The Ottomans: Europe's Muslim Emperors (2013) s01e02 Episode Script

Episode 2

1 On the edge of Europe is the 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.
Ottoman rulers were of course known for their lavish lifestyles and their sumptuous buildings.
For 600 years, from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, one dynasty of Ottoman sultans from a single family ruled across huge swathes of the world.
This is an empire of a million square miles, staggeringly wealthy because it's staggeringly well organized.
The empire stretched south to Baghdad and Cairo, controlling the holiest sites of Islam.
But it also reached deep into Europe taking in Sarajevo and threatening the gates of Vienna.
It was the cradle of a civilisation and a culture which has infused Europe to Europe's benefit.
Europe is the richer for it.
In this series, I'm 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 that ruled for 600 years, across three continents.
In this episode, I'm going to explore the huge contrasts in the times of two very different Ottoman sultans .
the most famous - Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century .
and the troubled reign of Abdul Hamid II in the 19th century.
I want to know what a Muslim world, run from Europe was really like and how it has shaped the relationship between Islam and Europe today.
Across the continents, down the centuries, I'll be trying to get to grips with what we all need to know today about Europe's Muslim Emperors.
This is the magnificent Topkapi Palace, the nerve centre of the most powerful Muslim empire the world has ever seen.
It was built by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II in the middle of the 15th century.
Its commanding position overlooks Istanbul, the imperial capital he conquered from the Byzantines in 1453, declaring the Ottomans successors of the Roman Empire.
And this is what the Ottoman sultans would have seen when they walk out onto this incredible balcony next to the Treasury Room in the Topkapi Palace.
They would have been able to see in one view two of the three continents upon which their empire was built - Europe on that side and Asia on that side - separated only by the narrow waters of the Bosphorus and it just simply takes your breath away.
Inside are a set of rooms which tell the story of the rise of the Ottoman Empire.
The home of the hareem, where Christian slave girls captured in Europe provided heirs for the dynasty.
The home of the Treasury where the empire's vast wealth was secured.
The home of the sacred treasures of Islam, symbols of the Ottoman leadership of the Muslim world.
This was the epicentre, the heart and soul of Ottoman imperial power.
In 1520, 70 years after it was built, all this was inherited by the most famous of all the Ottoman sultans who led the Ottomans into their golden age - Suleiman the Magnificent.
Suleiman was a figure and a name to be conjured with in London as in every other capital city of Europe.
Suleiman's name came up in Shakespeare, Suleiman's name was probably on the lips of everybody in the pub.
A war leader and a great administrator, a man of considerable cultural achievement, a man who was interested in learning, Suleiman is one of the most impressive figures of the age.
The empire Suleiman inherited had just expanded dramatically.
After two centuries of Ottoman conquests in Christian Europe his father had taken control of new lands across Africa and the Arab Muslim world.
The capture of two cities unlocked vast lands.
Defeating the Mamluk Empire in modern day Syria gave the Ottomans lands extending to the sacred city of Jerusalem.
Taking Cairo gave them territory as far as the holiest sites of Islam - Mecca and Medina.
The Ottoman sultans now ruled over a vast Muslim population.
And it altered the equilibrium of the state which had up until that point been predominantly Christian.
It was a change that sealed the future direction of the empire.
For the Ottomans to take charge of the Arab Muslim world was a seismic shift.
They'd emerged in the late 13th century in what's now Turkey as mercenary horsemen whose ancestors had converted to Islam centuries after most Arabs and who had traditionally worn their religion lightly.
For the Arab world, the Ottoman conquest opened a whole new page in their history.
Now, for the first time, they found themselves ruled not from one of their own cities, but from distant Istanbul.
The Ottoman conquest led to a shift of the centre of gravity away from the Arab world.
Suleiman had to assert the Ottoman's right to rule Arab Muslims from a European capital, which 70 years before his accession, was still a Christian city.
Istanbul's culture, its language and its history were all quite different from those of Arab Muslims.
The first mosque ever built by the Ottomans here shows how soon after they conquered the city, they tried to give their imperial capital a direct connection to the founder of the faith.
Just as the tradition of St Peter coming to Rome and being buried there gave the Pope his legitimacy in that city, the Ottomans discovered their own equivalent on this site.
