Ottoman Empire Essay

The Ottoman Empire, founded in 1299, collapsed in November 1922, when the last sultan, Mehmed VI, was sent into exile. The First World War had been a disaster for the empire, with British and allied forces capturing Baghdad, Damascus and Jerusalem. A new government, the Turkish Grand National Assembly, was set up in 1920 in Ankara, which then became the Turkish capital. Constantinople, formerly the imperial capital, was renamed Istanbul in 1930. By Dave Burke

A mosque and street in the Scutari district of Constantinople, in a fascinating image which gives an impression of day-to-day life during the latter years of the Ottoman Empire

The neighbourhood of Galata, opposite Constantinople, located on the northern shore of the Golden Horn, the inlet which separates it from the historic peninsula of old Constantinople

A stunning view of Fenerbahce on the sea of Marmara in Constantinople, Turkey, between 1890 and 1900, during the final years of the Ottoman Empire

Hundreds of people walk across the Galata bridge in Constantinople, as small boats sail across the water on what was a major trade route into Europe during the Ottoman Empire

Prior to the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople, on the banks of the Bosphorus, was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe

The Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Camii, Aksaray, in Constantinople, during the final years of the Ottoman Empire

Constantinople′s landmark burnt column

Sultan’s Bajazid mosque in Constantinople, Turkey, is one of the landmarks revealed in this stunning set of images

Colour has been added to the postcards using a process called Photochrom, bringing the historic city to life

A view from the bridge in Constantinople, where Europe meets Asia, in a scene which gives a fascinating insight into life at the close of the 19th century

Before it was renamed Istanbul in 1930, Constantinople was the Turkish capital and integral to the empire as a hub of international trade routes

This coloured image shows the fountain of Sultan Ahmed, pictured in Constantinople in the 1890s, one of the city′s major landmarks

A shot of Constantinople′s Eyoub cemetery

The banks of the Bosporus during the latter years of the Ottoman Empire

An image of the Byzantine wall near Irdikale in Constantinople, painstakingly coloured following processing

A section of Eyoub cemetery in Constantinople, between 1890 and 1900

This photo taken in the 1890s of a man astride a mule with baskets in Top Capou, Constantinople, gives an impression of day-to-day life

A scene from Seraskerat in Constantinople: a young boy stands in the middle of the square as people go about their business in the largest and wealthiest city in Europe

A lively street in the district of Stamboul, taken between 1890 and 1900, which has been turned into a colour image

Colour was added to bring the image of the famous Yeni Cami mosque in modern-day Istanbul to life. It is pictured by moonlight as small boats row across the water

The landmark Yildirim Beyazit mosque in Bursa, Turkey, is among the postcard images which have been turned into a colour picture

This image of cypresses and the road leading to Scutari cemetery in Constantinople was taken between 1890 and 1900

At its height, the Ottoman empire (ca. 1299–1922) spread from Anatolia and the Caucasus across North Africa and into Syria, Arabia, and Iraq. Its size rivaled that of the great Abbasid empire (750–1258), and it united many disparate parts of the Islamic world.

Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Ottoman conquests allowed them control of many ports and sole access to the Black Sea, from which even Russian vessels were excluded, and trade among the provinces increased greatly. As the largest city in western Asia or Europe, Istanbul was the natural center of this commerce. Cairo became the main entrepôt for Yemeni coffee and Indian fabric and spices, and was itself a producer of rugs. Businessmen in Aleppo and Bursa sold silk to Ottoman, Venetian, French, and English merchants, and North African woven furnishings were popular throughout the region. Damascus was an important stop along the pilgrimage route to Mecca and Medina, supplying caravans on their way to those cities and goods to their residents.

The armature of the empire was instrumental in spreading the central Ottoman aesthetic to many new regions. On the level of imperial patronage, artistic production and design were carefully controlled by various official institutions. The Imperial Corps of Court Architects, founded in the 1520s, was responsible for preparing designs, procuring materials, and maintaining construction books for all buildings sponsored by the Ottoman family and their high officials. The nakkaşhane, or royal scriptorium, designed the patterns for carpets, tiles, metalwork, and textiles produced in imperial-funded workshops. Governors posted from Istanbul were also important in maintaining a certain level of stylistic homogeneity, as attested by architecture in the neighborhood around the Cairene port of Bulaq, developed under Ottoman patronage, and paintings from late sixteenth-century Baghdad, then under the governorship of Mehmed III’s chief artist Hasan.

The Ottoman presence was in many ways limited to the major urban centers, however, and local culture was sustained among the different ethnic communities of the empire, such as the Christians of the Balkans and Armenia and the powerful Jewish and Greek merchants of Istanbul. In the provincial cities, coffeehouses and the homes of aristocratic families became the new centers of cultural exchange, replacing official institutions of learning and religion.

Local traditions in the arts continued to emerge even in official projects. Although the essential ground plan of the spacious, domed Ottoman mosque transferred from Istanbul, local interpretations of the plans sent from the capital affected the appearance of the facade or the proportions of the architectural elements. Eastern Mediterranean striped masonry appears at the Süleymaniye Mosque Complex in Damascus (1554–55) and barrel vaults, rather than semi-domes, surround the main dome of the Mosque of the Fisherman in Algiers (1660–61).

Eventually, the strain of administering such vast domains proved the downfall of the Ottomans. Although the sultans continued to rule in Turkey until 1922, battles to maintain borders against the Habsburgs in the West and the Safavids in the East eventually cost the Ottomans their European and Arabian provinces. In the nineteenth century, French forces occupied the Maghrib, and Greece won its independence in 1830. Treaties at the end of World War I officially dismantled the remnants of the empire.

Marika Sardar
Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

October 2003

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