The Ottoman Empire (1453-1923)

Capital of the Ottoman Empire (1453 – 1923)

Istanbul will without fail be conquered
What an excellent commander is he who will take it,
And what excellent soldiers will his soldiers be.
Hadith(I’raditions of the Prophet)

A Picture of Ancient IstanbulIn the attack launched on the morning of 29 May the land walls were breached at Topkapı (not the palace of that name but a city gate several kilometres to the west). The same day Mehmed II entered the city on horseback and performed his prayers in the church of Haghia Sophia. In accordance with Ottoman tradition the city’s cathedral was converted into a mosque. The church of the Holy Apostles and numerous others remained as churches for the time being. Thereafter Mehmed II was known as Fatih, or the Conqueror.

A Picture of Ancient IstanbulThe Byzantine Great Palace which had stood between Haghia Sophia and the Hippodrome had been looted and razed during the Latin occupation. With the restoration of the Byzantine rulers in 1261, they used the Palace of Blakhernai situated inside the land walls where they descended to join the sea walls along the Golden Horn. Immediately after the conquest Mehmed II had a fortress and palace built in the area which was to become known as Beyazıt west of Haghia Sophia. A large bazaar was constructed beneath the walls of the fortress.

The once splendid city was falling into nıin when it was taken by the Turks, who set about repairing the old buildings and city walls. Others beyond repair provided foundations on which new Ottoman buildings were constructed. The huge underground water cisterns were also repaired.

Those who had fled the city began to return, while new settlers of diverse ethnic origin and faith arrived from all over the Ottoman Empire, creating a colourful cultural mosaic.

Acquiring an Ottoman architectural identity

A Picture of Ancient IstanbulGradually the city developed its distinctly Ottoman identity. Mosques founded by the sultans and members of their families were distinguished by having more than one minaret, and were known as selatin, the plural form of sultan. Istanbul’s first selatin mosque was that built by Mehmed II, with its symmetrically arranged complex of colleges (medrese), hospice (tabhane),hospital (darüşşifa),shops, and baths (hamam).Its architect was Atik Sinan (‘Old’ Sinan to distinguish him from the later and more celebrated Sinan). Over the next few centuries sultans, other members of the dynasty, and statesmen founded mosques in their names, and around them various institutions. Small mosques with modest complexes built by statesmen were known as vezir camior vezir mosques.

When the Umayyads had besieged Istanbul in the year 668 Eyyub el-Ensari, standard bearer to the Prophet Muhammed, had died in the fighting. In 1459 Mehmed II had Eyüp Sultan Mosque built in his memory, together with a complex coıisisting of medrese, imaret(public kitchen) and hamam. It was in this mosque that the Ottoman sultans girded their sword of office upon acceding to the throne.

Construction of Topkapı Palace began in 1472 and was completed in, 1478, although succes- sive sultans added new buildings to the complex over the centuries. The outer entrance which led into the first couı2, the Alay Meydanı (Parade Square), was the Imperial Gate or Bab-ı Hümayun. At the faı-ther end of the first couıt was the main entrance gate called Babüsselam (Gate of Greeting), which led into the second court, the Divan Meydanı. Here were the palace hospital, bakery and arsenal buildings, the royal mews along the left side and the kitchen buildings along the right.

A Picture of Ancient IstanbulThe gate leading from the second to the third couıt was the Babüssaade (Gate of Felicity), and in the third court was the Arz Odası or Throne Room where foreign ambassadors and statesmen were granted audience. The buildings behind here date from the eighteenth century and were occupied by the pages and men of the Enderun who served in the private household of the sultan. The Has Oda or Hall of the Privy Chamber, occupied by the officials who served the sultan in person, stands on the west side of the court next to the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle containing relics of the Prophet Muhammed and the first caliphs. In the fourth couı-t are several lovely köşks(pavilions) built by different sultans. These are the Bağdat, Revan, Sofa and Mecidiye köşks.

Topkapı Palace was both home to the Ottoman sultans and centre of government for four hundred years, and over this time the palace was in a constant state of fluctuation, with additions and alterations carried out by various sultans.