Except the remains found here were said to be those of a famous close companion of the Prophet Muhammad - the Sahaba or disciple-like figure - Ayyub Ansari.
The site of Ayyub Ansari's supposed grave became very important for the Ottomans all through their history.
It still has a great magic about it.
Ayyub Ansari died, according to tradition, during a 7th century attempt on Istanbul proposed by the Prophet himself.
Then, 800 years later, Sultan Mehmet II's conquering regime miraculously found his remains.
It's just a legend.
Probably they did not find anything related to Ayyub Ansari, but to make this newly taken Christian city the Islamic centre of the world, they "found", "discovered" the tomb of Ayyub al-Ansari and it worked.
In time it became customary for new sultans to walk along this path to the shrine as part of their accession ceremony.
Hence its name - Accession Road.
If Rome, a city 1,400 miles from Jerusalem, could become the centre of Christian authority, then for the Ottomans, Istanbul, 2,000 miles from Mecca, could become the new centre of Muslim authority.
And as the Christian world had its Pope, the Muslim world had from the time of the Prophet a similar position - the Caliph, a title that thanks to his father's conquests, Suleiman now inherited.
They were sultans but they also gave themselves the title of Caliph.
In doing, so they made themselves not just the political leaders of the Muslim world, but the spiritual leaders, too.
The word Caliph means "successor" in Arabic.
Basically, when Prophet Muhammad died, Muslims sat down and said, "What are we going to do now?" I mean, they had a political community.
"Who will be the leader, who will lead us?" The Ottomans, Ottoman sultans, defined themselves as Caliphs as successors to Prophet Muhammad.
The title still resonated across the Muslim world.
To support their claim to the title of Caliph the Ottomans seized from their conquered Arab lands sacred treasures of unimaginable importance to Muslims.
They took all the relics associated with the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca as well as from Cairo to bring back as a very sacred booty, that would give the high seat of religiosity that the Ottomans required.
Tradition has it that this ornate trunk, kept here in the Palace of the Sultans, contains the mantel of the Prophet.
A cloak that had belonged to the founder of the faith.
After the Prophet's death, Muslim leaders had used the cloak to legitimize their power.
Now the Ottomans did the same.
Even in the modern age, the symbolism of the cloak, and its connection to the Prophet, has a powerful appeal.
Here in Kandahar, in 1996, as the Taliban overran Afghanistan, the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, brandished another cloak, claiming it had once belonged to the Prophet Muhammad.
Sacred artefacts and the title Caliph strengthened the Ottoman's legitimacy within the Muslim world and beyond.
As a universal title, the Caliph was historically considered as a patron, if not a ruler, of all Muslims and the Ottomans very much play on this notion of patronage, that they become the patrons and protectors of Muslims everywhere.
The Ottomans called themselves the guardians of the holy places.
Now, that's just words, but they followed up on their words, by putting a distinctive architectural stamp on Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.
Suleiman the Magnificent spent millions putting a new coat of decoration on the Dome of the Rock.
It glistened and shone in the sun, it was brand new, it was sparkling and it was very warmly received.
And above all, it's an act of possession, it's an act of appropriation, it says there's a new boss and this is his mark.
And that was a message to the rest of the Islamic world.
Suleiman was Caliph but he wasn't only interested in defining himself as the defender of the faith.
First and foremost, he was emperor and he wanted to be as strong as possible in that role.
Centred in the Topkapi, Suleiman's imperial administration brought stability to his Muslim empire of the 16th century that would be the envy of his successors and many in the modern world.
Today, Sharia law and the tension between the power of the state and the power of religion divides almost every Muslim country in the world.
The violence of the Taliban.
LOUD EXPLOSION The terrorism of Al-Qaeda and their affiliates, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt, all are aspects of the struggle about how far Sharia law should influence the daily and political life of Muslim societies.
Five centuries ago, Suleiman the Magnificent tackled this dilemma head-on.
Suleiman's legal reforms were so central to the success of the Ottoman Empire that many people regard it as the greatest gift he left to his people.
So much so, that while Suleiman is known in the West as Suleiman the Magnificent, in Turkey he is known by another name.
To Turks he's known as Suleiman Kanuni - Suleiman the Lawgiver.
