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Empires to Nation States

Islamic Period

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Railroad Station in Beer Sheva, Israel, 1917

Railroad Station in Beer Sheva, Israel, 1917

Railroads were key components in the economic development of the Middle East in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Railway development was a major element of the Tanzimat reforms in the Ottoman Empire, and of economic plans in Iran well into the twentieth century. Rail routes were built to facilitate delivery of goods from inland producers to ports, thus allowing more of the empire (even the interior) to be drawn into international trade. They also allowed for improved shipping across land, an example of which was the first route from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf via Tehran, which opened in 1938. Railroads allowed much more rapid deployment of troops and arms during wartime — the railway shown in this photograph, though never fully finished, was built during World War I to facilitate the movement of Ottoman troops to the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. And finally, railroads were used for passenger transport. The famous (and now defunct) Hijaz railway was built primarily to move pilgrims from the port cities of the Ottoman Empire to the holy city of Mecca. Also, in 1883 the first railway linking Istanbul to Vienna was opened, allowing at last continuous rail service from Paris to Istanbul, a route that would become famous in literary history for the name of its train: The Orient Express.

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