Ugur Zekeriya Pece - A Cartographic Imagination of an Imperial Capital
The Civitates Orbis Terrarum is a leading cartographic work from sixteenth century
Europe. In this portrayal of the city of Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) the viewer
is presented with the Ottoman Sultan in the bottom center of the frame. We see the
ruler of the greater portions of the Middle East, southeastern Europe, northern Africa,
and the Black Sea surrounded by his soldiers. The Sultan descends from a long line of
rulers whose imagined portraits are lined along the left and right lower hands of the
frame. With many ships in the waters around the city, the artist is hinting at the
commercial and military power the Ottomans held at the time of his depiction.
Right behind the Sultan lies a peninsula. Here was the heart of the city of
Constantinople, which was founded by Constantine in the 4th century, replacing Rome
as the capital of the Roman Empire. When Mehmed II seized the city in 1453, he
perhaps put an end to the (Eastern) Roman Empire but many of its political traditions
continued under him and his successors.
Obviously this Ottoman city was marked by many physical highlights of the Roman capital, which the artist made sure to illustrate. You can identify some of the older Roman buildings, the foremost among them HagiaSophia and the ruins of the Hippodrome. The map also provides a glimpse of urban life. If this map resembles Google Earth in terms of offering the viewer an idea about the topography of a city, it is also a representation with a lot of imaginary and unrealistic elements. If a time machine transports you to sixteenth century Istanbul and you have this map as your only guide, your familiarity with the city will come with a degree of disorientation. You will, for instance, notice tens of mosques in the historic peninsula and be surprised to see Hagia Sophia much larger than suggested by its small proportions on this map. However, viewers should also note the churches and synagogues, in addition to the mosques, that are the staple of the multifaith, multicultural, multiracial capital of the Ottoman Empire.
This is an excellent source for classes on the history of the Middle East, Ottoman Empire, and Europe. It offers visual hints about how one of the most historic and populous cities of the world was imagined in Europe during the sixteenth century.
Ugur Zekeriya Pece, Assistant Professor
Department of History