Ottoman Empire

See also: European history

The Ottoman Empire was one of the great empires of world history. At the height of its power, it controlled most of the Middle East, as well as the Balkans and parts of North Africa, with a sphere of influence across much of Europe, Asia and Africa. The empire collapsed at the end of World War I, and was succeeded by modern Turkey.


The Turks trace their origin to Central Asia. Their current homeland in Anatolia (Asia Minor) has been home to many civilizations throughout history, including Ancient Greece and the Byzantine Empire. The Ottoman Empire was not the first Turkish empire based in Anatolia, but it was certainly the most influential.

The Ottoman Empire was founded in 1299. In 1453, it succeeded in conquering the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. This impressive achievement for the Turks was a disgrace for the Christians, and gave rise to fantasies about new Crusades that in the end never materialized. Constantinople's name was subsequently changed to Istanbul, and it served as the capital of the Ottoman Empire for over 450 years.

Still, the fall of Constantinople had decisive impact on Europe. The Turks proved the superiority of gunpowder weapons, which soon became common in European armies. Christian scholars leaving Constantinople contributed to the Renaissance in Italy and other parts of Europe. Europeans were also forced to sail the Atlantic, which a few decades later led them around Africa, and to the Voyages of Columbus to the Americas.

Meanwhile, the Ottomans saw themselves in large measure as a multi-national, multi-religious Islamic empire that was responsible for preserving and extending the heritage of Rome, as successors of the Byzantine Empire that they defeated, and also with protecting the Islamic holy places in Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. As an indication of the toleration of non-Muslims that existed during much of its history, the Ottoman Empire welcomed Jewish refugees from persecution in Spain after the 1492 Reconquista of that country by the Christians.

Until World War I, the Ottoman Empire was a great power, at most times a rival of the Austrian Empire, the Russian Empire, and the Persian Empire.

Unfortunately, toward the very end of the existence of the Ottoman Empire, they put down an independence movement by the Armenians and, in the process, systematically murdered between 800,000 and 1.5 million Armenians - a crime that lives in infamy as the Armenian Genocide.

The Ottomans promoted arts including music, pottery, architecture that incorporated many Byzantine motifs and techniques, calligraphy and cuisine, whose styles still have a major influence on the Balkans and the Arab world as well as the modern Turkey of today.



The bulk of the Ottoman heritage in what is now Turkey rests in the Marmara region, where the empire started and grew. Curiously, the rest of the country is mostly devoid of any major monuments built during the Ottoman era—most historic sights either date back to the Seljuks and Turkish petty kingdoms pre-dating the Ottomans, or are remnants of the civilizations that called Anatolia home prior to the arrival of the Turks altogether.


In addition to Turkey's Marmara region, the Balkans are where you can best experience what is left of the Ottomans — almost any town south of the Danube has at least a building or two that has a connection with the Ottomans, although sometimes in a ruinous state. Below is a selection of cities that best preserved their Ottoman heritage.

Middle East and Africa

Already regions with a history that reaches far before the Ottoman conquest, many places in the Middle East and parts of Africa nevertheless offer something to experience for travellers seeking Ottoman heritage.


Soak up in a hamam (bathhouse). The Ottomans were avid builders and frequenters of bathhouses, and as such, many locations which were once the possessions of the empire still feature Ottoman-era bathhouses that usually take advantage of the local thermal springs.


The coffee culture is one of the biggest legacies of the Ottoman Empire in the lands it ruled over once: whether it be called Turkish, Bosnian, Greek, Arabic or Armenian, this popular beverage, served strong in small cups, is prepared more or less the same way. Yemen had been the main coffee supplier of the empire since the 16th century, when coffeehouses quickly appeared all over the Ottoman cities.

See also

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