Suleiman's dynamic Ottoman state of the 16th century faced crimes not catered for by the Sharia, written nine centuries earlier.
One very good example is counterfeiting currency.
Is this theft? Traditionally, no.
Theft has a very specific definition in Islamic law, which is to stick your hand into an enclosed place and snatch something out of it.
Counterfeiting currency is not this.
Forgery of official state papers, what is this? Again, it does not fit under any of the classically defined headings of Islamic jurisprudence.
The solution was the Kanun, Suleiman's legal code that carefully balanced the Sharia with the authority of the sultan and the needs of his empire.
What is really the concern, in terms of power, is the will of the sultan - and that can go against the Sharia in some cases, but what they do then is they twist, either the Sharia or the Kanun, the regal law, in order to make it comply with each other.
Because it's essential that at an ideological level the religious law is not contradicted.
But really what makes the empire run is the sultan's law.
Under Sharia law even crimes of murder could be settled by family members paying off the victim's family with blood money.
Suleiman's new legal system meant the state could have the last word.
Basically, they would say, to litigants, "You can go to the Sharia courts, you resolve your disputes, "you reach a settlement, but after you reach a settlement, we that is "society, we that is the sultan, we that is the state, have the right "to adjudicate the same case "according to another, parallel legal system "that most often results in imprisonment.
" Suleiman made sure that his laws were pre-eminent, but he did it in a subtle way.
He wanted to make sure that he was not openly challenging Sharia and in doing so, he set a precedent that would be followed by Ottoman rulers who came after him.
SIREN WAILS Despite the clashes on Istanbul streets this year, the distinctive nature of Turkey's history during and after Ottoman times means these protests are quite different from those seen in the Arab Spring.
This is now a democratic country that's elected an openly Islamic government after three generations of secular rule.
But right at the heart of these protests are threads that Suleiman would have recognised well about the place of man's law and God's law.
Under Suleiman's Ottoman Empire, there was a clear separation.
Affairs of state were controlled by a prime minister called the Grand Vizier.
Religious affairs were controlled by a new position - the Grand Mufti.
They set up a hierarchy in a system that used to be not hierarchical, they set up the head of the Muslim clergy, the Mufti of Istanbul - call him the "bishop", if you want, of Istanbul, to make things simple - who basically rules over the entire clergy.
Now, this is something that did not exist in Islam.
And this is what gives the Ottomans the power to set up a structure that is centred and is dependent on the palace, on the sultan.
It is about, quote/unquote, nationalizing the clergy.
With a stable state supported by a clear separation of religious and secular power, Suleiman set about a physical transformation of his entire empire.
The way he did it underlines the sultan's power over his subjects.
One extraordinary story reveals how Suleiman's reign saw the creation of Ottoman buildings admired to this day.
The greatest of these was built by this man.
This is Suleiman's chief architect, Mimar Sinan.
Today he's little-known outside Turkey but he was without question one of the greatest figures behind the Ottomans' enduring cultural legacy.
Each age gets its great architect who fuses the ideas and the aesthetic and the politics of the age into iconic buildings.
Sinan was that for the Ottomans.
I've come to the building Sinan saw as his own masterpiece.
The Selimiye Mosque in Edirne.
It is seen as one of the greatest achievements of Islamic architecture.
But there's something surprising about the man behind this exquisite building that historians, including Teyfur Erdogdu, have pieced together from details of his life.
Sinan was most probably an Orthodox Christian.
That possibility holds deep ironies.
It seems Sinan ultimately rose to hold his position as the Ottomans' chief architect because, like hundreds of thousands of Ottoman subjects, he was taken as a child from a Christian family under a system known as the Devshirme.
They were brought to Istanbul, they were converted to Islam, they were all slaves of the Sultan.
It was a way of building a patrimonial army for the Sultan, a very close, very loyal army.
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.
The fact Sinan served in the sultan's elite army, known as the Janniseries, is one of the key details of his life that have convinced many historians that he was indeed born a Christian.
The Muslim children, according to Ottoman rule, could not be taken for the Janniseries army.
This twist in the story of the Ottomans' greatest architect embodies the power of the Sultan over his subject's talents.
