The city of Constantinople’s history is more or less similar (although it fell to the Turks later in 1453 than here, with Tuesday, October 29th, 1453 being the fall date there) to the real city’s until the year 1919 when Constantinople plus a thin strip of land on the other side of Asia Minor (Scutari and Chalcedon mostly) were occupied by the League of Nations (LoN), with all of the Ottomans’ remaining possessions in Epirus, Macedonia, and Thrace being given to Greece.
The occupation was a sordid affair that required the effort of Kemr, the United Kingdoms of England-Scotland, France, Japan, and the North American League to hold down and ease the transition from Ottoman to international rule. For one, according to the 1914 Ottoman census, 560,434 out of 909,978, or 61.59% of the people in the Konstantiniyye were Muslims, out of just 205,376 Rûm (22.57% although historians believe this number to be more in the 31%-33% range) and 8.02% Oriental Orthodox Armenians. Another problem was that nearly all Byzantine historical monuments in the city were in the hands of Muslims who absolutely refused to give up anything, save for the Pammakaristos Church in the Çarşamba sector of the Balat quarter of the Old City, which had been the ecumenical patriarchate’s headquarters since 1456. Indeed, there were nigh 3,300 mosques in the city alone when the League of Nations took over in 1919 ranging from ones the size of cowsheds that could hold 3-5 people tops to the former Church of the Holy Wisdom of God. That the sultan gave up his seat of power and went into self-imposed exile in Gordion was shocking in and of itself, and while it did shock the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire (also a caliphate) into seeing the fallibility of their caliph, it did not cow them into submission. On the contrary: the LoN takeover only whipped the Muslim faithful up into a frenzy.
The first controversy to erupt in the city was over the celebration of Divine Liturgy in the Church of the Holy Wisdom of God on the 19th of January, 1919 by Cretan irregulars and their chaplain, Papa Elevtherios (Lefteris) Noufrakis of Rethymno, Crete. The celebration was not condoned by the League of Nations and set off riots in the city and nearly claimed the lives of the Cretan chaplain, officers, & soldiers who barely made it out of the building with their lives. The League of Nations at this point absolutely still did not know what to do with their demilitarized zone. The Russians lost their bid to take the Straits when their own civil war erupted. England within the Federated Kingdoms desired the Bosporus region for itself, but Kemr was strictly against the matter and desired for it instead to be Christian again. France, although a secular republic at this point, thought it best to make the Straits region a new crusader state, and to this end had the blessing of the papacy, who wrote a letter saying that the best course of action was to make the Ayia Sofia a Uniate cathedral but barring that, it would be better to keep it a Muslim mosque than return it to the hands of the local Orthodox Christians whom he criticized for their piety and zeal. Japan, roped into helping its new allies administer a city that most of its citizens know absolutely nothing about, took a strictly neutral stance. The Empire had three of its own die in a bar fight in the Beyoğlu district during the riots and sought to pull out as soon as possible.
While the Great Powers deliberated, the scholarly community ransacked the city for its many uncountable millions of ancient manuscripts and priceless artifacts. A great deal of antique, Byzantine era, and earlier Ottoman heirlooms were carted off to London, Paris, Dublin, Vienna, and Berlin. The puritanical Saudis’ king, looking to dethrone the disgraced Ottoman sultan as Commander of the Faithful in the Sunni world, purchased the four minarets of the Hagia Sophia as well as the eight calligraphic roundels painted by Kazasker Mustafa Izzet Efendi in the 19th Century. The roundels were relatively easy to get to Mecca where they hang in the Great Mosque of Mecca to this day, but the minarets had to be painstakingly disassembled, loaded up into wheeled crates and then sent by ship to Port Said on the Sinai, through the Suez Canal to Jeddah, and then overland by camel to be reset up at each of the four corner’s of the Saudi royal family’s private mosque in Riyadh where they stand proudly today.
