Jun 272018
 

On this date in 1358, the Republic of Ragusa, centered on Dubrovnik in Dalmatia, became independent from Venice and remained an independent maritime enclave until 1808. I am sure that if you ask the average English speaker where Ragusa is (or was), they will have no idea. If you ask a French, Italian, or Dalmatian speaker you are likely to get a more informed answer because in those (and other) languages, Ragusa is another name for Dubrovnik. Its Latin motto was “Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro” (It is not good to sell your liberty for all the gold [in the world]). The Republic of Ragusa was a compact area of southern Dalmatia – its final borders were formed by 1426 – comprising the mainland coast from Neum to the Prevlaka peninsula as well as the Pelješac peninsula and the islands of Lastovo and Mljet, as well as a number of smaller islands such as Koločep, Lopud, and Šipan. In the 15th century the Ragusan republic also acquired the islands of Korčula, Brač and Hvar for about eight years. However, they had to be given up due to the resistance of local minor aristocrats sympathizing with Venice, which was granting them some privileges.

According to the De administrando imperio of the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, the city was founded, around the 7th century, by the inhabitants of the Roman city of Epidaurum (modern Cavtat) after its destruction by the Avars and Slavs ca. 615. Some of the survivors moved 25 kilometers (16 miles) north to a small island near the coast where they founded a new settlement which they called Lausa (“rocky island”). Excavations in 2007 revealed a Byzantine basilica from the 8th century and parts of the city walls. The size of the old basilica clearly indicates that this was a sizable settlement at the time. There is also evidence of older settlements (possibly Greek).

After the Fourth Crusade, Ragusa came under the sovereignty of Venice from 1205 to 1358. In this period it adopted Venetian laws and customs. After Venice was forced in 1358, by the Treaty of Zadar, to yield all claims to Dalmatia, Ragusa became an independent republic although it was to be a vassal of Louis I of Hungary. On 27th June 1358, the final agreement was reached at Visegrád between Louis and the Archbishop Ivan Saraka. The city recognized Hungarian sovereignty, but the local nobility continued to rule with little interference from Buda. Ragusa profited from the suzerainty of Louis of Hungary, whose kingdom was not a naval power, and so they had little conflict of interest. The last Venetian conte left, apparently in a hurry.

In 1399, the city acquired the area between Ragusa and Pelješac, called the Primorje (Dubrovačko primorje). It was purchased from Bosnian king Stephen Ostoja. A brief war with Bosnia in 1403 ended with Bosnian withdrawal. Between 1419 and 1426, the Konavle region, south of Astarea (Župa dubrovačka), including the city of Cavtat, was added to the Republic’s possessions. In 1458, Ragusa signed a treaty with the Ottoman Empire which made it a tributary of the sultan. When in 1481 the city passed into Ottoman protection, it was to pay an increased tribute of 12,500 ducats. For all other purposes, however, Ragusa was virtually independent and usually allied with Maritime Republic of Ancona. Ragusa could enter into relations with foreign powers and make treaties with them (as long as they did not conflict with Ottoman interests), and its ships sailed under its own flag. Ottoman vassalage also conferred special trade rights that extended within the Ottoman empire. Ragusa handled the Adriatic trade on behalf of the Ottomans, and its merchants received special tax exemptions and trading benefits. It also operated colonies that enjoyed extraterritorial rights in major Ottoman cities.

Merchants from Ragusa could enter the Black Sea, which was otherwise closed to non-Ottoman shipping. They paid less in customs duties than other foreign merchants, and the city-state enjoyed diplomatic support from the Ottoman administration in trade disputes with the Venetians. Ragusa reached its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries, when its maritime mercantile regime rivalled that of Venice and other Italian maritime republics.

Ragusa adopted what are now regarded as modern laws and institutions early in its history: a medical service was introduced in 1301, with the first pharmacy, still operating to this day, being opened in 1317. An almshouse was opened in 1347, and the first quarantine hospital (Lazarete) was established in 1377. Slave trading was abolished in 1418, and an orphanage opened in 1432. A 20 km (12 mi) water supply system, instead of a cistern, was constructed in 1438 by the Neapolitan architect and engineer Onofrio della Cava. He completed the aqueduct with two public fountains. He also built a number of mills along one of its branches.

