The Ottomans: Europe's Muslim Emperors (2013) s01e01 Episode Script

Episode 1

On the edge of Europe is a city that was once the heart of a mighty empire.
From here in Istanbul, the glories of the Ottoman Empire came to match those of Ancient Rome.
Wow! Look at this! This is the view that the Ottoman sultans would have seen and it just simply takes your breath away.
For 600 years, from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, one dynasty of Ottoman sultans, a single family, ruled over huge swathes of the world.
The Ottomans were staggeringly wealthy.
This is an empire of a million square miles, it's a superpower.
The empire stretched south to Baghdad and Cairo, controlling the holiest sites of Islam - Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.
But it also reached deep into Europe, taking in Sarajevo and threatening the gates of Vienna.
What's more, it was the world's last Islamic empire and it collapsed less than 100 years ago.
In this series, I'll be discovering why the Ottoman Empire seems to have vanished from our understanding of the history of Europe.
Why its story is exciting global interest once more and how, this year, struggles at the heart of the Ottoman story have reignited on the streets they once ruled, from Syria to Turkey and Egypt.
It's remarkable how some of the most important yet unresolved issues confronting us today were also faced by the Ottomans - the conflicts between the Christian West and the Muslim East, the need to reconcile secular politics with religious ideology and balancing the demands of the clergy with the ambitions of the generals.
All this was faced by one dynasty who ruled for 600 years, across three continents.
In this first episode, I'll discover the surprising roots of the Ottomans, the extraordinary speed at which nomadic horsemen from a corner of what is today Turkey, became powerful rulers across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Across the continents, down the centuries, I'll be getting to grips with what we all need to know today about Europe's Muslim Emperors.
As a journalist, I've been dispatched to many regions of the world that were once part of the Ottoman Empire.
American armour is moving at will across whole swathes of Baghdad Now, with so much of the world they once ruled in turmoil .
I want to uncover the Ottomans' forgotten story.
If you don't understand the Ottomans, both the good and the bad, you don't understand partly the modern transformations of the Balkans and the Middle East.
I think they are connected.
The roots of today's turmoil can be traced, in part at least, to the break-up of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War.
Even before the war was over, the French and the British were already planning on how they would dismember this remaining territory.
Many countries in the Middle East, whose names are in the news today, only came into being after this post-war carve-up.
A list of the Ottoman successor states today reads like a catalogue of the world's trouble spots - Iraq, Syria, Israel and Palestine.
The borders of these countries were not designed according to any geographical reality.
The border between Turkey and Syria, for example, is a border that just doesn't have any reason.
The two peoples on the same side of the border are the same people, they still speak the same language.
Modern-day Saudi Arabia and Yemen escaped control by the great powers of Europe.
Only one other major Muslim country would achieve this.
Remarkably that nation was the heartland of the Ottoman Empire - modern-day Turkey.
Turkey looks very different from its Arab neighbours.
It's a confident, modern country whose economy and global importance are both growing.
And for most of the past century, it's turned its back on the Ottoman past.
Until now.
BATTLE CRY In Turkey and across the world, 200 million people are currently gripped by a TV drama about the Ottomans.
It's an epic story of power won and lost across three continents.
A great cultural force in history, straddling the ancient and modern worlds.
And ruled from one of the world's most strategically placed imperial capitals.
Istanbul is a city that spans two continents.
On this side is Europe, but a short hop across the Bosphorus takes you to the Asian side.
It's always been a city where different beliefs and different cultures meet.
Never more so than during the time of the Ottomans.
This place became the heart of the empire.
But the Ottoman story began across the water on the Asian shore, somewhere much more remote.
The Ottomans first emerged over 700 years ago.
Their heartland is said to be around the small town of Sogut, 150 miles or so from modern-day Istanbul, in rural Anatolia, the Asian part of modern Turkey.
Each year there's a festival here to commemorate the empire's founding fathers.