Sultan Bayezid II (1481-1512), the son of Mehmed II, built a mosque complex in his name between 1500 and 1505. Located in a central position west of the Hippodrome, it was almost certainly the work of two architects, Kemaleddin and Hayreddin. The complex is an important link in the history of Turkish architecture, in terms of its relationship to its site, its architectural composition, decoration, and the institutions housed in the secondary buildings. As well as the mosque itself, there was a türbeor mausoleum for Sultan Bayezid, an imaret, children’s school, hospices, medrese, hamam, and kervansaray. The mosque had a square prayer hall covered by a large dome supported on either side by two semidomes. The arches of the colonnades around the court were of white and red marble. Exquisite stone carving decorated the mihrapniche, minber(pulpit), müezzin’sgallery, and the women’s gallery, while the woodwork decoration of the doors and windows was the finest of its period.

A Picture of Ancient IstanbulOn his return from the Egyptian Campaign in 1517, Selim I (1512-1520) brought back the Islamic holy relics and took the title of caliph. From that point on Istanbul became the centre of Islam.

During the reign of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566), Mimar Sinan built the Şehzade Mosque in memory of Süleyman’s son Mehmed, overlooking both the Golden Horn and the Marmara Sea. This was the fırst royal mosque built by Sinan, and the one which he was to refer to later in life as ‘the work of my apprenticeship’. The complex consisted of mosque, medrese, hospice, stables, school, imaret and the tomb of Şehzade Mehmed.

Selim’s royal mosque complex, which was completed posthumously in 1522, consisted of his türbe, and an imaret, medrese and hospital.

From this point on the new Ottoman capital began to find its own identity through buildings constructed by Mimar Sinan. In 1548 he built Mihrimah Sultan Mosque for Mihrimah Sultan, the daughter of Süleyman the Magnificent, in Üsküdar. It was surrounded by a complex consisting of medrese, guest house, stables, food store, warehouse and han. The two great pillars inside this mosque were in the shape of four-leafed clover.

A Picture of Ancient IstanbulSüleymaniye Mosque, which Sinan referred to as his `journeyman’s piece’, was constructed in 1557. The genius of Sinan’s architecture seemed to symbolise the power of Süleyman. The composition of the great domed inner space illustrates the culmination of Ottoman mosque design. In order to draw off the smoke from the burning lamps and candles, and keep the air fresh when the mosque was full of people, he created a ventilation system whereby the air circulated through a chamber over the main entrance. Moreover the particles of carbon in the smoke were deposited in this chamber and scraped off for making the lamp black ink used by calligraphers.

The Atik Valide Mosque was constructed between 1570 and 1579 for Nurbanu Valide Sultan, the mother of Murat III (1574-1595). Again the mosque and its complex were designed by Sinan, and consisted of mosque, medrese, tekke (dervish lodge), children’s school, darülhadis(school for teaching the hadith), darülkurra (school for teaching the Koran), imaret, hospital and hamam. The courtyard encircling the mosque to the north, east and west, contained a şadırvan(fountain for ablutions) and gave access to the mosque through four doors. The finest of the tiling decoration are two exquisite panels on either side of the mihrap niche. The wooden doors and window shutters are inlaid with mother-of pearl and ivory.

A Picture of Ancient IstanbulŞemsi Paşa Mosque on the water’s edge in Üsküdar was built by Sinan for Şemsi Ahmed Paşa in 1580. This is the smallest of the mosque complexes built by Mimar Sinan. It is in classical Ottoman style, and consists of the founder’s türbe and a medrese as well as the tiny mosque.

Sultanahmet Mosque was built at the southern end of the ancient Hippodrome between 1609 and 1616 for Sultan Ahmed I (1603-1617). Its architect was Sedefkar Mehmed Ağa. On the eastern side of the mosque was an arasta,or market of shops to provide income for the upkeep of the mosque, and to the north a hünkâr kasır, or suite of private rooms for the sultan’s use prior to and following prayers. The mosque was celebrated not so much for its architecture as for its exquisite İznik tiles of the last great period.

The Galata Tower built in 1349 was part of the defences of the old Genoese city facing Istanbul proper across the mouth of the Golden Horn. Its original name was the Christ Tower. During Ottoman times it was used first as a prison and later as a fire tower. In the seventeenth century, during the reign of Murad N (1623-1640), a scientist by the name of Hezarfen Ahmed Çelebi Iaunched himself off the top of the tower wearing wings which he had made for himself, and successfully completed the flight across the Bosphorus to Üsküdar.

