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Ottoman Croatia

Mestrovic Pavilion in Zagreb - hdlu.org
The Mestrovic Pavilion in Zagreb, built in 1933, was transformed into a mosque in 1944. Today it is
an exhibition hall again (HDLU). The minarets were demolished in 1948. Photo: hdlu.org

We tend to think of Croatia as a very Catholic country and one which was for centuries on the frontline of Christendom, defending its marches against the Ottoman Empire. All that is true but it is also often forgotten that before the border with Ottoman Bosnia stabilised along the frontiers that we recognise today, Croatia, Dalmatia, Slavonia and so on, were subject to devastating attacks and raids from Bosnia, beginning as early as 1391. During the 15th and 16th centuries large parts of what is today Croatia then fell under Ottoman control. Branka Magas is a distinguished writer and authority on the former Yugoslavia. In 2007 she published a major new account of Croatian history and it is to her that we turn for these extracts about one of the darker periods of the Croatian past.

According to one estimate, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the country lost three-quarters of its territory and over 60 per cent of its population. Around three-quarters of its towns, villages, hamlets, castles and forts were destroyed, together with over 500 churches and monasteries. Lika and Krbava, in particular, were so devastated that the Ottomans could not establish any kind of administration there for several years.

Later she writes:

The Ottoman conquest led to the effective disappearance of the previous Catholic Church organisation. Some of the churches in the main towns were turned into mosques, while those that survived generally suffered from lack of priests. As the size of the Muslim population grew, new mosques were built, so that by the end of the seventeenth century there were probably 100 mosques in Ottoman Croatia, of which two-thirds were in towns and larger settlements. With the establishment of the Orthodox bishopric of Buda in 1541, and the restoration of the Patriarchy of Pec in Kosovo in 1557, conditions were created for the establishment of an Orthodox Church administration. An Orthodox bishopric was established in Pozega, but the spiritual centre of the Orthodox population became the monastery near Orahovica, where a new church was built in 1594.

That the Catholic Church survived at all was due mainly to the Franciscan order. A charter granted by Sultan Mehmed ll in 1463 to the Bosnian Franciscans permitted the establishment of the Franciscan Bosnian Province in 1517, which subsequently came to include also Ottoman Croatia and Hungary. In the late sixteenth century the order built a new monastery near Pozega, which became the religious centre of the Sandzak's Catholics. According to one estimate, in the late seventeenth century Ottoman Slavonia had around 220,000 inhabitants, of whom 48 per cent were Muslim, 33 per cent Catholic, 14 per cent Orthodox and 5 per cent Protestant. According to another, the Muslims formed no more than a quarter of the total population of Slavonia and Srijem in the sixteenth century, and no more than a third in the seventeenth.

Croatia Through History: The Making of a European State. Branka Magas. 2007.
[pp.  96 & 99 / Saqi]

January 2009
Tim Judah

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  1. Istanbul: Pamuk's City
  2. Istanbul: Swimming across the Bosphorus
  3. Salonika and the Jews
  4. Salonica: Slaves and Trade
  5. Thessalonika: 1923
  6. Ohrid: Rise and Fall
  7. Tornado of Dust - 1944
  8. Awake Romania - 1989
  9. Novi Sad: Nest of the Serbian nation
  10. Nis: War Capital, 1915
  11. Belgrade and the Selenites
  12. 1996: Serbia Calling
  13. Belgrade Train Station - 1964
  14. Srebrenica: Vengeance
  15. Srebrenica: Blood
  16. Srebrenica: July 1995
  17. Mealtime - Interwar years in Travnik
  18. Dayton: The Napkin Shuttle
  19. London Buses in Sarajevo
  20. The Museum and Bosnian Identity
  21. Foča: The Bosniak
  22. Kosovo: The Swiss Front
  23. Mitrovica: 1908
  24. Pristina: Kosovo like Namibia?
  25. City without traffic - Pristina 1966
  26. Durham in Pristina - 1908
  27. Tirana: 1962
  28. Zog's Tirana
  29. The Kotor - Constantinople Express
  30. Kotor and the Montenegrins
  31. The Rabbi of Stolac
  32. Dubrovnik: England, Wine and Wool
  33. Cetinje: Nikola Under the Elm
  34. Cetinje: 1858
  35. Dalmatia: Ships & Grapes
  36. Prophet of Yugoslavism
  37. The head of the world
  38. 1919: Mushrooms and Lies
  39. Sofia: Bulgaria's Jews during WWII
  40. Zamfirovo: Rural livelihoods in the mid-1990s
  41. Kosovo
  42. Romania: 1914
  43. Istanbul: Food and the frugal Turks
  44. Micklagard: Surprising, cosmopolitan Constantinople
  45. Sukhumi: The history of the region became ashes
  46. Black Sea: The coming of steam and rail
  47. Mestrovic: Motherhood and the Victor
  48. Rizvanovici, Bosnia: Gnashing
  49. Down the Danube with Magris: Ruse
  50. From Pristina to Tskhinvali
  51. Serbia, Historians and Hitler's War
  52. Balkan Strongmen: Bulgaria's Zhivkov
  53. Sarajevo: The Siege Within
  54. Turkey: Osman's Dream
  55. Durres 1961: Beijing on Sea
  56. Cetinje: Eggs for the Ladies
  57. Bosnia: Land of Immigrants
  58. Ottoman Croatia
  59. Harem: All the Sultan's Women
  60. Sibiu: Regime Change, European Style
  61. 1929: The Balkans and the Great Crash
  62. Rumeli and how the Balkans became the Balkans
  63. 1948: Stalin, Kosovo and Swallowing Albania
  64. Transforming Turkey: the 1950s
  65. McMafia and the Balkans
  66. 1916: Serbia in Corfu
  67. Princes Amongst Men
  68. Limp Shevardnadze
  69. Knin: War and Suburbia
  70. In the Mountains of Poetry
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