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A - 7 : Why this Blog is not Written in Turkish

Did you ever wonder why we are not sailing along Minarets, Turkish Towns and Turkish Fortresses on our trip? Having conquered all Venetian Island in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Ottomans could easily have pushed Venice out of business. One wonders indeed. Fact is that Venice reached the peak of its wealth in the 17th century when all the baroque churches and palaces we love to visit today were built. What happened?

Portuguese and Ottoman Expansion in the Indian Ocean in the 16th Century

When the Ottomans reached the fringes of the Indian Ocean between 1517 and 1546, Turkish Merchants followed in their foot steps. They set up enter-pots, Madrases and began to substitute Arab & Indian traders that had dominated the Indian Ocean with their dhows. Turkey established links as far as Aceh, just opposite the profitable nutmeg staple port of Malacca and began to take over the business.

Portuguese Ships attack Suez in 1541 from the Red Sea

But Turkey found its match in the powerful Portuguese Fleet that dominated the Indian Ocean since the arrival of Vasco da Game in 1498. Whilst Turkey was able to defend the towns of Suez, Basra and Yemen against Portuguese attacks, they were never able to dislodge the Portuguese from strongholds such as Hormuz, Diu, Goa, Mombassa or Malacca despite three large fleets they built in Suez (with the help of the Venetians!). Portugal’s unification with Spain in 1581 gave it access to Spain’s large silver war chest - thank you Incas from Bolivia! This enabled Portugal to always maintain critical fleet strength to ensure naval supremacy

Portuguese Fortress of Diu in India - despite several sieges it was never never conquered

Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed

Maintaining a large fleets in each the Mediterranean (100 galleys) and in the Indian Ocean (40 galleys) eventually exceeded the financial power of the Ottomans. Grand-Vezier Sokollu Mehmed was fully aware of this strategic and financial dilemma and tried to solve it by excavating and re-building the Pharao’s Canal that had linked the Nile to the Bitter Lake near Suez. It would have allowed the Ottoman Empire to switch fleets between the two oceans and Turkish merchant ships to sail directly from Asia to Europe on a shorter route than available to the Portuguese. However, the project - commenced in 1568 - was too ambitious for the technology at the time and the manpower available in Egypt. It was abandoned after a few years.

The Pharao's Canal linking Red Sea and the Nile - the Ottoman Empire had plans to rebuild it to move the Turkish Navy between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean

The nail in the coffin for the project was the battle of Lepanto in 1571. Having lost an Army in Malta in 1565 and the fleet at Lepanto, the Ottoman Empire needed its funds to rebuild its forces. It never again had the resources to execute the grand strategy of Grand Vizier Sokollu.

Two lost battles - the one in Malta in 1565 and the other in Lepanto in 1571 - changed the course of history. Had they been won, Grand Vizier Sokollu might well have been able to build the second Suez Canal and Turkish Dhows might well have sailed up all the way to Venice - I would also write this blog in Turkish in that case!

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