Francis I was famous for his alliance with Suleyman the Magnificent; in 1999 this relationship was rekindled by the groundbreaking ‘Topkapi à Versailles’ exhibition, displaying treasures from the Ottoman Palace in the Sun King’s home.
Paris is truly the capital of Turquerie. Ever since Francis I’s alliance with the Ottoman Empire scandalised Europe, the destinies of the two countries have been intertwined; it wasn’t until Napoleon’s imperial ambitions took him to Egypt that the alliance crumbled. Embassies were sent in either direction in the 1530s, and joint campaigns ensued.
By the end of the seventeenth century the vogue for Turquerie had broken out. Prominent society ladies flocked to be portrayed as Turkish Ladies - Madam de Pompadour was painted relaxing on her divan in a caftan - and travellers like Tavernier and Thuenot returned from the east with coffee and tales of adventure. High society wore a turban and lounged on carpets. The French carpet industry, typified by the Savonnerie Carpets, began to emulate Turkish styles.
Dotted around Paris are the remnants of this curious relationship. The Louvre contains many Ottoman and Turkish objets d’art; and in David’s famous painting of Napoleon’s coronation, the face of the Ottoman Ambassador can be seen in the crowd. Ingres’ odalisques, some of which hung in the house of the nineteenth century Ottoman Parisian Khalil Bey are also worth a visit. Elsewhere the astonishing Camondo house remains as a testament to the brilliant Jewish family of Bankers from Istanbul, and to the north of the city Turkish delicacies can be sought out on the Rue Strasbourg St Denis.
France has all the hallmarks of a culinary monoculture. But to the north of the city centre Paris’ flourishing Turkish district around the Rue Strasbourg St Denis is the place to join Turkish labourers for authentic lahmacun, kebabs and çorba.