As of 1517 A.D., the Ottmans have acquired the whole Levant, Egypt and they've largely become Muslim. Why they did not move their capital to a historically Islamic city like Damascus, Baghdad, or Cairo? Did any discussion on the topic ever take place?

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    Ottomans were not Arabs: they were Turks. Why would they discuss moving their capital to an Arab city??
    – Alex
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 19:18
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    Ottoman Turks like the Seljuk and many other Turks were already Muslim and over powered the Arabs and Persians (and Indians too for that matter). They were a different race of people and when finally the Ottoman Turks did form and empire they declared themself to be the hiers of Byzantine Empire as well. Thus, it makes sense for the Constantinople to be the capital city. The Sultan actually considered himself to be heir to the Holy Roman Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, even though the Orthodox Church did not accept this type of title.
    – quantum231
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 23:11
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    @Mr.lock Which Caliph? The Sunni Caliph? The Shia Ismaeli Caliph? The Shia Athna Ashari Caliph? And which city was to be chosen as traditional center of Caliphate? The first three Rashidun ruled from Medina, The last Rashidun ruled from Kufa and Najaf, All the Syriac Umayyads ruled from Damascus, Abbasids ruled from Baghdad, Fatmids ruled from Cairo, Andalusian Umayyads ruled from Cordoba so on and on.
    – NSNoob
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 9:26
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    Similarly, the power base of Ottomans was in Anatolia, therefore it was more suitable for them to keep their capital near their strongholds.
    – NSNoob
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 9:29
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    @Mightee The actual hadith quoted here: "Verily you shall conquer Constantinople. What a wonderful leader will he be, and what a wonderful army will that army be!" This is precisely why Muslim Empires in the East tirelessly attempted to take Constantinople, to be the prophecized Conqueror. This is also why Mehmet II was given the epithet "Conqueror"
    – NSNoob
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 11:30

6 Answers 6


The Ottoman Empire was not an Arabian empire, but a Turkish one. So they had no reason to uproot their capital from Turkish lands and move it to an Arabian region.

In addition, Constantinople Istanbul was way better than Damascus, Cairo, and Baghdad at everything. It had a strategic position on the Bosphorus Strait, and was also close to Europe, which allowed for better coordination of war and trade. It was the crown jewel of the Eastern Roman Empire in terms of culture and wealth, and it was even close to the previous Ottoman capital, Edirne. It was well-defended with two sets of famous walls.

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    What are Turkish lands (in the 15-16th centuries)?
    – taninamdar
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 22:05
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    I have literally had that song stuck in my head since my childhood and cannot hear either city name without thinking of it. Thanks, Tiny Toons.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 3:06
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    @Bregalad Arabic is a language, Arab is an ethnicity. The Ottomans may have spoken Arabic, but they were Turks, not Arabs.
    – SPavel
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 13:16
  • @SPavel The way I remember it, Ottomans are largely multi-ethnic and not necessarily Turkish. Turkish influence over the rest of the empire was minimal, on the other hand officials from all the whole empire came working to Constantinople. The capital just happened to be located in what eventually became a majority Turkish region - but the capital Constantinople. remained multi-ethnic until the first world war. I could be wrong though.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 13:34
  1. Location: it is a strategic point, the central point for which Black Sea trade must pass. If you are under siege and you have a fleet, you can get supplied indefinitely; if the enemy assaults the walls you can flee to the Asiatic mainland.

    To illustrate this point, think how much did the Byzantine Empire did resist while being just that city. And even then, the final conquest was not easy.

  2. Infrastructure: The Byzantines did a lot of work in the city. From Hagia Sophia to the walls. It also had well developed merchant colonies that ensured a nice income. After the sack of Baghdad, there were few comparable cities in the entire world, and none of those under Ottoman control.

    So, you leave the city to any governor, and suddenly that governor acquires a lot of power and wealth.

  3. Turkish is not Arab!! While both were Muslims, they certainly did not feel part of the same group. Ottoman conquests in Egypt and Persia1 were as bloody and contested as any of their European campaigns agains Christians.

    Certainly, you do not want to put your throne in a city far away from your power base. A well-timed (or badly-timed, if you are the ruler) insurrection and your head is at the stake.

1Which by the way were not Arabs, either.

  • you can flee to the Asiatic mainland, or the European mainland, depending on who's attacking and from where. If its Asian Turks, Arabs then your escape route is towards Thrace (Europe). If its the European Slavs or Latins, your escape route is towards Anatolia (Asia)
    – NSNoob
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 8:37
  • Turkish is not Arab!! While both were Muslims, they certainly did not feel part of the same group. Arabic is the language of the Coran, and was therefore used by all Muslims, regardless of their native language.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 7:39
  • Not to mention that Istanbul is one of the great port cities/mercantile cities, in the entire world, not just in the region. Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 14:07

Two more factors: The Ottoman Turks considered themselves to be the successors of the Roman Empire. Before they captured Constantinople, their territory was known as the Sultanate of Rum. After capturing Constantinople, Mehmed II called himself the Caesar of Rome (Kayser-i Rum). Constantinople had been the capital of the Roman Empire for more than a thousand years. So moving the capital would amount to abandoning that claim.