But as the man behind so many mosques, there was an added irony.
In the 15th century and for much of the 16th century, it was permissible for a sultan to build a mosque in the city only if he had defeated Christians.
And Sinan the Muslim convert built this very mosque with the spoils of the Ottoman conquest of Christian Cyprus.
Sinan's enduring legacy changed the skyline of Istanbul and cities throughout the empire.
He built 135 mosques and over 350 buildings in total, dwarfing even the great achievements of Sir Christopher Wren in England.
If he were in our society, he'd be a lord with a string of initials after his name.
You have the reports of one European monarch after another, who go and see Istanbul and they come back with bated breath, and they say, "You have to see this to believe it.
" They're blown away by the size and the splendour and the ambition of these building projects.
That was a rare kind of empire.
A rare kind of self-confidence.
Europeans may have noted the magnificence of Suleiman's court and his capital, but they were also well aware of his military threat.
Suleiman spent a quarter of his reign on the battlefield and expanded the empire almost to the peak of its power.
He captured Baghdad and brought modern-day Iraq under his rule.
He did the same with Budapest and Hungary.
Victory first at Rhodes and then in key Greek provinces gave him control of the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Ottoman sultan really stood out as perhaps the most powerful man in the world in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Ruling over this vast territory with all of the wealth that the empire enjoyed, the Ottomans were able to put together an army that was really the fear of Europe.
In that sense, you could point to the time of Suleiman as a period in which Europe was really in awe of and terrified by the Ottoman Empire.
Such fear fed propaganda, and there was plenty of it about on both sides, including this woodcut by a contemporary of Suleiman, the German artist Albrecht Durer.
It is no wonder that people in Christian Europe think of the Turk as a figure of fear.
When you're thinking of the horsemen of the apocalypse, the people that are going to bring the end of the world, and you depict that in paintings as Durer does, one of the horsemen is depicted as a Turk.
Children are told that if they aren't quiet in the evenings, if they don't go to sleep, a Turk will get them.
If you asked any European, "Who are the Muslims?", they would have said, "The Turks, the Ottomans.
"They're the ones that we are afraid of.
" But the question is, what did Europe mean to Suleiman, and what, if anything, did Europe represent to the Ottomans? Suleiman viewed European powers as rivals he could dominate.
But the fate of his dynastic family would remain entwined with the rival dynastic families of Europe for centuries to come.
The growing influence of the great tsars of Russia.
The newly-Protestant dynasty of Tudor England.
And the Holy Roman Empire of the Catholic Hapsburgs.
Suleiman's time was a time of great personalities of rulers.
I mean there was Henry VIII, of course, there was Ivan the Terrible in Russia and in Europe, his main rival for glory in this wider world of rulers was the Hapsburg ruler, Charles V, in Austria and Germany and, really, Central Europe.
Suleiman's European campaigns were highly strategic and followed the pattern of his father's conquests in the Arab lands.
Triumphs in Damascus and Cairo had made the Ottomans dominant across Muslim Arabia.
Having taken Hungary, he was only one step away from his most strategic target - the Hapsburg capital, Vienna.
Suleiman knew victory here would deliver vast tracts of Europe into Ottoman hands, from Spain to the Netherlands.
They get to the walls of Vienna.
But we are talking here about a non-Western force that has got that far, that, in a sense, seems to be dominating the agenda.
In a way, yes, there was a territorial contest and, yes, there was religious contest to some degree but largely, one can could say that it was a contest between two great leaders who wanted to appear more magnificent than the other.
In Suleiman's reign, the Ottomans had every reason to think theirs was the more magnificent dynasty, ahead in wealth, power and military technology.
After 46 years in power, in 1566, Suleiman the Magnificent died.
He was laid to rest in the Suleymaniye Mosque built for him by Sinan.
Suleiman never captured Vienna, but in the following century, his successors would target it once more.
And within a decade of Suleiman's death, major rifts in Europe would play into the Ottomans' hands and give them a new ally - England.
There's an absolutely key moment in the relationship between the Ottomans and the English in the middle of the 16th century and that is in the year 1570 when the Pope finally excommunicates Elizabeth I.
The minute that happens, England is free to trade with the Ottomans.
The Ottomans and Protestant England had common ground in their opposition to Europe's Catholics.