The family that would become the Ottoman dynasty, began as nomadic warriors alongside many other tribal clans.
They were excellent horsemen, this is how they survived, how they lived.
And on account of their perhaps fearsome qualities, they were used as hired mercenaries.
These guns-for-hire had moved across Central Asia and fought for the powerful Muslim rulers based in Baghdad.
That's how they were introduced to Islam, a religion that took its place alongside other beliefs.
The religion of the Ottomans was the religion of a people on the frontiers.
They were absorbing as much spirituality from the people they conquered as they were taking from their own hinterlands.
The Ottomans' nomadic ancestors settled around Sogut, competing with other tribes to survive.
There were others who also settled down in neighbouring areas, neighbouring territory.
And they were rivals for resources, they were rivals for territory, they were rivals for grazing lands, they were rivals for access to the sea.
And the Ottomans needed to overturn them.
By 1299, their leader in this ongoing struggle was a man called Osman or Uttman.
His followers would become known as Osmanli, or in English, Ottoman.
And just as Rome had its story of Romulus and Remus to give its origins a sense of divine authority, so the later Ottomans developed a founding myth around Osman.
Osman dreamt that a tree came out of his navel, a very wide, spreading tree, which came to shade a very luscious and bountiful landscape under it.
In the morning, Osman told this dream to his leader who gave him the great news that he will be the head of a big empire and his sons and grandsons will rule the state.
The story of how this legendary dream came true is one that holds many surprises.
In the late 13th century, no-one could have dreamt that, within a few generations, these nomads would become mightier than the imperial powers that surrounded them.
To the southeast were influential Arab cities like Baghdad and Damascus, home to earlier leaders of the Muslim world.
Further south was the great seat of learning in Cairo and Islam's holiest sites of Mecca and Medina.
Closer to home was a crumbling Christian empire.
The capital of the Byzantine Empire lay just across the water of the Bosphorus.
Modern Istanbul was at this time called Constantinople, named after the fourth century Roman Emperor, Constantine.
It was the centre of the Eastern Christian world.
Constantinople stood for the empire of the Christians on Earth.
One God in heaven, one Emperor on Earth and one imperial city.
The Byzantine world had total confidence that it had the ideal constitution, the ideal system of justice, they thought it was the perfect Christian empire.
But after a millennium in power, the Byzantines were in decline and weakened by battles with Europe's Western Catholic crusaders.
It was still against all expectations, when in 1301, Osman claimed his first victory over the Byzantine imperial army and it made his name.
When the other emirates or other principalities saw that, they started to join the Ottomans, to fight with them, because they see a future in the Ottomans.
This meant that they were able to amass huge numbers of soldiers.
They could deploy fast-riding cavalry to killer effect.
MARCHING BAND PLAYS Osman's memory still arouses passions.
At the climax of the Sogut festival, everyone marches to the tomb of the Ottoman forefathers.
A scuffle breaks out about who should be the first to pay their respects.
IMPASSIONED VOICES Osman's successors seized on his legacy and laid the foundations for empire.
HE SPEAKS IN TURKISH Just two years into his reign, Osman's son, Orhan, made his mark.
In 1326, he took the major Byzantine city of Bursa after a long siege, converting it into his capital city.
He wasted no time creating the infrastructure of a settled state.
The earliest dated Ottoman coin is from this year.
These were no longer nomads.
The Byzantines were alarmed at the rise of this powerful and warrior-like group and they tried to put this off with diplomacy.
The Christian Byzantine emperor gave Orhan his daughter's hand in marriage.
It was always part of Byzantine diplomacy to use the emperor's family for intermarriage.
Hopefully you kept your enemies as friends rather than as attackers.
The marriage did not stop the Ottomans setting their sights on Byzantine territory, beyond the narrow Bosphorus Straits on the European mainland.
As the Ottomans looked to the fertile lands of Greece and Italy, they could see the rise of Venice, the rise of Genoese traders, the rise of Pisa.
