Saturday, 19 February 2011

Sex and the fall of the Ottoman Empire

I hated history at school; the endless dates, treaties and battles were all so meaningless to me growing up in the tail-end of the English countryside. The subject only became interesting when I moved abroad, and started to understand how the interplay of peoples, armies, queens and kings had shaped and continued to shape the world.

History is particularly important in central Europe. Looking out from our apartment I see so many symbols of Hungarian history that knowing something about their significance is an essential.

One of the key dates in the country's history is 1526, when the 'Turkish' army, the Ottoman Empire, crushed the Hungarian army at the Battle of Mohacs. That defeat left the Carpathian basin open and the Turks swept across the country, heading for Vienna.

Anyway, last week we spent the weekend in Istanbul, and in our very limited time explored the big tourist sites, the Blue Mosque, the Hagy Sofya church/mosque/museum and the Topkapi Palace, the home of the Ottoman Sultans.
The Blue Mosque

Hagy Sofya
The interior of Hagy Sofya
 In there we learnt a little about the Turkish expansion from another perspective. The Battle of Mohacs represented the high point of Ottoman expansion into Europe. They were led by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, a strong and capable leader in all ways but one: he became obsessed by  one of the concubines in his harem, Roxelana. Against all custom and wise counsel he married Roxelana, and influenced by her promptly killed his first son and made Selim, his son by Roxelana, heir. Selim, and in turn his heirs, turned out to be pretty useless and the Ottoman Empire started its slow decline into decadence and collapse. They were pushed back out of Hungary by 1699 and the Empire finally ceased to exist in the 1920s.
A Bosphorus Bridge, Europe to Asia
It was therefore interesting to see the story of the Turks in Hungary from two perspectives. I'm sure it's not the only time in history when its course was changed by one man's inability to control the pressures in his trousers.

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