Just as the Ottoman Empire was reaching its peak, Europe was in turmoil and in conflict because of the divisions between Protestants and Catholics.
It was a golden opportunity to pursue a policy of divide and rule.
In the 1590s, fresh from confronting the Catholic Spanish Armada, Elizabeth I herself entered into a correspondence, in Arabic, with the Ottoman court.
All part of this new-found axis of power the English hoped to build with the Ottomans.
These exchanges between Elizabeth I and the Ottoman sultan show the friendly exchange of gifts.
The relationship between the English and the Ottomans was predominantly about trade but some have suggested that the politics of their relationship was made easier by the fact that they had a common enemy - the Hapsburgs.
The Hapsburgs were really a global empire who were sort of squeezing everyone else out, they were Catholic.
On the other side you had the Protestant powers rising, who were hoping to elbow in on the resources and territories which were controlled by the Hapsburgs.
The Ottomans, for their part, were keen to push the Hapsburgs back in Central Europe.
But the point was simply "the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
" 150 years after Suleiman had last tried, Ottoman forces once more attempted the unthinkable - to defeat, in the heart of Europe, the Catholic Hapsburgs.
In 1683, the Ottoman armies were here at the gates of Vienna, laying siege to the city that was then the capital of the Hapsburg Empire.
The Ottomans camped outside the city.
This moment had been feared since the days of Suleiman.
The Pope, Innocent XI, made sure military assistance came from Bavaria, Saxony and Poland.
The Ottomans siege of Vienna is still cited as a key foundation stone of a supposed clash of civilisations.
But was it? For the Christian forces preparing to defend Vienna, this was a holy war.
But for the Ottoman sultans targeting Vienna, it wasn't so much about converting Christians.
What this really wasn't about was a religious war.
Now, it's understandable that that was how it was seen in Christian Europe and obviously, if the Ottomans had extended their power, there would have been a completely different world for Muslims in the area that they took over, but this was not fundamentally about religion in 1683, this is about power.
On September 12th 1683, the Christian force reached the plains outside Vienna where the Ottomans awaited them.
In a now legendary charge, they routed the Ottoman army, in a single day.
Of course it's taken as a major failure but more than the failure in 1683, what really throws the Ottomans off is the consequences of that failure that is the decade or so of wars that the Austrians will organise against the Ottomans after the defeat, taking advantage of that defeat.
The Ottomans didn't capture Vienna and they lost Hungary and as a result, their pride, their prestige, was damaged.
From this, the future destiny of Europe was shaped.
There remain very deep-rooted memories of the Ottoman threat in Europe.
There are countries such as Austria which continue to think of Turkey in terms of that former threat.
The legacy of the Ottoman Empire is of the subjugation of European peoples, and the expansion of territory by brutal military means.
I don't think we should attempt to glamorise it and I don't think we should feel the smallest nostalgia for it.
The defeat here in Vienna would have a major impact on the Ottomans and would define how Europe would look at them for centuries to come.
It is understandable that the question of Turkey joining the European Union looks totally different if you're in Vienna, or if you're in Cyprus, to how it looks in Britain, because in Britain, of course, we've never had the direct military challenge.
We were aware of the Ottomans but they weren't so central a part of our anxieties or our fears.
To me, this goes some way to explaining why for many Europeans, this was the defining moment that meant that any future European union would be a Christian union.
After their defeat at Vienna in the 18th century, the Ottomans would fall into a long period of decline.
The following two centuries would witness a profound shift in the balance of power between the Ottomans and Europe.
Instead of the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna, it would be the Russians at the gates of Istanbul.
In its Arab lands, the Ottomans would be shut out of the holy sites and in Europe the empire would be mocked not feared, and propped up until it suited the great powers to carve it up.
The world was changing.
The West had taken off and developed in technology in military terms, in educational terms.
It had had an enlightenment.
It's industrialisation - the coming of mass production that really marks out the European states from the rest of the world and actually explains the growth of empire apart from anything else - the fact that you've got machine guns, steamships, those are the things that mark the big differences.
The Ottomans were not interested in international trade, they didn't keep an eye open on the Americas, and their long-term fate was to be brought down by that provincialism.
