Byzantium: A Tale of Three Cities

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Series 1 - Episode 3 Istanbul



Incidents of bloodlust and depravity have run through this series like a dark thread. But as Simon Sebag Montefiore turns his attention to Islamic Istanbul, the stories plumb new depths. Ironically the Istanbul of the Ottoman Empire was at one point a safe haven for many persecuted minorities: the Jews exiled from Christian Europe found sanctuary amid its domes and minarets.

But the Ottoman court was a vicious snakepit governed by brutal ritual: when a new sultan came to the throne, he executed all his brothers for fear of them seizing power. The story does end well, as Sebag Montefiore lavishes praise on the founder of modern Turkey, Ataturk.


Historian Simon Sebag Montefiore charts how Istanbul rose to become one of Islam's most powerful cities, and visits the mosques and palaces built by the Ottoman sultans, sharing stories of royal concubines and murderous bodyguards along the way. He also examines how the ancient city was transformed in the 20th century by the secular vision of Turkey's first president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who launched a programme of revolutionary social and political reform.

Cast & Crew

Presenter Simon Sebag Montefiore
Director Graham Johnson
Executive Producer Mike Smith
Producer Graham Johnson