Audio / Video Links
Aleppo: Philip Mansel in conversation with David Abulafia - Jewish Book Week, 26 January 2017
History of Aleppo – a brief chat with Philip Mansel, February 2016
‘Inside the Court of Napoleon – the Monster behind the Mask’ - interviewed by Jude Montague, Resonance FM, 4 July 2015
‘Debate on Napoleon and Waterloo, on its 200th anniversary’, on France 24 TV, 18 June 2015
watch & listen (in French)
An Interview with Philip Mansel - The Guide, Istanbul - Joshua Bruce Allen, January 19, 2015
Opening Remarks by Philip Mansel, Levantine Conference, Istanbul, Nov 2014 - watch
‘Louis XVIII at Hartwell House’ - Making History, BBC Radio 4 - 21/01/2014
‘From George IV to George VI: the rise and fall of civil uniform’
Monarchy Conference, June 2012
Interview on MTV Lebanan, Kitab, December 2011
To see and hear Philip Mansel interviewed on MTV Lebanon (in English, with introduction and commentary in Lebanese) on 5 December 2011, click on the link below.
Interview on TV Arsivi, October 2011
To see and hear Philip Mansel interviewed on TV Arsivi on 20 October 2011 (with simultaneous Turkish translation), click on the link below.
BBC World Service Broadcast, August 2011
To hear Philip Mansel in conversation about barriers, partitions, separation and segregation with Bridget Kendall, Professor Chris Ponting and the French graffiti artist JR, which was broadcast on the BBC World Service on 14 August 2011, click on the link below.
Lecture to the Anglo-Turkish Society, May 2011
To see and hear Philip Mansel’s lecture What is a Levantine City? From Smyrna to Izmir, which was delivered to the Anglo-Turkish Society on 4 May 2011, click on the link below and then on “Philip Mansel lecture” in the list at the top of the page.
BBC World Service Broadcast, December 2010
To hear Philip Mansel in conversation about the cities of the Levant with Bridget Kendall and Professors Mary Beard and Robert Tignor, which was broadcast on the BBC World Service on 25 December 2010, click on the link below. (There may be up to half a minute’s silence before the recording starts to play.)
Interview on the Monocle, October 2010
To listen to the interview with Philip Mansel about his book, Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean, included in The Monocle on 31 October 2010, click on the link below and then on “Download Edition 77 (mp3)” in the middle column on the page. (The interview starts 36 minutes into the programme - simply move the cursor on your media player to the appropriate place.)
Interview with Philip Mansel, ‘Historian surveys Ottoman life through images of old’, Damaris Kremida, Hürriyet newspaper, 2008
Lecture at Newcastle University, November 2008
To hear Philip Mansel’s lecture, Clothes and Power: From Napoleon to Osama, delivered on 18 November 2008 as part of the Newcastle University INSIGHTS series, click on the link below and then, when the page opens, click on “To hear a recording of this lecture please click here”.
Institute of Historical Research
Philip Mansel is a Senior Fellow of the IHR.
The Society for Court Studies
Philip Mansel edits the Society’s journal.
To read the text of interviews with Philip Mansel about his books Constantinople and Levant, click on ‘Books’ at the top of the Home Page, and then search on ‘Mansel’, and click on the link for the book in question. To read Philip Mansel’s exploration of the definition of a Levantine city, click here
The Prince de Ligne
Philip Mansel has published two books on the life of Charles-Joseph de Ligne, one in French and one in English.
Times Literary Supplement
On all four sites, articles and reviews by Philip Mansel and reviews of his books by others can be accessed by doing a simple search (the TLS site is available only to subscribers).
Bianet - “Çok Yaşa Gavur İzmir!” [Long live infidel Izmir!], 15 November 2014, Altuğ Akın
“Long live infidel Izmir!”
