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Reconquering Istanbul: Islam and Legitimacy Crisis in the Ottoman Empire (1808-1839)
Striving to consolidate sultanic authority, Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808-1839) sought to ‘reconquer’ many parts of the Ottoman Empire. The imperial capital, Istanbul, was also subject to an attempt at reconquest. This paper is about the religious aspects of this so-called reconquest of the imperial capital, focusing on Mahmud II’s architectural campaign in Istanbul which sought to physically assert the legitimacy of the sultan as a heroic and pious ruler — the two intertwined characteristics that were widely questioned (and often outright rejected) by the inhabitants of the city. In doing so, the sultan sought to access and control the religious landscape of the city to be able to influence the public within the framework of the existential legitimacy crisis the Ottoman dynasty was suffering from. I will present the inscriptions on some of the holy tombs (türbe), dervish lodges (tekke), and mosques that were renovated or built during this period and discuss their significance within this context. Similarly, I will present a selection of treatises, poems, and chronicles written by the members of the Ottoman political elite that sought to present the sultan as a pious and heroic ruler. I will conclude by discussing the significance of Mahmud II’s troubles with the imperial capital and its ‘unruly’ inhabitants for Ottoman historiography, with regard to themes like 'center-province relations', 'centralization', and 'imperial legitimacy.' This paper presents a humble invitation to rethink the notion of ‘the center’ by highlighting the multi-varied and convoluted nature of the imperial capital that carried many ‘provincial’ characteristics which caused anxieties for the political elite during Mahmud II's long and tumultuous reign.
Geographic Area
Ottoman Empire
Sub Area