In 1660, during the reign of Mehmed IV. (1649-1687), the Mısır Çarşısı (Egyptian Bazaar) was built, and between 1661 and 1663 the half-finished Yeni (New) Mosque was completed by Hatice Sultan.  This mosque had been begun in 1597 by Safiye Sultan, the mother of Mehmed III. After the death of Davud Ağa, the original architect, Mimar Dalgıç Ahmed Ağa continued with the construction until 1603. With the accession of Ahmed I the project was left unfinished, and meanwhile Ahmed I began construction of his own mosque in Sultanahmet.

A Picture of Ancient IstanbulThe magnificent baroque fountain of Sultan Ahmet III (1703-1730) which has a fountain in each of its four walls and a sebil where cups of water were distributed to passersby at each corner, was built outside the main gate of Topkapı Palace.

The ancient Hippodrome, known in Turkish as Atmeydanı, was used for playing the equestrian game of cirit (jereed) and for public celebrations of the circumcision of royal princes. One of the monuments on the spina of the Hippodrome was a stone column originally sheathed in bronze, but this was melted down to mint coins by the Fourth Crusaders after they occupied Istanbul in the thirteenth century and set up a Latin empire which lasted until the middle of the century. During the Turkish period climbing this bare column was regarded as an acrobatic feat, as recorded by eyewitnesses and contemporary miniatures.

In 1755 Mahmud I (1730-1754) built the Nuruosmaniye Mosque at one of the entrances to the Covered Bazaar. With its polygonal projecting mihrap and western stylistic influences, this mosque was very different from its predecessors. Its complex consisted of an imaret, medrese, library, türbe, sebil, fountain and shops.

In 1763 Mustafa III (1757-1774) built his royal mosque in Laleli, with its complex of imaret, fountain, sebil, türbe, han, medrese, muvakkithane(horologe room), houses for the imam and müezzin, and shops. Its architect is thought to be Hacı Mehmed Ağa.

Dersaadet of the Ottomans

In the nineteenth century Istanbul’s population consisted of Muslim Turks, Orthodox Greeks, Gregorian and Catholic Armenians, Jews, Levantines and colonies of foreign merchants.

A Picture of Ancient IstanbulThis century was a time of modernisation and reform for the Ottoman Empire, and naturally the capital city was at the forefront of these changes. In the process of westernisation in the military, economic and social fields foreign experts from Europe were appointed to impoıtant posts, particularly in the army, which had German, Swedish, British and French paşas in its ranks.  The sultans adopted the dress of their western counterpaıts, rejecting kaftans and şalvarin favour of trousers and jackets, and replacing the turban with the fez. In the cultural field, western style painting, architecture and music became popular.

The reign of Mahmud II (1808-1839) marked the first most impoıtant phase of these changes. In 1824 the empire’s first newspaper, Smyrnéen,went into publication in İzmir. Convinced that the tradition-bound Janissary Corps was no longer capable of defending the empire, Mahmud II laid plans to found a new modern army, resolving to pick 150 of the ablest soldiers from each of the 51 janissary regiments in Istanbul for this puıpose. When the news got out it sparked off a janissaıy revolt on the night of 4 June 1826. The janissaries rampaged through the city looting, but when they found that they had no popular suppoıt from citizens wjıo backed the sultan’s plans, they retreated to their barracks. The sultan’s own forces surrounded the barracks and bombarded them, killing all those inside and then set fire to the building. Thus, after 465 years, the Janissary Coıps was dissolved on 15 June 1826. Sultan Mahmud II set about founding his new army.

Mahmud II’s own royal mosque, the Nusretiye, was built by Kirkor Amira Balyan for the sultan in 1826. The şadırvan in the stone courtyard has twelve taps and a conical roof resting on twelve slender columns.

A Picture of Ancient IstanbulThe first steam driven vessels began to replace sailing ships around this time. Meanwhile, fires continued to ravage the city at frequent intervals, since almost all the houses were made of wood. In 1828 the Balyan family of architects built the 50 m high Beyazıt fire tower.

The first bridge connecting the walled city of Istanbul to Galata on the other side of the Golden Horn was constıucted in 1836. It was a pontoon bridge designed by Admiral of the Fleet Ahmet Fevzi. Since no toll was charged to cross it, it was known as the Hayratiye (Charity Bridge).

