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Background and Scope
This monumental collection portrays the Ottoman Empire during the reign of one of its last sultans, Abdul-Hamid II. The 1,819 photographs in 51 large-format albums date from about 1880 to 1893. They highlight the modernization of numerous aspects of the Ottoman Empire. Most of the places depicted are within the boundaries of modern-day Turkey, but buildings and sites in Iraq, Lebanon, Greece and other countries are also included.
Abdul-Hamid (1842-1918), an avid collector and promoter of photography, appears to have conceived the work as a portrait of his empire for a western audience. He presented a copy of the survey to the Library of Congress in 1893 or 1894. He also gave another almost identical collection to the British Museum (now in the British Library).
Well-known Ottoman commercial photographers such as Abdullah Frères, Sébah & Joaillier, and Phébus took the bulk of the photographs. Turkish military photographer Ali Riza Pasa and the Photographic Unit of the Imperial School of Engineering also contributed numerous images.
The images show students and educational facilities, including law, medical and military schools; well-equipped army and navy personnel and facilities; technologically advanced lifesaving and fire fighting brigades; factories; mines; harbors; hospitals; and government buildings. The collection also documents historic Byzantine and Ottoman monuments, mosques, mosaics, fountains, palaces, and mausoleums, and includes panoramic landscapes and urban scenes. Other photographs depict Abdul Hamid's Yildiz Palace, yacht, and horses.