I think it must have been very clear that the West was the future.
First they raided along the European coastline, but in the 1360s, the Ottomans seized their first European City, Edirne.
It was a breakthrough moment.
They made this their new capital.
From this foothold in Europe, troops marched out to take the kingdom of Bulgaria and the strategic town of Sofia.
The important city of Salonica, now Thessaloniki in modern Greece, fell after a long siege.
The routes west had been opened to Ottoman advance.
The Ottomans wanted to be the future and they had all sorts of reasons in terms of power, military power, they were fantastic.
In less than 100 years, the Ottomans had started to take over from one of the most sophisticated imperial powers the world had ever seen.
In what is now Greek Macedonia, there's a town founded by the early Ottomans.
Yanitsa was built in the 1370s and then called Yenice Vardar.
In Turkish, Yenice means "newly founded".
And it holds some intriguing clues about the kind of future the Ottomans offered to their newly conquered lands.
One traditional view in the West of the Ottomans has been to see them as Muslim invaders plundering Christian lands in Europe for their own gain.
They'd raze a place to the ground, and then just simply move on once they'd taken everything that they could get.
For many living in these lands today, it's hard to have a more positive view of what the Ottomans built here.
This includes the town's mayor.
IN TRANSLATION: But nonetheless, what remains 600 years on suggests something much more permanent than the image of marauding invaders would suggest.
The historian, Heath Lowry, has been examining early Ottoman life here.
Wow! It's a lot more impressive inside than what you can see from the outside.
You're right.
This is a typical, Ottoman bath house, called a "hammam".
And what's standing today is really less than half of the full structure.
This was a double bath, so it had one side for women, one side for men.
The Ottomans as Muslims, really had a bath culture, a bath culture that we really see previously only under Rome.
It's as if there was this jump between the Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire.
It certainly tells people that you have just conquered - that you're here to stay for a while.
Cos it can't have been easy, and you wouldn't build this if you were just passing through.
But you needed water, and you needed fresh water.
So they, as part of this infrastructure, built a system, that runs 12-15 miles back in the hills, of aqueducts and underground pipes to bring water to the city to provide for the fountains at his mosque and the bath-house here.
This is a very different view of Ottoman rule in this part of the world, isn't it? I mean, traditionally, the Ottomans were just slash-and-burn sort of people who came through.
You know, it's very hard to look at this infrastructure and think about the Ottomans as just some kind of semi-Mongol type horde that's just interested in slaves and booty and, you know.
They weren't.
They were interested in establishing normalcy as quickly as possible.
It would be very foolish just to wreak havoc and ruin your resources, when resources were what you needed, what life was about, especially if you were not an entirely settled population.
You needed You needed pastures, you needed sheep, you needed crops, gradually.
And you needed towns, trades, crafts.
To destroy everything around you would have been very counter-productive.
The story of this Greek town shows how the early Ottomans matched the sophisticated infrastructure of the Romans.
And before long, a young Ottoman sultan would call time on the Roman Byzantine Empire's last grip on power.
By the 15th century, the Ottomans had their sights set on their biggest prize yet.
In 1453, Constantinople was the last Christian stronghold facing a rising Muslim world.
It was set to become the scene of a great clash of religions.
For the Muslim world, any great Islamic empire aspired to extend its rule over Byzantium, in a sense, to prove the superiority of Islam over Christianity.
Any assault on this Christian city by Muslims was a highly symbolic act.
In fact, Islamic armies had besieged Constantinople only a few decades after the death of Prophet Muhammad.
But its high walls meant it had resisted such attacks.
By the 1450s, though, Constantinople was not looking as invincible as it once had.
It was very run-down.
It was a shadow of its former glory.
Largely because of an attack by Christians, not by Muslims.
In 1204, the soldiers of the fourth Crusade, coming east to the Holy Land, occupied and looted the city.
