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Gerald MacLean’s The Rise of Oriental Travel deals with later English travellers in Ottoman lands whose memoirs we are still able to tap into. MacLean focuses on four travellers – Thomas Dallam, a Lancastrian organ-builder, who arrived in Istanbul in 1599 with an organ that was to be presented to Murat III as a diplomatic gift from Elizabeth I; William Biddulph, a Protestant clergyman in early sixteenth-century Aleppo; Sir Henry Blunt, an English diplomat of the 1630s; and an anonymous English captive in North Africa during the reign of Charles II.
Though they have little in common, this bunch make up a sure-fire success for the reader. Dallam gets to see the Ottoman harem (he really did); the clergyman Biddulph takes a dim view of the Middle East and its inhabitants; Blunt drinks coffee with an Ottoman pasha at the request of one of his pages; and MacLean, who piles bold speculation upon frantic surmise in his eagerness to investigate what he calls “the erotic possibilities of the Ottoman Mediterranean”, immediately tries to work out who is making a pass at whom. He is convinced that someone is – and it certainly makes a limited story more interesting if we assume that there are layers of meaning we can never entirely reach.
Finally we get to the anonymous TS and his racy adventures in the barely Ottoman sands of North Africa. Frankly, he seems less interesting than the others. TS’s boastful accounts of what he got up to while a slave seem about as unbelievable as his claim to have encountered a “counterfeit lamb” with a wolf-like head, a fleece and the ability to change its colour and shape at will. Does this advance our understanding of Ottoman–Western contacts? MacLean might have done better to pick another traveller and one who stayed closer to the Ottoman heartlands. The Rise of Oriental Travel might also have done with more historical and anthropological background, but there are lots of good things in it. It opens up a vanished world.
For boldness, colour and virtuosity nothing can compare with the golden age of the Ottoman kaftan. After months of conservation work to ensure that they could travel safely, the Topkapı lent the Sackler dozens of its mesmerising royal kaftans.
At last there need be nothing between you and the Bosphorus. Patricia Daunt tells the story of how two architects created Sumahan on the Water, breathing new life into an old Ottoman spirit factory. Photographs by Jürgen Frank
A 40-page celebration of the architectural heritage of the Eastern Black Sea Mountains
The dashing Abdülmecit Efendi was the last member of the Ottoman dynasty to hold court on the Bosphorus. This enlightened, sophisticated man with a passion for painting, son of a Sultan and cousin of the last Sultan, spent two brief years as Caliph. But in 1924, the caliphate was abolished and Abdülmecid left the city his family had captured five hundred years earlier for exile in France. His paintings, abandoned in the very studio of his house on Çamlıca Hill where he had created them, are a remarkable pictorial legacy of the last days of empire. By Philip Mansel. Photographs by Fritz von der Schulenburg
Maureen Freely looks back on the life of the architectural historian Godfrey Goodwin, who died aged 84.
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