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OTTOMAN EMPIRE: عمومی ممالك محروسى شاهانى [General Map of the Protected Countries.] Zoom

OTTOMAN EMPIRE: عمومی ممالك محروسى شاهانى [General Map of the Protected Countries.]

A rare gigantic map of the Ottoman Empire, the Balkans and the Arabic Peninsula in Ottoman script was designed by the Government Map Office in Istanbul, under direction of Ali Şeref Paşa, the first modern Turkish cartographer to fully embrace the importance of monumental wall maps.

Author: على شرف پاشا Ali ŞEREF PAŞA (also Hafız Ali Eşref, Istanbul ? - 1907).
Place and Year: Beyazit, Istanbul: [مطبعه عامره Matbaa-i Amire] 1896.
Technique: Lithograph in colour, originally dissected and mounted on linen (small loss of image on edges of segments, repaired tears in linen, small tears and loss of image in margins, slightly water-stained, otherwise in a good condition) 150 x 120 cm.
Code: 65945

A gigantic lithographed map shows the Ottoman Empire with the Balkans and the Arabic Peninsula.

Importantly, the map delineates some of the world’s most strategically important railway lines.  The Haimidian era marked intense railway construction in both the European and Asiatic parts of the Ottoman Empire, with profound ramifications to both the national economy and geopolitics.

In South-eastern Europe, the map depicts the first Trans-Balkan rail route, built at the initiative of the Chemins de fer Orientaux, that connected Istanbul with Vienna, and beyond to the general European railway system.  Against much political and technical difficulties, this line was completed in 1888, and beginning the following year hosted the Orient Express; running from Paris to Istanbul, it is history’s most famous ultra-luxe rail service, immortalized in countless books and movies, including, most notably Agatha Christie’s thriller.  The eastern terminus of the line was the elegant Sirkeci Station, on the shores of the Golden Horn, completed in 1890.  As shown here, the main route of the connection ran from Vienna, then to Budapest, Belgrade, Niš, Sofia, Plovdiv, Edirne and then Istanbul.

Crossing the Bosporus, the map depicts the routes of Anatolian Railway, an epic project that opened the heart of Turkey to the industrial revolution and modern travel.  The construction of the railway commenced in 1871, under the guidance of the brilliant German engineer Wilhelm Pressel, at its western origin, Haydarpaşa, Üsküdar (Istanbul).  It was progressively extended eastward to Ismit, by August 1873.  Due to the Empire’s extreme political and economic problems, further construction was paused until 1880, when the line was extended to Adapazarı.  It was intended for the railway to continue to Ankara and Konya, but the immense costs and technical difficulties of building the line over the rocky elevations of the Anatolian interior for some years frustrated the efforts of various syndicates.

Finally, in October 1888, a consortium headed by Deutsche Bank assumed control of the railway and all future construction.  Importantly, this arrangement represented the first bold German bid to gain political and economic power within the Ottoman Empire, as in winning control of the line, Deutsche Bank had aggressively muscled out the Franco-British interests that had held sway at the Sublime Porte for some decades.  Indeed, in 1889, Deutsche Bank took over the Chemins de fer Orientaux, and in the coming years Germany continued to expand its role in railways across the Ottoman Empire.  German control of the railways formed the basis of the German-Ottoman Alliance (and the gradual side-lining of France and Britain) that was to eventually take both nations united into World War I.

Returng to the construction of the Anatolian Railway, the German engineering firm Philipp Holzmann made remarkable progress cutting the line into the interior, completing the link to Ankara by the end of 1892.  The following year, the southern branch was commenced, departing the Ismit-Ankara line at Eskişehir, working down to Konya.  Progress on this route was likewise impressive, as the line was opened to Afyon by August 1895.  The present map shows the southern route in the latter stages of it progress, nearly reaching Konya, which was achieved in July 1896.

The Sublime Porte, with German financial and technical backing, envisaged the continuation of the rail networks from Konya that would eventually result in two epic railway lines.  First, the Ottoman-German planners conceived the Baghdad Railway, commonly known as the Berlin-Baghdad Express, or Bagdadbahn, which would run from Europe, through Istanbul and Konya, across Anatolia and then into Mesopotamia, reaching Baghdad (and then hopefully the port of Basra, near the head of the Persian Gulf). 

