Sunday, March 28, 2010

Well, It's Not Constantinople

Magnet # 204:  Istanbul Floral Tile

Material:  Ceramic

Purchased by:  Mom & Dad

It was on this day in 1930 that Constantinople officially became Istanbul, paving the way for one of the most kitschy songs ever. Really, can you even say Istanbul without launching into this song?

The first known name for this city was Byzantium, given to it by the Greek settlers who lived there.  For a brief time, it was known as Augusta Antonina and, later, New Rome.  But it wasn't until Emperor Constantine I took control of the city, naming it Constantinople after himself, that it began to become truly great.  He made it the center of his empire rather than Rome and spent six years building it up.  After he was gone, the importance of the city only grew greater and when the Western Roman Empire fell, Constantinople was left as the largest city of the Roman empire, more or less, and the largest in the world.  Emperor Justinian I only added to its grandeur, building the Hagia Sophia and other great churches after a fire caused by a riot destroyed part of the city.  Constantinople was so great, in fact, that it attracted armies such as the Persians and Arabs.  For over 300 years, one army after another tried to capture the city.  And, finally, in 1453, the Turks conquered it, making it the capitol of their Ottoman Empire.  It was then that it began to be called Istanbul, although many still referred to it as Constantinople.  While the Ottomans turned the city into a major power in politics, culture, and commercial enterprises, the name discrepancy never seemed to bother them much.  It wasn't until it fell and Turkey was created in 1923 that the matter was resolved.  In less than seven years, the Turkish Postal Service Law of March 28, 1930 made it clear that Istanbul was the one and only accepted name of the city - letters sent to Constantinople were no longer delivered, and foreigners were asked by officials to call the city Istanbul.  The name game had finally come to an end and Ankara had replaced Istanbul as the capitol of the nation, but Istanbul was hardly down for the count.  Nowadays, it's Turkey's largest city and the only major city in the world that straddles two continents - Asia and Europe.  It is a megacity that features stunning historical architecture as well as modern skyscrapers, and it brings in a great deal of commerce and tourism every year.

As for the aforementioned "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," it wasn't recorded until 1953. It was a big hit for the Canadian band the Four Lads, making it all the way to number ten on the Billboard magazine charts and giving them their first gold record. Its silly lyrics and swing style tune has appealed to quite a few artists, and twenty more have covered the song, including Bing Crosby and Bette Midler. They Might Be Giants, an alternative rock band, recorded one of the best known versions of the song in 1990. They gave it a nice modern twist, upping the tempo and adding a violin and an accordion at certain parts in the song. It's funny how something as mundane as changing the name of the cities of Constantinople to Istanbul and New Amsterdam to New York could provide for the lyrics of a song that's persisted for decades.  Sooner or later, there will be more versions of this classic song and I'll be interested to hear what modifications will be made on it.  Just remember, folks, if you're planning a visit to this historic city, book for Istanbul, not Constantinople - that's been a long time gone.  And it's nobody's business but the Turks!


  1. Yes, I must agree Istanbul not Constantiople is a fun song, but it does drive you crazy when it stays in your mind for days. But it is better than some songs that stay around for days. So I'll count my blessings!

  2. Yes, at least it's a fun song to have stuck in your head. And maybe you could even use it to force out a less preferable one.