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The Ottomans

A Cultural Legacy

Diana Darke


A richly illustrated guide to the Ottoman Empire, 100 years since its dissolution, unravelling its complex cultural legacy and profound impact on Europe, North Africa and the Middle East

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At its height, the Ottoman Empire spread from Yemen to the gates of Vienna. Western perceptions of the Ottomans have often been distorted by Orientalism, characterizing their rule as oppressive and destructive, while seeing their culture as exotic and incomprehensible. Based on a lifetime’s experience of living and working across its former provinces, Diana Darke offers a unique overview of the Ottoman Empire’s cultural legacy one century after its dissolution. She uncovers a vibrant, sophisticated civilization that embraced both arts and sciences, whilst welcoming refugees from all ethnicities and religions, notably Christians and Jews.

Darke celebrates the culture of the Ottoman Empire, from its aesthetics and architecture to its scientific and medical innovations, including the first vaccinations. She investigates the crucial role that commerce and trade played in supporting the empire and increasing its cultural reach, highlighting the significant role of women, as well as the diverse religious, literary and musical traditions that proliferated through the empire. Beautifully illustrated with manuscripts, miniatures, paintings and photographs, The Ottomans: A Cultural Legacy presents the magnificent achievements of an empire that lasted over 600 years and encompassed Asian, European and African cultures, shedding new light on its complex legacy.


'For 200 years, from the mid-15th century, the Ottoman Empire was the most powerful force in Eurasia. Yet the Ottomans remain today one of the least explored areas of global history: an almost-forgotten giant. This gorgeous, wide-ranging and utterly fascinating book is the perfect introduction to the art and architecture, as well as cultural, religious and political history of one of the important and surprising of empires'
William Dalrymple, author of 'The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company'

'Exquisitely written and lavishly illustrated, this delightful book brings five centuries of Ottoman culture to life. Diana Darke constantly amazes the reader with fascinating facts and points of relevance between the Ottoman past and the present day'
Eugene Rogan, author of 'The Fall of the Ottomans'

'A balanced voice that surpasses prejudice and fixed notions, Diana Darke seeks to bridge the two worlds of the East and West through fascinating accounts of history, art and culture with a dedicated focus on what brings us together in an era of polarization'
Marwa al-Sabouni, author of 'The Battle for Home' and 'Building for Hope'

'An opportunity to reflect on the empire from a cultural perspective, taking in topics as diverse as the surgical instruments that the Ottomans invented to the poetry penned by sultans. Sumptuous illustrations bring [Darke’s] text to life'
BBC History

'The Ottomans sets out to inform and revise opinion. In this beautifully illustrated volume, Diana Darke, a specialist in the history and culture of the Middle East, seeks to remind us of the glories, triumphs and successes of what was once one of the world’s greatest empires. … Darke has done a sterling job in showcasing the best of the cultural legacies'
Peter Frankopan, The Financial Times

'Darke emphasizes the pragmatism and innovation of the Ottoman state. After all they were building something that never existed before: an explicitly multicultural empire … Besides Darke’s plaidoyer for her cultivated subjects, the book’s lavish illustrations bring back the wonder and delight of the Ottomans with expressive and novel images'
Asian Review of Books

'Lively... A total of 149 wonderful images of paintings, maps, and manuscripts accompany the book’s twelve chapters, each of which tackles a specific cultural realm of the empire'
The New Criterion

'[An] engaging illustrated survey [that] examines the Ottomans’ broad cultural impact on the diverse lands they ruled, as well as their often-overlooked medical and scientific innovations... The undoubted highlight of The Ottomans is its superb selection of nearly 150 full-color images illuminating the many cultural and historical facets Darke explores, with detailed captions that add further context'
The Washington Post

'To appreciate Ottoman society, there is nowhere better to start. This is a celebration of all aspects of Ottoman culture – its government, religious values, commerce, education, art, medicine, music, architecture and cuisine. … A joy not just to read but to look at. Every page seems to hold not only another fascinating revelation, but also a beautiful illustration to go with it'

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 24.0 x 17.0 cm

Extent: 288 pp

Illustrations: 149

Publication date: 29 September 2022

ISBN: 9780500252666

Contents List

Timeline 1250-1922
Introduction: A Fresh View
1. The Ottoman Psyche
2. The Commercial Spirit
3. Statecraft and Geography
4. Religious Values
5. Scientific and Industrial Innovations
6. Literary Curiosities
7. Musical Traditions
8. Medical Mores
9. Aesthetic Sensitivities
10. Architectural Identity
11. Culinary Delights
12. Home and Lifestyle
Conclusion: Lessons for the Future?

About the Author

Diana Darke is the author of Stealing from the Saracens: How Islamic Architecture Shaped Europe, which was one of BBC History Magazine’s best books of 2020 and chosen by William Dalrymple as his history book of the year. Her other books include The Merchant of Syria, My House in Damascus and The Last Sanctuary in Aleppo, as well as travel guides on Turkey and Syria.

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