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Ottoman Empire Telegraph Maps / Thematic Cartography



Very Rare – a matching pair of relatively early ‘flow maps’ of the telegraph systems in the both the European and Asian parts of the Ottoman Empire, published entirely in Ottoman Turkish text, fine examples of advanced thematic cartography detailing one of the world’s most important communications systems that was literally the nexus between the East and the West. 

Lithograph (Very Good, some light wear and slight separations along original vertical centrefold), 19 x 25.5 cm (7.5 x 10 inches).

1 in stock


Map 1.
 اوروپاى عشمانى تلغراف خريطه سى
[Telegraph Map of Ottoman Europe]
Istanbul: [Mahmut Bey Matbaası], 1303 [1887].
Lithograph (Very Good, some light wear and slight separations along original vertical centrefold), 19 x 25.5 cm (7.5 x 10 inches).


Map 2.
  آسياى عشمانى تلغراف خريطه سى
[Telegraph Map of Ottoman Asia]
Istanbul: [Mahmut Bey Matbaası], 1303 [1887].

Lithograph (Very Good, some light wear and slight separations along original vertical centrefold), 19 x 25.5 cm (7.5 x 10 inches).



This matching pair of maps are early ‘flow maps’ depicting the telegraph systems throughout the Ottoman Empire.  With text entirely in Ottoman Turkish, the maps are based on antecedents commissioned by the Ottoman governmental administration that oversaw the postal and telegraph systems.  Map 1 depicts the network in Ottoman Europe (the southern Balkans), while Map 2 showcases the system in Ottoman Asia.  Under the influence of the most advanced French statistical mapping methods as popularized by Charles-Joseph Minard, each map shows all of the telegraph stations connected by lines of varying thickness, depending on the volume of message traffic.  For instance, the main telegraph lines (ex. between Istanbul and Salonika (Thessaloniki) and Istanbul and Ankara are very thick, while small branch lines appear as narrow, single strands.

The Ottoman telegraph system utterly revolutionized the economy, politics, and military and social affairs of the country, and due the empire’s strategic position bridging the East and West, its network was arguably the most important link in international communications.

Map 1 embraces large areas of the southern Balkans which were still under Ottoman rule or de jure sovereignty, a territory which extended from Istanbul to the Ionian Sea, including parts of today’s Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia.  An inset in the upper left details the routes in Bosnia; while another, upper right, showcases the system in Libya, the only remaining Ottoman possession in Africa; while a final inset, lower right, depicts Crete and its connections to the mainland.  The main lines are represented by thick multiple strands, running from Istanbul to Vlorë, Albania, and another from Istanbul to Plovdiv (Bulgaria), with both connecting to numerous branch lines.  Interestingly, the present map was made just one year before the Rumelian Railway was completed to Istanbul, connecting the Ottoman capital to the European railway network for the first time, famously the route that carried the ‘Orient Express’.

Map 2 depicts Anatolia, Iraq and the Levant and shows the seminal telegraph line running from Istanbul down through Ankara and, while narrowing progressively, it extends down via Baghdad to Al Faw, on the Iraqi coast of the Persian Gulf, where it meets the undersea cable running to India.  Other key lines run down the Aegean coast to Izmir, as well as down the length of the Levant.  Of critical importance was the connection to Alexandria, Egypt, which provided the link to the Red Sea cable system.  In this vein, the inset in the upper right features the Red Sea and the main undersea line running from Suez to Aden, and then across to India.  Critically, a line branches off connecting to Jeddah and the holy city of Mecca, which was naturally of tremendous importance to the Sublime Porte.

The present pair of maps were originally bound into the back of a particular issue of the annual almanac of the Ottoman Empire, the Salnâme-i Devlet-i Aliyye-i Osmaniyye (Istanbul: Mahmut Bey Matbaası, 1303 [1887]); this work is very rare and seldom ever appears on the market.  We have only encountered another pair of the maps as part of a large archive of Ottoman historical graphics.  Indeed, all Ottoman telegraph maps are rare and quite prized by collectors of maps and books, and notably postal history.

The present pair of maps are derived from the large scale, separately issued maps, Carte Telegraphique de la Turquie d‘Europe (Istanbul, 1881) and the Carte Telegraphique de la Turquie d‘Asie (Istanbul, 1881).  These bilingual (Ottoman. Turkish /French) text maps, while lacking an author attribution or imprint, were clearly issued by the Ottoman Administration impériale des postes et télégraphes.  The maps are today extreme rarities; they were likely made to be displayed in post and telegraph offices, and exposed to wear, so accounting for their very low survival rate.  Please see a link to an image of the Carte Telegraphique de la Turquie d‘Asie held by the National Maritime Museum (Greenwich):


The 1881 telegraph maps, in turn, seem to be influenced by what we believe to be earliest ‘flow map’ of the Ottoman telegraph system, the Carte Telegraphique de l’Empire Ottoman (Istanbul, 1874).  As French officials, technicians and draughtsmen were heavily involved in the Ottoman communications network, it is not surprising that the Administration impériale des postes et télégraphes commissioned ‘flow maps’ that were all the rage in certain French intellectual and technical circles, best epitomized by the work of Charles-Joseph Minard.

