Roman emperor Constantine the Great chose Istanbul as the capital city of the Roman Empire. He named it Constantinople after his name and built a beautiful city the world had never seen before. Although Istanbul is a charming city, it pales in comparison to the magnificence of Constantinople of the Byzantine Empire.
A grand castle, a chariot racing stadium, squares for emperors across the city. Constantine ordered major cities in his empire to bring the most exquisite sculpture to the capital. Numerous sculptures adorned the city: Athena Parthenos from the Parthenon in Athens, the Persian victory monument at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi that features three snakes and the Horses of Saint Mark currently located in Venice were brought in to celebrate the glory of the city.
The glory, however, would not have lasted long without the great walls that surrounded the city. The three-layered walls built with Roman architectural techniques were invincible before cannons were developed. The signature cobalt blue waters of Istanbul protected the city with its depth and rocks. The Byzantine Empire’s military was well-trained and well-organized.
The city raked in handsome trade profits under the protection of the walls and the military. However, people living in the city became complacent about defense although they saw the walls and the sea everyday. They probably understood the importance of defense, but, over time, they became reluctant to invest in it and started to see military training as a nuisance.
Growing wealth meant incessant attacks from the outside. It had enemies everywhere. Such threats, however, were not enough to motivate the citizens to overcome crises and rely less on others. The city lasted for a thousand years, and it is a great feat in itself. But it could have lasted even longer. It is a shame that we can already see what was happening in the 1,000-year-old empire in today’s South Korea that achieved economic prosperity only a half century ago.