The city was ruled by the local aristocracy which was of Latin-Dalmatian extraction and formed two city councils. As usual for the time, they maintained a strict system of social classes. The republic abolished the slave trade early in the 15th century and greatly valued liberty. The city successfully balanced its sovereignty between the interests of Venice and the Ottoman Empire for centuries.

The languages spoken by the people were the Romance Dalmatian and common Croatian. The latter had started to replace Dalmatian little by little since the 11th century among the common people who inhabited the city. Florentine and Venetian became important languages of culture and trade in Dubrovnik. At the same time, Dubrovnik became a cradle of Croatian literature.

The economic wealth of the Republic was partially the result of the land it developed, but mostly because of seafaring trade. With the help of skilled diplomacy, Dubrovnik merchants traveled lands freely and on the sea the city had a huge fleet of merchant ships that travelled all over the world. From these travels they founded some settlements, from India to the Americas, and brought parts of their culture and flora home with them. One of its keys to success was not conquering, but trading and sailing under a white flag with the Latin word “Libertas” (freedom) prominently featured on it. The flag was adopted when slave trading was abolished in 1418.

Ragusa gradually declined due to a combination of a Mediterranean shipping crisis and the catastrophic earthquake of 1667 which killed over 5,000 citizens and levelled most of the public buildings, and consequently negatively impacted the whole well-being of the Republic. In 1699, the Republic was forced to sell two mainland patches of its territory to the Ottomans in order to avoid being caught in the clash with advancing Venetian forces. Today this strip of land belongs to Bosnia and Herzegovina and is that country’s only direct access to the Adriatic.

In 1806, the city surrendered to the Napoleonic army, since this was the only way to end a month-long siege by the Russian-Montenegrin fleets. At first, Napoleon demanded only free passage for his troops, promising not to occupy the territory and stressing that the French were friends of Dubrovnik. Later, however, French forces blockaded the harbors, forcing the government to give in and let French troops enter the city. On this day, all flags and coats of arms above the city walls were painted black as a sign of mourning. In 1808, Marshal Auguste de Marmont abolished the republic and integrated its territory first into Napoleon’s kingdom of Italy and later into the Illyrian provinces under French rule. This was to last until 28th January 1814 when the city surrendered to Captain Sir William Hoste leading a body of British and Austrian troops who were besieging the fortress.

I have visited Dubrovnik several times because Croatia is home to a set of traditional dances that are related to morris dancing and other European dances that I have researched and written on for 4 decades. Colleagues have organized academic conferences in the region, and I have also brought dancers to perform alongside locals. One of my favorite dishes when I visit is octopus salad, a dish much loved by locals as a first course. All I really need to do is describe the dish for you to get the idea. It is made from slices or chunks of octopus with vegetables, sometimes potatoes or lettuce, marinated in olive oil and lemon juice, and chilled. The trick is knowing how to cook the octopus so that it is tender, because it is all too easy to have it turn out tough and rubbery. Local cooks have all manner of “tricks” which are more superstition than useful. Some will tell you to add a splash of wine to the cooking water and add the wine cork to it when cooking, for example. This is a waste of time.  There are 2 mistakes that novice cooks make all the time: (1) cooking the octopus too quickly (2) cooking the octopus too long. What I did not know for many years is that you do not have to immerse octopus in water to cook it.

Start by peeling an onion and studding it with cloves. Place it in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a lid and place the octopus beside it. Put the lid on and set the heat under the pot to the lowest possible. The rule of thumb for cooking time is 1 hour plus 30 minutes per kilo. Croatian cooks poke the onion with a fork, and when it is soft in the middle the octopus is ready. However, what counts as “soft” is a matter of experience. The bigger the octopus, the bigger the onion, also. Remove the octopus from the pot and let it cool to the touch. Cut off the head, and then cut the tentacles into chunks (keeping the tips whole). Now it becomes cook’s choice. Toss the octopus with a vegetable or vegetables of your choice. This could be salad greens, or diced, poached potatoes, or even just chopped parsley – or any combination. I have had it all ways. Dress the salad with extra virgin olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice, toss again to coat evenly, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Serve in small portions on chilled plates.

