The settlement of civilizations in Istanbul date back to 7th century B.C. When it was conquered by Sultan Mehmet in 1453, a new era started, as did a lot of catastrophe, including fire, flood, and plague. In recent times, when mentioning catastrophe in Istanbul, earthquakes top the list. This is not something new, though. The Istanbul Earthquakes actually go back to the construction of Istanbul as a city.
First Earthquake in Istanbul
Istanbul was established in the year 326 by Constantine the Emperor of Byzantine, so it was called Constantinople at that time. The first earthquake in Istanbul that is recorded occurred 16 years after the establishment of the city. The historian Jerome mentioned this earthquake in his book in 342 A.D. Another earthquake that was just as big occurred in 358 A.D. and erased İzmit from the map. The tremors that occurred on the Anatolian Side of Istanbul were felt even on the Black Sea coasts.
More Earthquakes and Tsunami in Istanbul
While earthquakes are clearly determined by the seismographs nowadays, they were only discovered through the records of historians in the past.
During the Byzantine period in the years 583 and 611, two big earthquakes occurred. Then, in the year 740, Istanbul was hit with a devastating earthquake once again. After that, we did not see any big earthquakes until year 1000. Then, an earthquake, which was strong enough to damage the walls of Istanbul, occurred in 1231. The last major earthquake that occurred before the conquest of Istanbul occurred in 1419, and with this earthquake, a tsunami hit the Istanbul coast.
The Earthquakes in Istanbul during Ottoman Empire
We cannot locate further details about the aforementioned earthquakes, but we have ample information about the earthquakes in Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire.
The Earthquake on 22nd of August 1509 – Little Doomsday
The biggest earthquake after conquest occurred on the night of August 22, 1509. It was a quite destructive earthquake, therefore earning the name the Little Doomsday. There were many casualties because it occurred at night. According to the information of that period, between 5000 and 15000 people of Istanbul passed away. The balance sheet of the earthquake was also very heavy. Over 100 mosques, more than 1000 prayer rooms, and an undetectable number of houses and shops were completely destroyed. Walls from Yedikule to Bahçekapı were damaged. Among the historic artifacts damaged were Topkapı Palace, Anatolian Fortress, Rumeli Fortress, and Galata Tower. After the earthquake, 60 thousand workers were brought to Istanbul and construction began.
The Earthquake on 22nd of May 1766
250 years later after the aforementioned earthquake, another earthquake coinciding with the Feast of Sacrifice on May 22, 1766, occurred, and the aftershocks continued for 8 months. Most people preferred to live in tents which they set up in the gardens or on the streets instead of their homes for a year. The Eyüp Sultan Mosque completely collapsed because of the earthquake in İstanbul in 1766. But interestingly, we have not come across any number of deaths recorded in this earthquake.
The Earthquake on 10th of July 1894
The earthquake that occurred at noon on July 10, 1894 first started from the southwest with slight shocks but continued with severe shocks increasing northward. When this earthquake occurred, the Marmara Sea went 200 meters backward and then hit the shore very violently and broke all the boats on the shore. While the epicenter of the earthquake was Izmit Bay, its effects were felt intensely from 200 kilometers away. Even though the exact number is unknown, history books estimate that a few hundred people lost their lives.
The Marmara Earthquake – The Earthquake on 17th of August 1999
While the earthquakes we listed above remain on the dusty pages of history, the pain caused by the Marmara Earthquake, which occurred at 03.02 am on August 17, 1999, was captured by photographs and video footage. Like the other earthquakes, this earthquake occurred in the summer period and caused great destruction with 7.4 Richter scale quake centered in Gölcük Kocaeli. The Marmara earthquake is still remembered as a disaster that was felt even in İzmir and Ankara and caused 17,480 people to lose their lives. After the earthquake, 23,781 patients were transferred to health institutions and 285,000 houses were completely demolished.