The cultural and scientific achievements of the Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire was extensive and lasted nearly 700 years (from 27 July 1299 to 29 October 1923). There were understandably many important cultural and scientific breakthroughs during that time. However, throughout history, there have been only a few truly ingenious individuals who could universally be described as polymaths, persons who have demonstrated extraordinary expertise and who have made great, historically-significant achievements in a number of different fields. One influential polymath of the Ottoman Empire was Taqi al-Din Muhammad ibn Ma’ruf (Takyuiddin) (1526-1585), whose extensive scientific achievements have shaped our society. But curiously today remains relatively unknown to the general public of the western civilization.
In our modern society we are well aware of the early scientific discoveries and cultural achievements and the great people behind them, names like Newton, Aristotle, Da vinci and Copernicus are not unknown. Rarely does anyone mention Taqi al-Din who was once regarded as “The greatest scientist on earth” during the Ottoman Empire.
Taqi al-Din was truly a polymath in every sense of the word and his titles are as followed; astronomer, astrologer, engineer, physician, botanist, zoologist, mathematician, watch maker, theologian and inventor. He wrote over ninety books on the different areas but sadly only 24 of the works have survived today.
As an inventor one of Taqi al-Dins greatest achievements was the invention of the early practical steam turbine engine and his book on this subject that later lead to the discovery of more powerful steam engines in the 17th century. His early steam turbines lead to the invention of today’s modern steam turbine which produces 80% of the electrical power worldwide.
Another great invention was the mechanical alarm clock and the spring-driven astronomical clock which were more precise than those that were previously used in that particular time period. In the 16th century this invention was seen as the most major invention in the field of Astronomy.
Taqi al-Din also did extensive work in the field of optics. His meaningful and historic treatise dealt with vision, properties and refraction of light, the structure of the eye and the relation between light and color among many other things. His discoveries were truly ahead of his time and he was the first person to explain the formation of color, stating that color is formed as a result of reflection and refraction of light. This happened two centuries before Sir Isaac Newton did his research on it!
There are plenty more discoveries, inventions and achievements that were made by Taqi al Din, but also other scientist of the Ottoman Empire that deserve further notice, for example Ali Qushji and his contributions to Astronomy. Qushji completely separated natural philosophy with astronomy, which lead to that astronomy was seen as a purely mathematical science and not based on speculations. He also improved on the planetary model and presented an alternative planetary model for Mercury.
The Ottoman Empire was a time of true innovative thinking and culture flourished marvelously under this period in time. Some even mean that this particular time rival the artistic and literary achievements of the European renaissance. It was under the prosperous rein of Suleiman the magnificent that encouraged the development of architecture, carpet weaving, poetry, ceramics among other things.
The Architecture of this time is especially interesting mainly because of the new techniques and solutions to spatial problems that were developed then. These discoveries led to the building of new and inventive buildings that are exemplary today of the Ottoman Empire. An example of one of these buildings is the Selim Mosque built by the greatest architect under this period of time called Sinan. Today some of his works are considered masterpieces because of the simplicity of design and clarity that they emit. A characteristic element of Ottoman architecture is that it not only drew from Islamic artist traditions, but also European, merging them into something spectacular. Although mosques and mausoleums are the most distinctive monuments of Ottoman architecture other important buildings were built. For example Sinan designed 312 public buildings including schools, palaces, hospitals and public baths.
The literary achievements of the Ottoman Empire mainly concern so called Diwan poetry, which is a collection of poems. It was an exceedingly ritualized and divine art form and followed Islamic forms and rules, although it was written by Turkish intellectuals. The vast majority of Diwan poetry was lyric in nature: either gazels which deals with love, specifically a forbidden and unattainable love, or kasîdes which have a single presiding subject, rationally developed and concluded often used in theological and moral purposes.
Art in form of carpets, calligraphy and ceramics were greatly developed in this period of time because of the enormous wealth of the Ottoman Empire, creating beautiful pieces of art describing the golden age of the ottoman society to present day people.
The scientific and cultural achievements of the Ottoman Empire have truly influenced our society today in a great many ways, although we may not be as aware of it as you may think. Some of the greatest minds of this time are forgotten or barely mentioned in our modern western civilization. Trying to link the past with the present in this manner could lead to better understanding of our common heritage and respect for different cultures in the present day.