Nov 222017
 

Today is Albanian Alphabet Day celebrating the closing of the Congress of Manastir, an academic conference held in the city of Manastir (now Bitola) in Macedonia from November 14th to November 22nd, 1908, with the goal of standardizing the Albanian alphabet. November 22 is now a commemorative day in Albania, Kosovo, and the Republic of Macedonia, as well as among the Albanian diaspora. Prior to the Congress, the Albanian language was written using a combination of 6 or more distinct alphabets, plus a number of sub-variants.

Which alphabet you use for a language is not a simple matter, even though it is a lot simpler than deciding on more general questions about writing the language, such as whether to use an alphabet versus a syllabary, or an abugida (alphasyllabary), or even characters that represent words rather than sounds (such as Chinese). Serbian and Croatian are mutually intelligible dialects of the same language, but the Serbs use the Cyrillic alphabet and the Croats use the Latin alphabet to emphasize their political differences. Any alphabet is as good as any other for phonetic purposes, but the social and political connotations of different alphabets matter a great deal to the people involved (not to mention the financial burden of changing from one to another).

Imagine writing English using the Greek or Hebrew alphabets (which I have done sometimes as a way of disguising my writing when I wanted to keep it from prying eyes). It’s perfectly simple to do, but it would wreak havoc in English-speaking countries to change alphabets from the current Latin-based one. For Albanian scholars of the 19th century, the principle impetus for settling on one alphabet was to unify Albanians living in disparate regions who, at the time, were using completely different alphabets, making distribution of literature difficult, if not impossible. Their hope was that with a single, universally agreed-upon, alphabet, Albanian literature would grow in distribution, and flourish, and Albanian identity would be more unitary. But . . . which alphabet? Each one had its adherents for historical, religious, social, and political reasons.

The Congress of Manastir was hosted by the Union Association (or Bashkimi), an Albanian literary society. It met at the house of Fehim Zavalani, which served as the headquarters of the Union. The Union already used an alphabet based on Latin, the Bashkimi alphabet, but it was not universally used, by any means, at that time. The participants in the congress were prominent figures of the cultural and political life of Albanian-speaking territories in the Balkans, as well as throughout the Albanian diaspora. There were 50 delegates, representing 23 Albanian-speaking cities, towns, and cultural and patriotic associations of whom 32 had voting rights in the congress, and 18 were observers. Among prominent delegates were Gjergj Fishta, Ndre Mjeda, Mit’hat Frashëri, Sotir Peçi, Shahin Kolonja, and Gjergj D. Qiriazi. Zavalani, gave the introductory speech and led the congress.

Fishta

The speeches for the first two days with regard to the alphabet were general in character, and helped to create the atmosphere in which to carry out the serious work. The representatives understood the importance of unity, regardless of which alphabet was chosen. Gjergj Fishta who praised the work of Bashkimi, declared:

I have not come here to defend any one of the alphabets, but I have come here to unite with you and adopt that alphabet which the Congress decides upon as most useful for uplifting the people.

The audience was deeply moved by Fishta’s words. Hodja Ibrahim Effendi, who was a Muslim clergyman, rushed to Fishta and embraced him with tears in his eyes. At the beginning of the Congress, the delegates elected a commission consisting of 12 members (four Muslim, four Orthodox and four Catholic) to bring a decision before the full membership. The delegates took a besa (Albanian for “promise” or “act of faith”) to accept the decision of the committee. The committee deliberated on the question of a common alphabet for three successive days. It gave out a besa that nothing would be known before the ultimate decision. However, the Congress was unable to choose only one alphabet and opted for a compromise solution of using both the Istanbul and Bashkimi alphabets with some changes to reduce the differences between them. As you can see from the table below, the Istanbul alphabet is a mix of Greek and Latin (with a few Cyrillic bits), whereas the Bashkimi alphabet is mostly Latin with some modifications to accommodate Albanian phonetics.