Within the walls there were 13 little villages.
The population was down maybe to 50,000, living as best they could off what they grew in their gardens and what they grew in the fields.
They questioned whether the Ottoman Turks were in fact anti-Christ and whether a whole cycle of world history was coming to an end.
Others said, "Constantinople is the God-protected city.
" "God is not going to desert us.
" There had been many failed Muslim attempts on the city.
Now the 21-year-old Sultan Mehmed II judged that the "golden apple" was finally ripe for the picking.
He built a fortress, north of the city, to cut off essential supplies.
It really meant challenging every form of defence, ultimately taking on the walls of Istanbul, and just reducing it to rubble through persistence and numbers.
Troops set out for the city walls.
Some were ferried in by boat.
But the way was blocked by a massive chain placed under the water.
By an incredible combination of ingenuity and sheer brute force, Ottoman ships were hauled out of the water, onto greased planks.
He carried his ships up land from the Bosphorus over into the Golden Horn, so that they could be right against the sea walls.
You can only imagine the skill and determination needed to lift the boats out of the waters like this.
It may not be as well known a story, but as a feat of endurance, it's on a par with Hannibal driving his elephants across the Alps.
The Ottoman troops, now encircling the city walls, had numbers on their side.
But Mehmed had also invested in the latest technology.
Gunpowder was a technology that was developing in the 15th century.
The ability to use it was actually related to economics - did you have the money? Apparently everybody knew about a man called Urban, who was developing the cannon.
He offered his expertise to the Byzantines but they couldn't afford his prices, so he went to the Ottomans.
After centuries of failed Muslim attempts on Constantinople, it took Mehmed just 54 days to breach the city walls.
In the West, the defeat of Constantinople is known as "the Fall".
Here it's "the Conquest".
It was more than a strategic gain.
The taking of this city would be remembered for centuries as the moment of Muslim triumph.
This was in many ways, the greatest moment in Islamic history since the prophetic message.
It had always been the dream, since the beginning of Islam, that it become a Muslim city and it never had.
And suddenly, this brash 21-year-old does what no other Muslim ruler had ever been able to do, and it certainly gave the Ottomans immense prestige in the Muslim world.
In the Christian world, it was the end of Byzantium.
it was the downfall of Eastern Christendom.
The Bulgarians, the Serbs, the Russians, looked to Constantinople as the centre, and now the centre, so it seemed, was gone.
It was just 150 years since Osman's first triumph against the Byzantines.
In making Constantinople their imperial capital, these former nomads now ended 1,000 years of Christian rule.
Through the conquest of Constantinople, Mehmed II changes the state into an empire.
How do you make an empire is a big question.
One of the immediate goals is to develop Constantinople, make it a world-class city.
The young sultan understood that he'd need to use his assets.
Mehmed wanted to encourage people from all parts of the empire to come to Istanbul.
He used favourable financial inducements and taxes in order to tempt people to come and help rebuild the city and revitalise its trade.
But to ensure that he had the right people with the right skills, he was prepared to force craftsmen from other parts of the empire to move here.
He actually sent edicts saying, "These groups of notables have to move to the city.
" And they are using force and using threats.
He needed the builders, he needed the whole organisation.
So there's an extraordinary revival of the city with the Christian population.
Jews are coming from Europe to live freely and do their trades.
For the Ottomans, economy is the key issue for an empire.
He was not a ruler who said, "Mine is an Islamic empire, "and Christians shall have no place in it.
" Rather, what he said was, "We need these people, they have skills, "they have resources, and we need them in our city.
" Mehmed obviously wanted Constantinople to be seen as the centre of the civilised world.
He wanted to revive that.
He did.
He succeeded.
It was brilliant! Mehmed saw himself as the heir to the Romans, ready to model his new Ottoman Empire as their natural successor.
For the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed II is Augustus.
He plays the same role, because Augustus changes the republic into an empire and Mehmed II changes the small Ottoman state through the conquest of Constantinople.
