Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey and the heart of the country. It is also one of the largest agglomerations in Europe and the fifth largest city in the world in terms of population within city limits. Interestingly, Istanbul is a transcontinental city as it is located on the Bosphorus waterway in northwest Turkey between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. This means the commercial center is in Europe while the rest of the city is in Asia. In 2016, Istanbul had an estimated population of over 14.6 million.
Istanbul has grown very rapidly over the past one hundred years, although it has always had a large population. Istanbul has remained one of the largest cities in the world for most of its long history. Istanbul (then Constantinople) had a population between 400,000 and 500,000 in 500 AD, pushing out Rome as the largest ever city in the world at the time.
City Size and Population Density
Istanbul has a huge area - coming to a total of 1,539 square kilometers (594 square miles). Istanbul has a population density of 2,523 people per square kilometer (6,530/sq mi), far greater than Turkey's density of 102 people per square kilometer. The most densely populated areas are the southwest, west, and northwest of the city center as well as the European side, while the most densely populated district is the Asian side, Uskudar.
Istanbul has a tiny foreign population of just 43,000 in 2007, but only 28% of the population originates from Istanbul. Istanbul is home to most of the ethnic and religious minorities in Turkey.
The Kurdish community is the most significant ethnic minority in the city, originating from southeastern and eastern Turkey, with a population of up to 3 million in Istanbul. This is the largest Kurdish population in the world.
Turkey was once home to a sizeable Jewish population numbering 100,000 in 1950, but this number dropped to 18,000 in 2005. Most Jews in the country live in Istanbul or Izmir. There are also 17,000 Assyrians/Syriacs in Istanbul and a large number of Roma people. The Sulukule neighborhood in Istanbul is the oldest Roma settlement in all of Europe.
Through the 1800s, the Christian population of Istanbul was mostly either members of the Armenian Apostolic Church or Greek Orthodox, but this changed in the 20th century due to a population exchange between Turkey and Greece, a wealth tax in the 1940s and riots in the 1950s. The Greek population has since fallen from 130,000 in 1923 to about 3,000 by 2000. The Armenian community has also dropped, partly caused by the Armenian Genocide, but it has rebounded thanks to recent immigration. There are now up to 70,000 Armenians in the city, compared to 164,000 in 1913.
It is believed that Istanbul has been inhabited since 3000 BCE, although it did not become a city until the Greeks arrived in the 7th century BCE. These colonists, led by King Byzas, settled here due to its strategic location and named the city Byzantium. It eventually became a part of the Roman Empire in the 300s, and Roman emperor Constantine the Great rebuilt the entire city, giving it monuments similar to Rome. It was declared the capital of the Roman Empire in 330 and renamed Constantinople. The city then became a center of Christianity.
In the 400s, Constantinople was divided and became the capital of the Byzantine Empire. It became Greek, rather than Roman. Constantinople eventually declined, and it was pillaged after the Fourth Crusade. It then became the center of the Catholic Latin Empire in the early 1200s. Constantinople began to weaken further as it was put in the middle of conflicts between the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire and the Catholic Latin Empire. Shortly afterward, it was recaptured and returned to the Byzantine Empire. It was then that Ottoman Turks began conquering the area.
The Ottomans officially conquered it in 1453, and it was immediately renamed Istanbul and was made the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Mehmed brought back the Greek Orthodox and Catholic residents who had fled, as well as Jewish, Christian and Muslim people for a mixed population. By the 1500s, Istanbul reached nearly 1 million people, although the Ottoman Empire was defeated and occupied by the allies in WWII. Following occupation, the Turkish War of Independence occurred, and the city became a part of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.
Istanbul Population Growth
The most rapid growth in the city came during the late 20th century when its population increased from 983,000 in 1950 to 10,923,000 in 2000. The population has grown partly from expanding the city limits, especially in the 1980s, when Istanbulites doubled in number. Istanbul is growing at a rate of 3.45%, making it one of the fastest growing metropolitans in the world.