Art, Architecture and culture of the Ottoman Empire





Iznik tile panel from the Topkapu palace, mid 1550s

About Iznik Tiles


In the 15th century, the center of tile production moved to Iznik(Nicaea) where the Byzantines produced ceramics as well. there was a huge demand for tiles to decorate palaces, mosques and other buildings


Architecture of the Ottoman Empire


The 'Three Balconied Mosque'  (Üç Serefeli Mosque ) built by Murad II at Edine.It's three balconied minarit was the highest when it was built.


Kiosk in the Fatih mosque built by Mehmed II, harking back to the tents of nomadic days



The Suleymaniye, Sultan Suleiman's imperial mosque and tomb,along with his wife, Roxelena,started in 1550 and completed in six years. in which Sinan sought to surpass the Hagia Sophia. The principal dome rises to a height of 174 feet and is 86 feet in diameter. Sinan had his own tomb built outside its north corner.



The Sultan Ahmed Mosque or Blue Mosque, built between 1609 and 1616. Holds the tomb of Sultan Ahmed I. As a result of unfavorable wars, Ahmed I decided to build a large mosque in Istanbul to placate Allah. Unlike previous sultans who paid for grand mosques with war booty, he had to withdraw funds from the treasury to pay for it.

 Seljuk & Ottoman Architecture

The emblematic mark of the skyline of an Islamic city, have their roots with the great architects of the Ottoman empire. The most famous of which was Mimar Sinan , who came from a Christian stonemason's family was collected in the devsirme.His talents were recognized and sent to study engineering able built numerous mosques,bridges,tombs,barracks and arsenals and became the Royal Chief Architect.. Sinan is reported to have said 'Shehzade mosque was my apprenticeship,the Suleymaniye is my jouneyman's work and the Selimiye at Edirne my masterpiece.'


painting of the fountain of Tophane 1829 by william Page.For Moslems it was considered an act of piety for rulers to construct fountains (sebils) to provide free water.


The expenses for the rococo Dolmabahçe Palace to replace the Topkapi started in 1843 by Sultan Abdülmecid I helped lead to the government's bankruptcy in 1876


 Ottoman music and Whirling Dervishes and other Dervish Orders



The classical music of the Ottoman Empire is still popular in Turkey today. The musicians of the Ottoman court usually had 30 instruments such as the ney (reed flute) and tambur (long necked lute). Most of the religious music was composed by the Mevlevi order of dervishes .The Persian holy man who left his homeland in front of the Mongol advance and settled in Konya, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, brought a new mystic style of Sufi Islam which was appealing to many Christians who found themselves in Turkish controlled areas.

 Ottoman classical music (Turkish: Türk sanat müzi─či -- turkish art music or Klasik Türk mûsikîsi -- classical Turkish music) developed in Istanbul and major Ottoman towns from Skopje to Cairo, from Tabriz to Morocco through the palace, mosques, and sufi lodges of the Ottoman Empire.  Above all a vocal music, Ottoman music traditionally accompanies a solo singer with a small instrumental ensemble. In recent times instruments might include tambur (lute), ney (flute), kemençe (fiddle), keman (Western violin), kanun (zither), or other instruments. Sometimes described as monophonic music, the variety of ornamentation and variation in the ensemble requires the more accurate term heterophonic .




 Whirling Dervishes


A dervish in the Islamic world is someone who belongs to the order of mystics (Sufis).dervishes usually take vows of poverty and austerity and live in monastaries known and live in special quarters known as  tukiyak, zuwiyah or ribat. Sufo comes from the Arabic word suf, meaning wool, after the plain clothes of the early devotees. The Whirling Dervishes are members of the Mevleviye Sufi order. The practice of whirling is a form of dhikr (remembrance of God). The Mevlevi, or "The Whirling Dervishes", believe in performing their dhikr in the form of a "dance" and music ceremony called the sema.The Sema represents a mystical journey of man's spiritual ascent through mind and love to "Perfect."


a neophyte Melevi Dervish while a master plays a ney (flute)


Most of the dervish orders started in the 12th and 13th centuries, inspired by mystics., who wanted to become closer to God in a way not offered by traditional  Islam.The word " Dervish " is, in Persian, synonymous with " beggar," and denotes also a person who voluntarily impoverishes himself for the benefit of others. The dervish orders functioned as a private sect,secret society and club attracted many adherents. Members made vows of secrecy ,fellowship and obedience to the Sheikh, the head of the order.There were over 200 orders. Some of the largest were : the Kadiri,the Rifai, who could walk on hot coals and perform other feats while in a trance, the Kalenderi who wandered as barefoot pilgrims and Its members undertake to live much in retirement, and to devote a great part of their time to solitary contemplation, the Mevlevi, the most intellectual and aristocratic, who reached a state of ecstasy while whirling to music.They perform their ritual dance to the poetry  of their founder, Mevlana (master) Jala al-Din Rumi (1207-73) His verses were sung by wandering minstrels.The most popular were the Bektashi, of particular influence on the Janissaries. The members of these Fraternities took, however, a vow of fidelity to the Prophet and his doctrines, and continued to perform their duties as citizens, meeting occasionally for the performance of the religious exercises peculiar to each congregation


The founder of one of the earliest Orders of Dervishes, Sheikh Olwan, laid down certain rules to be observed in the admission of new members into his Brotherhood ; and these rules, though subse- quently elaborated by certain of the Orders, are still substantially the same in their leading features, differing only in the severity of the disciphne imposed upon a candidate, in the length of his period of probation, and in certain minor details. As a general rule, a neophyte is required during his novitiate to hve in complete retirement from the world, to perform the menial offices of the Tekkeh, and to repeat daily 101, 151, or 301 times one of the attributes of the Deity. These are ninety-seven in number, and are called the Isdmi Ilahi, or " Beau- tiful Names of Allah."