They thought they were safe within their empire.
And the rest of the world developed at speed.
The Ottomans were living in a rapidly changing world.
The Industrial Revolution in Britain was about to reshape the country.
The French Revolution would bring forward ideas and political movements based on equality and nationalism.
The entire social and industrial landscape of Europe was being altered, and the Ottomans stood in danger of being left behind.
Where once the Ottomans had been conquerors, now they faced invasion.
In the 1790s, the shifting balance of power between Europe and the Ottomans had a landmark moment.
Napoleon was able to invade Ottoman Egypt, demonstrating overwhelming superiority.
When the French first arrived off the coast of Egypt in 1798, Egyptian society remained convinced that their society, Ottoman, Muslim, was the superior society, that they were in every way, a greater civilisation than anything that Europe had to throw at them.
So great was the shock, then, when the French armies landed, and were able to deploy superior technology, and superior tactics to inflict a series of defeats that led to the French occupation of Egypt.
But soon after the French invasion of Egypt, a more dramatic demonstration of Ottoman weakness came in 1805.
This time it was not from Europe but from within their Arab Muslim lands.
Having been feared in Europe for being Muslim, they now faced rebellion for not being Muslim enough.
The desert of modern-day Saudi Arabia was home to the Wahhabis.
Their challenge to the Ottomans had echoes of the Barbarians' challenge to the Romans.
The Wahhabis brought a distinct form of Islam that was to threaten the Ottoman Empire and their control of Islam's holiest sites.
Wahhabism is a puritanical and very austere interpretation of Islam that seeks to return to the practice of Islam as it was at the time of the Prophet Mohammad.
The central pillar of Islam, essential for all Muslims who have the means is The Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca which the Ottomans had controlled since the 16th century.
Even for someone brought up as a Muslim, one of the strangest paradoxes in this whole story, and something that I think very few Muslims realise, is that despite the 600-year history of the Ottoman Empire, not one sultan performed the Hajj themselves.
To me, that is extraordinary.
The Wahhabi rebels wanted a return to core Muslim doctrine and by the early years of the 19th century they'd swept down from the highlands and seized the holiest cities of Mecca and Medina from the Ottomans.
Then they declared that the holy sites were no longer part of the Ottoman Empire and began to prevent Ottoman Muslims entering the city and completing the Hajj.
They started challenging the sultan in a very important aspect, which is that he is not Muslim enough.
He is not serious enough about protecting and upholding the principals of the faith.
This was a serious blow to the Ottoman sultan who had as one of his most important and most prestigious titles "the protector of the two holy sites.
" The Wahhabi revolt suspended Ottoman control of the holy sites for more than a decade.
The Ottomans eventually reclaimed Mecca and Medina but the revolt sowed the seeds of contemporary political fundamentalist Islam.
It is the descendants of the Wahhabis who now rule Saudi Arabia and today they are the protectors of the holy sites.
By the 19th century, the Ottomans' view of the world looked very different than in the times of Suleiman.
Now the very capital the dynasty won from the Christian Byzantine Empire 400 years earlier, and the strategic sea routes they controlled, were being targeted by the Ottomans, nearest neighbour - Russia.
At the heart of this threat was a Russian ambition to conquer the Ottoman Empire, seize control of Istanbul, restore it as the seat of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and in the process, gain access to the strategic straits that meant the Russians could, from the Black Sea, access the Mediterranean at will.
The threat of a rising Russia was feared in European capitals.
In an unlikely twist, the countries that once feared the Ottomans now gave them economic and military backing.
For most of the 19th century, Britain sees the Ottoman Empire as a buffer which keeps Russia out of the Mediterranean and keeps Russia away from Central Asia, is an important part, therefore, of Britain's power politics.
By the middle of the 19th century, power was no longer concentrated in the sultan's palace by the Bosphorus.
The Ottomans were now dependent on decisions made in European capitals of the great powers.
It was in this weakened state that the Ottoman Empire was given the title which would hang around its neck for the rest of the century - The Sick Man of Europe.
In 1876, the last of the long line of descendents of Suleiman to have any hope of reviving the health of the Ottoman empire came to the imperial throne.
The inheritance of Sultan Abdul Hamid II was the polar opposite of what greeted Suleiman the Magnificent.
