Turkey and The Ottoman Empire by Susan Daly

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Turkey and The Ottoman Empire

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  • Susan Daly

The area known as the Ottoman Empire lasted from the early 1200’s until its fall in 1923 during a rebellion led by the Young Turks. This group was led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and was made up of army officers who wanted a more democratic government. Ataturk established modern Turkey as a republic.

The history of Turkey goes from Neolithic times to the present day. When visiting any area in Turkey you are visiting history, seeing Neolithic remains, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk Turk, Ottoman Turk sites as well as important places for Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Modern Turkey has also been known as Anatolia,Phrygia,Troy,part of the Assyrian empire, Galatia, Asia Minor, and Cappadocia. In Christian times it became the Diocese of Pontus and of Asia. It was part of the Byzantine and Seljuk Empires and finally the Ottoman lands

Neolithic Turkey and Catal Huyuk

For approximately 1600 years , starting in 8,000 BCE, a large Neolithic settlement existed in central Turkey. It is one of the largest Neolithic sites in the Middle East and had a population of 2,000-8,000 people during its occupation. Rebecca Daly, a 1994 graduate of Arcadia is doing her PhD research as an archaeologist here.

Part of the dig site covered by a tent.

This huyuk or mound is very tall and the dig goes down many stories.

Burials were commonly done inside the homes in their floors.

Catal residents lived in mud brick homes built close together. They entered their homes from holes in the roof.

An artists drawing of Catal Huyuk

Although Catal Huyuk was abandoned about 6,500 BCE, the area became very important again with the rise of Mesopotamia. Southeastern Turkey was the bread basket for the cities of Sumer and Ur. It had fertile soil and abundant water from the Euphrates river.

Northern Mesopotamia and the Euphrates river is today the city of Birecik

This food was shipped using the Euphrates river down south to Sumer. The modern city of Birecik is where the Euphrates river becomes navigable and was one of the busiest ports on the Euphrates. The river widens here and flows very fast in deep water.

All across Turkey, there are many sites from the Bible. In the city of Sanliurfa, in a cave, the prophet Abraham was born. This site is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims since Abraham is a prophet for all three faiths. The cave is a place of pilgrimage and is part of a mosque today.

Where the prophet Abraham was born

When Abraham left for the promised land, he left from the city of Harran

People in Harran have lived in these mud brick beehive homes for over 6,000 years. It is only within the last 25 years that people here moved in ordinary homes. This is the type of home that Abraham would have lived in while he was in Harran.

A typical living room

Mud brick construction

The main source of fuel is dried animal dung

Pergamum This spectacular city high on a cliff was built by a general of Alexander the Great. It was later added to by the Romans.

Modern Bergama below with the ruins of Pergamum.

A theater that seated 20,000 people.

A temple in ruins

When the Egyptians refused to export papyrus to them, the people of Pergamum invented a new type of writing surface made from beaten animal skins. This became known as vellum. They had a huge library until it was burned by the Byzantines because the authors were pagans.

Egg and Dart detail on a column

One Roman city which is well known by most Christians is Ephesus. This is the city that St. Paul was writing to in his Letter to the Ephesians. It was a prosperous Roman trading city.

The main street in Ephesus

The library at Ephesus

The library at Ephesus is one of the most beautiful buildings in the ancient world. It was also one of the largest collections of scrolls. This library contained over 125,000 scrolls making it a huge collection for its time. This city really showed off its wealth!

A very large public bathroom

A Roman arch

An early Christian symbol

This sculpture is on the Turkish money today.

A Roman backgammon board

Turkey has had waves of occupations throughout history. After the fall of the western Roman empire, the Byzantine empire ruled here until 1453. There are many Byzantine churches across Turkey which show their style of religious art.

Goreme Rock Churches.

In Cappodocia, in central Turkey, 3 volcanoes left a soft layer of tufa covered by a harder layer of basalt. The tufa layer was easier to carve into and many Christian hermits came here to live and carved rock churches.

Christ and some Apostles

Christ and the rest of the Apostles

A cross from the Iconoclastic period.

A typical dining room from this monastery.

St George slaying the dragon

Byzantine Emperor Constantine

Emperor Constantine is very important in Byzantine history because he accepted Christianity as the state religion. His mother returned from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with pieces of “the true cross”. Her interest in Christianity influenced Constantine. In 312, he issued the Edict of Milan granting equal rights to all religions.

The Empress Helena- mother of Constantine

Under the great Byzantine Emperor Justinian, the great Church of St. Sophia was built in Constantinople. It was an architectural marvel with its huge dome built between 532-537.The name ,Haia Sophia ,means holy wisdom. After 1453, it was converted into a mosque by Mehmet II.

Haia Sophia


Central dome under repair

The mimbar – used to be the pulpit.

Byzantine Empress Eugenie – done in mosaic.

In 1453, the Ottoman Turks captured the city and renamed in Istanbul. The churches were converted into mosques by adding the 4 minarets and covering the Christian mosaics. These were redecorated with calligraphy or floral designs. This preserved the mosaics ,some of which have been restored in Haia Sophia.

