In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Ottoman Empire was retreating on all borders. This was the final phase of the Islamic withdrawal and the last wave of European colonial expansion before decolonization would mark its end. In its retreat, the colonial wave left behind a heritage that is both rich and ambivalent.

In the second half of the 16th century, the Ottoman Turks entered into a long period of decline. Three centuries later, their Empire began to spring leaks on all sides, and Christian Europe gradually settled in the power vacuum left behind. In the Balkans, the resulting gap was filled by independent nation-states; in the Levant and North Africa, it was the European colonial powers – British, Italian and especially French – that took control.

The colonisation of former Ottoman areas was accompanied by the establishment of a tutelage system that took various forms – nominal independence (Egypt), protectorates (Tunisia, Morocco), settler colony (Algeria), colony (Libya) or international mandate (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Iraq).

In the second half of the 20th century, the process of decolonisation left behind it a series of independent states with borders that were often quite artificial. But if the colonial order forever changed the lives of the former colonised populations, the latter also exerted a significant influence on their former metropolises – on the urban landscape, art, lifestyle, culture and mentalities.

In broad lines, one could say that the three major movements that marked the 19th and 20th centuries – the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, colonisation and decolonisation – profoundly altered all of Europe, but in different ways: in the Balkans, through its geopolitics, while in Western Europe, in its demography, art, economy and culture.