Although the Balkans had not been ruled for long by Moslems, they were better watered and hence more agriculturally productive and valuable than most of the Arab world. So it made sense to have a capital near that area.


The Ottoman Empire saw itself as a blend of Western and Eastern history. Most of the Ottoman sultan's ambitions were to be the "Alexander the Great" (Check Süleyman the Magnificent). Ottoman rule and ideology was somewhat based on this view point.

The Ottoman Empire never had the ambition to expand eastward. The main expansion was done westward, Italy being the main source of attraction. After the reign of Yavuz Sultan Selim, eastern expansion was done in 6 years - which changed the viewpoint of the empire from being a western renaissance one to an eastern-western mix.

This mix was always repeated in various important ferman. Check the Tanzimat Fermanı for the importance given to this way of life. Also you need to check Namık Kemal, who was a key figure in formation of the ottoman constitution. Check the ideology of Ottomanism too.

After the conquest of Istanbul, probably the most important figure of renaissance, Fatih Sultan Mehmet, looked westward and had ambitions towards Italy. He was the most popular figure in Italy back then, even people of Rome established coins in Latin in his name. Ottoman science flourished in his reign, most of the Latin/Greek books were translated to Arabic (not Turkish since Arabic is considered as the language of science). However, after his reign, this western concentration turned into the west-eastern blend as I've told above.

Why move the capital to Damascus? Has nothing to do with the empire's ambitions...

Apparently these ambitions HAVE failed (as it failed in Hellenistic times), and the founder of the Turkish Republic moved away from east and turned their faces towards west. Now this is how Turkey has been for some time now (almost 100 years).


Basically, the Ottomans were "Turks" first, and Moslems second. Hence, they felt no need to cater to their Arab subjects by adopting one of their cities as a capital in a way that the Mongols might have felt with say, the Chinese. Even today, "Turkey" is not really part of the "Arab" world, even though they are both Moslem peoples.

Besides its political implications (e.g. as the "second Rome"), Constantinople was an ideal capital for the Ottoman Empire. That's because it had aspirations to the north, as well as the south. The fact that the Arabs had been conquered earlier was "incidental;" again, unlike the Mongols, the Ottomans were not headed in a primarily southerly direction. The Ottomans had interests in the Balkans, and also took the Crimean Khanate under its wing, thereby involving itself in "Russian" politics until the twentieth century.

Also, Constantinople guarded one of the three key "straits (the Dardanelles) in the Mediterranean. The other two were the Strait of Gibraltar (outside Ottoman domains) and the Suez Canal (not built until the late 19th century). Apart from Constantinople's strategic location, it was easy to defend, largely protected by water (as the British found out at Gallipoli in 1915), and accessible by land only through narrow corridors.


The main reason as to why the Ottomans never established (or "moved") their imperial Capital to an Arab Capital-(i.e., such as Damascus, Cairo or Baghdad), is because the Ottomans were of ethnic Turkish descent and were not of ethnic Arab descent.

When the Ottomans came on the historical stage, they effectively replaced the 1000 years of Arabian based Islam, with a Turkic style of Islam.....in the conquered (once Christian) city of Constantinople.

When you look at the political and strategic geography of the above mentioned Arab Capitals, versus Constantinople, you will notice that with the possible exception of Cairo (and its proximity to the Nile River), both Damascus and Baghdad were distant from major waterways-(which in early Modern times, would have been quite significant both in terms of commercial and naval supremacy).

However, the city of Constantinople, was (and is still), a city that was (and is still), blessed with a number of key waterways, including, the Dardanelles, the Bosporus and its close proximity to the Black Sea, as well as its entry way into the Aegean and greater Mediterranean sea. One of the main reasons as to why the Byzantine Empire lasted for 1000 years, was greatly attributable to the geopolitical and strategic value of Constantinople. The Turks understood this and spent years penetrating and chipping away at the historic City, aiming to make it the new Capital of their Empire and even the new Epicenter of Islam-(with the notable exceptions of Mecca and Medina in Arabia).

Comparatively speaking, the Caliphate cities of Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo (and even Cordoba in Andalusia, Spain), did not have the same historical longevity and legacy of Byzantine Constantinople, because each of these cities had their own respective Dynasties and with it, frequent feuds and struggles for Power. There was really no centuries long concentration of Power in a single city during the Medieval Arab Islamic period....until the arrival of the Ottoman Turks into Constantinople during the mid 1400's. Like the Byzantines before them, The Ottomans never relocated their Empire-(the relocation of Turkey's Capital took place during the immediate aftermath of World War I, whereby the central Anatolian city of Ankara, became the new seat of Turkish rule, which lasts into the present-day). And in doing so, the Ottomans were able to effectively govern a tri-continental power that was largely uninterrupted for nearly 500 consecutive years.

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