The City of Cities. Istanbul, Constantinople, Byzantium, Miklagarth, Tsargrad, whatever you want to call it, it's the centre of the world.
The City (as I will call it from now on) is built between Europe and Asia. From 324 to 1918, it was the capital of huge empires- first the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium), then the Ottoman Empire. For this whole period, it was generally called Constantinople.
The location of the City shaped a lot of its history- it's situated at the boundary between Europe and Asia, and also commands the entrance to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean. Until the 20th century, if you can find it anywhere, you can find it in the huge markets here.
Many of the buildings here are either very old or ancient, and many are religious. The two most famous are the Seraglio (Topkapi Palace) and Hagia Sophia. The first is the palace of most of the Ottoman Sultans, and includes the Harem. The second was the central church of Christendom, built in the 6th century, and converted into a mosque when the Ottomans took the City on May 29, 1453.
The City is multi-ethnic. At its Ottoman height, it was home to Turks, Greeks, Arabs, Armenians, Jews, Circassians, and many more.
My favourite book, if you can find it, is Laurence Kelly's Istanbul- A Traveller's Companion. Any history of the Byzantine or Ottoman empires. The Yashim novels are good for colour.
Game and Story Use
- Byzantine Constantinople was full of them- the True Cross, the axe used to build the Ark, you name it, they had it. Most of these were stolen in 1204 when the Crusaders sacked the city.
- The Ottomans had their own collection of relics, including the banner of the Prophet, which was unfurled whenever the Empire went to war.
- There were many pre-Christian antiquities in the city, including the Serpentine Column from Delphi. Also, there was a rumour that Byzantium possessed the Palladium- the charm that protected Troy until it was stolen by Odysseus.
- The City is built on top of its previous incarnations, and there is no real idea of what is underneath it. Modern Istanbul still uses the Byzantine sewers, and there was an elaborate water network including huge semi-forgotten cisterns.
- Hagia Sophia has no crypt. No-one knows why. Or does it?
- The City was at the centre of two huge empires, one of whose names became a byword for complexity, and the other was not much better. Sultans and Emperors were often puppets or usurpers. Often, viziers, eunuchs or janissaries held the real power, and there were always plenty of intrigues for PCs to be caught up in.
- In the 19th century, the slave markets were infamous. European women captured by Algerine pirates often ended up in the Sultan's harem. The PCs may have to free one, but will she want to be freed?