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Smithsonian Folklife Festival
The Silk Road

Istanbul Crossroads

Sometimes it seemed as if most of the known world came to Constantinople! Traders, diplomatic missions, missionaries, and armies traveled to and through the city from China, Central Asia, Venice, Iran, Egypt, Russia, Hungary, and Spain. All over Constantinople there were great bazaars and markets as well as places of worship.

Originally established as the Greek city Byzantium in the 7th century B.C.E., the city was renamed by the Roman ruler Constantine I, a convert to Christianity who enlarged the city in the 4th century C.E. His successors built churches throughout the city, including Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish). Muslim Turks and Venetian traders vied for control of Constantinople until its conquest by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century. Upon entering the city, Sultan Mehmet II, the Ottoman conqueror, made Hagia Sophia a grand mosque and built other mosques throughout the city. Mehmet II renamed the city Istanbul, although until 1923 the people called the city either Istanbul or Constantinople.

When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, they brought much of western Asia and the Anatolian peninsula within their empire. The Ottoman control of this vast area meant that trade expanded, especially to Western Europe. For example, most of the first wool carpets in European homes were from Anatolia (modern Turkey), and many European impressions of the Islamic world came from commercial, diplomatic, and military contacts with the Ottoman Empire.

Click to enlarge and view captions

Click image to enlarge and view captions