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Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Fall of the Ottoman Empire

Tulips and Kaiser Wilhelm Fountain
Tulips and Fountain

On Remembrance Day, this is a post about the Fall of the Ottoman Empire as a result of World War I…

Dolmabahçe Palace on a Binge

For a long time, the Ottomans no longer raided neighbouring states during annual campaigns to benefit the treasury.  Sultan Ahmed II was the last to wage a campaign and he did not fare too well.  

To improve morale and national pride, Sultan Ahmed II spent millions on one of the most famous and beautiful mosques in the world, appropriately named Sultan Ahmed Mosque but better known as the Blue Mosque. 

Dolmabahçe Sarayı
Dolmabahçe Palace on a Binge
Between the years 1843 and 1856, Sultan Abdülmecid I built the Dolmabahçe Palace.  The post Bosphorus on a Budget, Palace on a Binge discussed how the $1.5 billion Palace bankrupted the Ottoman Empire. 

Ottoman finances were further depleted due to the costs of the Balkan Wars in 1912-13. 

The Kaiser Wilhelm Fountain

Fountain in the Hippodrome

By the turn of the 20th century, the Ottoman Empire was under threat.  The Ottomans lost a war with Russia in 1878 in which the Russians supported nationalist movements in the Balkans and Caucasus.  Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro freed themselves of 500 years of Ottoman rule.  The United Kingdom took over Cyprus (which landed in more conflict later).

The British and French wanted to divide the Ottoman Empire between them. For that reason, the Ottomans sought an alliance with Germany.  The German Fountain ("Kaiser Wilhelm Fountain") an octagonal domed fountain in neo-Byzantine style, which was constructed by the German government in 1900 to mark the German Emperor Wilhelm II's visit to Istanbul in 1898, is located at the northern entrance to the Hippodrome - Off to the Races  area, right in front of the Blue Mosque.

Neo-Byzantine Dome
It was constructed to commemorate the second anniversary of German Emperor Wilhelm II's visit to Istanbul in 1898.  Think of it as how to flatter your sultan into an alliance with Germany.  It was built in Germany, then transported piece by piece and assembled in its current site in 1900.  The neo-Byzantine style fountain's octagonal dome has eight marble columns.

Ribbed Roof Holds
Golden Mosaics Better
The dome's interior is encrusted with gold mosaics made famous by the Byzantine artists.  As described in Chora Church's Amazing Mosaics, the gold is gold leaf sandwiched between two layers of clear glass.  The extensive use of gold evoked the spiritual splendour of the Kingdom of God.

There are eight monograms in the arch stonework and they represent the political union of Abdülhamid II and Wilhelm.  In four of these medallions, Abdülhamid II’s tughra is written on green background, and in other four Wilhelm’s symbol, "W" is written on a Prussian blue background.  In addition, over the "W" there is a crown and below it an "II". 

Water not Oil

The Emperor's primary motivation for visiting the Ottomans was not water, it was oil.  The Germans wanted to construct the Baghdad Railway, which would run from Berlin to the Persian Gulf and the oilfields in Mosul – part of Iraq now but part of Ottoman Empire then. 

The Ottomans lost a big battle in the Balkan War in 1912 leading to the loss of 85% of their European territories.  As World War I loomed, the Ottomans sought protection but were rejected by Britain, France, and Russia.  That was because the British and French had designs on the Middle Eastern part of the Ottoman Empire.  They made the secret Sykes–Picot Agreement defining their proposed spheres of influence and control in the Middle East.
School Kids in the Hippodrome

Austria-Hungary occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina as a result of the 1878 conflict ending their dream of independence.  This is significant as Austria-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef's assassination in Bosnia supposedly triggered World War I.  This was not the real cause of World War I but that was the view then and something still taught in school.  The real reason was the desire for resources and territory by the imperial powers.

Ottoman Kaş
Ottoman Kaş

The Ottomans finally formed an alliance with Germany that committed them to support Germany during World War I.  This led the 17,000 ANZAC  troops (Aussie and Kiwi Army Corps) to attack Gallipoli in Turkey. Even though the Turks suffered higher casualties, they successfully defended the Dardanelles Strait and thus Istanbul. 

During World War I, the western Allies and especially Britain, had promised Greece territorial gains at the expense of the Ottoman Empire.  But Germany lost and this led to the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire and the birth of modern Turkey as described in the post Tracing Your Talisman in Kaş. 

How interweaved we are.  So as we reflect on Remembrance Day, let us remember that World War I was fought to make certain countries richer and more powerful but also lead to the birth of a new country, Turkey.  
Next Post:  almost the end

Monday, 12 October 2015

Rise of Venice Fall of Byzantium

See also related post Was the Fall of Rome Important?