A Brief History of the Telegraph Systems in the Ottoman Empire

In few other places in the world did the advent of the telegraph have a more revolutionary effect.  The Ottoman Empire was a vast land straddling three continents with a notoriously bad transportation system.  Traditionally it took people – and information – weeks, and often months, to travel even small distances, as beyond the most populated coastal areas, the roads were seldom better than mule paths.  The slothful pace of infrastructure development long placed a damper on the Ottoman economy and severely affected the Sublime Porte’s ability to maintain political control across realms riven by internal dissent.

Truing to the global scene, the earliest viable telegraph technology was invented in 1837, and was quickly improved, spreading rapidly.  The first successful long-distance telegraph line in the world was inaugurated between Berlin and Frankfurt in 1848.  From that point onwards, thousands of miles of lines were soon laid out across Europe, America and India, utterly revolutionizing communications.  Information that previously took months to travel from A to B, could be transferred in hours or even minutes.  The economic, political, military and social ramifications were profound.

The Sublime Porte, which formally established its imperial postal system in 1840, was intrigued by telegraph technology at an early stage.  In the 1847, Sultan Abdülmecid II commissioned an American group to investigate setting up a telegraph line from Istanbul to Edirne.  However, political and economic instability, combined with resistance on the part of some rural stakeholders, ensured that the project never got off the ground.

The Crimean War (1853-6) was the catalyst to realizing telegraphy in the Ottoman Empire.  The Sublime Porte’s allies in the conflict, Britain and France, insisted that that Istanbul be linked to the European telegraph system, as instant communication with London and Paris were considered a military necessity.  By September 1855, French technicians had successfully completed a line from Istanbul to Shumen (Bulgaria), so connecting the Ottoman capital to the pan-European network.

With British and French assistance, the Ottoman telegraph network was rapidly expanded in both the Balkans and Anatolia, with thousands of kilometres of lines built every year beginning in the early 1860s.  Special corps of soldiers and technicians were formed to protect and maintain the networks.  As telegraph lines were much easier to build than railways, in most cases, the telegraph was the only means of maintaining good contact with most areas.

Telegraph construction in the Ottoman Empire was, in part, driven by the British imperative to create a rapid communications link between London and India; the most obvious routes for these lines ran through the Ottoman lands.  Two main routes for connecting Europe and India were identified: first, would be the Red Sea route, running from Egypt down to Aden and then over to India, largely relying upon undersea cables; second, would be a line running through Iraq, the Persian Gulf and then on to India.

Attempts to build the Red Sea telegraph route failed due to technical reasons, and the project was put on ice in 1861.  Attention then shifted to the route via Iraq.  The Ottoman telegraph network reached Baghdad by 1863, while at the same time the British had completed an undersea cable from Karachi to Bushire, Persia.  Over the next two years, great efforts were made to close the Bushire-Baghdad gap, which was achieved in 1865, with the completion of lines running via Al Faw and Basra.  For the very first time, one could send a message in minutes (a time soon cut to seconds) between India and London; a development that utterly transformed the governance of the British Raj.

In 1870, improved undersea cable technology allowed the Eastern Telegraph Company to successfully run a line from Suez down the Red Sea, and then over to Bombay.

In 1871, the Sublime Porte merged their postal and telegraph systems, creating the Administration impériale des postes et télégraphes, which brought a new level of organization and resources to the system.  Soon innumerable branch lines were built, off of the Red Sea, Istanbul-Thessaloniki-Belgrade and Istanbul-Al Faw main lines.  As the present maps show, by the 1880s virtually every major city and town across the empire was linked to the global telegraph network, usually long before railways or even macadamized roads reached the same locations.

The Ottoman telegraph system continued to expand and develop, with new lines and better technology, until World War I.  During the conflict, maintaining the lines across the empire was a key task of the Ottoman and German militaries, as the British went to great efforts to destroy or sabotage the lines.  In places where the British were successful, entire regions were cut off from communication with Istanbul, often with severe military consequences.

In the wake of the war, the telegraph systems in the former Ottoman lands were rebuilt by the empire’s successor states, but only operated for short time, as the lines were gradually superseded by wireless technology.

References: [Re: 1303/1887 Salnâme featuring the present 2 maps:] İSAM Kütüphanesi (Istanbul): D02467130300000041; Cf. [Re: the large 1881 antecedent maps:] National Maritime Museum (Greenwich): G295:63/1 and G295:63/2.


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