Bashkimi alphabet: A a B b Ts ts Ch ch D d Dh dh É é E e F f G g Gh gh H h I i J j K k L l Ll ll M m N n Gn gn O o P p C c R r Rr rr S s Sh sh T t Th th U u V v Z z Zh zh Y y X x Xh xh
Istanbul alphabet: A a B b C c Ç ç D d Б δ E ε ♇ e F f G g Γ γ H h I i J j K k L l Λ λ M m N n И ŋ O o Π p Q q R r Ρ ρ S s Ϲ σ T t Θ θ U u V v X x X̦ x̦ Y y Z z Z̧ z̧
Manastir alphabet (modified Bashkimi, current alphabet): A a B b C c Ç ç D d Dh dh E e Ë ë F f G g Gj gj H h I i J j K k L l Ll ll M m N n Nj nj O o P p Q q R r Rr rr S s Sh sh T t Th th U u V v X x Xh xh Y y Z z Zh zh

Usage of the Istanbul alphabet declined rapidly after the congress and it became extinct over the following years when Albania declared its independence. The Bashkimi alphabet is a close forerunner of the official alphabet of the Albanian language in use today. Gjergj Fishta noted at the congress that the German language had two written scripts to console those disappointed because there was not one alphabet chosen but two. After some discussion, all the delegates accepted the decision to use both Bashkimi and Istanbul alphabets. It was agreed to hold another congress in Yanya on 10 July 1910.

The adoption of a Latin-based Albanian alphabet was considered an important step for Albanian unification. Some Albanian Muslims and clerics (who, with the Ottoman government, preferred an Arabic-based Albanian alphabet) voiced their opposition to the Latin alphabet on the grounds that it would undermine their ties with the Muslim world. For the Ottoman government the situation was alarming because the Albanians were the largest Muslim community in the European part of the empire outside of Istanbul excluded. The Albanian national movement was  proof that Islam alone could not keep Ottoman Muslims united. In a panic the Ottoman state organized a congress in Debar in 1909 with the intention of making Albanians there declare themselves as Ottomans, promise to defend its territorial sovereignty, and adopt an Arabic character script for Albanian. However, they faced strong opposition from nationally minded Albanians who took total control of the proceedings. While the congress was in progress Ottoman supporters orchestrated a demonstration in Tirane voicing opposition to the Latin alphabet, the local branch of the Bashkimi club, and the Manastir congress. Talat Bey, the Ottoman interior minister, claimed that the Albanian population supported use of the Turkish alphabet and were opposed to the Latin one. The Bashkimi club, however, did not stop publicly advocating for the Latin alphabet and organized a second congress in Elbasan with 120 attendees.

Due to the alphabet decision by the Congress of Manastir, as well as other concerns about Young Turk policies, relations between Albanian elites and nationalists, on the one hand, and Ottoman authorities, on the other, broke down. Although at the outset Albanian nationalist clubs were not curtailed, their demands for political, cultural and linguistic rights eventually made the Ottomans adopt measures to repress Albanian nationalism which resulted in two Albanian revolts in 1910 and 1912, helping precipitate the end of Ottoman rule.

The Congress of Manastir is one of the most important events for the development of an independent Albanian culture. In 2008 festivities were organized in Bitola, Tirana and Pristina to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the congress. In Albania, Kosovo and Albanian-majority areas in Macedonia in all schools the first teaching hour was dedicated to honor the Congress and instructing students about its importance.

Albanian cuisine is, as you might expect, diverse with strong influences from Italy, Greece, and Turkey. Here is tavë me presh (leek casserole), baked leeks, ground lamb, and roasted red peppers. I’m very fond of this combination, and this dish is distinctively Albanian despite its eclectic origins.

Tavë me Presh

Ingredients

500g leeks, cleaned and sliced thin
500g ground lamb
1 onion, peeled and diced
3 red bell peppers, roasted and diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced fine
1 ½ pints lamb stock
1 tbsp paprika
salt and pepper
olive oil

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350˚F/180˚C.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and sauté the leeks until the take on a little color. Stir frequently to ensure an even color.  Place the leeks in a baking dish.

Sauté the onions in the same skillet over medium-high heat until they are translucent. Add the ground lamb and brown it thoroughly.  Add the red peppers, garlic, lamb stock, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a slow boil, stirring to mix the ingredients. Let the skillet simmer for 2 minutes.

Pour the contents of the skillet into the baking dish with the leeks and stir to mix thoroughly. Bake uncovered for one hour.

Serve with plain boiled rice.

