Situated on the Bosphorus Strait north of the historic Hellespont (the present day Dardanelles), Istanbul, with its geographical location, has been the centre of many historical events over the past 1,700 years.

Alleged to have been established around 667 BCE as the Greek colony of Byzantion, it has seen the birth and death of some of the world’s greatest civilizations and has itself stood at the centre of two of them. The city’s fortunes took a momentous turn when Constantine ascended to the throne as emperor of the Roman Empire in 324 CE. The capital of this great empire was moved to Byzantion and in 330 Constantinople (the city of Constantine) was born. Its impact on the development and spread of Christianity was rivalled only by its impact on trade. The city became a doorway through which communication and commerce flowed more freely from east to west and back again.

Its next incarnation occurred in 1453. As Byzantine culture waned and faded into the annals of history Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror ended Constantinople’s 1,100 year reign as the capital of this once great empire. Ottoman culture—already itself more than 150 years old—experienced a renaissance with the jewel of Istanbul planted firmly in the centre of its crown. From Istanbul the empire grew and ultimately occupied much of Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. It again played the role of sitting at the centre of a great world religion—Islam. The sultan presided over the political affairs of this great empire, while becoming simultaneously the Caliph (or supreme religious leader) of the Islamic faith. Though the lines separating east and west had been redrawn along this religious border, the city remained a portal for remarkably liberal east-west passage.

Its 1,700 year role as a centre of commercial and cultural trade makes Istanbul a wonderfully appropriate place to bring together a diversity of cultures and views. It allows the city to take back its role as a centre for exchange, and a portal for intercultural association.

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