Mehmed II conquered İstanbul, the city was still reeling from the pillage it had suffered at the hands of the Army of the Fourth Crusade. Its vineyards and gardens were abandoned and untended, especially in the last 50 years before the conquest. Most of the city was in ruins, many of the houses and shops were empty. Some of its inhabitants had been killed during the conquest, some had been taken hostage and many of them had fled the city.
Conscious of having inherited the throne of the East Roman Empire (he was, after all, a nephew of the last Byzantine Emperors) the main aim of Mehmed II was to surpass this heritage by creating a multi-cultural, multi - linguistic, world capital unlike any other. This aim would later on force the Sultan to tolerate people with different religions and customs. While he redesigned the city according to his new plan, he came up with a new geography for the people of the city.
The people living in districts such as Fener, Samatya and Galata, who had surrendered and avoided the sacking of the city, were given the right to live in their old homes and keep their shops. Most of the 'elite', who had been taken hostage, were freed with the help of Mehmed ii and returned to their old lives. People who were taken hostage during the war returned to the city. When all this wasn't enough to repopulate the center, mandatory resettiement and exile was put into action.100 craftsmen and wealthy families were called in from each of the other cities in the empire. Greek Orthodox from Bursa, Edirne, Trabzon and the Aegean Islands; Armenians from Erzurum, Crimea, Karaman, Mus, and Sivas; Jews from Edirne, Bursa, Thessalonica; Gypsies from Mugla; Arabs from Akka and Gazze; Slavs from Serbia; and Turks from every corner of Anatolia.
Just like Constantine The Great in the year 330, Mehmed II encouraged immigration to İstanbul. For a while prisoners of war received tax exemptions, and some of them were settled in the neighborhoods outside the city to farm vegetables and fruit free of any rent.
The Muslim community settled in districts like Aksaray, Carsamba, Fatih, Eyup, Cibali Tophane, Kurucesme, Baltilimani Kabatas, and Uskudar; the Jews in Balat, Ayvansaray,Haskoy, Ortakoyand Kurucesme; the Armenians in Samatya, Kumkapi, Langa,Yenikapi Balat and Topkapi; and Orthodox Greeks in Fener, Cibali, Yedikule Balat, Ortakoyand Arnavutkoy. There was already a Latin community in the district of Galata. The people that came from the city of Aksaray named their district af ter their old home, just like the people coming from Carsamba did.
Albanians, Serbs, Romanians, Bosnians, Sefardic and Ashkenazi Jews, traders from Catalonia and Marsailles, Laz, Kurds, Crimean Tatars, Circassians thrown out of Russia, Ossetians, Nestorians and Chaldeans from the Middle East, Hungarians and Poles who had fought for and lost the struggle for their nations' independence- and many more from all around the world would later form the cultural geography of İstanbul.
An environment like this was probably the world's most colorful, multi-cultural human geography. According to an estimate based on a census in 1478, the population of 80 thousand was divided like this: Muslims %58, Orthodox Greeks %22, Jews %10, Armenians %10, Catholics %3 and Gypsies %0.2. Around the same time, the numbers in the Galata district were like this: Orthodox %39, Muslims %35, Latin %22 and Armenian %4.
The census in 1897 revealed a different numerical breakdown: Muslims %58, Orthodox %22, Armenians %15 and Jews %5. İstanbul's population on a muslim/non-muslim basis stayed the same up until the Republic: %60 Muslims and %40 Non Muslims.
Right after the conquest in 1454, Mehmed II appointed Georgios Sholarios as the patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church and made him the representative of all the Christian Orthodox in the Ottoman Empire. Scholarios had opposed the last Byzantine Emperor's attempts to reunite Eastern and Western Christianity in a bid to halt the onslaught of the Ottomans. For this opposition Scholarios had been confined to the Pantocrator Monastery. The patriarch was given an equal place with the viziers in administrative protocol and he was fully authorized to administer to the daily governance of the Greek-speaking community; including educational and legal matters. This approach inaugurated by Mehmed II continued until the end of the Ottoman Empire.
Mehmed II also reappointed Moshe Ben Eliya Kapsali, the last leader of the Jewish community during the Byzantine era, as the chief Rabbi and entrusted him with the governance of the Jewish community. Kapsali worked very hard to bring the Sephardic Jews, expelled from Spain in 1492, to İstanbul.
Thirdly, Mehmet II established the Armenian Patriarchate in 1461 and appointed an old friend, Hovagim I, the ex-bishop of Bursa, as the Armenian patriarch. The Armenian Patriarchate was given the same rights as that of Orthodox Patriarchate and the Armenian community grew with through his efforts and the influx of Armenians from other regions of the Empire.
The new city plan revolved around the principle of a nuclear neighborhood; religious and ethnic factors, not class, were important during the redesigning of the city. In this way, neighborhood cultures were created around religious institutions and markets. The important elements in Muslim neighborhoods were markets, caravansaries, mosques and dervish lodges. Christian and Jewish neighborhoods were situated around churches and synagogues. The Imam, the priest and the rabbi were given new civil, judicial and municipal assignments. This arrangement, called 'The Nation System' (Millet System), was designed to help the Ottoman Empire control all individuals within their different communities. The newcomers contributed a great deal to the city culture with their colorful.
Office Hours: 08.30-18.30