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Byzantine Romantic

The life of André Chénier, from Galata to guillotine

Linda Kelly tells the story of André Chénier, father of French Romantic poetry, who was born in Galata, the Genoese quarter of Istanbul. Executed during the Paris Terror, Chénier produced some of the most moving documents of the Revolution

  • The house believed to be the birthplace of André Chénier in the medieval Genoese quarter of Istanbul, below the Galata Tower, still an area of narrow, winding lanes (Manuel Çıtak)

On July 25, 1794, the 31-year-old poet André Chénier went to the scaffold, one of the last victims of the Terror in Paris. Two days later its chief architect, Robespierre, was overthrown and guillotined that day. The poems Chénier wrote in prison on tiny scraps of paper used to wrap laundry, are some of the most moving documents of the French Revolution. Miraculously they survived, and his story and work became an inspiration to a generation of poets that came after him.

This poet of the French Revolution had come a long way from his beginnings in Istanbul – his father was a French cloth merchant in the old Galata quarter, his Greek mother was the daughter of a jeweller to the seraglio. André Chénier’s birthplace can still be seen in a narrow back street behind the oppulent banks of Voyvoda Caddesi. It has changed much over the years but, high on the wall outside – so high that you can only see it by craning your neck – is a plaque commemorating his birth: Ici nacquit le poète André Chénier, octobre 30, 1762.

A cavernous entrance, its wall streaked with the dirt of ages, opens to a hallway, from where a tall stone staircase winds up and up through six or seven floors…

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Issue 2, 1992 The Essential Rose
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Issue 2, 1992 The Essential Rose
£60.00 / $77.95 / 2,579.62 TL
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