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Shirine Hamadeh (2004)

Ottoman Expressions of Early Modernity and the "Inevitable" Question of Westernization

Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 63(1):32–51.

Architectural transformations in the eighteenth-century Ottoman capital Istanbul are usually interpreted as expressions of an overarching process of cultural westernization that began in the wake of Ottoman military defeats against European powers in the late seventeenth century. In this article, I reevaluate the extent and significance of Ottoman westernization against visual and architectural evidence, and against two diverging discourses that emerged among contemporary Ottoman and European observers of architectural change. I argue that the architectural idiom of the eighteenth century was far more hybrid and culturally uncommitted than the notion of westernization implies. Based on a close reading of Ottoman poetry and narratives and European travelers' accounts, I show that although the rhetoric of westernization was dominant in the latter's descriptions of the built environment, Ottoman perceptions centered instead on notions of innovation and originality of expression, reflecting a new attitude toward change, novelty, and the canons of a long-established architectural tradition.