervention of the patriarch Sergius I; I say “last roar” as that was the last clash between the Byzantines and the Sassanids, as the latter kingdom will soon be swept away by the Arab-Muslims, who in those years were enjoying the preaching of Muhammad, who will die in 632. It is no coincidence that the two subsequent great sieges were planned by the Arabs: one between 674 and 678, while the other between 717 and 718; it must be said that, although the district of Eyüp is also linked to the first in the name of a Sahaba / companion of the Prophet Muhammad, it is the one on which there are more doubts, as several historians argue that it was a naval blockade more than one real siege. In any case, the Byzantines managed to pass both the Arab and Persian threats unscathed, however falling under the blows of the Roman Church. In 1204 there was in fact the Fourth Crusade, a fundamental moment both for the history of Constantinople and for that of the entire Mediterranean. It was on that date that a Crusader expedition departing from Venice decided to head towards the Byzantine capital, managing to win the siege and put it to fire and sword, so much so that after this event theLatin Empire of Constantinople, which remained active until 1261, the year in which the army of Michael VIII Palaeologus, commanded by Alessio Strategopulo, resumed dominion of the city.

Fatih, the Conqueror

In 1453 Constantinople was conquered by Mehmed II Fatih, or “The Conqueror” who will forever change the history of the city and, specifically, of this district. The name “Fatih” is in fact due to the Fatih Mosque, the first Turkish-Islamic complex to be built in the city walls; due to the strategic position near the Edirnekapı, or the Edirne Gate, this building brought wealth and abundance to the area, to the point the area was populated in a very short time by Turks and many other madrasas and mosques were built. Starting from the 18th century, also due to several fires and earthquakes, the city began to expand more and more even outside Fatih, developing more and more but losing in part its soul made of buildings and wooden streets .


Due to its history, Fatih is clearly among the most visited districts of Istanbul, corresponding de facto to ancient Constantinople.

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