 

Nov 062017
 

Today is the birthday (1566) of Suleiman I (سلطان سليمان اول‎ Sultan Süleyman-ı Evvel) commonly known as Suleiman the Magnificent in the West and Kanunî Sultan Süleyman (Lawgiver Suleiman) in his realm, the 10th and longest-reigning sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1520 to his death in 1566. Under his administration, the Ottoman state/empire was at its apogee ruling between 15 and 25 million people in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Suleiman was one of the most prominent monarchs of 16th-century Europe, personally leading Ottoman armies in conquering the Christian strongholds of Belgrade and Rhodes as well as most of Hungary before his conquests were checked at the Siege of Vienna in 1529. He annexed much of the Middle East in his conflict with the Safavids and large areas of North Africa as far west as Algeria. Under his rule, the Ottoman fleet dominated the seas from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and through the Persian Gulf.

Suleiman personally instituted major legislative changes relating to society, education, taxation and criminal law. His reforms, carried out in conjunction with the empire’s chief judicial official Ebussuud Efendi, harmonized the relationship between the two forms of Ottoman law: sultanic (Kanun) and religious (Sharia). He was a distinguished poet and goldsmith, and also was a great patron of the arts, literature and architecture creating what many historians see as the Golden Age of Ottoman culture.

Suleiman broke with Ottoman tradition when he married Hurrem Sultan, a woman from his harem: a Christian of Rusyn origin who converted to Islam, and who became famous in the West by the name Roxelana. Their son Selim II succeeded Suleiman following his death in 1566 after 46 years of rule. Suleiman’s other potential heirs Mehmed and Mustafa had died, the former from smallpox and the latter had been strangled to death 13 years earlier at the sultan’s order. His other son Bayezid was executed in 1561 on Suleiman’s orders, along with his four sons, after a rebellion. Although scholars no longer believe that the empire declined after his death, in the decades after Suleiman’s reign, the empire began to experience significant political, institutional, and economic changes, a phenomenon often referred to as the Transformation of the Ottoman Empire.

Upon succeeding his father, Suleiman began a series of military conquests, eventually suppressing a revolt led by the Ottoman-appointed governor of Damascus in 1521. Suleiman soon made preparations for the conquest of Belgrade from the Kingdom of Hungary—something his great-grandfather Mehmed II had failed to achieve because of John Hunyadi’s strong defense in the region. Its capture was vital in removing the Hungarians and Croats who, following the defeats of the Albanians, Bosniaks, Bulgarians, Byzantines and the Serbs, remained the only formidable force who could block further Ottoman gains in Europe. Suleiman encircled Belgrade and began a series of heavy bombardments from an island in the Danube. Belgrade, with a garrison of only 700 men, and receiving no aid from Hungary, fell in August 1521. The fall of Christendom’s major strongholds spread fear across Europe. As the ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire to Constantinople noted, “The capture of Belgrade was at the origin of the dramatic events which engulfed Hungary. It led to the death of King Louis, the capture of Buda, the occupation of Transylvania, the ruin of a flourishing kingdom and the fear of neighboring nations that they would suffer the same fate …”

The road to Hungary and Austria lay open, but Suleiman turned his attention instead to the Eastern Mediterranean island of Rhodes, the home base of the Knights Hospitaller. In the summer of 1522, taking advantage of the large navy he inherited from his father, Suleiman dispatched an armada of some 400 ships towards Rhodes, while personally leading an army of 100,000 across Asia Minor to a point opposite the island itself. Here Suleiman built a large fortification, Marmaris Castle, that served as a base for the Ottoman Navy. Following the brutal five-month Siege of Rhodes (1522), Rhodes capitulated and Suleiman allowed the Knights of Rhodes to depart.