Palazzo comes with canal
Numerous countries have a rich history of migrations and kingdoms.  But in Turkey, there was the rise and fall of not one but two great empires – Byzantine and Ottoman – that ironically ruled almost the same expanse from Algeria to Iraq.  They also had a tremendous influence on trade – both in goods and ideas – being the terminus of the Silk Routes from the Far East and South Asia and via Venice into Europe.
Not! Venetian Navy
Venice made a fortune sailing armies to the crusades.  Their ship designs were so superior that their shipyards were classified top secret.  As they gained success in the Crusades, Venezia asserted its power.

Fall of Byzantine Empire

The Fourth Crusade was supposed to re-take Jerusalem.  At a huge cost, the Venetians built extra ships to transport of a huge army.  However, the crusading kingdoms did not pay the agreed amount.  Meanwhile there was a coup in Byzantium.  The Venetians agreed to help overthrow the usurper.  But they really wanted to recoup the costs of their ships.

Not Egyptian, not Obelisk
So in 1204, Venice led the crusaders to the largest and most sophisticated city in Christendom.  The crusaders obliged with the Sack of Constantinople.  Today, almost nothing is left of the centre of the capital.  One of the few remaining monuments is the 32 m high Walled Obelisk that marked one end of the spine of an oval racing track.  If looks like blah today, consider that it once was lined with gilded bronze plaques with friezes.  The crusaders stole everything but the blocks.

Another tremendous treasure stolen by the Venetians was the Pala dOro. This Byzantine gold altar screen is decorated with just a few gems 1,300 pearls, 300 emeralds, 300 sapphires ... just to mention a few!  It was commissioned from Byzantine goldsmiths in 976.
Races and Riots

Also gone are the four famous 4th century BC Greek (now considered Roman) gilded "bronze" horses.  Appropriately, the four life-sized horses were depicted pulling a quadriga (chariot) on top of the boxes where the nobility sat.  They were very symbolic considering that this was the premiere horseracing arena.  The Hippodrome racetrack is where the Nika Riots led to the execution of 30,000 people.

Race Horses on
Basilica San Marco

Very little is left of the Hippodrome today and you can appreciate why it is overlooked by guidebooks and tourists alike.  You have to travel to Venice to see one of the few remnants.  The gilded horses were transported by ship and placed above the porch of Basilica San Marco. If you look at the photo carefully, you can see the proud horses, which have since been moved indoors into a museum. 

Rise of the Venetian Empire

Venetians seriously considered themselves the protectors of one quarter of the Roman Empire.  Thus while Europe embraced the Gothic style, Venezia developed its own Venetian-Byzantine style.  Spoils of the Sack were strewn around the Piazza San Marco and thus visible as one docked at the quay.

After 1204, Venice and Genoa became the main naval powers and seized most of the Byzantine land holdings in Italy, Dalmatian and Aegean Coasts.The first bank in the world was established in Venice in 1157. Modern banking started with merchant banks, which provided capital to companies in the form of share ownership instead of loans. Merchant banking progressed from financing trade on one’s own behalf to holding deposits for settlement of notes written by traders.

Transporting large sums of heavy metal money over long distances in the Middle Ages was neither secure not practical. So the merchants benches (banco in Italian) in the great grain markets became centres for holding money against a "bill" (nota).  Our word bank is derived from the Italian word banco and bank note comes from "nota di banco".  The first true banknotes were issued by Stockholms Banco.
Marco Polo on the 1000 Lira Bank Note
By the late 13th century, Venice was the most prosperous city in all of Europe. It is not by accident that it had incredible glass blowing, art and architecture.  It is not by accident that Marco Polo (1254 – 1324) was a merchant from Venice.  He brought back the idea of paper money from China.  The first true banknotes were issued by Stockholms Banco.
Palazzo Ducale

Venice was now a European power and had to have a palace to show off. Built in 1340, the Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale) housed not only the leader (duca) but also the government offices. 

Saracenic Arches
The Venetian architectural style is a fusion of both Byzantine, Islamic and Gothic elements.  The Saracenic-Gothic arches added a distinctive Islamic feel and break up what would be a boring, massive rectangular façade.  Windows, arches and colonnades had the feel of lacework and made the palazzi feel light.  The stone or marble frame around the main floor windows used for the first time in the Gothic period to highlight the importance of these central windows might have been borrowed from the Islamic alfiz.

The Doge's Palace is filled with art by Renaissance masters like Tintoretto, Titian, Tiepolo, Veronese, Bellini and Palladio.  Did you notice that Italian artists are known by one name?  – Like football stars today.
The Sack of Constantinople weakened the Byzantine Empire and gradually its area decreased, well before the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.  In fact, the Ottomans had already conquered Asia Minor and had their capital in Bursa.  When they used cannons to decimate Constantinople defences, only Thrace and the City were still held by the Byzantine Empire.  Thracians were another people like the Lycians in Kaş who migrated both east to India and west to Turkey and Europe – in other words,  Proto-Indo-European (aka Aryan) tribes.   