Admission into the Mevlevi Order is only obtained by the performance of an uninterrupted novitiate of a thousand and one consecutive days. Should the Murid fail in a single day's duties, or be absent from the Tekkeh for one whole night, his probation must be re-commenced ; and, whatever his worldly rank, he must consider himself the subordinate of every member of the Tekkeh. He is instructed in his duties by the Ashjihashi, or Chief of the Kitchen, spends much of his time in prayer and fasting, and in committing to memory the prayers and passages of the Koran more especially used by his Order.He must also become proficient in the mystic dance, and take part in the pubhc services of the Brother- hood. The novice, having passed through his period of probation to the satisfaction of the Chief of the Kitchen, that functionary — who acts as his sponsor — reports him to the Sheikh as worthy of admission to the initiatory grade of the Order, and a meeting of all the Brotherhood is convened in the Ismi Jelih Hufreh, the private assembly room of the Tekkeh. When all are assembled, the Murid is led by the Ashjihashi to the Prior, who occupies the seat of honour in the angle of the divan ; he kisses the extended hand of his Superior, and seats himself on the floor before him. His sponsor then places his right hand on the neck, and his left on the forehead of the neophyte, the Sheikh takes off the kulah which, with the rest of the Mevlevi costume he has worn during his novitiate, and proceeds to chant a Persian distich composed by the founder of the Order. He then delivers an exhortation to the young disciple, at the termination of which he replaces the kulah on his head

A disciple does not, however, even after this formal reception into it, become at once a full member of the Order. This grade is only reached after, it may be, years of further probation and its attainment depends upon the proofs he is able to give of his progress in spirituality.While passing through these intermediate stages, the aspirant is under the guidance of the Superior or of an initiate who has himself reached the highest degree. During the first stage, which is termed Sheridt, or " the Law," the disciple observes all the usual rites of Moslem worship, obeys all the commands and precepts of the Koran like any other True Behever, and is treated by the Brethren of the community as an uninitiated outsider. He is taught at the same time to concentrate his thoughts so completely on his " Guide " as to become mentally absorbed in him as a spiritual link with the supreme object of all devotion.This Guide must be the neophyte's shield against all worldly thoughts and desires ; his spirit must aid him in all his efforts, accompany him wherever he may be, and be ever present to his mental vision. Such a frame of mind is termed " annihilation into the Murshid, and the Guide discovers, by means of his own visions, the degree of spirituality to which his disciple has attained, and to what extent his soul has become absorbed into his own. The Murid now enters upon what, in Dervish phraseology, is called " the Path." During this period, which forms in reality the transition from outward to hidden things, the disciple is familiar- ised with those philosophical writings of the great Sufi masters which form the chief subject of the lectures and studies of the Order. He is taught to substitute spiritual for ritual worship, and led by degrees to abandon the dogmas and formulas of Islam as necessary only for the unenlightened masses.This method is, however, pursued with great tact and caution, for a disciple is not released from the usual observances of religion until he has given proof of sincere piety, virtue, exceptional spirituality, and extreme asceticism ; and a Dervish at this stage of his novitiate passes most of his time in solitary contemplation, endeavoring to detach his mind from all visible objects in order to attain the desired union with the Deity.



prayer rug of Ahmed I

Turkish carpets come in distinct styles, from different regions of Turkey.Usually, but not always red


Turkish Miniatures






Despite the religious injunction agianst depicting the human and animal formportraits were painted in miniature as to not offend the popular sentiment. The art of miniature painting reached its peak in the 16th century. they were often used to illustrate books of a sultan's reign.


miniature by Nigari of Suleyman I

Preserving Ottoman miniature art - Artists in Ottoman Turkey depicted reality and kept a record of events through a painting style with Islamic and Chinese influences. Although miniature painting has survived to this day, the art form is slowly dying and fewer people are patronizing it. In Istanbul, Natalie Carney met the artists working hard to keep Ottoman miniature art alive by giving it a modern twist.


 Turkish Shadow Theater


The shadow theater ( karagoz ) evolved in the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s.One of the main characters in shadow theater is  karagoz , a clever rouge, who with his sidekick Hacivat have many adventures.The shadow theater was one of the few places where one might hear criticism of the government. They are still popular today.



 Traditional Turkish Shadow Theatre: Karagöz

 Tales of the 13th cent holy man, Nasreddin Hoja were popular in Ottoman Turkey. In one tale, he is invited to a feast, which he goes to in ordinary clothes and and is treated rudely by the guests and servants. He went home and returned in fine clothes and was treated with respect. He then pours soup on his fine coat, saying 'Eat,coat,eat!You were the one really invited here!'




kaftan with tulip design. a man's cotton or silk cloak buttoned down the front, with full sleeves, reaching to the ankles and worn with a sash.










The Harem