27 August 2012

Methoni, 1509

Methoni castle (Kal 'a-i Metoni) 1509,
Kemal Paşa Zade, Tevâŕh-i Al-i Osmân (Ms. Dresd. Eb.391)

[Late note: A correspondent has just sent me a link to the Dresden library ms of the map and I see that they date it 1550.  Thanks, Tom.]

A new correspondent has just sent me photographs of an Ottoman manuscript dated about 1509 1550.  This image of Methoni -- captured from Venice by the Turks in 1500 -- is fascinating where the details are clear.  It is accurate for the moat, the drawbridge, the mole, the cannon ports in the towers, the market place, and the bourdzi, but it shows a brighter, more prosperous, and more citified Methoni than any visitor ever described. 

Canon Casola stopped in Methoni for a few days in 1494, and this is some of what he had to report (I omit the borgo and the  Jewish and gypsy neighborhoods from his account, and from the other writers, as this image shows only the walled city.):
It has strong walls with drawbridges at every gate which are four according to my reckoning .  It is well furnished with towers, and on the towers and the walls there are large pieces of artillery . . . I entered the city where I did not see either houses or palaces worth of description; for its size it has many houses, and they are close together.  I think there are few inhabitants, for in the finest and widest street there, the houses appeared to be shut up for the most part, and when I stood in the market place I did not see many people.  Those I saw, besides that they are Greeks -- for they also belong to the Morea -- are thin and ugly to look at.  The majority of their houses, whether they are large or small -- at least from the middle upwards and on the side facing the public streets -- are built of timbers.  In short I did not see any other beauty there.
He had a bad night of it:
. . . If I had waited even the sixth of an hour, the whole house would have been in flames, and consequently the adjoining houses: for this house was of wood, and very old, of the dryest kind of timbers and with party walls to similar houses in a congested narrow street.
Casola did not see the city of this manuscript. Nine years before this picture was presumably made, the city of wooden houses and dry timbers had been sacked and mostly burned in the Ottoman siege and assault, and it is unlikely that in nine years the Ottomans had rebuilt it in western-style architecture.  I don't believe the painter of this picture had seen the city of this manuscript although he had certainly seen pictures of Methoni.  His Methoni is full of the kind of buildings Turkish manuscripts conventionally used to indicate western-style houses.

In 1497 or so, three years before the Ottoman conquest, Arnold von Harff stopped by Methoni and met a German master-gunner, Peter Bombardere
who gave me good company and friendship.  He showed me the strength of the town and the artillery, and it is in truth a small town but strong.  . . . he took me around the innermost wall, which was very thick and built of rough stones: in addition there is a great rampart against the wall on which stood many fine cannon, great carthouns and slings.
Casola, von Harff, and Felix Fabri and Bernard von Breydenbach (1483) wrote about churches in Methoni, with slight variations.  I have no idea if I am seeing churches in the picture: as in the Koroni picture below, the Ottoman conventions for western houses look remarkably like the western conventions to indicate churches.
(von Harff) . . . a Roman bishopric where the service is according to our use.  Item: they have also built there a mother church of St. Leo, where he lies in person.  There is also the head of St. Athanasius.

(Fabri) I took my lords and some other pilgrims to the church of the Preaching Friars and there we heard High Mass . . . the Cathedral which is consecrated to St. John . . . in which is the body of St. Leo, a German pilgrim who died among the Turks and who was renowned among them for many miracles, the head of Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, and the two fingers of Sts. Cosmas and Damianus.

(von Breydenbach) In the parish church named after St. John there are the body of St. Leo and the head of St. Athanasius the bishop.
(Casola) The Cathedral can join the company of the other miserable churches, being badly kept in every way. . . .the relics were shown to us with a very poor light.  We were shown the head of Saint Athanasius [of Alexandria] . . . and the body of Saint Leo.   . . . he was a pilgrim who came from the Sepulchre and died on the galley, and was buried on the seashore.  Afterwards he was revealed to the Bishop who caused him to be brought into the church where he worked many miracles . . . To tell the truth, the said body was kept in a wooden chest which was in a very bad condition.  I do not mention the other churches, because I saw nothing there worth of remark. . . . The said convent [of St. Francis] has no cloister and no refectory; the dormitory consists of four rooms made of planks. 

This manuscript portrays a dozen or so sites -- Koroni, Galata, Lipari, Nafpaktos, Rumeli Hisar, and some others, nearly all of them with these ships that look like geometric tugras.  The image of Koroni, like that of Methoni, is not completely convincing as historical evidence, but it has this charming drunken cluster of western buildings and a mosque on the seashore.

Kemal Paşa Zade, Tevâŕh-i Al-i Osmân, from whose manuscripts these images apparently derive, was an important Ottoman historian and astoundingly prolific writer, and you may read about him here. There is too little information about him in English for me to write with much confidence, nor am I sure that the historian was the painter of these pictures credited to him.  The accounts in the Brill First Enclyclopedia of Islam, and in Babinger omit mention of the pictures at all when discussing his manuscripts, and I look forward to readers giving me more information.

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