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The Ottoman Empire • From Constantinople to Istanbul
Classroom Activities

Objective: After learning about changes brought about by Mehmet II, write a letter as a diplomat from Rome visiting Istanbul around 1475.

Key Questions:

  • Why was Mehmet II so effective in transforming Constantinople into an Islamic city? How did Mehmet's changes emphasize the role of Islam in the life of Istanbul?

Notes on Implementation:

  • Extend learning by having students read the resources on the website related to changes in Istanbul under Suleiman I and Mimar Sinan. Then have students learn more about Istanbul today. Discuss how the Ottoman leaders collectively impacted the art, architecture, and culture of Istanbul in ways that are felt over 500 years later.
  • If students need support, have students work together to identify changes that Mehmet II made to change Constantinople/Istanbul into an Islamic city, as well as factors that made the city unique. Ask students to work together to list words, phrases, and ideas that they will include in their letters.

Student Activity: Students can access the below activity in The Ottoman Empire Topic Center within the World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras database.

Student Activity:

The city of Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine Empire for over 1,000 years. Constantinople was also a center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. In 1453, the city fell to the Ottoman ruler Mehmet II, who set about transforming it—architecturally, culturally, and socially—into an Islamic city that would be known as Istanbul.

In this activity, you will learn about changes made in Istanbul after Islamic leader Mehmet II takes control. Then, you will assume the persona of a diplomat from Rome visiting the city under Mehmet's rule and summarize the changes that Mehmet has brought about in a letter to the Roman government.



  • Begin by looking at a map of the Ottoman Empire (Ottoman Empire, 1453-1520). Based on this map and what you already know about this region, what factors do you think gave rise to the Ottoman Empire? What do you think the Ottoman Empire was like? Discuss your ideas with a classmate or colleague before reviewing the listed Resources.
  • Assume you are an influential person living in Rome in 1475. You have been asked by the Roman government to travel to Istanbul to report on the government and the changes that have occurred since Mehmet II took control in 1453. The leaders of Rome have asked you to include notes about the religion, culture, economics, and other changes happening in Istanbul. Aristocratic leaders of Rome are concerned that the changes will threaten trade and the life of European Christians living in what is now Istanbul. Write a letter to the Roman leaders. Discuss the changes have occurred since Mehmet took power, what surprises you, and whether Rome should be concerned about the conversion of the city to Islam. Your letter should be roughly 100 words in length.
  • Exchange letters with someone else in your class. Read the letter as if you are the government leader in Rome. Do you think the letter accurately depicts Istanbul at this time in history? Why or why not?
  • Discuss the letters with your partner or in small groups. How were your letters similar? How were they different? What do they reveal about Mehmet II? What do they indicate about the role of Islam in Istanbul? Would you want to live in Istanbul under Mehmet's rule? Why or why not?


Key Understandings:

  • Relatability and promise of a better life in religious traditions attract converts and followers
  • Geography and previous cultural traditions impacted the spread of Islam
  • The relationship between religion and government can impact empirical stability, growth, and success
  • Strong bureaucratic systems positively impact the effectiveness of both civilizations and empires

Possible Answers for Activity:

Letters should demonstrate understanding of the changes Mehmet brought about, including:

  • Religion: Mehmet was deeply religious and wanted to turn Constantinople into an Islamic capital. He converted Christian churches, including the Hagia Sophia, to mosques (removal of crosses, plastering over mosaics, addition of minarets, geometric designs, etc.).
  • Economics: Istanbul is at crossroads of trade and has a diverse culture and multicultural populace. Mehmet encourages businessmen to live in Istanbul. He charges dhimmi ("People of the Book": Jews and Christians) extra taxes.
  • Culture: Mehmet sponsors artistic, architectural, and intellectual activities. He invites famous Italian artists and hires the world's best architects.
  • Improvement projects: Mehmet improves roads, sewers, and fountains. He builds bath houses, hospitals, and soup kitchens/places to feed the poor.

Students may point out that Rome should not fear disruption to trade because Mehmet recognizes the importance of maintaining trade relationships. Mehmet also has demonstrated a tolerance for diversity and a willingness to allow Christians and Jews to leave peaceably with followers of Islam.


MLA Citation

"From Constantinople to Istanbul." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2019, historyhub.abc-clio.com. Accessed 17 Feb. 2019.

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