As the year 1919 came to a close and the year 1920 began, it became evident to the city’s denizens that with every passing month it became more and more unlikely for the Great Powers to give the place back to the Turks. Armenia & Kurdistan declared independence in that year and the state could barely fend off their uprisings. While the sultanate never officially recognized the independence of these two regions, those in power certainly made their peace with the two rather large regions seceding forever. It became more of a game of survival for the Ottoman sultanate and a protection of its core than a campaign of irredentism. While the Great Powers considered returning the city, public opinion back home in no country save for maybe Japan and Italy would allow for it. Indeed, the Constantinople Question united Christians in Europe like never before. Both the Kirk o Scotland and the Free Kirk were coming together on the issue and sending money to relief aid networks set up to help feed war refugees and orphans pouring into the city and for the upkeep of the Hagia Sophia, some of its hidden doors being opened for the first time in centuries in a rather sorry and ruinous state. The patriarch of Glastonbury did not take the side of his sovereign in the Lateran and made several donations of rather hefty sums over the course of 1921-1934 for the upkeep of the city’s churches including the Ayia Sofia. Some Russians believing that the Empire was lost, fled through the Port of Odessa to take refugee there. Even with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, several of them gave brooches and hatpins to the ecumenical patriarchate so that it may send iconographers to repair the damage wrought by centuries of Muslim squatting. The Ayia Sofia even became a temporary shelter for Russian and Ukrainian refugees in the 1920’s until the patriarchate could find better housing for them in the houses abandoned by Muslims who fled to the Gordion region to flock around their sultan’s gilded cage and Armenians who up and moved to the new socialist country that called Armenians from all around the world to heed their call that their motherland needs them.
It was also during this legally ambiguous and chaotic time that free-spirited bohemians from all around the world began moving to Constantinople. The allure of the city brought Castilian anarcho-communists, French heroin addicts, Roma peddlers, Argentine writers, Japanese middlemen and Chinese porters, Austrian schoolteachers, German architects, Jewish labor activists, Georgian students, and African-American entrepreneurs to settle there, many of them for good. It was truly a buyers’ market, with many Muslim and Armenian families selling their homes for liquid cash up-front and moving out the day they made their sale, bound for Gordion or Yerevan. The city’s Jews, meanwhile, were ambivalent at best about their future rulers, whoever they may be, being perfectly content to be ruled by no one in particular.
This period of international rule would however, not last. After several years and millions if not billions of pounds and francs spent on the upkeep of the city as more Muslims and Armenians left and Greeks, Russians, and global progressives poured in, the Great Powers would decide to cut their losses and leave an easily manipulatable, weak power in charge that they could bend to their will when desired: Greece. The fledgling state even before the gift of the City had tripled in size when it got a stretch of land spanning from Ioannina to Adrianople at once in 1919 with the Treaty of Versailles. Now, more would be dumped on its plate by an uncaring set of foreign domineers who would secure propaganda victories back home by doing this.
The kindness of individuals trumped the realistic uncaringness of states. International aid for both the war weary Greek citizens and their many cultural relics that dotted this ancient and venerable queen of cities.
The Greek takeover only sped up the numeric demise of the Muslim community, absolutely terrified of the prospect of being ruled over by the former people they themselves had ruled over for centuries. The Jewish community was less than thrilled but after several guarantees in writing by King George himself that their rights would be respected and their property untouched by the new state, most Jews stood their ground, although some did flee greener pastures in the Levant or North America or for the city of Thessaloniki which was completely unchanged by Greek rule since the state was scrambling to beautify its newest prize, the crown jewel of the Greek nationstate. Thessaloniki keeps its Ottoman feel with its twists and turns, untamed streets, spontaneous outdoor bazaars, and signs in the Arabic, Greek, and Hebrew scripts all over. The Armenian emigration has tapered off by the Greek takeover. The only Armenians left in the city at that time were the one who found living in a socialist state unpalatable, and they would go on to have big families and bring up the number of Armenians in the city once more. The percentage of Catholics rose since they were less than thrilled to be ruled by Oriental Orthodox Christians even less than socialists, although many of them moved to the Americas and France. The community even receive outside immigration from Hayhurum (Eastern Orthodox Armenians) refugees fleeing western Anatolia who didn’t feel like going east into Armenia whether out of distance or the desire to be ruled by their coreligionists. They would be awarded the former Byzantine church of Saint Theodosia (known as the ‘rose mosque’ or ‘Gül Câmîi’ by the Ottomans) along the Golden Horn by the ecumenical patriarchate who blessed their use of the decidedly-Byzantine Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in liturgical Armenian. It is today known as the Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator (Ιερά Εκκλησία του Αγίου Ιερομάρτυρος Γρηγορίου Φωστήρα/Սուրբ Գրիգոր Լուսավորիչ եկեղեցի).