But for all Mehmed's pragmatism, he understood the importance of the victory he had given Islam over Christianity.
Within days, he made the importance of this religious supremacy clear for all to see.
On the first Friday after the conquest, Mehmed attended Muslim prayers in a building which, only days earlier, had been the imperial church - the Hagia Sophia.
The church of Hagia Sophia, built in the 6th century, biggest church ever built.
From the outside, it doesn't look that wonderful.
It's only till you go inside that it creates a feeling of another world.
Hagia Sophia is a model of what a true place of worship should be.
The sense of space and light.
For us, it signifies Heaven on Earth.
You could walk through any day, you could see parts of the true cross of Christ.
You could see perhaps bits of Noah's Ark.
It was the place where every major event was celebrated in the Byzantine world.
Converting this iconic Christian basilica into a mosque wasn't difficult.
The crosses and bells of Christianity simply had to be replaced with a prayer niche, pulpit and prayer mats.
But the impact on Eastern Orthodox Christians was deep and long-lasting.
When you look around, there are visitors to the Hagia Sophia every day, hundreds of visitors.
They are Muslims, they are Christians, they are people of no faith.
Does it still have a symbolism today for people? I mean Oh, yes.
who are Muslim and Christian? Oh, yes, yes.
This is This is Mecca for Orthodox people.
This is the most important image of the Eastern Orthodoxy.
I have friends in Greece, when they are talking about the Hagia Sophia, they are crying, you know? They are in tears.
After 900 years as a cathedral, the imperial church became a mosque.
Five centuries later, in the 20th century, it became a museum.
There are many Muslim groups.
They had a prayer just outside Hagia Sophia this year.
Really? Yes, they were protesting that It should be a mosque.
into a mosque.
So, those feelings, that passion still runs pretty deep? Yeah.
The conversion of the imperial church into a mosque was not the only act to stay in the minds of the sultan's new Christian subjects in Europe.
In the heart of Europe is a city that exemplifies Ottoman rule in conquered Christian lands.
It's Sarajevo in Bosnia.
"Saray" in Turkish means "palace".
This was a major Ottoman city, built in the 1460s and proudly facing Christian Europe.
Just as in Constantinople, the new city offered a degree of religious toleration to enable its own growth.
Maja Savic has studied the politics and society of Sarajevo during Ottoman times, and helped me spot evidence of the pecking order they introduced.
Right now, we are standing in the biggest mosque in Sarajevo and you can just see how, by the size of it, and the splendour and grandeur of all the arcs, it just tells you that it was kind of a centre of trade life, of religious life of Sarajevo.
Was this mosque built, in a way, to make a statement about Muslim grandeur? And located right at the heart of the city, was it a point that was being made? Well, certainly there was a point to be made.
But in the early Ottoman period, it wasn't really all about showing the grandeur of Islam as a religion and to present it in a good light to make it closer to the local people.
Primarily, they wanted to show the grandeur of the Ottoman Empire itself, and what they were able to bring to this region that was, in Bosnia at that time, considered backwards.
Built around the same time as the mosque was a Serbian Orthodox church serving the new city's Christian population.
So now, we are at the old Orthodox church.
And as you see, it is much more humble than the mosque.
And this pathway is very narrow, the courtyard is not very big and you can't even see the bell-tower from here because it is very small.
So nothing could compare to the grandeur of the mosque that we saw.
But yet it's still very They're still very close to each other.
Yes, still very close to each other.
Just a couple of minutes' walk from the mosque, actually.
So just shows you that the people were able to mix on the streets as they left their places of worship.
And it serves as evidence that people were free to practise their own religion in their own churches.
Ottoman society was not completely blind to religious differences.
Far from it.
Non-Muslims paid more tax.
But the population accepted Ottoman authority, and the supremacy of Islam, in exchange for freedom from persecution.
Why don't they want to persecute? Because they want their populations to produce.
