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Fire, earthquake, riot, and invasion have ravaged Istanbul many times, more than 60 conflagrations and numerous earthquakes being important enough to have been recorded in history.

The traces of these disasters, though, have been swept away in waves of intensive urban development: today wide roadways run through the historic quarters of the old city, and unpaved alleys overhung with old wooden houses coexist with modern high-rise buildings, office parks, and shopping malls. The land walls, which isolate the peninsula from the mainland, were breached only once, by cannon of the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II (the Conqueror) in 1453, at the spot since called Cannon Gate (Top Kapısı).

The old walled city of Istanbul stands on a triangular peninsula between Europe and Asia.

Sometimes as a bridge, sometimes as a barrier, Istanbul for more than 2,500 years has stood between conflicting surges of religion, culture, and imperial power.

Of 92 turrets originally raised on the outer wall, 56 are still standing. Only short sections of their 30-foot- (9-metre-) high masonry still remain along the Golden Horn. The walls along the Sea of Marmara, which stretch about 5 miles (8 km) from Seraglio Point, curving around the bottom of the peninsula to join the land walls, had 188 towers; they were, however, only about 20 feet (6 metres) high, because the Marmara currents provided good protection against enemy landings. Within the city walls are the seven hills, their summits flattened through the ages but their slopes still steep and toilsome.

Geographers number them from the seaward tip of the peninsula, proceeding inland along the Golden Horn, the last hill standing alone where the land walls reach the Sea of Marmara.

The original peninsular city has seven hills, requisite for Constantine’s “New Rome.” Six are crests of a long ridge above the Golden Horn; the other is a solitary eminence in the southwest corner.

Around their slopes are ranged many of the mosques and other historic landmarks that were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985. The Golden Horn is a deep drowned valley about 4.5 miles (7 km) long.

Constantine the Great dedicated the city as his capital, he called it New Rome.The narrow Golden Horn separates old Istanbul (Black Sea colder and less briny than the Mediterranean.The Black Sea waters thrust southward through the Bosporus, but beneath them the salty warm waters of the Mediterranean push northward as a powerful undercurrent running through the same channel.The Galata and Atatürk bridges cross the Golden Horn to Beyoğlu.Each day before dawn their centre spans are swung open to allow passage to seagoing ships.

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