Philip Mansel, whose last book ‘Levant’, which compared the histories of Beirut, Alexandria and Smyrna / Izmir, was in Izmir [October 2014] for a conference on the city’s Levantine identity.
Mansel’s answers to the interviewer Altuğ Akın:
The reason why you are in Izmir is because of the Second Levantine Symposium and you were here four years ago as well for the First Levantine Symposium. How does it make you feel to see these activities organised in Izmir and the research on the Levant and Levantines that arises from them?
First of all I have to tell you it is very interesting. It is very satisfying to see the living example of what I have been researching most of my life in the Levant, that then resulted in the publication of my book on the Levant. In addition, as mentioned by the committee head of the Izmir Chamber of Commerce at the opening speech for the Conference, Izmir is a European city in character and it is satisfying to see this first hand. Izmir is indeed both European and Asian, Moslem and Christian and a Jewish city. It is just like London where I live today.
I think I can describe it thus: I feel national states in the 20th century, with their virtues and sins, have served their purpose but are no longer fit for our individualistic life-styles or the global economy. Even if in places like Catalonia and Scotland there are people who yearn for the creation of their national states, we know that in both these cases economic realities define the debate.
In one of your interviews you described Izmir as “the least nationalistic in all the cities”. Can we explore this concept further?
It would be better to put it this way: Despite Turkish nationalism being very strong in Izmir, the city’s history is extremely international. Since our collective experience is from the 20th century we find it hard to visualise pre 1914 Smyrna which was host to a very cosmopolitan scene. During it was protected from invasion three times with the intervention of the resident foreign consuls and Levantine merchants: in 1696 from Venice, 1770 Russian and 1915 British. In a way the city acted as a counter-lever to prevent the spread of war.
So the city had both a nationalistic and an international identity. The Mayor of Izmir for the period 1914-1919 is a representative of this dual identity. He was from the Ittihat Terakki [The Young Turks: Committee of Union and Progress] movement but established very good friendships from Izmir’s Levantine community. Indeed there were rumours he had a Levantine lover. He was from Salonica and led a modern life.
If we consider the Izmir of today we could say it is the city with the strongest reaction against the ruling AKP. The history of tension between Izmir and the capital is a long one. Can we see today’s situation as a continuation of the past?
I would like to say “Long live infidel Izmir!”. However long that spirit lives, all the better. The tension with the centre in both governance and economy is a vital factor and is not a unique situation to Izmir. Similar feelings are expressed in the cities of Marseille in France, Napoli in Italy and Alexandria in Egypt. If a city feels the state that is the centre is dragging it down, this situation arises. In Germany, Hamburg occupies a similar situation.
In a way in Turkey’s south-east there is a similar situation. The contender for president from HDP [a left-wing political party acting as the fraternal party to pro-Kurdish BDP] Selahattin Demirtaş did his last electoral meeting before that vote in Izmir and stated “you will understand me the best as you too have experienced problems with Ankara”.
This is quite interesting. Izmir is a city that during its history it has consistently chosen not to use violence. However this is true: there are similarities in that the state assumes an authoritarian and an arrogant posture. However I am against the use of force against the state. And there is this factor: Even though many would disagree I would contend that the legal framework operates better here than its neighbours such as Greece and Syria. Despite this I would prefer a state in Turkey that is more liberal and allowing greater freedoms to its citizens.
Considering the tempering of the tension within society you mentioned, Rahmi Bey is seen as a model person: All the Levantine families mention him in a favourable manner. Does this mean the importance of individuals? This brings to my mind, in a subconscious manner, Ahmet Priştina who was the municipal head of Izmir between 1999-2004. This person was regarded in a favourable light by just about all social groupings and his skilful positive approach to dealing with tensions with the central authorities.
What is certain is characters occupy an important role in histories. Consider Mustafa Kemal or Rahmi Bey. His character was totally different to the mayor who succeeded him, Nureddin Pasha. Of course lets not forget we are not privy to the private life, such as bank accounts of Rahmi Bey. I would love to have more personal information on him.