They want They want their Jews to be business and traders.
They were tolerated as long as they were obedient and peaceful and accepted the rule of Islam.
The Jewish priests couldn't wear the typical Turkish hats called turbans, and later on they were given a permission, but they could only be yellow.
They also had to pay taxes to set up a business, and those taxes were much higher than the Muslims had to pay.
Given the standards of today, the Ottomans are not tolerant.
But the Ottoman Empire did not live in a moment of democratic equal rights.
Nobody had those rights at the time.
What the Ottoman Empire gave is the lack of persecution.
For many people across the Balkans, Ottoman rule was unwanted and there were unsuccessful rebellions.
For Christian Serbs, it's a period of hostile occupation that remains a strong and traumatic folk memory.
IN TRANSLATION: According to THIS version of history, the Ottomans grabbed as much land as they could in Hungary, Serbia and Bosnia, and imposed their Muslim faith on the towns and villages they conquered.
Ottoman toleration had its limits.
And Christian families had good reason to live in fear.
The Ottomans took Christian children to provide manpower within the empire.
This practice, called the "Devsirme", seized young Christian boys.
Ottoman soldiers came in every few years, depending on the need, and levied one boy, one Christian boy from every Christian family.
If they had only one boy, they did not take, and they did not take two boys from the same family.
So I think there is an awareness that this is a very harsh levy.
They did not demand so many children from each village and leave the villagers to choose.
They would have gone round into the homes and taken those who seemed handsome and healthy.
The Christian boys were taken to Istanbul, converted to Islam, and prepared for a life in the service of the Ottoman state.
Sometimes people wanted to get their sons into the Devsirme knowing that they could go on and have glittering careers in the Ottoman army and beyond that.
The ones that were very smart could rise to become Grand Viziers of the empire, so like the Prime Minister, if you will, of the empire.
In fact, out of 45 early Grand Viziers, only three or four of them were of Turkish origin.
This was a direct infringement of the holiness of the Christian family.
And the idea that their children should be brought up as Muslims, that was deeply resented.
And it wasn't just soldiers and bureaucrats recruited from Christian communities to serve the Muslim sultan.
This is the sumptuous Topkapi Palace in Istanbul built by Mehmed after his conquest of the city.
Young Christian slave girls were brought here to play a key role at the heart of imperial power.
The Ottomans adopted a practice of other Muslim dynasties who used concubines to bear the sultan's children.
The use of concubines at Muslim courts is a very well established tradition.
A ruler is superior to all others in society.
If he has a wife, that wife has a family and then that family is able to put pressure on the ruler in various different ways.
And there's also an implication of parity, that there are two families which are in alliance through the marriage.
So, that's why you have only slave women, that is women without roots, women without strings attached, who are recruited in order to provide procreation.
The history and mythology of what happened here, the harem, is synonymous with Ottoman rulers, with images of concubines and luxury.
This apparent exoticism has captivated observers of the Ottoman court through the centuries.
It's part of the appeal of the current hit TV series.
But not all women in the harem were concubines and the reality was less glamorous.
Life in the harem wasn't particularly exotic.
For the most part, they spent their days chatting, sitting around, doing needlework, perhaps doing more menial chores if they were junior members.
They were kept in a very constrained space for life.
It was actually a very tedious, boring kind of life, almost the polar opposite of the exotic image we tend to have in the West.
The harem meant that Christian-born slaves became the mothers of sultans.
The most famous would be Hurrem, favourite of Sultan Suleiman in the 16th century who, unusually, even got to marry the sultan.
Like the Devsirme, the harem was an Ottoman institution that placed the Christian-born right at the heart of the sultan's court.
The priority was simple.
The needs of the Ottoman Empire came first before considerations of religion or ethnicity.
Perhaps the most shocking proof of this was how the sultan removed the possibility of any threat to his authority, even from his own family.