While Sultan Suleiman was known as “the Magnificent” in the West, he was always Kanuni Suleiman or “The Lawgiver” (قانونی) to his own Ottoman subjects. As the historian Lord Kinross notes, “Not only was he a great military campaigner, a man of the sword, as his father and great-grandfather had been before him. He differed from them in the extent to which he was also a man of the pen. He was a great legislator, standing out in the eyes of his people as a high-minded sovereign and a magnanimous exponent of justice”. The overriding law of the empire was the Shari’ah, or Sacred Law, which as the divine law of Islam was outside of the Sultan’s powers to change. Yet an area of distinct law known as the Kanuns (قانون, canonical legislation) was dependent on Suleiman’s will alone, covering areas such as criminal law, land tenure and taxation. He collected all the judgments that had been issued by the nine Ottoman Sultans who preceded him. After eliminating duplications and choosing between contradictory statements, he issued a single legal code, all the while being careful not to violate the basic laws of Islam. It was within this framework that Suleiman, supported by his Grand Mufti Ebussuud, sought to reform the legislation to adapt to a rapidly changing empire. When the Kanun laws attained their final form, the code of laws became known as the kanun‐i Osmani (قانون عثمانی), or the “Ottoman laws”. Suleiman’s legal code was to last more than three hundred years.

Suleiman gave particular attention to the plight of the rayas, Christian subjects who worked the land of the Sipahis (land-owning cavalry). His Kanune Raya, or “Code of the Rayas”, reformed the law governing levies and taxes to be paid by the rayas, raising their status above serfdom to the extent that Christian serfs would migrate to Turkish territories to benefit from the reforms. Suleiman also played a role in protecting the Jewish subjects of his empire for centuries to come. In late 1553 or 1554, on the suggestion of his favorite doctor and dentist, the Spanish Jew Moses Hamon, the Sultan issued a firman (فرمان) formally denouncing blood libels against the Jews. Furthermore, Suleiman enacted new criminal and police legislation, prescribing a set of fines for specific offenses, as well as reducing the instances requiring death or mutilation. In the area of taxation, taxes were levied on various goods and produce, including animals, mines, profits of trade, and import-export duties. In addition to taxes, officials who had fallen into disrepute were likely to have their land and property confiscated by the Sultan.

Education was also important to Suleiman. Schools attached to mosques and funded by religious foundations provided a largely free education to Muslim boys, well in advance of the Christian countries of the time. In his capital, Suleiman increased the number of mektebs (مكتب, primary schools) to 14, teaching boys to read and write as well as the principles of Islam. Young men wishing further education could proceed to one of 8 medreses (مدرسه, colleges), whose studies included grammar, metaphysics, philosophy, astronomy and astrology. Higher medreses provided education of university status, whose graduates became imams (امام) or teachers. Educational centers were often one of many buildings surrounding the courtyards of mosques, others included libraries, baths, soup kitchens, residences and hospitals for the benefit of the public.

Under Suleiman’s patronage, the Ottoman Empire entered the golden age of its cultural development. Hundreds of imperial artistic societies (called the اهل حرف Ehl-i Hiref, “Community of the Craftsmen”) were administered at the Imperial seat, the Topkapı Palace. After an apprenticeship, artists and craftsmen could advance in rank within their field and were paid commensurate wages in quarterly annual installments. Payroll registers that survive testify to the breadth of Suleiman’s patronage of the arts, the earliest of documents dating from 1526 list 40 societies with over 600 members. The Ehl-i Hiref attracted the empire’s most talented artisans to the Sultan’s court, both from the Islamic world and from the recently conquered territories in Europe, resulting in a blend of Arabic, Turkish and European cultures. Artisans in service of the court included painters, book binders, furriers, jewelers and goldsmiths. Whereas previous rulers had been influenced by Persian culture (Suleiman’s father, Selim I, wrote poetry in Persian), Suleiman’s patronage of the arts saw the Ottoman Empire assert its own artistic legacy.

Suleiman himself was an accomplished poet, writing in Persian and Turkish under the takhallus (nom de plume) Muhibbi (محبی, “Lover”). Some of Suleiman’s verses have become Turkish proverbs, such as the well-known “Everyone aims at the same meaning, but many are the versions of the story.” When his young son Mehmed died in 1543, he composed a moving chronogram to commemorate the year, “Peerless among princes, my Sultan Mehmed.” In addition to Suleiman’s own work, many great talents enlivened the literary world during Suleiman’s rule, including Fuzuli and Baki.  Suleiman’s most famous verse is:

The people think of wealth and power as the greatest fate,
But in this world a spell of health is the best state.
What men call sovereignty is worldly strife and constant war;
Worship of God is the highest throne, the happiest of all estates.

