“Il divano di Istanbul” by Alessandro Barbero

This article is also available in: Italiano

“Il divano di Istanbul” by Alessandro Barbero is probably the best book ever written in Italian on the Ottoman Empire, allowing the reader to observe the world through the eyes of this ancient power

Il divano di Istanbul

The Ottoman Empire. An immense, warlike and despotic empire, a tyrannical regime; yet an extraordinary invention of multi-ethnic and multinational government that some in the West even looked to as a desirable alternative.

Il divano di Istanbul

Alessandro Barbero of the Ottoman millennium draws the overall pictures of a civilization, moves the dynamics of great events, legendary enterprises and decisive battles, restores the scent and character of a form of culture as foreign as it is modeled in contact with ours, recreates through the wealth of anecdotes the daily atmosphere: in a story that being that of another Europe is all our history, full of current meanings.

Ottoman history through anecdotes

The “Divano di Istanbul” is an extremely fascinating book that will lead us to discover the history of the Ottoman Empire through a series of chronologically ordered stories and anecdotes. We will go from stories about the Ottomans and their nomadic origins, up to the crisis of the Empire with the Tanzimat era and finally to its definitive collapse with the arrival of Atatürk. Each story, curiosity or event chosen serves to bring the reader closer to a world considered for a long time “diametrically opposed to the European one”, but with which on the contrary he has an infinite number of points of contact. Of course there are differences, but in the latter they are not automatically seen as “negative”, but as differences that both Europeans and the descendants of this wonderful empire should question themselves about.

Mimar Sinan
From the complex of the Suleiman Mosque, built by the great Mimar Sinan, first Janissary and then architect

The much hated Devşirme (or the peculiar “enlistment” of Janissaries and public figures) is told here in detail, showing how the latter was a prerequisite for a great social mobility based on merit, which, in the Europe of the nobles, was completely absent. It is also repeatedly shown how multicultural and open to all religions the Empire was, so much so as to welcome all the Jews who fled the Inquisition, as well as dispelling many myths and clichés that have long been rumored about this ancient power.

Put yourself in the shoes of others

In my humble opinion, however, the greatness of this book is due to Alessandro Barbero’s commendable attitude of trying to put himself in the shoes of the other, which in Italy, especially when it comes to the “Islamic world”, is really difficult. to find. Barbero is without any shadow an Italian and European historian, born and pervaded by a different culture linked to Christianity and the Christian world, but it is evident in every single page that his attempt, even more than telling the story, is to push the reader to fully analyze the facts and what lovers and haters of this Empire say, without however diminishing any of the positions in any way.

Il divano di Istanbul
Alessandro Barbero

This can be seen in every aspect of the book, both when it comes to military clashes and when it tells us stories or elements of daily life at the court of the Sublime Porte. Of course there are some very small inaccuracies when it comes to topics inherent to Islam or that spiritual sphere, but any Muslim, even among the most rigorous, can only respect it and consider “Il divano di Istanbul” among the best books ever written in Italian on ‘Ottoman Empire. I recommend everyone to buy this text because in just 200 pages it will be able to give you an excellent smattering or anecdotes about the Sublime Porta.

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