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Contested Waters: Diplomacy and Landscape along the Bosphorus in the Late Ottoman Period


Contested Waters: Diplomacy and Landscape along the Bosphorus in the Late Ottoman Period

Lecture by Paolo Girardelli, Boğaziçi University


Tuesday, May 28, 2019
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Bunche 10383


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For millennia, the maritime channel connecting the Eastern Mediterranean and its imperial/cultural legacies to the Black Sea – an area of less glamorous or stable political and civilizational allegiances – was perceived as a threshold between different worlds. The drama of this positioning seemed to be reduced with the Ottoman control of the waters and geographical areas laying to the east and west of the Bosphorus, in the 15th-17th centuries. But the alleged decline of the Ottoman empire during the 18th century brought that drama again to life. Russian influence in, and later control of, the northern shores of the Black Sea, along with increasing Russian ambitions to access the Mediterranean (and even re-Christianize Constantinople), turned again that channel into a contested landscape. Russian, and later other foreign ships, began to cross the waters of a channel that in the previous two centuries had been mostly internal and domestic from the Ottoman point of view.

In this lecture, Paolo Girardelli will explore and contextualize the manifold visual and environmental consequences of this change in status. In the late Ottoman period, a spectacular development of new architectural landmarks turned gradually the channel into the only urban space in Istanbul comparable to a large Baroque boulevard: a stage for social rituals and display of status, but also an assertion of ownership and control, vis-à-vis the new challenges and the exposure to international traffic. Imperial pavilions, fortifications, and later the main sultanic palaces of the Ottoman household, were flanked by the summer residences of the foreign embassies. In time, diplomacy and international relations, contrasting pressures and claims, would recast the image of the Bosphorus as a cosmopolitan, living representation of geo-political change.