A great hierarchical liturgy was celebrated in the Church of the Holy Wisdom of God the first official day that Greek rule began attended by His All Holiness Germanos V and dozens of metropolitan bishops, archbishops, bishops, priest, deacons, and cantors as could make it to the city for this momentous and historic occasion. King George rode through the streets on his bay horse until he made it to the steps of the cathedral where he was greeted by the ecumenical patriarch. Thousands attended and packed themselves in, elbow-to-elbow, even standing outside in the spring cold of March 28th (April 10th on the Julian Calendar). It was Lazaros Saturday and the king and hierarchs would be back hours later for the resurrection service on Saturday night leading into Sunday morning then for the Love Vespers service on Sunday afternoon. It was a joyous occasion for the Christians of Constantinople, all of them—even the Catholics and Protestants. Church bells rang out all weekend and the Greek blue-and-white fluttered in the breeze even atop the spires of mosques.
A complete restructuring of the city was called for by King George. French urban planners on loan from their government were sent in by the hundreds to plan a new, model city that would be as modern as Paris or London but keep both a Byzantine and Classical feel, a tall, if nigh-impossible order. Not a single minaret was to be left in this new, Christian city. The state was callous in its implementation of this first stage in the plan, sending wrecking crews by the hundreds out at a time made up of local, unskilled workers to pull minarets down with ropes and grappling hooks. The next step was one of the most costly. Even as iconographers and archaeologists worked day and night to beautify the Ayia Sofia and bring it back to its former glory, the Sultanahmet Mosque just across the park was dynamited, with the plan for its rubble to be used to rebuild an exact replica of the Church of the Holy Apostles. This plan would outlive the Danish King George and the vast majority of his corps of urban planners, not being finished until more research was available to plot out the exact shape of the church until late October of 1976. For decades, the Sultanahmet Mosque would lay in a sad pile of rubble, an eyesore in the glitzy, new heart of the gleaming city. Most of the bricks were actually too badly damaged in the dynamiting that they could not used in the rebuilding. Many thousands of local Roma and imported refugees would cart off these bricks by donkey-cart or hand to use to build ramshackle shantytowns farther away from the city center in its still very much rural suburbs. To this day, it is still possible to find small houses that perhaps only recently got insulation, running water, and power that are made out of the bricks and stone slabs of the Sultanahmet Mosque far, far away from where they stood for centuries. Although it may be apocryphal, it is said that when news reached the Ottoman sultan from his island refuge of Ada Kaleh that the “Gâvurlar” had dynamited the mosque that his ancestors had built, he had a stroke, remaining partially paralyzed for the rest of his life, the stress of having to fight a civil war to keep his throne and the news of the destruction of so much of his people’s history in their own capital was too much to bear.
The urban planners were instructed to clear land for each Byzantine monument and build the new streets around them, small islands of serenity in a sea of urban hustle and bustle. The new neighborhoods got their names from the old Byzantine churches and monuments that withstood the test of occupation and time. Even the old names for neighborhoods, be they Christian or not, were to be changed. Constantinople is a testament to the hubris to the Greek nation of the early 20th Century when its territories spanned three continents and the 20th Century seemed to be a Greek (not Roman) century. Even with the Queen of Cities theirs once again, the elite in power, some of them shipped in from Denmark and the German city-states, did not even remotely try and bother masquerading as a neobyzantine empire. In a sense, they did not understand the people that they ruled after, but millions of “Greeks” did not forget what they truly were—Romans.
The lion’s share of the buildings of modern day Constantinople are Art Nouveau being built by French architects who peaked at the turn of the century. One would be mistaken for thinking that looking down the beating heart of the city, Middle Street (ἡ Μέση Ὀδός) that one would feel as if they were in Paris. That is precisely the look that the modern founders of Constantinople were going for, even if they were to make a half-assed effort to preserve the Roman character of the city. Greeks, Armenians, Roma, Russians, Muslims, & Jews were all resettled in new houses with modern amenities, which many of the older folk, especially more pious Jews, bemoaned.
The king refused to change his residence from quiet Athens to busy Constantinople, even though many anticipated that this would happen and the Politeia/Res Publica to be redeclared. George was still very much a Hellenophile Dane who was not personally interested in the glories of Byzantium a fraction as much as the people he was thrust upon by the English and French were. He did approve a plan to bulldoze both the Dolmabahçe Palace and the much older Topkapı Palace in order to build a new palace for the royal family—the Entente had long raided the sultans’ former residence on and off from 1856-1922 and from the 1450’s-1856, so not much of value was left for the Greeks to pawn off. Only two buildings survived in each locale—the Dolmabahçe Mosque and Holy Peace (used by the Turks as an armory). The former, in a twist of fate, was donated by King George to the city’s microscopic Lutheran community made up of so-called “Bosporous Germans” (a German émigré group that had been in the city since at least the mid-to-late 1800’s) and Danes sent to Constantinople to oversee the city’s complete transformation from Oriental to contemporary Western European.
