A History of Ottoman Libraries

The Ottoman Empire had a long and rich history of library development, from the 15th century onwards. This article will explore the history of Ottoman libraries, from the earliest known library to the modern day. It will cover the growth, development and influence of Ottoman libraries, as well as their impact on the world.

Early Ottoman Libraries

The earliest known library in the Ottoman Empire was established in 1453, in the city of Istanbul. This library was known as the Süleymaniye Library and was established by Sultan Süleyman I. It housed over 1,000 manuscripts and was the first of many libraries to be founded by the Ottoman rulers. Other early Ottoman libraries include the Eski Saray Library, established in 1477, and the Topkapi Palace Library, established in 1580.

Growth and Expansion of Libraries

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ottoman Empire saw a period of rapid growth and expansion. This period saw the establishment of many new libraries, with the number of libraries in the empire reaching over 200 by the end of the 17th century. Libraries were established for educational and research purposes, as well as for the public.

Influence of Ottoman Libraries

Ottoman libraries had a significant influence on the development of libraries in other countries. The Süleymaniye Library served as a model for libraries in Europe, and other Ottoman libraries were also influential in their own right. The Topkapi Palace Library, for example, was renowned for its large collection of manuscripts and books.

The Development of Modern Libraries

In the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire began to modernize its libraries. This period saw the introduction of new technologies, such as printing presses and catalogues, as well as the establishment of new libraries. These new libraries were larger and more modern than their predecessors, and many of them still exist today.

Library Collections

The collections of the Ottoman libraries were varied and expansive. They included books on philosophy, science, literature and history, as well as manuscripts and rare books. The Süleymaniye Library, in particular, had a large collection of manuscripts, including religious works and historical texts.

Preservation of Manuscripts

In addition to their collections, Ottoman libraries also played an important role in the preservation of manuscripts. The Süleymaniye Library, for example, was renowned for its efforts to preserve manuscripts from destruction. It also acted as a repository for manuscripts from other libraries, particularly those of the Eastern Orthodox church.

Influence on the Arts

Ottoman libraries had a significant influence on the arts. Many of the manuscripts housed in the libraries were written in the Ottoman language, and these manuscripts inspired a number of artistic works. These works included paintings, sculptures and literature, and many of them still exist today.

Modern Day Libraries

Today, the Ottoman Empire no longer exists, but its legacy lives on in the form of its libraries. There are still many Ottoman libraries in existence, and they continue to serve their original purpose of providing access to knowledge and information. The Ottoman Empire’s libraries have had a lasting impact on the world, and they continue to inspire and inform us today.


The Ottoman Empire’s libraries were an important part of its history and culture. They played a critical role in the development of libraries in other countries, and their collections served as a source of inspiration for many works of art. Today, their legacy lives on in the form of modern day libraries, which still serve their original purpose of providing access to knowledge and information.

Libraries have long been a vital part of our society, providing us with information and a place to research, share and explore. Throughout history, various civilizations have taken advantage of the power of a library, and the Ottomans were no exception. In this article, we explore the history of Ottoman libraries, how they developed, and their impact on Ottoman culture.

The Ottomans were keen book collectors since they first emerged in the late 13th century, and this trend continued as they developed from a small Anatolian principality into a powerful Middle Eastern empire. They had long admired, copied and translated manuscripts from other cultures, and often built up impressive collections of books in their palaces, mosques and schools. These dedicated libraries allowed scholars to access books in Arabic, Persian, Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and brought scholarship from across the world under one roof.

As the Ottoman Empire grew in power and size in the 15th century, so did its libraries. Sultan Bayezid II founded the first public library in Istanbul, known as the Bayezid Library. This was followed shortly after by the Atik Valide Library, opened by Beyazyuti Hatun in 1575. These two libraries had a profound impact on Ottoman culture, acting as centers of knowledge, education and research.

Other prominent libraries around the empire were established to host the books of learned men and scholars. The Sulaymaniyah Library was opened in 1515 and contained books in many languages. The Aya Sofya Library, founded in the 16th century, contained a vast selection of books, manuscripts and maps. It was considered one of the greatest libraries of its time.

In addition to the grand libraries, smaller ones were set up in mosques and other public places for the public to use. They served as community centers, where people could discuss literature, learn about science and share knowledge. The library of Manisa, an eminent library located on the road to Istanbul, provided books on a wide range of topics, from religion to medicine.

The Ottomans also ran a mobile library service that made books available to people in remote areas. Traveling scholars and journalists took books from their own libraries to villages and towns and shared them with people in need. This was an important part of Ottoman culture, and it helped to spread knowledge and education throughout the empire.

The Ottoman libraries not only preserved the knowledge passed on from generations, but helped to expand it by introducing new books and ideas. It was not uncommon for Ottomans to travel abroad to purchase books, thus enriching their collections. As a result, the libraries created an atmosphere of intellectual and artistic exploration that continues to be felt today.

To this day, the surviving Ottoman libraries are treasured archives of important manuscripts, paintings and maps. They continue to provide us with insight into Ottoman culture and heritage and are a testament to the value of preserving knowledge and literature.

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