The Middle Ages in Europe are not also called the Dark Ages without reason. The Catholic Church was built upon a foundation of suppressing all knowledge which brought into question anything that presented a potential threat to literal interpretation of every single word contained within the Bible. The history of the Catholic Church was one of destroying as many ancient manuscripts of philosophical thought as possible, as well as persecution and execution of anyone who dared to spout heretical thought. Because of this we have only a bare inkling of what may have been contained in the great literary works produced in ancient Greece. How fitting, then, that we owe a great debt to the rise of Islamic empires for spurring the European renaissance and the death of the Middle Ages.
Constantinople’s fall in 1291 marked the end of any strong Christian claims to the Holy Land. Constantinople effectively was turned over to the Ottoman empire; the Ottoman dynasty established in 1299. The Ottoman sultans quickly established themselves as a dominant force both militarily and politically. Over the course of the next 150 years or so, the Ottoman Empire covered the greater portion of what is now Turkey, while also making inroads on the other side of the Bosporus Straits; the European side. Facing little or not opposition from Christians on either side, the Ottomans made Adrianople their capital in 1365.
Much to the chagrin of the Vatican, just a few years later saw the Turks driving forcefully all the way to the Hungarian border. This threat was countered in the typical manner with which the Pope sought to defend his Church: a crusade. Like most of the others, this crusade also ended with devastating losses by the Christian armies, this time during the battle of Nicopolis in 1396. After this victory, it looked for all the world like Europe was about to find itself becoming part of the Ottoman Empire. And yet we know that didn’t happen. So what gives?
Those crazy Mongols from the east, that’s what. A Mongol leader named Timur took attention away from the northward pursuit of the Ottoman Empire and a generation passed before things got back on scheduled and the Ottomans could restart their efforts at completing their capture of what had been the Byzantine Empire. The upshot of all is that by the 14th century, there was an extraordinarily strong Islamic empire that was uncomfortably close to the Christian powers of Europe. The center of communication between Europe and Asia Minor was in the form of trade. However, there was some cultural influences making the trip; it was typically a one-way trip, though. The Ottoman Empire was far more interested in keeping their religious structure in place than in developing the sciences and the arts.
The Ottoman Empire, therefore, produced an effect that is strikingly similar to an effect that would occur towards the middle of the 20th century. With the rise of fascist thought and fascistic dictators in Germany, Italy and Spain, many of the best scientific and artistic minds in those countries would flee westward. The same thing happened to the Ottomans. Many of their greatest minds fled to Europe. There is one major difference however. These Byzantine scholars brought something with them as they fled the persecution of the Ottoman Turks besides simply the knowledge contained inside their heads; they also carried actual manuscripts of ancient Greek texts. And it was these texts which inspired many of the greatest minds of the European renaissance.