This was an empire on a life support system.
An old-world dynasty colliding with a modern world.
Attempting to prove they could move with the times, Abdul Hamid's 19th-century predecessors had embarked on far-reaching modernization of Ottoman society.
Known by the Turkish word for reorganisation, the Tanzimat reforms tried at breakneck speed to catch up with Europe in every area of social and economic life.
It's, of course, a message to the West that says, "We are moving in the direction of your model, "we're adopting for the reorganisation of the army, "the reorganisation of our finances.
" It really becomes an all-encompassing programme of transformation, of modernity, of Westernisation.
It was one of the most ambitious and far-reaching programmes of reform ever attempted, and it could have worked.
One symbol of the change was in people's dress.
Men in the empire had for centuries worn the turban but under the reforms it was deemed to be backwards and oriental.
A new hat, the Fez, became the uniform of government officials and the army and then spread across society.
A huge Western-style factory was built on the banks of the Bosphorus to churn out the new hats in their millions.
There are changes to do with education, public transport, there are changes to do with the attempt to help the economy.
So there are changes, but they're not coming fast enough.
The sick man could have cured himself but he realised too late what he needed to do.
But by that time, the Ottomans had become almost fossilised.
The fez, like many of the Tanzimat, reforms was part of attempts, not just to modernise, but to bind the population of the empire behind a unified identity.
They'd previously called this identity "Ottomanism" - a concept that played up the diverse multiethnic multi-faith nature of Ottoman peoples which had been a feature of the empire through the centuries.
But now they were confronting the rival idea that was tearing it apart - nationalism.
One by one, subject peoples in the European provinces who had accepted Ottoman rule for centuries, suddenly began to demand self-rule or independence.
19th-century Russia used the power of nationalism and religion to loosen the Ottomans' grip on their European empire.
Christians and Muslims on a familiar collision course.
Russia grieved over the fact that there so many Christians under Muslim domination.
Russia started to see the Ottomans, the slow Ottoman decline as an opportunity to install their influence in the Balkans, agitating through the local Christian populations and that then accentuated this sense that it was a Muslim/Christian clash going on.
The subject Christian populations begin to think of rising and this leads in many cases to very severe reprisals from the Turkish side.
In the 1870s, word of the brutality of some Ottoman reprisals began to make waves in Europe.
There were a series of Bulgarian nationalist attacks on Ottoman positions, in which both Ottoman soldiers and Muslim villagers were killed.
The Ottomans responded, both out of revenge and out of a wish to re-establish their control of the Bulgarian territories.
But this retaliation grew increasingly violent and came to be picked up by the European press.
There is a huge outcry in Europe, because of press reports coming out of Bulgaria which suggest that tens of thousands of Bulgarian peasants have been massacred by marauding bashi-bazouks, the irregular forces of the Ottoman Empire.
The press painted the new Ottoman sultan, Abdul Hamid II as "the red sultan", as though his hands were personally bloodied by what was going on in Bulgaria.
But, in fact, these figures appear to have been wildly exaggerated, not the first time and not the last time that massacres in the Balkans have been wildly exaggerated.
But by the time it had filtered through to the presses of Europe it was a very simple case of violent, nasty Muslims killing poor defenceless Christian peasants.
It's true to say that as the Ottoman Empire grows weaker, so the position of the Christians deteriorates.
The violence in the Balkans created a wave of revulsion that swept across Europe.
It brought two political giants into conflict in the House of Commons.
Now, the Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, discovered that, in the aftermath of the massacres, his policy of support for the Ottomans was completely at odds with public opinion in Britain.
Up until now, Disraeli has been supporting the Ottoman Empire at all costs.
Britain has been underwriting the Ottoman Empire and a lot of British businessmen and a lot of British financiers have made a fortune out of the debt which is sustaining the Ottoman Empire.
So Disraeli is representing real economic interests.
Opposing Disraeli, and denouncing what he described as "the Bulgarian horrors," was the other great statesman of the Victorian age, William Gladstone.
Gladstone understands that he can represent the Ottoman Empire as an essentially barbaric empire of uncontrollable Muslims who will kill Christian peasants at the drop of a hat and he will be able to denounce Disraeli's policy as immoral.
