Istanbul was a notable centre of trade, scholarship, and the arts

Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace

Founded by Osman, the Ottoman dynasty (1281-1924), consisting of Turkmen tribes, controlled western Asia, northern Africa, and eastern Europe from their court in Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, which was captured from Byzantine rule in 1453.

Istanbul became the capital of the Ottoman empire and a major centre for culture, sciences, and scholarship. The city hosts some of the most prominent monuments of the Ottoman dynasty including the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque due to the colour of its interior tiles, and the Topkapi Palace which was the official residence of the rulers and the seat of the government.

Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque)
Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque)

During his reign, Sultan Mehmed II (r. 1451 to 1481) summoned painters from Europe and employed numerous writers who copied Turkish, Persian, and Arabic manuscripts at the newly established libraries, producing some of the most magnificent illustrated Qur’an manuscripts. The court studio at the Topkapi Palace took in not only native artists, but also numerous Persian artists who had a wealth of experience based on the long tradition of Persian book arts. Artists of diverse traditions congregated at the court and created indigenous styles that influenced neighbouring states. Increased trade with Europe resulted in demand for Ottoman goods particularly rugs, but also ceramics and textiles.

Ottoman Dish dated 1570-80, Iznik, Turkey. Aga Khan Museum
Ottoman Dish dated 1570-80, Iznik, Turkey. Aga Khan Museum

In the sixteenth century, the Ottoman Empire’s workshops at the Topkapi Palace had nearly 900 artisans from across the Mediterranean world and beyond — from painters, engravers, weavers and tile makers to bookbinders, goldsmiths, ivory craftsmen, manuscript illuminators and musical instrument makers.

The unrestrained enthusiasm of the Ottoman rulers for ceremonial monuments, the immense financial strength of the empire, as well as an inexhaustible source of ideas which flowed from the master builders, artists, and craftsmen from various religious backgrounds, all helped Ottoman art flourish. Today, the Topkapi palace is a museum, rich in collections of jewels, silk gowns, and Ming porcelain. In 1983, the second awards of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture were presented at the Topkapi Palace.

Aga Khan Museum
Esin Atil, “The Arts of Islam,” The Muslim Almanac Edited by Azim A. Nanji, Gale Research Inc., Detroit, 1996
Markus Hattstein, “History of the Ottoman Empire,” Islam Art and Architecture Edited by Markus Hattstein and Peter Delius, Konemann, 2000

Compiled by Nimira Dewji

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