This visually pleasing separately issued Ottoman map depicts all North-eastern Africa, plus adjacent areas of the Middle East and Southern Europe. The areas that are technically part of the Ottoman Empire are shaded in pink, although Egypt and Sudan are additionally outlined in yellow (indicating these lands are under de facto British suzerainty) and Tunisia is outlined in purple (indicating that it is a French colony). The boundary between the Ottoman Empire proper and Egypt, demarcated in 1906, is delineated in red. In the Middle East, the line of the Hejaz Railway is shown running from Damascus to Medina (a route finished in 1908).
The map labels cities and major transport routes, while verdant lowlands and oases are coloured in green. The large inset in the lower-left corner details Lower Egypt and the Suez Canal.
The present map was made around 1910, before the Italo-Turkish War (1911-12), whereupon the Ottomans would lose Libya, their last de facto possession in Africa. Later, Egypt would become a major theatre in World War I; the Ottoman Empire would collapse upon the end of the conflict
Politics, Economic Development and Cartography in the Late Ottoman Empire From the mid-19th Century onwards, the Ottoman Empire was labelled in the Western media as the ‘Sick Man of Europe’ and seemed to be in inexorable decline. Indeed, during this period, the empire lost much territory to internal rebellions and wars with its rivals, while foreign powers assumed tremendous control over the country’s economy and political affairs. However, while this is all true, it masks that fact that during the same period the Empire made dramatic advances in economic development, education, science, infrastructure and military training. Istanbul, became one of the world’s great economic centres, fuelled by international trade and foreignfinanced mega-projects.
The reign of Abdul Hamid II (1876 – 1909) marked a period of radical social and economic change. Shortly after the sultan assumed power, he approved the Constitution of 1876 that promised to make the Ottoman Empire a constitutional democracy. However, the Empire’s defeat in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8, which resulted in the loss of territory in the Balkans and the Caucuses, soured the mood. In 1878, Abdul Hamid II rescinded the Constitution and ruled as an autocrat.
In 1881, the Ottoman government defaulted on its foreign debt, and much of its public finances and industry were taken over by the Anglo-French Ottoman Public Debt Commission and the Imperial Ottoman. While the quasi-colonial foreign control of the country’s economy was much resented, it nevertheless financed a boom of construction of railways, factories, telegraph lines,
roads and educational facilities that allowed the Ottomans to enter the Industrial Revolution. This had a transformative impact in not only upon the nation’s economy but had sweeping social, political and military ramifications.
While the Ottoman hierarchy was controlled by a corrupt and bloated elite of largely elderly, hereditary figures, Abdul Hamid II improved the administration of the empire, such that historians have remarked that it “reached a new degree of organizational elaboration and articulation.”
The economic development and infrastructure projects sparked an urgent need for advanced cartography. While some fine original Ottoman maps and had been created during the Tanzimat Era (1839-76), it was only during Abdul Hamid II’s time that Ottoman cartography saw its first popular boom. Numerous Ottoman printing houses, both state and privately owned, proliferated throughout the city. Western printers and mapmakers assisted technology transfer that allowed the Ottoman houses to move up the curve to produce printed works of great diversity and technical sophistication, while maintaining the exquisite Ottoman traditions of artistic design and calligraphy. There was also an interface between Turkish military engineers and civilian cartographers (both Turkish and foreign) that resulted in the acquisition and application of original scientific mapping and data to Ottoman cartography. By the 1880s, Istanbul mapmakers were producing a highly diverse and advanced array of topographical and thematic maps of a worldclass calibre, works that often distinguished themselves from Western maps due to their uniquely Ottoman élan; the present map is a marquis example!
In July 1908, a coalition of Turkish nationalists, known as the ‘Young Turks’, rose up in rebellion to Abdul Hamid II’s autocratic rule, dramatically truncating his powers, while keeping him on the throne. They resented the sultan’s corrupt, elderly cadre of ministers and the Anglo-French domination of the national economy.
In April 1909, Abdul Hamid II’s conservative allies mounted an unsuccessful coup against the ‘Young Turks’. This resulted in sultan’s ouster in favour of his malleable younger brother, Mehmed V Reşâd, who became the figurehead sultan.
The Young Turks realigned the empire away from its traditional French and British allies (and pseudo-colonial masters) and sought closer ties with Germany. This resulted in many joint Ottoman-German projects, such as the continued construction of the Bagdadbahn (the Berlin to Baghdad Railway) and the Hejaz Railway (which was to be extended from Medina to Mecca). While the Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of World War I, the dramatic modernization programmes of the late imperial period gave the new Republic of Turkey (established in 1923) a strong foundation of which to build its future.