The controversy leads people to say it's totally wrong to keep in place the Ottoman regime for great power reasons, to keep Russia at a distance, because this is a barbaric regime.
What's interesting is you can see some of the language used in the late 20th and early 21st century about autocratic Islamic rulers like the Shah of Iran in the 1970s or President Mubarak of Egypt more recently.
And the idea being that you should not be sustaining them in power.
The British government withdrew their support which had held strong since the Crimean War 20 years earlier when the French and British sent troops to bolster the Ottomans against the Russians.
But now the sick man was on his own.
The Russians responded by marching into the Balkans.
What I've got here is a collection of Victorian newspapers.
As you can see, the war between Russia and Turkey was the big news of the day.
The Ottomans and the Russians had been to war many times previously but this was significant, because this would be the war that would finally break the Ottoman grip on its European territories.
Two centuries after the Ottomans stood at the gates of Vienna, the Russian army soon stood at the gates of Istanbul.
And the great powers forced the warring sides to a settlement.
Led by Bismarck, the Congress of Berlin carved up most of the remaining Ottoman lands in the Balkans.
The Ottomans' centuries as a European power were passing into history, and for its long-mixed population, trouble was being stored up.
The Ottomans had controlled many of what we see as Europe's pressure points - Kosovo, Serbia and here, Bosnia.
GUNFIRE EXPLOSION Perhaps more than any people in today's Europe, it's those in Sarajevo and Bosnia who best understand the nature of nationalism - the force that destroyed the Ottoman Empire and that re-emerged in the 1990s to destroy the state of Yugoslavia.
I can't tell you what we had here.
That was really hell.
It was hell.
With memories of the war still raw, many in present-day Sarajevo reject the lure of ethnic nationalism.
Allah, Allah This multi-faith choir was set up to cross the lines that recently divided the nation.
And here, today, some lament the passing of the multi-culturalism of the Ottoman era.
During the Ottoman period there was a respect for each other, no matter what your religion is.
This is something that we can definitely take as a good thing from that period and allow people to be what they are.
I certainly hope we can look at that period and pick up the tolerance that existed during that time and transfer it to this period, if that's even possible.
In the case of the Ottomans, what is most impressive to us is that they were able to think through a system of government that did not depend on ethnic sovereignty.
At the end of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire lost most of the Christian European territories captured from the Byzantine Empire over 500 years earlier.
The key territories of the empire were now Turkey itself and the predominantly Muslim provinces of North Africa and Arabia.
The late Ottoman Empire was a much more Islamic empire than the earlier Ottoman Empire had been in terms of its demography.
The percentage of the population that was Muslim was much higher after the Balkan provinces had gained their independence.
PRAYER SOUNDS In a bid to hold together what remained of the Ottoman Empire, it was Sultan Abdul Hamid II, more than any of his predecessors, who tried to tap into the unifying power of Islam.
Abdul Hamid II made more use of Islam than any other caliph, he really tried to play the Islam card - and he clearly saw the potential power of Islam as a political ideology and as one of the glues that would hold the Ottoman Empire together.
But a new generation was growing up during Abdul Hamid's rule who were not calling for a more Islamic empire.
They demanded a more modern empire, and these young Turks would come to play a central role in the Ottomans' fate.
But events elsewhere in the Ottomans' former lands were about to the deliver their empire a final, fatal blow.
On a Sunday morning in June, 1914, just by this bridge here in Sarajevo, a young nationalist saw a car carrying Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife trying to turn around.
The driver had taken the wrong route to the palace.
As the car tried to reverse, the young nationalist stepped forward and shot the Archduke and his wife.
As they were rushed to hospital, few in Bosnia or in Europe realised that this assassination would lead to a chain of events that would end in the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and change the history of the world.
In the concluding episode, I'll trace how events a hundred years ago mirrored those of today with protests on the streets of Istanbul calling for change.
How the final death throes of the empire haunted its subjects and created a vacuum in the Muslim world as the roles of sultan and caliph were abolished and Ottoman lands carved up.
And how rising from the ashes was a new Turkish state that many have held up as a model for the region the Ottomans once ruled.
And that is now being forced into steering a path between its Ottoman past and its modern-day destiny.