Ottoman mosque, Constantinople

Ottoman mosque, Constantinople

The Eyüp Sultan mosque, Constantinople, circa 1879. Built in 1458 the Eyüp Sultan mosque was the first of many grand mosques that the Ottoman sultans would see built in Constantinople under their rule. Completed only five years after Mehmet II had captured the great city in 1453 the mosque is located next to the spot where Muhammad's standard-bearer, Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (Eyüp Sultan in Turkish), is said to have been buried after dying in the failed Arab attempt to storm Constantinople in 670.

For nearly 800 years the orthodox christian Byzantine Empire, with Constantinople as its capital, acted as a counterweight to the Arab and Turkish muslim empires of the Middle East and blocked their attempts to expand into Europe. After 1453 this obstacle to muslim expansionism was eliminated once and for all by the rising new power in the region - the Ottoman Empire. With Constantinople under their control the Ottoman sultans held the gateway to southeast Europe and their armies soon began to make inroads into the Balkans conquering one christian kingdom after another.

For the next two centuries the Ottoman Empire went from strength to strength, reaching levels of wealth and power unmatched by its nearest rivals in Europe. The empire expanded in all directions, with conquests from Egypt to the Crimea to Hungary. The Mediterranean Sea was turned into a virtual Ottoman lake for most of this period and the Empire grew rich as the 'middle man' in control of the ancient trade routes straddling the Middle East between Europe and Asia.

It was not until the Seventeenth Century that the European powers were finally able to offer credible challenges to this Ottoman hegemony. It took the efforts of European explorers (the discovery of the Americas and alternate trade routes to India and Asia) and the cultural and technological changes in European society brought about by the Renaissance and Reformation to make this happen. Even then the Ottoman Empire remained a great power to be feared for nearly all of the 1600s.

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