Suleiman also became renowned for sponsoring a series of monumental architectural developments within his empire. The Sultan sought to turn Constantinople into the center of Islamic civilization by a series of projects, including bridges, mosques, palaces and various charitable and social establishments. The greatest of these were built by the Sultan’s chief architect, Mimar Sinan, under whom Ottoman architecture reached its zenith. Sinan became responsible for over three hundred monuments throughout the empire, including his two masterpieces, the Süleymaniye and Selimiye mosques—the latter built in Adrianople (now Edirne) in the reign of Suleiman’s son Selim II. Suleiman also restored the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Jerusalem city walls (which are the current walls of the Old City of Jerusalem), renovated the Kaaba in Mecca, and constructed a complex in Damascus.

Suleiman had two known consorts:

Mahidevran Sultan (m. 1512/14), a Circassian or Albanian “Ottoman”.

Hürrem Sultan (also known as Roxelana) (m. 1531)

Suleiman was infatuated with Hürrem Sultan, a harem girl from Ruthenia, then part of Poland. Western diplomats, taking notice of the palace gossip about her, called her “Russelazie” or “Roxelana”, referring to her Ruthenian origins. She was the daughter of an Orthodox priest, captured by Tatars from Crimea, sold as a slave in Constantinople, and eventually rose through the ranks of the Harem to become Suleiman’s favorite. Breaking with two centuries of Ottoman tradition, Suleiman made a former concubine his legal wife, much to the astonishment of the observers in the palace and the city. He also allowed Hürrem Sultan to remain with him at court for the rest of her life, breaking another tradition—that when imperial heirs came of age, they would be sent along with the imperial concubine who bore them to govern remote provinces of the Empire, never to return unless their progeny succeeded to the throne.

Under his pen name, Muhibbi, Sultan Suleiman composed this poem for Hürrem Sultan:

Throne of my lonely niche, my wealth, my love, my moonlight.
My most sincere friend, my confidant, my very existence, my Sultan, my one and only love.
The most beautiful among the beautiful …
My springtime, my merry faced love, my daytime, my sweetheart, laughing leaf …
My plants, my sweet, my rose, the one only who does not distress me in this room …
My Istanbul, my karaman, the earth of my Anatolia
My Badakhshan, my Baghdad and Khorasan
My woman of the beautiful hair, my love of the slanted brow, my love of eyes full of misery …
I’ll sing your praises always
I, lover of the tormented heart, Muhibbi of the eyes full of tears, I am happy.

Hürrem and Mahidevran bore Suleiman six sons, four of whom survived past the 1550s: Mustafa, Selim, Bayezid, and Cihangir. Of these, the eldest, was not Hürrem Sultan’s son, but rather Mahidevran Sultan’s, and therefore preceded Hürrem’s children in the order of succession. Hürrem was aware that should Mustafa become Sultan her own children would be strangled. Yet Mustafa was recognized as the most talented of all the brothers and was supported by Pargalı İbrahim Pasha, who was by this time Suleiman’s Grand Vizier. The Austrian ambassador Busbecq would note “Suleiman has among his children a son called Mustafa, marvelously well educated and prudent and of an age to rule, since he is 24 or 25 years old; may God never allow a Barbary of such strength to come near us”, going on to talk of Mustafa’s “remarkable natural gifts”. Hürrem is usually held at least partly responsible for the intrigues in nominating a successor. Although she was Suleiman’s wife, she exercised no official public role. This did not, however, prevent Hürrem from wielding powerful political influence. Since the Empire lacked, until the reign of Ahmed I, any formal means of nominating a successor, successions usually involved the death of competing princes in order to avert civil unrest and rebellions. In attempting to avoid the execution of her sons, Hürrem used her influence to eliminate those who supported Mustafa’s accession to the throne.

