This book is dedicated to Istanbul, as the city has been called since the Ottoman conquest in 1453, although officially the name was introduced only after the First World War. Previous official names include “Byzantium”, “Nèa Ryme” (i.e., “New Rome”) and, especially, “Constantinople”. These names evoke awe-inspiring images: a vision of the Orient, faraway destinations beyond the Bosphorus and Anatolia, mosques, harems, whirling dervishes, bazaar aromas. For half a millennium Europe has identified this city as a valuable joining link between a lost ancient age and a never quite achieved modernity, between East and West. Even today we seek out, behind this megalopolis teeming with life, traces of a shared past, an oriental dream the West has pursued for centuries in its attempt to define itself. The author accompanies us on a journey to this enchanted city, helping us explore the spirit of a culture that eludes us, perhaps precisely because it is such an integral part of our history.
Franco Cardini is professor emeritus of Medieval History at the Italian Institute of Human Sciences/Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa; he is also research director at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris and a fellow at Harvard University.