Ottoman rulers were known for their lavish lifestyles and, of course, sumptuous buildings.
But the corridors of their palaces were also places of intrigue, violence and murder.
There was no automatic right for the sultan's eldest son to succeed to the throne.
Instead, it was a case of survival of the fittest.
On the death of a sultan, there tended to be a fight between his eligible sons to take over the sultanate.
This meant that it was not necessarily the eldest son who inherited, but it did mean that you tended to get a strong, able man who fought his way to the top.
There are plenty of cases, especially at the beginning of the 15th century, where the Ottoman Empire has been on the brink of disappearing because of rivalries between siblings.
To guarantee his place on the throne, at the age of just 19, Mehmed had secured the backing of the religious authorities with an order, or fatwa, sanctioning the murder of his brother.
Mehmed II comes up with this idea of making sure that the sultan who comes to the throne will not be subjected to that kind of rivalry and that kind of risk.
This is murder, this is homicide.
You don't kill, let alone kill your own brothers, but this was politically expedient.
It can seem shocking, but it was actually to avoid civil war with brothers backed by different factions contending for power.
Dynastic struggles were a common problem for royal households in the 15th century.
There was a long battle for the French throne, known as the Hundred Years' War.
And the houses of Lancaster and York fought the War of the Roses for the English throne.
When you look at Europe during the same period, what the Ottomans do institutionally the European crowns do through poisoning.
So it was really some kind of an institutional savagery over a chaotic one that would have happened anyway.
But despite these policies crafted to protect Ottoman power, by the early 16th century, there was an emerging threat to their growing influence.
It came not from Christian Europe but from the Muslim Middle East.
Ottoman authority had never been accepted by neighbouring Muslim rulers.
The task of establishing supremacy fell to Mehmed's grandson, Sultan Selim the Grim.
In his eight-year reign, he would change the course of history and break the great taboo that Muslims should not fight fellow Muslims.
Under Selim I, Selim the Grim, aptly named, who is the Ottoman ruler from 1512 to 1520, you have full-scale war.
The Ottomans have to justify to themselves fighting fellow Muslims.
The threat to Selim came from the Safavid dynasty which originated in modern-day Iran.
It adopted a different branch of Islam to the Ottomans, setting two rising powers on a collision course.
In 2009, I gained access to Iran.
The Ottomans, like most of the Muslim world, today followed Sunni Islam.
Here the tradition is Shia Islam.
This is the shrine of the son of the fourth imam.
Now, according to Sunnis, an imam is just someone who leads a congregation into prayer, but it has a completely different meaning according to Shias.
Here, imams are venerated as the rightful successors of the Prophet Muhammad.
For the majority of Shia Muslims, only 12 imams are revered.
And it's believed that the 12th and final imam is hidden and will one day return.
He will come as a Mahdi, a sort of messiah-like figure, and he'll be joined, after a cataclysm on Earth, by Jesus Christ to dispense justice and peace in the world.
The Ottomans had never been much interested in religious differences within Islam.
But in 1501, the leader of the Safavids declared Shia Islam his state religion.
Some of the Shia religious fervour which followed spilled over to tribes on the Ottoman eastern borderlands with Iran.
The Kizilbash lived in the east, close to the Iranian border.
They could identify more closely with Shia Safavid Iran than they could with the distant Ottomans.
They were disgruntled people.
The poorer peasants, those who had lost their land, and so they rebelled.
The Kizilbash, encouraged by the Safavids, staged an uprising.
There were all sorts of incidents and uprisings, they spread westwards, and the Ottomans had to try and suppress, put the lid on this threat to their legitimacy.
Troops sent to deal with the uprising were forced to retreat in disarray.
Emboldened, the rebels headed north towards here, Istanbul.
They got worryingly close.
The Kizilbash rebellions were eventually quashed.
And as the new sultan, Selim the Grim was determined to deal with what he saw as the root cause of the trouble - the Shia Safavids.
