Tackling a subject as huge as the 600-year-long empire of the Ottomans, this series almost inevitably plays like a head-spinning history lesson of mammoth intensity. It ranges across hundreds of years, thousands of miles, complex conflicts and shifts in power that have shaped modern Europe.
Tonight Rageh Omaar begins the lesson in the sixteenth century with Suleiman the Magnificent, and ends 300 years later with Abdul Hamid II, en route touching on everything from the cultural legacy of the Ottomans’ greatest architect, Mimar Sinan, to Suleiman’s skill in cementing the legitimacy of the Ottomans’ rule over Arab muslims 2,000 miles away from Mecca, and his skilful far-reaching introduction of legal reforms to Sharia law.
There are quirkier aspects too – the cultural impact of the fez, for example – but on the whole this is old-fashioned TV that demands much from the viewer, but offers rewards that, as Professor Lisa Jardine puts it, illustrate just how much richer Europe is thanks to the Ottoman empire. It also explores how different Europe might have been had they succeeded in their bids to seize Vienna, a key European capital… so put that mobile down, stop tweeting and revel in a story that paints a fascinating and vivid backdrop to the modern world.