Great Fire of Constantinople and Murad’s Reforms Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Constantinople’s great fire of 1633, which destroyed one-fifth of the city and led to increased social upheaval, spurred Sultan Murad IV’s reforms of the empire. His reign of terror, aided by his deeming the fire divine wrath, restored order by coercively imposing decrees and prohibitions, including the shutting down of coffeehouses and wine taverns, meant to consolidate his authority and uphold the Islamic ideals of morality.

Summary of Event

Murad IV’s Murad IV seventeen-year reign, which began when he was eleven years old, can be divided into two stages. During the first nine years, in which Murad was under the authority of his mother, Kösem Sultan Kösem Sultan , the empire was beleaguered by much internal upheaval, such as the revolt led by Abaza Mehmed Paşa Abaza Mehmed Paşa , who raised an army of forty thousand soldiers against the Ottoman capital, Constantinople. Other upheavals included the riot of the Crimean Tatars and the Anatolian uprisings [kw]Great Fire of Constantinople and Murad’s Reforms (Sept. 2, 1633) [kw]Murad’s Reforms, Great Fire of Constantinople and (Sept. 2, 1633) [kw]Constantinople and Murad’s Reforms, Great Fire of (Sept. 2, 1633) [kw]Fire of Constantinople and Murad’s Reforms, Great (Sept. 2, 1633) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Sept. 2, 1633: Great Fire of Constantinople and Murad’s Reforms[1200] Social issues and reform;Sept. 2, 1633: Great Fire of Constantinople and Murad’s Reforms[1200] Government and politics;Sept. 2, 1633: Great Fire of Constantinople and Murad’s Reforms[1200] Architecture;Sept. 2, 1633: Great Fire of Constantinople and Murad’s Reforms[1200] Middle East;Sept. 2, 1633: Great Fire of Constantinople and Murad’s Reforms[1200] Ottoman Empire;Sept. 2, 1633: Great Fire of Constantinople and Murad’s Reforms[1200] Ottoman Empire;Murad IV’s reforms Great Fire of Constantinople (1633)

One the most terrible epidemics to have swept across Constantinople—the plague—decimated as many as one thousand people per day. Further blows were dealt to the empire by Egypt’s inability to pay annual tribute and the Persians’ recapture of Baghdad in 1623-1624 after eighty-nine years of Ottoman reign. In addition, the Turkish fleet in the Black Sea would incur damages from the Kazakh raids

In 1632, when Murad took control of the empire on his own, marking the second stage of his reign, socioeconomic difficulties and the Ottoman army’s lamentable condition led to revolts by the sipahi Sipahi of the palace (feudal cavalry stationed in the capital) and the Janissary corps, threats as much to the sultan’s life as to Constantinople’s economic and commercial life: Stores, the port, and state institutions came to a standstill; the rebels plundered and threatened the civilians even during Ramadan. Murad had to assume full state control, and a reign of terror commenced through his coercive methods, which juxtaposed executions and prohibitions of all sorts.

First, Murad had the grand vizier Regeb Paşa Regeb Paşa , the sultan’s brother-in-law, executed for secretly supporting the rebels. Then, the capital and provinces were drastically purged of rebels, and the sultan had all the members of the askeri class (which included the government and the army) take their oath of allegiance to him. Furthermore, he reorganized the empire’s administrative and financial systems with a view to eliminating corruption and bribery. In so doing, Murad drew heavily on the theoretical model provided by his councillor Koçu Bey’s Koçu Bey treatise on government (1631). In effect, this treatise laid the foundation for the reform movement supported by sultans who reigned after Murad IV. Koçu Bey argued that state decline was triggered by the sultan’s weakening authority and by harem and palace administration intrigues; by the oppressed populace’s urban migration, which resulted in decreased revenues; by financial corruption; and by inefficient organization of the military.

The sultan was aided in his campaign by an unforeseen event. A fire, which erupted in a café on September 2, 1633, grew to engulf and destroy one-fifth of Constantinople, including the state archive, the sipahi barracks, two thousand wooden buildings—among which were superb manor houses—and private collections of manuscripts and documents. Deeming the disaster a sign of the divine wrath, Murad used the effects of the fire in his campaign for upholding the Islamic ideals of purity and austerity, such as wearing distinctive Muslim garb, and for reorganizing state institutions. Islam;Ottoman Empire

All cafés, coffeehouses, wine stores, and wine taverns were closed down by Murad, who believed they posed threats of rebellion. Taking his cue from the religious fanatism of a preacher named Kadizade Mehmed Efendi Kadizade Mehmed Efendi of the Hagia Sophia, and his followers, the Kadizadeler Kadizadeler (sons of the cadi), the sultan banned coffee, Coffee;Ottoman Empire banning of opium, and tobacco by declaring them haram, that is, canonically prohibited. Brought into the empire from Yemen near the end of the sixteenth century, coffee had already been banned several times, and the priests had fulminated against tobacco Tobacco;Ottoman Empire ever since its introduction in 1601.