Birth of Venus
The Italian city-states formed a bastion of merchant classes (aka capitalism) against the decay of feudalism.  One should not be surprise that the Renaissance was born in Italia. 

The Fall of Constantinople in 1453 was NOT the start of the Renaissance; it was the increase in the wealth of the city-states in Italy.  It was aided by the decline in trust of the Church thanks to the Black Plague. 

With their wealth resulting from domination of the silk trade with the east, the Venetian merchant class could put money into art and architecture.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Birth of Venice Fall of Rome

Bella Venezia

See also related post Was the Fall of Rome Important?

Venice is not just a pretty face
Our odyssey to Turkey was fabulous for meeting people as well learning about their art and architecture.  We also lived and worked many years in Italy, which is fabulously rich in art and architecture.  Actually there is a very strong historical link between them.  

Fall of the Roman Empire

The reasons for the fall of Rome (the city) are described in detail in the Amazing Rome Walk 3 - The Roman Empire Did NOT Fall.  

Blue Mosque Stained Glass
What is amazing is the close link between the Fall of Rome and the Birth of Venice.  This relationship continued as Turkey went through two imperial eras, the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire.  A previous post mentioned this link in reference to the gorgeous stained glass that Venice gave as a gift during the construction of the Blue Mosque.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE, the Roman Empire continued to exist!  As explained in the Hagia Sophia post, the people of that time still called it the Roman Empire even though the capital was now Constantinople.  It was only renamed Byzantine in the 16th century by a German historian. 

The Byzantine and Ottoman Empires ironically ruled almost the same expanse from Algeria to Iraq.  They also had a tremendous influence on trade – both in goods and ideas – being the terminus of the Silk Routes from the Far East and South Asia and into Europe.

Constantinople controlled the sea routes in the Black, Aegean and Mediterranean Seas.  This is why Istanbul became such an important and large city.  In 1000 CE, Constantinople had a population of approximately 500,000 people.

Birth of Venice

Sleepy Venice

By 540 CE, Byzantium had reclaimed parts of Italy and the western empire. Sleepy Venezia built on sand bars and canals was one of the Byzantine provinces.  In 810 CE, it became the independent Serene Republic of Venice. 
That's Venetian Marco Polo! 
The lira was their currency – the same name as used in Turkey today because libra (lira) was the standard weight of Troy silver used by the Roman Empire!  Translated into the local language, this is the origin of the currency names for the French livre and English pound. Even the symbol is the same £ as in Roman times.  Wow! How interconnected we are.
Pretty in Pink
Venice wasn't strong enough to defend itself and wanted protection from the German kingdoms.  Venice developed a navy and became a trading partner of Byzantium, who was content to buy the allegiance of its emerging province to preserve the appearance of Byzantine rule. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, Venice obtained trading privileges from the Byzantine Empire that gave them a distinct advantage over their European trade competitors. 
Venetian Navy Showing Off 

It is always about trade and naval power.  That is why Venice became one of the largest cities in Europe. By 1000 CE Venice had a population of approximately 70,000 people; Rome had 50,000; Paris and London were much smaller!

But Venice is not just the pretty place we know today.  Venezia played a pivotal role in changing Europe not just in terms of trade but also in the transition from feudalism to capitalism, from the Medieval Age to the Renaissance.
Soon the Venetian gold ducat was accepted as currency throughout the Near East.  With trade also comes ideas and an openness to other cultures.  Any city with wealth and power wants monuments to proclaim its glory. So Venice built a magnificent national church, Basilica San Marco, from 1073 to 1117.  No, it is not named for Marco Polo!  He wasn't born yet. 
Basilica San Marco

St. Marks Basilica is a replica of the 6th century Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople.  Its based on a Greek cross design with five domes resting on pendentives similar to Hagia Sophia.  It is decorated with the quintessential Byzantine art form developed by Byzantine mosaicists from nearby Ravenna.  With its opulent gold mosaics, it is an expression of Venetian wealth and power.  Theres enough mosaic in San Marco to cover 1.5 football fields!

The bulbous canopies over the domes that have a distinct Islamic feel.  Another Eastern influence appears in the Saracenic arches. The pointed arch originated in the Byzantine and Sassanian (Persian) empires.  But here is the smack down – it originated there in early Christian buildings.  After being copied by Muslim architects, it become the quintessential characteristic of Islamic architecture!
Venetian Gothic

The architecture of Venezia was not Italian.  It was unique from the rest of Europe. Venetian buildings combined Gothic, Byzantine and Islamic elements.  Did this reflect the average citizen's view of Venice as the gateway to the East?

