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Aghia Sophia, Istanbul

Iznik Tiles



John Osborne
lectures: turkey

Turkey: from Troy and Constantinople to Istanbul and Gallipoli

(Lecture or Study Day)

The first part of this study day illustrates the Greco - Roman period: there is a profusion of sites, especially along the Aegean coast of Turkey, including the prehistoric site of Troy, famously excavated in the late 19th century by Heinrich Schliemann, who was convinced that a historical Trojan War was the basis for Homer's Iliad.

Sites from the Classical period include Pergamum and Ephesus, where there are spectacular and extensive remains, especially from imperial Roman times.

The second part takes us to Istanbul, an ideal strategic site for a capital of two consecutive empires, superbly situated on the waters that divide Europe from Asia. It is still a hugely busy, prosperous and fascinating city, full of its 1700 years' history.

As Constantinople, it was the capital of the Eastern Roman / Byzantine Empire until its capture by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, and from this period there remain Justinian's great Cathedral of the Holy Wisdom, Ayia Sophia, and the Church of St Saviour in Chora, the Kariye Cami, each with outstanding mediaeval mosaics, and the Hippodrome.

As rulers of the Ottoman Empire, the Sultans inhabited the extraordinary Topkapi Palace for 400 years and built imposing mosques along the city's skyline, including the great complexes of the Sulemaniye and the Blue Mosque of Sultan Ahmet.

Some 20th century history is then touched on: the most obvious moment when British and Turkish interests collided was at Gallipoli, in the First World War, when the chaotic Allied landings were stymied by heroic Turkish defence. Mention will be made of Kemal Ataturk and his extraordinary achievement in creating the modern Turkish state.

Recommended Reading:

  • There are several suitable guidebooks and phrasebooks. In the Blue Guide, Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness and Footprint series there are volumes on Turkey, and Blue Guide and Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness guidebooks specifically on Istanbul. There are illustrated guides to the sites and monuments available, in English, locally in Istanbul and at Troy, Pergamum and Ephesus.
  • Norman Stone's Turkey - A Short History (Thames and Hudson) is a very good introductory history. Philip Mansell's Constantinople: City of the World's Desire (John Murray) is excellent and there are many good histories of the Ottoman Empire, including Caroline Finkel's Osman's Dream (John Murray) and Colin Imber's The Ottoman Empire (Palgrave).
  • On Troy, Michael Wood's In Search of the Trojan War (BBC) and Barry Strauss' The Trojan War (Arrow) are good, and on Gallipoli, Robert Rhodes James' Gallipoli (Batsford) and Tim Travers' Gallipoli (Tempus) are especially recommended.

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