Selim was clear - there were to be no further challenges to his power.
But in Islamic law, there's no justification for going to war with a fellow Muslim state.
The solution? The Shia Safavids were declared heretics from the true path of Islam.
Selim's decision marked a turning point in the history of Islam.
The Ottoman Empire starts developing a stronger Sunni identity to fight against the Iranian Shi'ite identity.
So, as a result, it becomes more Sunni, it becomes stronger.
The decisive battle happened in 1514, close to the modern border of Turkey and Iran.
The Ottomans won.
Their victory shaped the Islamic world of today.
The Shia Safavid threat receded, but it did not disappear.
The division between the Shia and the Sunni is not an Ottoman product yet, during the Ottoman reign, the rivalry seems to have consolidated, and those tensions are very much part of the Middle East today.
The Ottomans tamed the Safavids' empire.
They did not conquer it.
But their triumph encouraged greater ambition to leadership of the Muslim world.
It was the Safavid challenge to their legitimacy to rule which drove the Ottomans to claim the ultimate Muslim authority.
It was a step that would prove to be every bit as significant as the conquest of Constantinople, with repercussions that echo down the centuries to today.
The Ottomans' southeastern lands bordered the 200-year-old Mamluk Empire of modern-day Syria and Egypt.
From its centre in Cairo, the dynasty controlled the Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina.
The Mamluks considered it a mark of their status, their precedence among Muslim rulers that they were able to do this.
But they have been around for quite some time, 200 years, and their power's beginning to falter.
Just like the old Byzantine Empire, the weakened Mamluks were vulnerable to attack.
The only thing that could protect them from the Ottomans was that they were Sunni Muslim brothers.
But as policies like fratricide had shown, for the Ottomans, religious doctrine was trumped by empire building.
Selim's advisors came up with the pretext that there had been a Mamluk-Safavid alliance, making the Mamluks heretics too.
And in 1516, he marched his army into Syria.
When the Ottomans met the Mamluks in battle, it was a kind of clash of cultures.
A Mamluk would prove his valour by his swordsmanship and his horsemanship.
However, the Ottomans were trained to use muskets, new gunpowder weapons.
A kind of weaponry that cavalrymen often found demeaning and didn't want to use because it was dirty, noisy.
So, as the Ottomans saw their Mamluk rivals from a distance they levelled their guns and they shot them.
The defeat of the Mamluks in Syria gave the Ottomans the city of Damascus.
With that came control over Islam's third holiest site - Jerusalem.
But an even bigger prize awaited.
In 1517, Ottoman troops marched into battle in Egypt with their sights set on Cairo.
Cairo was a huge metropolis, one of the largest cities in the world at that time, but on top of this, whoever controlled Cairo controlled the major Islamic, traditionally very prestigious centres of the Muslim world - Mecca and Medina.
When the Ottomans seized Cairo, it gave them control over the Mamluk Empire which stretched into Africa and Arabia.
What's more, this conquest secured the keys to the Muslim world's most important cities.
Within the space of two years, the empire had been transformed.
The Ottoman sultans now ruled over a vast Muslim population and it altered the equilibrium of a state which had, up until that point, been predominantly Christian.
It was a change that sealed the future direction of the empire.
The Ottomans had made a remarkable journey.
From a tribe of nomadic horsemen in rural modern-day Turkey .
to the rulers of a vast empire spanning three continents.
With their conquests had come leadership of the Muslim faith.
How they responded to such a responsibility would impact the future of the Islamic world and have repercussions for Europe for centuries to come.
Next time, we reach the golden age of Europe's Muslim emperors.
In the 16th and 17th century, the Ottoman sultan really was the most powerful man in the world.
The Ottomans march their armies right to the gates of Vienna for a battle that would define the relationship between Europe and Islam .
and the Ottomans face nationalism, fundamentalism and rebellion and deal with tensions echoing those of today in Egypt, Turkey and Syria.