In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cities of the Ottoman Empire

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Article Compilations, Edited Volumes, and Special Issues
  • Biographies of Cities
  • Urban Economy
  • Art and Architecture
  • Changing Nature of the Ottoman City
  • Ottoman Archival Sources
  • Published Primary Source Documents
  • Newspapers, Periodicals, and Salnames (Official Yearbooks)

Urban Studies Cities of the Ottoman Empire
Ebru Boyar
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 October 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922481-0024


The Ottoman city was characterized by being focused around the nucleus of a mosque, market, and public bath, containing military buildings, in particular a castle, and being divided into mahalles/haras (districts, quarters, neighbourhoods). It was further defined by its relationship to Istanbul. However, as one would expect in such a huge empire, cities displayed considerable regional variation and while Istanbul, the capital after 1453 and most populous city of the empire, remained the central reference point, the empire contained other cities of major importance, such as Damascus, Aleppo and Cairo, or Izmir, Edirne, and Thessaloniki. The morphology of the city also changed over time and the importance of individual cities rose and fell throughout the life of the empire.

General Overviews

The sources included in this section provide a general overview of different characteristics of Ottoman cities and offer a good starting point for those wishing to study Ottoman urban history. While Boyar 2012 and Veinstein 2008 investigate whether one can talk about an Ottoman city, which was distinct from an “Oriental” or Islamic city, Pinon 2008 and Todorov 1983 engage with the concept of an Ottoman Balkan city, while Hathaway 2008 and Raymond 1985 examine that of Arab cities. Lafi 2018 includes a more general and multifaceted discussion about Ottoman urban history. Haneda and Miura 2010, on the other hand, provides a general outline of urban studies in the Islamic world, including the Ottoman empire.

  • Boyar, Ebru. “The Ottoman City 1500–1800.” In The Oxford Handbook of Cities in World History. Edited by Peter Clark, 275–291. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    A brief introduction to the Ottoman city, discussing different urban characteristics and arguing that a distinct Ottoman city existed.

  • Haneda, Masashi, and Toru Miura, eds. Islamic Urban Studies. Historical Review and Perspectives. London and New York: Routledge, 2010.

    First published in Japanese in 1991 and later in an enlarged and revised form in English in 1994, this is a bibliographical and historical survey of the literature on cities in the Islamic world published in various countries and languages. Divided into five main parts focusing on the Maghrib, the Mashriq, Turkey, Iran, and Central Asia, the book is organized chronologically and thematically and provides valuable bibliographical information for further research.

  • Hathaway, Jane, with contributions by Karl K. Barbir. “Urban Life and Trade.” In The Arab Lands under Ottoman Rule, 1516–1800. By Jane Hathaway, 138–168. Harlow, UK: Pearson Longman, 2008.

    This is a survey textbook chapter and hence has very few references. It provides a general discussion of the Arab provincial cities with a strong emphasis on urban trade, both internal and external.

  • Lafi, Nora. Esprit civique et organisation citadine dans l’Empire ottoman (XVe-XXe siècles). Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004364516

    In this book, which covers the period from the 15th to the 20th centuries, the author investigates various aspects of Ottoman urban governance including the pre-Ottoman urban legacy, how the Ottomans ruled their cities, the importance of urban notables, and the effect of modernity. In doing so, the author examines 19th-century Egypt and uses case studies of certain cities in the empire, such as Aleppo, Damascus, and Istanbul.

  • Pinon, Pierre. “The Ottoman Cities of the Balkans.” In The City in the Islamic World. 2 vols. Edited by Salma K. Jayyusi, Renata Holod, Attilio Petruccioli, and André Raymond, 143–158. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2008.

    Highlighting common characteristics of cities in the Ottoman Balkans, Pinon proposes a new typology, a “Turko-Balkan” typology, according to which, while Balkan cities displayed Ottoman influences, they still retained their specific regional characteristics and were situated both geographically and historically between East and West.

  • Raymond, André. Grandes villes arabes à l’époque ottomane. Paris: Sindbad, 1985.

    This book investigates administrative, economic, social, and physical characteristics of Ottoman Arab cities in the 16th to 18th centuries.

  • Todorov, Nikolai. The Balkan City (1400–1900). Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1983.

    This is the English translation of Todorov’s book published in Bulgarian in 1972 and subsequently translated into Russian, French, Greek, and Turkish. Although the author argues for the concept of a unique Balkan city and thus tries to distance the Balkans from Ottoman urbanism, this book is a classic work and includes a wide array of data.

  • Veinstein, Gilles. “The Ottoman Town (Fifteenth-Eighteenth Centuries).” In The City in the Islamic World. 2 vols. Edited by Salma K. Jayyusi, Renata Holod, Attilio Petruccioli, and André Raymond, 205–217. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004162402.i-1500.59

    Engaging with the existing literature about the nature of Ottoman towns, this chapter discusses whether there was a typology of an “Ottoman town” or not.

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