Manisa, the city of Tantalus and the Ottoman sultans

This article is also available in: Italiano

Legendary homeland of Tantalus and a place reserved for the growth of the new Ottoman sultans, Manisa has managed to establish itself, over the centuries, among the most beautiful cities in Turkey

The words of Ibn Battuta

“It is a large and beautiful city that rises at the foot of a mountain, in a plain rich in streams and springs, with many gardens and lots of fruit.”

Ibn Battuta

Magnesia, the city of Tantalus

The most ancient remains of all are footprints dating back to between 20,000 and 25,000 BC. and tombs dating back to 3000-2500 BC, however, for the first written testimony of the city it will be necessary to wait until 1320 BC. . In fact, the first written finds of the city are attributable to this date, which would lead it back to the ancient Luwian kingdom of Arzawa, which later became a vassal of the Hittites. At the end of the millennium, the Phrygian and Lydian civilizations will emerge with increasing insistence, the legendary founder of the city can be attributed to the latter: Tantalus.


According to the myth, he was initially a king well liked by the gods but, following numerous infamies, including having his son cooked and served, he was sent to Tartarus and condemned to always be hungry and thirsty without being able to consume anything. According to some traditions, the Etruscan civilization would be native to these places, reaching Italy following a mass emigration. Starting from the 7th century BC the capital of the kingdom of Lydia was moved to Sardi, inevitably undermining the status of Magnesia, the ancient name of Manisa. Under the Romans she is remembered more than anything else for the formidable battle of Magnesia, one of the greatest victories of Rome, decisive for her domination in Asia Minor.

Manisa, the city of the sultans

Under the Byzantines it became one of the most important cities ever, so much so that it became the seat of the mint under the Empire of Nicaea, a domain that was created following the famous Fourth Crusade. Starting from the 13th century, Turkish raids in the region became more and more continuous and pressing, prompting the locals to abandon the area in favor of the European part of the Byzantine dominions; this greatly facilitated the Turkish penetration which, starting from 1313, established the beilicate of Saruhan. The latter was the first vassal of the Seljuks, being incorporated in 1390 by the Ottomans who, following the defeat of Ankara against Tamerlane, definitively reconquered the territory in 1410.

The Muradiye mosque, curated by the great architect Mimar Sinan

The Ottoman conquest will be a godsend for Manisa, who will go from being a completely ruined city to a sort of “school for sultans”. In fact, starting from 1437, 15 future sultans were made to grow in his shadow; among these it is absolutely impossible not to mention Mehmed the Conqueror and Suleiman the Magnificent, two of the most representative figures of Turkish history. With the passage of time, Manisa was one of the very first cities in Turkey through the railway network, allowing the center to be even more known for its beauty; however the great attentions are not always positive and in this case they proved fatal. Manisa was in fact one of the cities to be most tormented by the clash with the Greeks who, with their scorched earth policy, burned about 90% of it; it is no coincidence that in 1927 it was practically re-founded, definitively obtaining the name of Manisa, the Turkish version of Magnesia.

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