Last Post:  Tulip Mania

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Tulip Mania

Tulips are not from Holland

Tulips are NOT from Holland. The Turks are not from Turkey. The tulip was a wild flower that originated in the Central Asia.  Tulips were first cultivated by the Turks as early as the year 1000. The Turks were horse-riding warriors who also came from Central Asia.  They migrated west taking over Asia Minor as they gradually defeated the Byzantine Empire starting with their victory in eastern Turkey in 1071 and culminating in their conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

Our word tulip supposedly comes from the Turkish/Farsi word for turban, which had a tulip-like shape. Tulips are called lale in Turkish.  When written in Arabic letters, "lale" has the same letters as Allah, which is why the flower became a holy symbol.  It was also associated with the House of Osman, better known to us as the Ottomans.  During the Ottoman Empire, the tulip was seen as a symbol of abundance and indulgence. 

It should not be a surprise that tulips are widely used as decorative motifs on tiles and textiles.  We bought some tulip tiles as gifts.  So if you think all those tulip-dominated arts and crafts are done just for the tourists, think again.

Sirkeci Mansion
Tulips are for Tiles

Tulip Exports

The first tulip export was made by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.  He gave some bulbs to the Flemish ambassador to Anatolia, Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq in 1554.  Some of these were passed to Flemish botanist Carolus Clusius.  In 1593 Clusius became a professor at the University of Leiden, where he created one of the earliest formal botanical gardens in Europe.  Clusius laid the foundations of Dutch tulip growing industry today.  You never heard of Leiden U.?  Albert Einstein was a professor there.

Tulips are for Gardens
The tulip was different from every other flower known to Europe at that time, with a saturated intense petal colour that no other plant had.

In 1634, a speculative frenzy now known as the tulip mania began in Holland.  Clearly, tulips were only for the rich.  Some tulip bulbs became so expensive that they could cost more than an Amsterdam house!
Tulips are for Tiles

Around this time, the tulipiere and other tulip-themed ceramics became common.  Bouquets of tulips often appeared in Dutch still-life painting.

The gift of a red or yellow tulip was a declaration of love, the flower's black centre representing a heart burned by passion. 

Tulip Mania Act II

The tulip played an interesting role in the Turkish history. Tulips became an important element in the arts and could be found in clothing and carpets, paintings and pottery.  The period between 1718 and 1730 is called as the "Tulip Era", when the Ottoman Empire was at its peak of wealth and peace.
Fountain of Ahmed III

The Fountain of Ahmed III, the sultan of that era, is a classic example of Tulip period architecture.  It is a fusion of classical Islamic elements with European baroque.

Sirkeci Mansion
Okay, Sirkeci Mansion

Sirkeci Mansion

If the weather is dismal, the welcome at Sirkeci Mansion is always warm. On our second stay, we had many discussions with Okay, the manager, and his staff.  We got to know most of the staff at the hotel.  Plus we reconnected with the Ceyda and Damla, who work as "tourist facilitators" – provide an orientation, answer your questions, give directions, etc.  

Sirkeci Mansion
Dome of Verbosity

Afternoon tea is served in the incredible "living room" under the stained glass dome.   The room was beautifully decorated with Turkish crafts – including the tiles shown above

Sirkeci Mansion
Tea Anyone?

Did you know that one fifth of the population of Turkey are Kurdish?  This is no tiny ethnic group.  By the way, the Kurds speak an Indo-European language.  They are culturally and linguistically related to the Iranians, who along with the Europeans are descendants of the Aryans.  

Sirkeci Mansion
Sirkeci Mansion Breakfast

The coffee at breakfast is delicious. But this stay we went into the kitchen for a lesson on how to make Turkish coffee – and it was delicious. Needless to say, we went near the Spice Market to buy some Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi kahve beans to take home.  

Tulip Festivals

Tulip Mania or Tulip Festival

Most people associate tulips with the Netherlands.  There are even tulip festivals throughout the west.  The Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa was started with bulbs provided each year by Netherlands in thanks for Canada liberating the Dutch from the Nazis.  The Dutch Queen Juliana and her children lived safely in the capital, Ottawa, during World War II. The Dutch princess Margriet was born in the Ottawa Civic Hospital in 1943.  Later, she studied at Leiden University how things come full circle and in 2002 came back to see the Canadian Tulip Festival. 

© 2011 Hansueli Krapf Creative Commons
Tulip Tails
Even today, the tulip is still considered the embodiment of perfection and beauty in Turkey.  If you thought the patterns on the tail and fuselage of the planes flown by Turkish Airlines are just  geometric designs, look again.  They are tulips.  

Last Post:  Bosphorus Odyssey
Next Post: Birth of Venice