On August 5, 1635, the sultan banned alcohol Alcohol;Ottoman Empire banning of and ordered the closure of all taverns and wine stores, personally supervising the enforcement of the decree. He would walk the streets incognito by day and by night and pierce his sword through anyone caught consuming the prohibited products. Murad caused so much terror that people would not dare to even utter his name, even in private. Yet, alcohol prohibition notwithstanding, Murad himself indulged in drinking wine—and forcing his entourage, the priests included, to join him—in the upper chambers of his palace. During the last seven years of his reign, he became an alcoholic, which, compounded with sciatica and hereditary gout, led to the sultan’s untimely death at age twenty-eight. The decree prohibiting coffee, opium, and tobacco was enforced only during Murad’s reign.

The destruction of the state archive in the 1633 fire called for the reorganization of the taxation registers; alongside the enforcement of regular tax collection, this contributed to the rebalancing of the state treasury. Another positive measure was the strict record of and improvement in the status of the tīmār-holding sipahi (tīmārli sipahi), that is, the fief-holding cavalrymen, by entering their names and tīmārs in registers (defterler), as well as by rewarding the brave ones and their male descendants. Taxation;Ottoman Empire With his newly reorganized army, Murad IV was able to conquer Yerevan from the Iranians (1635) and then reconquer Baghdad (1638), which earned him the name Bagdat Fatihi (conqueror of Baghdad), a name by which he has been known in Ottoman history.

Yet the cultural life of the empire suffered greatly in the wake of the sultan’s prohibitions. Free speech was censured, and many public figures were executed for minor offenses, among them the poet Nef՚i Nef՚i , who was sentenced to death for writing satirical verse. Spiritual leaders, too, died upon the sultan’s orders, including the Islamic religious leader Ahizade Huseyin Efendi Ahizade Huseyin Efendi , charged with treason and strangled in 1634, and the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril Lukaris Lukaris, Cyril (1620-1638), one of the most important reformers of the patriarchal academy. Murad would not refrain from having his own brothers killed—all cold-blooded murders owing more to his choleric temperament than to administrative reform.

The internal reforms in the aftermath of the 1633 fire brought about economic improvement and expanding commercial exchanges with the European states; demographic increase followed, as Constantinople became the most populated European city with as many as 600,000 inhabitants. However, Murad IV’s military and tax reforms—buttressing as they did an authority not seen since the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent—delayed the Ottoman Empire’s fall only temporarily, and this was primarily because of the sultan’s determination and cruelty.


The consequences of the great fire of 1633 affected not only Constantinople but also the entire Ottoman state, as Murad IV’s politics of building reconstruction affected institutional rebuilding as well. During his reign, religious fanaticism and cultural censorship reached high levels, while the economy and finances could be restored only by prohibitions and coercive means; transgression led to excessively cruel penalties. For example, as many as twenty thousand people were executed for various offenses.

Financial recovery enabled Murad to strengthen the military and buy its loyalty, which contributed significantly to diminishing the number of uprisings in the provinces. The sultan’s legendary bravery and cruelty were important assets in slowing down the deterioration of both Turkish society and the Ottoman state. However, his reforms proved to be short-lived. His brother and successor,Ibrahim Ibrahim (Ottoman sultan) (r. 1640-1648), ruined virtually everything Murad had accomplished in matters of state consolidation. Yet, it must be admitted that the Ottoman Empire’s waning started in the second part of Murad’s reign, the time made more tumultuous by the devastating 1633 fire

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Coco, Carla. Secrets of the Harem. New York: Vendome Press, 1997. Using well-documented texts, photos, and paintings, the author examines the erotic world of the Turkish harem.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Inalcik, Halil, and Donald Quataert, eds. An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1914. 2 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. A highly specialized history, with many maps and tables.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McCarthy, Justin. The Ottoman Turks: An Introductory History to 1923. New York: Longman, 1997. A sweeping historical overview of Ottoman history from the late thirteenth century to the early twentieth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mansel, Philip. Constantinople: City of the World’s Desire, 1453-1924. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. A brief but insightful account of Murad’s rule and the state of the Ottoman capital.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mantran, Robert, ed. Histoire de l’Empire Ottoman. Paris: Fayard, 1989. Mantran investigates the economic, social, and political evolution of the Ottoman state from its inception to the nineteenth century. Special attention is paid to the Balkan and Arab provinces and to cultural life. Includes maps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shaw, Standford J. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. 2 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994-1995. The first volume of this comprehensive history analyzes the rise and decline of the Ottoman Empire between 1280 and 1808.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stiles, Andrina. Russia, Poland, and the Ottoman Empire, 1450-1700. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1991. Stiles employs contemporary evidence in this brief work to investigate the Ottoman period and the reciprocal impact of Islamic and European civilizations.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Kösem Sultan; Murad IV. Ottoman Empire;Murad IV’s reforms Great Fire of Constantinople (1633)

Categories: History