The only thing I know about Ahmet Priştina is that the wonderful museum which I visited yesterday was built during his term. In addition it is clear from his surname like Rahmi Bey he is of Balkan origin. Perhaps there would be mileage in examining the parallels between these two statesmen you have pointed out.
Normally Izmir, or other cities are examined around their own characteristics, yet in your Levant book you consider the parallels between three cities, Izmir, Alexandria and Beirut and from that arrive at conclusions for the region.
In my book I examined three cities sharing a similar geography and history. In that period it was easier and quicker for somebody to go by sea from Smyrna to Alexandria versus the overland journey to Kayseri or Konya. Many Smyrna Greeks and Armenians were doing this. Even if it is not well known there were a lot of residents of Beirut originally from Smyrna. In addition we need to emphasize there were also many people from Syria and Persia living in Smyrna. We could say that in the 17th century Smyrna took the place of Aleppo as the main trade centre in the Eastern Meditterenean or the Levant.
At the same time these three cities had similar problems. For example considering their geography and diplomacy, these undefended port cities and in the case of war with the powers of the time, how to protect them against the navies of Britain, France or Russia.
The problems of economy were also shared by these cities: How to achieve a modern economy within a traditional society? And of course in all three cities the social and cultural life was rich and varied. Beirut’s Corniche and Izmir’s Kordon still resemble each other and continue to act as the centre of the city’s vibrant social life.
The commonality with these cities were the cafes, night-life, entertainment and pleasure. The Rembetiko of Izmir, Fairuz and other Arab musicians of Beirut for example. These cities were ahead of others in terms of modernism and were aware of this fact. Education in all these centres were well established. It is significant that Izmir today has eight universities. The American University of Beirut or the International College that moved from Izmir to Beirut. This American run school was in Paradise, that is modern Kızılçullu. It is renowned for its schools and comprehensive library in Alexandria.
The other commonality with these three cities is their fragility. Something happens and the following day the city experiences a major fire or becomes the scene for a civil war. In 1942 Alexandria came close to being invaded by the Germans.
Looking from a different angle we could state all cities are fragile and we could state this is brought about through city living. However this situation is particularly caused by governance from top to bottom. It the central government act inappropriately or truly cannot act in a short-sighted way then anything can happen.
The historian Edhem Eldem emphasises that Istanbul, Aleppo or Izmir are border cities. He postulates that the common threads of culture, civilization or languages are a reflection of them being near borders.
Yes it is true they are border cities. For example for Aleppo being in the edge of the desert results in being on the border of the Arab and Turkish worlds. The current student demonstrations in Hong Kong could be read as the anxiety of the ‘Sinofication’ of a society on the edge of China.
I think many cities, even those inland have the characteristics of border cities. That is because they are receptive to migration, foreigners, foreign books and their ideas. For example, Madrid despite being in the middle of the country it has been the city in Spain where foreign ideas enter.
Being on the coast, perhaps in relation to the horizon of that sea makes it easier for international foreigners, objects and ideas, that is foreign influences to enter. For example Alexandria by being on the coast has borne the brunt of the Salafi Moslem influence and so a fully Egyptianised city. Perhaps this is a reaction of the Moslem psyche, when it is on the coast and vulnerable.
Is the reason you selected these three cities the result of your interest in this region or because of the relationship between them? For example could Salonica, Aleppo or Sarajevo could have been in the book as well?
Perhaps they could have been but I didn’t want the book to be too long. I wanted them to be ports. In addition right now I am writing a short history of Aleppo and I have a lot of material concerning the 1900s of Salonica. I am not so familiar with Sarajevo but you are right. We are dealing with a wider phenomenon: While European cities are divided into Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox, Ottoman cities are characterised by mixed communities with no one group dominating.
When dealing with such a wide geography it is not going to be easy to answer, but what went wrong with Smyrna / Izmir? What was the issue that eventually removed for good that heterogenous population?
