Giovanni Ricci explores the obsession for "Turks" (that is, Muslims, Arabs, Moors) which has afflicted Europe for centuries. The author recounts a series of episodes that occurred in Ferrara from the 15th to the 18th century. How visible, in both real and fantastic terms, were the Muslims in a normal city, a backwater that - unlike Venice - had no direct experience with them? Preferring the standpoint of a common Christian periphery to that of a major capital, the book illustrates real aspects of the history of a relationship between cultures, and also pays a visit to Constantinople, Hungary, Vienna, Albania, Morea, Candia, Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli. Ephemeral evidence reveals obscure life histories within a surprising web of exchanges: Moorish servants, female slaves kept as concubines by Christian inhabitants of Ferrara, Christians enslaved by Turks, emancipation ceremonies and rites, news about battles and prisoner transits, gruesome trophies and exotic souvenirs, a continual coming and going of ambassadors and poor devils, hearsay and scares. All these elements come together to form an intense, tormented portrait of hate, fear, curiosity, attraction and grudging admiration. This difficult and contradictory relationship between the West and Islam continues up to the present day.
Giovanni Ricci teaches Modern History in the Faculty of Letters at the University of Ferrara.