Mahmud II was the first Ottoman sultan to have his poıtrait hung in government offices. He also had a decoration inauqurated bearing miniature poıtraits of himself, known as Tasvir-i Hümayun (Imperial Portrait), which he presented to his most loyal state officers, hanging the decorâtion around their necks himself. Conseıvative factions began to stir up public opposition on the grounds that poıtraiture contravened religious doctrine, . and following the death of Sultan Mahmud in 1839, his portraits in government buildings were covered over by cuıtains. But gradually people became used to the idea, as they were to become used,to photographs. Mahmud II’s son Sultan Abdülmecid (1839-1861) proclaimed a series of reforms known as the Tanzimat Ferman or Gülhane Hatt-ı Hümayun almost immediately after his accession to the throne. The reforms had beendrawn up by Mustafa Reşid Paşa and were proclaimed by the latter in Gülhane Gardens behind Topkapı Palace on 3 November 1839.

In 1847 the first demonstration in the Ottoman Empire of the newly invented telegraph was conducted at the large wooden palace of Beylerbeyi in the presence of Sultan Abdülmecid, who himself sent the first message over the line. He then ordered that a telegraph line be set up between Istanbul and Edirne.                                              .

In 1850 Şirket-i Hayriye, Istanbul Maritime Lines, was established and began to organise regular steam ferry services across the Bosphorus and to the Islands.

In 1851 Sultan Abdülmecid had the Empire style Hırka-i Şerif Mosque (Mosque of the Holy Mantle) constructed in Fatih. Here the mantle presented by the Prophet Muhammed to Veysel Karani was to be kept and visited during the month of Ramazan. 

A Picture of Ancient IstanbulAnother member of the Balyan family of architects, Nikoğos, built the neo-baroque Ortaköy Mosque on the European shore of the Bosphon.ıs in 1853. The same year the Ottoman Empire and its allies France and Britain began fighting Russia in the Crimean War.

Topkapı Palace, which had been both the sultan’s private residence and seat of government since the fifteenth century, lost this status in 1853 when the court moved to the new palace of Dolmabahçe. This palace, designed by the Balyan family of court architects, was in an eclectic style heavily influenced by contemporary western architecture.

Two years later Dolmabahçe Mosque, one of the last examples of Empire style in Istanbul, was designed by Garabet Balyan. Its founder was Bezmialem Valide  Sultan,  the mother of Abdülmecid, who completed its construction after his mother’s death.

Around the same time the small summer palace of Küçüksu designed by Nikoğos Balyan, chief architect to Abdülmecid, was constructed on the Asian shore of the Bosphon.ıs in the area known to Europeans as the Sweet Waters of Asia.

The nineteenth century saw a rush of new inventions and an expansion of world trade, and from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards the fashion for trade and industrial exhibitions began. Here goods from all over the world and the latest inventions were displayed to the public. The first Ottoman trade fair was held in Sultanahmet in 1863 during the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz (1861-1876). The exhibits ranged from commodities like Turkish coffee and silk production, to the fine arts, including architectural models. The first two days of each week the exhibition was opened to women only. The same year Sultan Abdülaziz visited Cairo.

In 1865 the architect Sarkis Balyan built the new Beylerbeyi Palace in place of the old wooden palace on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus.

On 21 June 1867 Sultan Abdülaziz became the first Ottoman sultan to pay a state visit abroad. He travelled by the royal yacht, the Sultaniye,to Toulon, from where he took the train to Paris, and then travelled to England. He returned by land via Belgium, Coblenz, Prussia, Vienna and Budapest, aı-riving back in Istanbul on 7 August.

A Picture of Ancient IstanbulIn 1847 the first demonstration in the Ottoman Empire of the newly invented telegraph was conducted at the large wooden palace of Beylerbeyi in the presence of Sultan Abdülmecid, who himself sent the first message over the line. He then ordered that a telegraph line be set up between Istanbul and Edirne.                                           .

In 1850 Şirket-i Hayriye, Istanbul Maritime Lines, was established and began to organise regular steam ferry services across the Bosphorus and to the Islands.

In 1851 Sultan Abdülmecid had the Empire style Hırka-i Şerif Mosque (Mosque of the Holy Mantle) constructed in Fatih. Here the mantle presented by the Prophet Muhammed to Veysel Karani was to be kept and visited during the month of Ramazan.                

Another member of the Balyan family of architects, Nikoğos, built the neo-baroque Ortaköy Mosque on the European shore of the Bosphon in 1853. The same year the Ottoman Empire and its allies France and Britain began fighting Russia in the Crimean War.

Topkapı Palace, which had been both the sultan’s private residence and seat of government since the fifteenth century, lost this status in 1853 when the court moved to the new palace of Dolmabahçe. This palace, designed by the Balyan family of court architects, was in an eclectic style heavily influenced by contemporary western architecture.

