The history of Istanbul University traces back to educational institutions called as Medaris-i Samaniye (Sahn-ı Seman) which were founded after the conquest of Istanbul in 1453 by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II.  Therefore, it is accepted that the Faculty of Letters was founded in those years as well. Istanbul University was reorganized in western- style with the regulations made in 1845, 1863, 1869 and 1900. Although there had been an attempt to launch the modern university for the first time on July 21, 1846 after the proclamation of Imperial Edict of Gulhane (Imperial Edict of Reorganization), an inauguration ceremony was able to be done on January 13, 1863. However, this attempt was limited with conferences and a continuing education could not start. It was decided that History, Geography and History of Philosophy courses besides other departments to be taught within the body of the university. An institution of higher education named the Darülfünün (House of Multiple Sciences) was planned to be founded with the Statute on General Education in1869, but it officially came into operation as Darülfünun-u Osmani (Ottoman House of Sciences) on February 20, 1870. Although Philosophy and Literature Department was one of the three departments of Darülfünun-u Osmani (Ottoman House of Sciences), it was closed in 1873 before starting its education. One year later, in 1874 Darülfünun-u Sultani (The Imperial University) was founded and  Edebiyat-ı Aliye Mektebi ( High Level School of Literature) was one of the three departments of Darülfünun-u Sultani (The Imperial University). Edebiyat-ı Aliye Mektebi ( High Level School of Literature)  is the core of present-day Faculty of Letters. 

The Imperial University, now known as Darülfünûn-u Şahâne was refounded in 1900 and the Faculty of Letters was founded in this year as well. 25 students were enrolled in Literature Deparment in the same year and only seven (7) of these students were able to graduate in 1902. It was renamed as Istanbul Darulfünunu (Istanbul House of Multiple Sciences) in 1911 and Faculty of Religious Sciences (Ulum-i Şer’iye), Faculty of Law (Ulum-i Hukukiye), Faculty of Medicine (Ulum-i Tıbbıye), Faculty of Positive Sciences (Fünun) and Faculty of Letters ( Ulum-i Edebiye) were established. 226 students were enrolled in Literature Department of the Faculty of Letters in 1912-1913 academic year. In 1915, a women’s college for higher education, Inas Darülfünun was founded. In 1919, it was accepted that female students of the Inas Darulfünun could attend courses with the male students of the Faculty of Letters. Şüküfe Nihal was the first female student graduated from Geography Department at the end of 1919-1920 academic year. Foreign academic staff and foreign students were accepted to work and study in Istanbul University after the declaration of the Second Constitution. Istanbul Darulfünunu (Istanbul House of Multiple Sciences) gained its scientific and administrative autonomy in 1919. The faculty of Letters decided to give Mustafa Kemal Atatürk  title of Honorary Professor upon the suggestion of  Yahya Kemal Beyatlı, a Turkish poet and professor of Istanbul University, and students of the faculty and this suggestion was accepted by the Faculty Council on November 13, 1922. 

Istanbul Darülfünunu was reorganized as Istanbul University with the law dated 31 May 1933. Following the enactment of the relevant law, Faculty of Letters officially began its education. During the establishment period of our faculty, there were 6 professors, 6 associate professors, 4 teachers and 5 foreign professors. In the later years, the number of teaching staff, especially the number of German professors and associate professors, increased. In progress of time, disciplines such as Anthropology, History of Art were turned into Departments and Pedagogy, Psychology and Sociology disciplines were reorganized as separate departments. Before the reorganization of the universities in accordance with the Higher Education Law dated 6 November 1981 and numbered 2547, there were 39 divisions and disciplines within the body of 19 departments. After this reorganization of the universities with the relevant law, there are 15 departments with 56 divisions and 4 disciplines within the body of Faculty of Letters and 6918 undergraduate and 943 postgraduate students follow the courses offered by Faculty of Letters. The number of teaching staff of the faculty has reached 364.  There are 8 research centers and 21 journals published by the various departments of the faculty. The faculty of Letters offered education respectively in Sultanahmet, Çemberlitaş, Galatasaray and finally Zeynep Hanım Mansion in Beyazıt. After operating in Hatice Sultan Palace for a short time, Faculty of Letters has been continiuing its education at the current place of Faculty of Letters and Faculty of Sciences since 1951. These faculty buildings were built by architects Emin Onant and Sedat Hakkı Eldem. 

The Faculty of Letters which is aiming to offer services to the students and researchers coming from Turkey and other countries in accordance with the Ataturk’s Principles and Reforms has been maintaining this mission for long years. Academicians graduated from our faculty have been the founder members of the newly founded universities and departments. is graduated. The faculty of Letters is in the third place of the protocol of the University Senate. Its academic colour is green.