The Greek state put many billions of pounds into the rebuilding of Constantinople. Indeed, by the start of the Second Great War, turning Constantinople into a western darling had nearly bankrupted the country, a fact not known by the Great Powers until the surrender of Greek forces to them in 1947. Just to keep the city running smoothly and not erupting into sectarian rebellion, civil war, or a forcing of the Greeks into the pro-Russian camp, the Great Powers once again found themselves dumping millions of pounds and francs in funds into the city’s upkeep two decades after swearing that they no longer would. This time, they would even findthemselves fpoting the bill of publics works protects in Athens, Patras, Rhodes, Thessaloniki, and Adrianople. The end of GWII and the Greek defeat ushered in a new era for Constantinople. Now, any new buildings were built purely for utilitarian reasons and without a touch of neobyzantinism or Art Nouveau. Refugees came pouring in from the lands of the Ottoman Empire in record numbers simply not seen in the First Great War. Greece was also forced to house by the allies both anti-communist partisans who fled the southern Slavic lands and Dalmatia, Red Russians and Ukrainian socialists fleeing SNOR’ist rule, and Turkish republicans who were not allowed back into Anatolia. None of these groups were desired by the English or French to settle in their own countries, so they made the losing Greeks take the full brunt of the waves of human migration. The former two groups were maligned by the native Greeks, Jews, and Armenians, although the Yugoslavs were welcomed with open arms by the few White Russians who stayed in the city and did not return to Russia after the White counter-victory in the 1930’s. The Bulgarian church of St. Stephen’s, the ‘Iron Church’ as it’s locally known, became the spiritual home for most of the Serbs, Bulgarians, Ukrainians, and any believing Reds (there were some). Many Ashkenazi Jews also fled south, and they were taken care of by local Romaniote and Sephardic Jews who expected a conformity on their part to local ways, be they thoroughly Byzantine Jewish or Byzantinized Iberian peninsular. This expectance of conformity pushed some Jews to instead side with their Russian-speaking fellow refugees mired in the dirt and to convert to Orthodoxy at St. Stephen’s, although even in the present there are four smallish Ashkenazi synagogues in Constantinople so this was more the exception than the rule. The former Catholic church run by Franciscan monks given to Andalusian refugees in the 1600’s by the Ottoman state was in turn turned over to a fledgling community of Western intellectuals who had converted to Orthodoxy during their time in the city in a grand experiment by the patriarchate to see if there was any love for the western rites amongst émigrés and expats. That experiment failed for the most part, so it was eventually turned over to Greek-speaking refugees that no longer felt safe in Calabria and Apulia who had moved to Greece in the aftermath of the Second Great War. Their local festival on the feastday of Sts. Sergios & Vakhos has attained fame the country over for its Italianate customs and improvised singing. Another, much smaller western rite Orthodox parish would be reopened in the late 1990’s for a group of two dozen British and American Evangelicals that converted to Orthodox Christianity and desired a place to worship in the Cambrian Rite. Some Eastern Orthodox Assyrians whose ancestors joined the Moscow Patriarchate in the late 1800’s over a dispute over who was elected to the office of bishop of Urmia also fled Russia and Persia to settle in Greece in the late 1980’s as well, as would Persians fleeing the Iran-Iraaq War and non-communist Kurds. The latter two groups were fertile missionary ground for the ecumenical patriarchate who has opened up several Persian and Kurdish missions across the city, although they have stiff competition from Scots Calvinists and American Baptists and Methodists. The Chinese of the city, although they had been there as workers in Japanese trade bureaus since the 1920’s only started coming over in numbers in the late 1990’s, probably opening Constantinople’s first non-Abrahamic house of worship, at least one that was officially recognized.
Architecture in the city is usually no different now from the rest of the Continent. The Pandidakterion’s departments of urban planning & of architecture are the best in the region and lead innovation in these two fields. Many students want to see a more indigenous style of architecture take over, one that’s uniquely suited to the Thracian climate and can withstand cold winters and hot, humid summers better. More and more local buildings, be they hip wine bars or law offices are utilizing so-called “future Byzantine,” an upcoming style barely a decade old. The municipal government has been obliging slowly but surely, tearing out any tacky friezes and Ionic columns still found in government buildings. The full-time move of the capital from Athens to Constantinople in 2008 after a year of declaring both cities co-capitals has also bring in more state investment to the city and its environs although it never lacked private investment from foreign and domestic clients.