The Ottomans: Europe’s Muslim Emperors – Rageh Omaar’s five top Ottoman sites to visit

The journalist is back this weekend with more stories spanning this fascinating period in history, from Turkey, the Balkans, Greece and the Middle East. Ahead of the episode he relives the must see sites...

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In BBC2’s three-part series The Ottomans: Europe’s Muslim Emperors (9pm, Sundays, BBC2), journalist Rageh Omaar delves into the 600-year-old legacy of the Ottomans – the world’s last Islamic empire, which collapsed less than 100 years ago. The empire stretched south to Bagdad and Cairo, and controlled the most important sites of Islam – Medina, Jerusalem and Mecca. The Ottomans tried to extend their rule and reached into Europe; they seized Sarajevo and nearly encroached on Vienna. As a result, their stamp can still be seen in three of the world’s continents, in a variety of ways.

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 “The history of the Ottoman Empire is part of our own history here in Europe,” explains Omaar, who visits sites in Europe and the Middle East to gain further insight into this fascinating empire. “The Ottoman Empire ruled over vast swathes of the Balkans and Southeast Europe,” he says. “Their story is very much part of our own story.”

We catch up with Omaar for five top spots to visit to relive this period of the past…

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The Old City, Sarajevo, Bosnia

Sarajevo was a clutter of villages before the Ottomans took over and turned it into the state capital. Its second governor Gazi Husrev-beg built the area now known as Stari Grad (or Old Town). At its heart is Baščaršija, a traditional old bazaar, where visitors will find old mosques, hand-crafted gift stalls, cafes, old stone buildings and museums.

Rageh Omaar says: “A perfect blend of East and West in perfect harmony.”


Visit fascinating  Ottoman sites with Radio Times Travel, see here for more details


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The Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey

This is where the Ottoman Sultans lived for 400 years, during their 624-year rule. It’s an opulent city within a city, with maze-like corridors to explore, opening out onto gardens, ornate chambers with detailed mosaics and stained glass windows with magnificent views across the Bosphorus.

Rageh Omaar says: “An awe-inspiring highlight of the city.”


Visit fascinating  Ottoman sites with Radio Times Travel, see here for more details


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Spice Market, Istanbul, Turkey

Located in the area of Fatih, the Spice Bazaar is the city’s second largest shopping complex after the Grand Bazaar. Inside the warren of Ottoman-arched alleyways, visitors will find nuts, sweets, dried fruits, sweet teas, ornate lamps and exotic jewellery. Come here on an empty stomach and sample some of the delicious freshly-made breads.

Rageh Omaar says: “A delight for all of the sense and a must for foodies.”


Visit fascinating  Ottoman sites with Radio Times Travel, see here for more details


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Jerusalem, Middle East

This spiritual epicentre was ruled by the Ottoman Turks from 1517 to 1917, under Suleiman the Magnificent. He built the walls that remain around the old city today. Under Ottoman rule there was an age of ‘religious peace’. Jews, Christians and Muslims lived in harmony, with synagogues, churches and mosques on the same roads. Inside the walls today, it is still a peaceful space on the surface, but the people of different cultures jostle for space in the cobbled streets, whether they are selling vegetables and trinkets or praying at the Wailing Wall. Seven gates lead inside the Old City. The Damascus gate, flanked by two spectacular towers, and the right-angled Jaffa gate are the main entrances. Some of the most significant religious sites in world remain here, including Dome of the Rock –  from which Muḥammad is said to have ascended to heaven and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – built on the site where Jesus was crucified.

Rageh Omaar says: “A city of faiths and conflicts but which the Ottomans ruled with tolerance.”


Visit fascinating  Ottoman sites with Radio Times Travel, see here for more details


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Dardanelles, Turkey

This slither of land separates Europe (the Gallipoli) from mainland Asia and was a greatly significant place for the Ottomans. This is where, in 1656, they suffered one of their heaviest naval defeats – the Battle of the Dardanelles – against Venice and the Knights Hospitaller. Soak up the atmosphere by taking a boat from one side to the other; the sunset is still as spectacular as it would have been 400 years ago.

Rageh Omaar says: “It is so rich in the history of the First World War and the founding fathers of modern turkey.”


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Visit fascinating  Ottoman sites with Radio Times Travel, see here for more details