The Blue Mosque

Where does the name Ottoman come from ? REVIEW

The founder of the Ottoman rule was named Osman. His central Asian tribe came into the area of the Seljuk Turks and he asked for an area for his people and was given the region closest to the Byzantines. This allowed him to get to know the Byzantine officials.

Osman I established the Ottoman dynasty,1280-1324.He exploited the weakness’ of the Byzantine empire which led to conquest of all of Anatolia by his descendants.

In 1402 ,Timur , also known as Tamerlane, occupied Ottoman lands. His rule was short but brutal. With his death, the empire grew stronger until the reign of Sultan Mehmet II. In 1453, using superior technology, his forces broke through the huge walls of Constantinople and took the city.

What does the title Sultan mean? What power does this ruler have in his empire ? How were Ottoman sultans selected ?

Look at the architecture of Topkapi palace. What does its entrance remind you of ?

Topkapi Palace / Yeni Saray

One inner courtyard

Topkapi palace was completed in 1465 and showcases Ottoman architecture and decoration. It covers 700,000 square meters and has 4 courtyards inside as well as extensive gardens. It was a closed world exclusive to the Sultan and his immediate family. There was a large staff as well as guards for the whole complex.

A covered walk way

A room inside the Harem

The Sultan’s audience room in the harem

Notice the beautiful tile work on the walls

A fountain in the fourth courtyard

The Sultan’s pavilion

This fountain in the window made it harder for people to over hear conversations.

A door inlaid with mother of pearl in the harem.

What kind of statement does Topkapi Palace make about the power of the Ottoman Sultan? What shows the wealth they had ?

Who was the most important Ottoman Sultan ? Why ?

During his reign, Sultan Suleyman I, expanded the territory under Ottoman control. Between 1520-1566, he got control over land in Asia, Africa, and Europe. He systematized law across the empire so that he became known as the Lawgiver.

Several problems which will eventually cause the decline of the Ottomans also emerge during Suleyman I’s reign. Inflation, rural overpopulation, unemployment, and heavy taxation develop and lead to local revolts and discontent.

Courtyard in the Harem

Iznik Tiles

Life inside the Imperial harem was very luxurious but also very confined. You stayed within the harem and were guarded by specially trained Eunuchs. Anything you might need was brought into the harem. Merchants brought in fabric and then produced the necessary clothing for the harem women. Jewelers brought in their goods for the women to look over and order.

As a woman in the harem, you would be well educated and well fed. You had beautiful clothes and were expected to be able to converse and entertain the Sultan if he should express an interest in you. BUT you could never leave. If you were even suspected of being unfaithful , you would be sewn into a sack and drowned in the Bosphorus.

Would you be willing to give up your family to live in such luxury for the rest of your life? Many women in the harem never even saw the Sultan.

An elaborate fountain with Islamic inscription.


The heir was kept inside this apartment

Every area was richly decorated.

If you were a woman under the Ottomans , the only power you could get came from becoming a concubine in the palace. If you caught the Sultan’s eye and bore a son, you became a kadin with your own apartment. Many young women stayed several years and were eventually married to Ottoman officials with a generous wedding gift.

Who were the Janissaries? What role/s did they take in Ottoman rule? How did you become a Janissary ?

Janissaries were male child slaves taken mainly from Christian communities. They were trained to become professional soldiers loyal only to the Sultan. They were converted to Islam and became a key power within this empire. They could not marry until they retired from active military service.

What was a millet ?

The symbol of Ottoman power.

After Suleyman, came a long line of Sultan’ s who only wanted to indulge themselves. They did not really govern well and wasted lots of money on themselves. By the time of WW1, the Ottoman Empire was known as the “Sick old Man of Europe.”

A newer Ottoman palace

A gate to the palace.

As the Sultans became weaker, the power of the Janissaries grew. Sometimes they even revolted against the Sultan and removed or assassinated him.

Dolmabahce Palace

Ottoman excess led to the fall of this empire in 1923. After the humiliating defeat in WW 1 and the Mandate system from the Treaty of Versailles, a group of Turk nationalists organized a peasant resistance to the final Ottoman sultan. Led by Mustafa Kemal, these officers helped local peasants to arm themselves . When the call came in 1923, locals rose up to overthrow

the Ottoman sultan. This rebellion was successful even though there were many who died in it. Mustafa Kemal took the last name of Ataturk which means “ Father of the Turks “ and became the first president of the new nation of Turkey. He established a secular republic which separated Islamic influence from public schools.

Ataturk is a beloved leader even today in Turkey with many statues to him in town squares all over the nation. He set Turkey on its present course by adopting the Roman alphabet instead of Arabic . He forced western dress and banned the veil. He gave women the right to vote and to an equal education.

Today Turkey is working to become a member of the European Union. It is improving its educational system and upgrading its roads and economy. The 26 dams being built as part of the G.A.P.project are designed to bring more jobs to SE Turkey. This nation is an unique combination of Islamic society and western ideas.

Mt. Nemrud Dagi- a huge head

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