Enver Pasha was responsible for getting the Ottoman Empire into World War I, when neither the government nor the Sultan nor the population wanted this. To be allies with Germany brought a disaster with it. In addition the twentieth century brought its own horrors all over the place, not only here, Germany and Spain in the European theatre are the first to come to mind. Nationalism takes people out of their rational state and encourages people to kill each other. In short very destructive.
In Turkey when Levantines are mentioned we see a heavy nostalgic sense of reminiscing. As if they don’t belong to today but like an antique item that existed and was lost in the past.
Like for an international future we need an international past. We need to recount and remember the multi-cultural life that existed in the past. The issue is not nostalgia. I suspect nobody would want to live a hundred years ago, just thinking about the lack of health facilities in that era is reason enough. However at the same time we wish to escape from the present state.
Pre-1940 London, Vienna even St. Petersburg were quite multi-cultural cities however in national histories this reality is often forgotten.
In one of the reviews of your book ‘Levant’ the special circumstances of these three cities were cited as being trade and there is a quote from you on the lines of “Long live free trade”. Is it indeed so?
I believe trade is more peaceful than ideology; traders are closer to peaceful living than generals. However with the proviso that everybody gets a slice of the cake. Of course merchants aren’t always well behaved: We know that the British sabotaged the French project to extend the railway to the Kordon.
Let’s not forget that the modernity of Izmir has its roots in the 17th century with the arrival of Levantines wishing to trade and the Ottoman government supporting them. It is the same for Beirut. The real acceleration of the city begins after the settlement of foreign consuls and merchants in the city. The invitation of the merchant community, including Turks in the beginning of the 19th century by Mehmet Ali Pasha to Alexandria is a similar turning point.
And what about the other side of the medallion: In these cosmopolitan cities were there no poor people? Was life sweet for all?
I was taken to a taverna owned by a Levantine in Izmir and shown the photographs of poor Sicilians who had come to Smyrna to work as construction hands or fishermen. In Alexandria there were poor people from every ethnic group. Indeed in 1882 an argument between an Egyptian and Maltese donkey owners led to tension between these two groups resulting in serious clashes.
At the same time there was a degree of commonality. For example in Salonica the workers’ union had members from all groups of people. Or in Smyrna the common music of the lower classes was Rembetiko. Turks would say it is ours, and the Greeks would state it is our music. So it belongs to both, a shared culture. Or the poor neighbourhoods of Alexandria would house in a far greater degree than other places, a whole mixture of ethnic groups.
But if we turn to your question, you are right. Mostly the existence of poor Levantines is ignored.
The last question concerns the reason behind your research of the Levant and Levantines.
I have always been in interested in the Middle East. In 1969 with school friends we travelled in Turkey and Syria and I was captivated from that time. I delighted in the blue sky of the land that was opposite to the grey skies I was used to in the England I grew up. So this side of the story has an English twist: the English love coming to these parts.
And of course its history. Particularly in those days there were a lot of unknowns and this follows that there are a lot of discoveries that can be made. I have specialised in French history but I didn’t want to remain focused to a single nation. In addition I believe the Franco-Ottoman diplomatic history to be the key part of the past and understanding the present situation of Izmir and the Levant in general.
Publishers and Agents
Publisher of three of Philip Mansel’s books, including his latest, Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean.
Publisher of Philip Mansel’s Louis XVIII, Le Prince de Ligne, and Paris, capitale de l’Europe, 1814-1852.
Capel and Land
Philip Mansel’s literary agents.
The house on the Isle of Purbeck owned by the Clavell and Mansel families since approximately 1400.
Kimmeridge Fossil Museum
The objective is to provide a secure and permanent home for the Etches Fossil Collection in a world-class facility in Kimmeridge.
Click here for a variety of videos of Philip Mansel giving talks 2011-14.