The only city situated on two continents, Constantinople has always been both meeting-place and battlefield. Constantinople: City of the World’s Desire describes the city and its dual role when it was the capital of the Ottoman Sultans, dominating an empire which at its height stretched from Morocco to Russia and from the Danube to the Persian Gulf.
At once scholarly and entertaining, this book depicts the Ottoman capital as a place of shifting boundaries and categories. It was capital of both Islam and the Orthodox church, part of the ‘system of Europe’ and a magnet for people and ideas from Paris to Isfahan. It was also a city of critical strategic importance, coveted at different periods by Russia, Germany, Bulgaria and Greece. After the Great War, in its last years as an imperial capital, it was occupied by British, French and Italian forces. Within a broad chronological framework, here is the story of the city and of the impact on it of the Ottoman Sultans and their dynasty; here too are the families who settled in Constantinople and served the Sultans, among them the Turkish Koprulu, the Italian de Testa, the Greek Mavrocordatos and the Hashemites from Mecca.
The story begins in 1453 with the triumphant entry into the city of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror on a white horse. It ends in 1924 with the hurried departure of the last Ottoman ruler, Abdulmecid, on the Orient Express. In studying the five hundred years between those two events, the author goes beneath the surface of the traveller’s bustling and cosmopolitan Constantinople to record the history of what was at once an imperial capital, a holy city, a trading entrepôt, a pleasure report and, in its cultural and intellectual life, a laboratory of modernization. It was indeed ‘the city of the world’s desire’ – irresistible, insidious, capable of driving its inhabitants to extremes of grandeur, piety or depravity.
‘No brief review can do justice to the richness of this book…a work for the general reader which will also earn the admiration of all academic specialists in Ottoman history’ Noel Malcolm (Sunday Telegraph).
‘an impeccably researched masterpiece of exquisite historical writing … There can be little doubt that this book will become a classic’ William Dalrymple (The Independent).
‘gripping … quite the best book on the Ottoman Empire I have ever come across’ Robert Carver (The Scotsman).
‘a happy blend of scholarship and panache … If you have visited Constantinople, read it: if not, buy it before you go’ Lawrence James (Evening Standard).
‘a masterpiece’ Godfrey Goodwin (British Museum Journal).
‘Very well written and illustrated, full of amusing anecdotes … an excellent book.’ M. E. Yapp (Bulletin of School of Oriental and African Studies)
‘Marvellous … Like all the best urban histories Mansel designs his chapters thematically … advancing the narrative so subtly that that you feel everything you’ve learnt in previous chapters is moving with you and the experience of the whole city grows with the book … You always feel close to the beat of Constantinople’s mysterious and raffish heart.’ Michael Ratcliffe (The Observer)