The Ottoman Empire

Who are the Turks? Yaren told us a story that she had heard about the people of Turkey and their ancestors. It went something like this. Imagine a bus that starts in Russia. Some people get on the bus and head toward the Mediterranean Sea. Along the way some more people get on, and some people get off. People continue to embark and disembark. By the time the bus gets to the area we call Turkey, no one knows exactly where everyone got on the bus. Some might have been on since the beginning, but no one is sure anymore.

The Fall of the Roman Empire dovetailed into the rise of the Ottoman Empire until 1453 when Mehmed II conquered Constantinople. The Sunni Islamic State remained in power for nearly 500 years. You can see the reach of the Ottoman Empire at its apex in the 1600s in this map. Present-day Turkey is the pink spot in the middle.


Great mosques were built during this time, and our tour visited two of them – the Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent and the famous Blue Mosque. These mosques reminded me of my great great grandparents, who, during a time of wandering throughout central Asia, were married in a mosque in Tashkent in 1890. The mosque was used on Fridays and Saturdays, but the people allowed this group of Mennonites to use their mosque on Sundays. It was not nearly as grand as the two pristine examples we visited in Istanbul.


The women in our group donned headscarves, we all took off our shoes and carried them in plastic bags as we entered these grand buildings.

Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent photos:

Blue Mosque:

Having lived in Zürich for over 7 months now, we are used to the church bells ringing. In Istanbul we learned to listen to the call to prayer which happens five times a day, starting just before sunrise. The minarets which stand next to each mosque were originally for the muezzin to climb so that his voice could be heard, but now with electronic amplification, the minarets are used to hold the loudspeaker. The call to prayer is considered an art form.

Here is a short movie I made with some photos and the sounds of the call to prayer.

On our day focused on the Istanbul of the Ottoman Empire, we also visited the Topkopi Palace – the home of the sultans. It is now a museum and an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Probably the most fascinating part of the huge complex for me was the Imperial Harem. This section of the palace has over 400 rooms. I know that we all have images and ideas about a harem, but I learned that the most important person in the harem was the sultan’s mother who was in charge of everything. There might be many concubines living in those 400 rooms, but many of them never even saw the sultan. It depended upon whether the sultan’s mother set it up.

Thinking about Henry the VIII and what trouble he had coming up with a male heir and how he had to create a whole new church just to work his way around it, it seems to me that setting the sultan up with a handful of wives and maybe a concubine or two would make for an easier way to ensure the royal blood line. Not that I advocate that kind of thing, but if it’s the system, then this might be the way to go.


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