Two years later Dolmabahçe Mosque, one of the last examples of Empire style in Istanbul, was designed by Garabet Balyan. Its founder was Bezmialem Valide  Sultan,  the mother of Abdülmecid, who completed its construction after his mother’s death.

Around the same time the small summer palace of Küçüksu designed by Nikoğos Balyan, chief architect to Abdülmecid, was constructed on the Asian shore of the Bosphon in the area known to Europeans as the Sweet Waters of Asia.

The nineteenth century saw a rush of new inventions and an expansion of world trade, and from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards the fashion for trade and industrial exhibitions began. Here goods from all over the world and the latest inventions were displayed to the public. The first Ottoman trade fair was held in Sultanahmet in 1863 during the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz (1861-1876). The exhibits ranged from commodities like Turkish coffee and silk production, to the fine arts, including architectural models. The first two days of each week the exhibition was opened to women only. The same year Sultan Abdülaziz visited Cairo.

In 1865 the architect Sarkis Balyan built the new Beylerbeyi Palace in place of the old wooden palace on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus.

On 21 June 1867 Sultan Abdülaziz became the first Ottoman sultan to pay a state visit abroad. He travelled by the royal yacht, the Sultaniye, to Toulon, from where he took the train to Paris, and then travelled to England. He returned by land via Belgium, Coblenz, Prussia, Vienna and Budapest, arriving back in Istanbul on 7 August.

In 1871 Çırağan Palace was built by Sarkis and Agop Balyan according to a design by Nikoğos Balyan. Aroyal hunting lodge was then built at Ayazağa in Maslak, and the Valide Mosque founded by Pertevniyal Valide Sultan, mother of Sultan Abdülaziz in Aksaray, which had been commenced in 1869 but left unfinished, was completed in 1871. This mosque complex, consisting of school, türbe, muvakkithane and sebil, was designed and built by Sarkis Balyan. The diverse and ornate decoration on the façades distinguish it from other nineteenth century mosques, as do the neo-Gothic features of the interior.

Horse-drawn trams and the short underground funicular railway which carried passengers up and down the steep hill between the commercial district of Karaköy on the shore and the residential district of Pera introduced alternative means of transport in Istanbul.

In 23 December 1876, the year of his accession, Abdülhamid II (1876-1909) proclaimed the First Constitutional Government. For a brief time the Ottoman Empire was ruled by a constitutional monarchy, but three months later the sultan dissolved Parliament and repealed the constitution. The Academy of Fine Arts (Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi) was founded, primarily due to the efforts of Osman Hamdi Bey, who was also instrumental in the founding of the Archaeological Museum, later housed in a building designed by Vallaury.

Sultan Abdülhamid II appointed photographers to document events, buildings and sights around the empire, and was the principal patron of photography in Ottoman Turkey. He sent albums of photographs to fellow heads of state around the world, as a means of illustrating the progress and achievements of his empire.

A Picture of Ancient IstanbulThe area northwest of Beşiktaş had been forest in Byzantine times, and was a hunting ground for Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent and his successors. When the waterfront palaces were constructed there, the woodland was preserved as a park belonging to the palace grounds. Early in the nineteenth century Sultan Selim III had a country house constructed in this woodland for his mother Mihrişah Valide Sultan, and in 1834 Sultan Mahmud II had another country house known as Yıldız built here. In 1842 Sultan Abdülmecid had a third house built here for his mother Bezmialem Valide Sultan. The area became known as Yıldız, and the small complex of royal summer residences here grew into a full-scale palace with the accession of Sultan Abdülhamid II in 1876. He constructed new state apartments, the Şale Kasır (so named because its architecture was inspired by the chalets of Switzerland), and the köşks (pavilions or country houses) of Malta and Çadır designed by Sarkis and Agop Balyan. The Italian architect Raimondo d’Aronco designed the Winter Gardens and conservatories, the guard pavilion, the Harem Köşk, the Aides Köşk, the stable building, theatre, and exhibition building. In 1896 the terraced stone houses on Akaretler Hill were constructed to house palace officials.

The Second Constitution was proclaimed on 23 July 1908, and in 1909, the year that Haydarpaşa Railway Station was opened, Abdülhamid II was deposed by the Young Turks.

 The Ottoman Empire ruled Istanbul until it was defeated and occupied by the allies in World War I.

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