Second, the Sublime Porte conceived the Hejaz Railway, a line running southwards from Anatolia, though Damascus and then to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.  This line would greatly ease the arduous annual journeys of thousands of Haj pilgrims.  As the Ottoman Sultan was also the Caliph, or the supposed temporal head of the Islamic faith, the completion of such a line had immense symbolic importance, in addition to profound practical ramifications.

Unlike the other Ottoman lines, financing for the Hejaz Railway was to come from donations given by pious Muslims all around the world.  While post-dating the map, the Hejaz Railway was commenced in 1900, working south from Damascus, under the guidance of the German engineer Heinrich August Meissner.  By 1908, it was completed as far as Medina, about 400 km short of Mecca.  The line would never reach Mecca, in part owing to the opposition of local potentates who felt that the line threatened their political security.

The Bagdadbahn was formally commenced in 1903, working across Anatolia towards Iraq, with the intention of including a branch linking southwards to join the Hejaz Railway.  The project was financed by Deutsche Bank and undertaken by Philipp Holzmann.  Political turmoil, including the Young Turk Revolution (1908) and the toppling of Sultan Abdulhamid II, in 1909, greatly retarded progress.  Moreover, cutting tunnels through the Taurus and Amanus (Nur) Mountains proved to be exceedingly difficult, such that the uninterrupted rail passage across Anatolia remained unrealized at the beginning of WWI.  The incompleteness of the railway severely hindered the German-Ottoman ability to battle the British-Arab forces in Levant and Iraq, and precluded any hope of gaining access to oil supplies near the Persian Gulf.  Had the line be completed in time, the war in the Middle Eastern theatre may have very well have turned out differently.

Parts of the Hejaz Railway were famously disrupted during the war by Lawrence of Arabia and his Arab allies.  In 1920, owing to political conflicts in the wake of WWI, the railway was partially closed, and henceforth only operated in sections.  The Baghdad Railway was only completed in 1940.

While the dream of a seamless rail connection from Western-Central Europe directly into the heart of the Middle East was never fully realized, as envisaged by its German and Ottoman sponsors, the various rail lines and sections that were completed had transformative socio-economic effects upon modern Turkey and the other nations which the lines traversed, a legacy that, in many areas, lives on to the present day. 


Ali Şeref Paşa or Hafız Ali Eşref

Not much is known about the author, who was known as Ali Şeref Paşa or Hafız Ali Eşref.

He was a soldier, who was schooled in Paris as a cartographer around 1862. Already in Paris he published his first atlas with 22 maps, called Yeni atlas. Upon his return to Istanbul he became a chief cartographer at the Matbaa-i Amire Printing Press in Beyazit, which was the successor of the Müteferrika press from 1727. Among others he translated the large Kiepert map of Anatolia to Ottoman.

He died in 1907, leaving his large project of a gigantic map of Anatolia in 100 sheets unfinished. 

Ali’s name is often misunderstood or even listed as two different people: Ali Şeref Paşa and Hafız Ali Eşref.

Until the surname law adopted on June 21, 1934 Turks did not have surnames. They were born with one first name and were until the adulthood described only as sons or daughters of their parent’s names. Later they were given titles such as Effendi (Sir), Bey (Chief) or Hanım (Madam) for higher classes, or they were given names according to their work or class. The names were not inherited by children until 1934, when the surname law was enforced.

The map maker Ali received names Şeref, the honourable, and Paşa, the dignitary. He was also known as Hafız, the memorizer of Qur'an, and Eşref, proud.So Ali Şeref Paşa would have a meaning Honourable Dignitary Ali, and Hafız Ali Eşref, Memorizer of Qur’an Proud Ali.


Darüttıbaa - Matbaa-i Amire Printing Press 

The first press in the Muslim world, called Darüttıbaa, was founded in Istanbul by İbrahim Müteferrika in 1727, with a permission of Sultan Ahmet III. It was located in Müteferrika’s house. The first book was published in 1729 and until 1742 sixteen other works followed.

After Müteferrika’s death the press was supressed for printing, as printed books were considered dangerous.

In 1796 the press was purchased by the government and moved to Üsküdar in Istanbul, and in 1831 finally to Beyazit, where it was renamed to Matbaa-i Amire in 1866.

The press was closed in 1901 and was reopened in 1908 under the name Millî. In 1927 the name changed to State Printing House. The press still exists and is known for publishing school and educational books.


The map is very rare. It was probably only printed in limited edition for government purposes and also a survival rate of such large maps is extremely low. Most of them would be destroyed after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. We could not trace any other examples of the map.