"CONSTANTINOPLE: City of the World's Desire, 1453-1924" by Philip Mansel
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"CONSTANTINOPLE: City of the World's Desire, 1453-1924"

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The cultural history of a fascinating city. Constantinople has long occupied a special place in the imagination of the West, viewed as a city of immense wealth, power, mystery, and decadence. Mansel (Sultans in Splendor: The Last Years of the Ottoman World, not reviewed) offers an intimate and exhaustive account intimately tied to the rise of the Ottoman dynasty, picking up the city's history after the fall of the Byzantine Empire. He convincingly argues that the ancient city cannot be understood without reference to the Ottomans and that the interaction of the two produced ""the only capital to function at every level: Political, military, naval, religious (both Muslim and Christian), economic, cultural, and gastronomic."" Now known as Istanbul, it has been called the New Rome as well as the New Jerusalem; the ""City of Saints""; the ""House of State""; the ""Gate of Happiness""; the ""Eye of the World""; and ""Refuge of the Universe."" Situated in a spot making it a natural bridge between East and West, it has attracted merchants, mercenaries, and missionaries, with all the attendant consequences. Mansel sees the city--because of its unique site and its long history as the capital of two great empires--as ""a natural object of desire,"" a place capable of generating extreme, even fantastic, actions in its inhabitants. In his treatment, Constantinople emerges as a worthy challenger to Venice and Paris, the cities most often seen as offering unique mixtures of style and substance. And like those cities, Constantinople is a feast for the senses, especially the eyes. Lavish illustrations and Mansel's colorful descriptions attempt to bring some of the voluptuousness of life in the city to the reader. Thoroughly documented, this is a splendid introduction to one of the first truly cosmopolitan cities.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1996
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: St. Martin's