The Ottoman Empire

Today Turkey is a country located partly in Asia and partly in Europe, and is considered to be where Eastern and Western cultures meet. Even its largest city, Istanbul, is half in Europe and half in Asia. Formerly, though, Turkey was the center of one of the most powerful empires in the world, called the Ottoman Empire. At its height, it stretched up into Europe as far as Hungary, and covered the Middle East and North Africa. It was founded at the end of the 13th century and collapsed after World War 1, lasting over 500 years. It was a Muslim empire with its capital at Constantinople (now known as Istanbul).

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Topkapi palace was the center of government for the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. It is located in Istanbul on the Bosporus Sea and is now a large museum. It was really like a small town surrounded by walls, and included different courts, parks, a treasure room, a bakery, a hospital, a library, kitchens, stables, and more, in addition to the Sultan’s (Emperor’s) private quarters.

Mosques are Muslim places of worship. There were many mosques built around the Ottoman Empire. There are a variety of different styles, but many of them have domes and minarets, which is a tall tower used to call Muslims to prayer five times per day. There are no pictures or images in mosques, as this would be against the religion of Islam, but there may be intricate designs and Arabic calligraphy. Arabic is the language of the Quran, the holy book of Islam. The mosque in the picture is the famous Hagia Sophia, which was a church until the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453 and converted it into a mosque.

Bath rooms (not bathrooms!) were popular, and the Haseki Hurrem baths in Constantinople were a place to go for a good steam bath. There were hot rooms and cool rooms. Hidden furnaces provided the heat for the hot rooms, where you could relax and enjoy the heat of the steam or get a massage. The cool rooms were where you entered or exited the hot rooms, so your body temperature could adjust more slowly.

Suleiman the Magnificent ruled in the 16th century, during the Empire’s most powerful and successful period. He was Sultan (Emperor) of the Empire for 46 years. He was known for standing up for justice, and choosing his assistants based on their abilities rather than family connections or wealth. He supported the arts and was himself a respected poet and goldsmith.

In Topkapi Palace, the harem was where the women lived. Sometimes there might have been hundreds of women living there: the Sultan’s wives, female relatives, female servants, and others. They received an education there. The word “harem” comes from the Arabic word meaning “forbidden,” since no men other than the Sultan were allowed to enter the harem. The girl in the picture is the daughter of Suleiman the Magnificent.

Picture credits: Topkapi: Carlos Delgado [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]; mosque: Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0 (]