It is September 11, 1697 and the Ottoman army is annihilated in the battle of Zenta by the imperial army led by Prince Eugene of Savoy, thus ending the steady rise of the Ottoman Empire over the previous centuries. 30 000 die. It is a date that exactly 308 years later would acquire traumatic significance once again – this time for the Western world. The super powers of this period are the Habsburg Empire and the Ottomans. The dominance of the Habsburgs is well documented, but the Ottoman Empire was a civilization that was no less developed and whose culture we know only little about. Yet the Sultans ruled over Asia Minor, the Near East, the Balkans, North Africa, the Crimea and current-day Hungary for several centuries.
During their constant expansion, the Ottomans also regularly came into conflict with the Christian empires of Europe. Whilst in peace times they were courted by emperors and kings and showered with gifts, their military conflicts were among the most brutal bloodbaths in history.
But what was society like, away from the courts and palaces? What role did ordinary people, the clergy and military play?
In fact the military and religious world of the Ottomans is dominated by the warrior caste of the Janissaries. They recruit their members through the so-called “devshirme” or “child gathering”, the enforced recruitment of young boys primarily from Christian families. The Bektashi, an Islamic order of dervishes that is still found today in the countries that border Turkey, provides the training for the children. The Janissaries lived only for war; they did not marry, had no possessions, and did not receive any pay apart from regular meals.
Contrast that with the world of the Habsburgs: it is the age of the High Baroque and patrons are commissioning master builders with a host of projects. Their works- such as Vienna´s majestic Belvedere – transform the silhouette of Europe´s great cities, while the continent dances- and worships – to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Friedrich Handel.
This is also the age of Eugene Franz, Prince of Savoy-Carignan, the most important commander of the House of Austria, and the protagonist of our film on the Christian side. Prince Eugene is known as a dashing and fearless general who won his spurs as an officer of the Army liberation Vienna during the second siege by the Turks in 1683. But describing him as a military genius does not do him full justice. He was also an exceptional diplomat, an art patron on the grandest scale- and an extraordinary war profiteer, who became the richest man in Europe.
We follow the rise of Prince Eugene, from an emotionally neglected childhood at the court of Louis XIV
, to huge success as a respected and feared army leader, and the wealthiest man of his time – and finally to his lonely decline. His countless contacts with the Ottoman world – at negotiations and magnificent receptions of emissaries, via the exchange of gifts, or at one of the many bloody battles – allow us to switch seamlessly back and forth between the Occident and the Orient.
Our protagonist on the Ottoman side is Gülnüs, concubine in the harem of Sultan Mehmed IV and mother of two Sultans. For more than 30 years the Greek woman, abducted from Crete, had enormous influence over the political and cultural fortunes of the Ottoman Empire. This documentary shows two civilisations at their height: on one side the baroque world of Prince Eugene, an aristocratic, but poor boy to a successful commander and man of independent means , and on the other side the unknown world of Sultans, Grand Viziers and the legendary Janissary warriors.
This two part series – there will also be a 52’ special – is an expedition through the most complex times that Europe has ever experienced – and an era that still resonates today.
PRODUCTION MANAGER REENACTMENTS
PRODUCTION MANAGER DOCUMENTARY
ALEXANDRE DE BONNEVAL
A PRODUCTION OF
IN COPRODUCTION WITH
IN COOPERATION WITH