The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe

By Daniel Goffman | Go to book overview
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The Ottoman—Venetian association

In an aesthetic sense at least, [Venice] still holds the east in fee, as the place where orient and occident seem most naturally to meet: where the tower of Gothic meets the dome of Byzantine, the pointed arch confronts the rounded, where hints and traces of Islam ornament Christian structures, where basilisks and camels stalk the statuary, and all the scented suggestion of the east is mated with the colder diligence of the north. Augsburg met Alexandria in these streets long ago, and nobody fits the Venetian mis-en-scène better than the burnoused sheikhs so often to be seen these days feeding the pigeons in the Piazza, leading their veiled wives stately through the Merceria, or training their Japanese cameras upon St Theodore like that contorted sightseer in the old picture.1

After the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453 a few key cities more and more constituted that empire's nexus with the rest of Europe. Some, such as Venice or Vienna, existed outside of the empire; most, such as Istanbul, Izmir, and Aleppo, were Ottoman. The principal cause for this skewed situation can be found in the tenets of Christianity and Islam as displayed in the two halves of the early modern Mediterranean world. Whereas, in the Catholic northwest, Iberian and Italian states strictly restricted access to their cities, in the Muslim southeast the Ottoman state allowed diverse settlement.

There were some partial exceptions to this rule. The most famous certainly was Venice which as a port city drew its principal economic strength from seaborne commerce with the eastern-Mediterranean world. This contrast between the attitudes of the two civilizations produced a chronic and fascinating tension in Venice between a religious ideology that conceived a perpetual Crusade against the Islamic world and a situation that demanded bonds with Islamic states that controlled the international commercial routes to the east. From the point of view of the Catholic world, the Venetian reliance upon such trade led to a series of understandings with its Muslim adversaries that were deemed shameful.

Morris, Venetian Empire, pp. 178–79.


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