Thus in power struggles apparently instigated by Hürrem, Suleiman had Ibrahim murdered and replaced with her sympathetic son-in-law, Rüstem Pasha. By 1552, when the campaign against Persia had begun with Rüstem appointed commander-in-chief of the expedition, intrigues against Mustafa began. Rüstem sent one of Suleiman’s most trusted men to report that since Suleiman was not at the head of the army, the soldiers thought the time had come to put a younger prince on the throne; at the same time he spread rumors that Mustafa had proved receptive to the idea. Angered by what he came to believe were Mustafa’s plans to claim the throne, the following summer upon return from his campaign in Persia, Suleiman summoned him to his tent in the Ereğli valley, saying he would “be able to clear himself of the crimes he was accused of and would have nothing to fear if he came”.

Mustafa was confronted with a choice: either he appear before his father at the risk of being killed; or, if he refused to attend, he would be accused of betrayal. In the end, Mustafa chose to enter his father’s tent, confident that the support of the army would protect him. Busbecq, who claims to have received an account from an eyewitness, describes Mustafa’s final moments. As Mustafa entered his father’s tent, Suleiman’s eunuchs attacked Mustafa, with the young prince putting up a brave defense. Suleiman, separated from the struggle only by the linen hangings of the tent, peered through the chamber of his tent and “directed fierce and threatening glances upon the mutes, and by menacing gestures sternly rebuked their hesitation. Thereupon, the mutes in their alarm, redoubling their efforts, hurled Mustafa to the ground and, throwing the bowstring round his neck, strangled him.”

Cihangir is said to have died of grief a few months after the news of his half-brother’s murder. The two surviving brothers, Selim and Bayezid, were given command in different parts of the empire. Within a few years, however, civil war broke out between the brothers, each supported by his loyal forces. With the aid of his father’s army, Selim defeated Bayezid in Konya in 1559, leading the latter to seek refuge with the Safavids along with his four sons. Following diplomatic exchanges, the Sultan demanded from the Safavid Shah that Bayezid be either extradited or executed. In return for large amounts of gold, the Shah allowed a Turkish executioner to strangle Bayezid and his four sons in 1561, clearing the path for Selim’s succession to the throne five years later.

On 6 September 1566, Suleiman, who had set out from Constantinople to command an expedition to Hungary, died before an Ottoman victory at the Battle of Szigetvár in Hungary and the Grand Vizier kept his death secret during the retreat for the enthronement of Selim II. Just the night before the sickly sultan died in his tent, two months before he would have turned 72. The sultan’s body was taken back to Istanbul to be buried, while his heart, liver, and some other organs were buried in Turbék, outside Szigetvár. A mausoleum was constructed above the burial site, and came to be regarded as a holy place and pilgrimage site. Within a decade a mosque and Sufi hospice were built near it.

Ottoman palace cuisine under Suleiman and his successors was highly refined, but largely secret. No texts concerning recipes were ever written. This diverse cuisine was perfected in the Imperial palace’s kitchens by chefs brought from various parts of the empire to create and experiment with different ingredients. These chefs were tested and hired simply by their method of cooking rice. They were brought over from various places for the express purpose of experimenting with exotic textures and ingredients and inventing new dishes. Each cook specialized in specific tasks. All dishes intended for the sultan were first passed by the palate of the Chesnidjibashi, or imperial food taster, who tested the food for both poison and taste. A few of the creations of the Ottoman palace’s kitchens filtered down to the common population, but the vast bulk are lost to posterity.

Ayva dolma, stuffed quinces, is believed to have originated in the palace kitchen, and is now a rare but succulent specialty in some parts of the former Ottoman empire.  This recipe comes from Azerbaijan. Getting hold of good-sized quinces is going to be your chief challenge.

Ayva Dolma

Ingredients

200 g/8 oz lamb, ground
1 medium-sized onion, peeled and finely chopped
25 g/1 oz melted butter
4-6 chestnuts
1 tspn ground cinnamon
1 tspn allspice
2-3 strands saffron
salt and pepper
5 soft, ripe quinces
2 tbsp of sugar or honey
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup rich stock (preferably lamb)

Instructions

Steep the saffron in a cup with 1 tablespoon of boiling water. Cover and leave to infuse.

Pierce the chestnuts. Cover them with water in a pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove them from the water one at a time and shell. They are difficult to peel when dry, so do this one at a time  Roughly chop the shelled chestnuts.

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F.

Put the ground lamb, chopped onion, chopped chestnuts, spices, melted butter, and salt to taste into a bowl and mix well with your hands.

Mix the honey and lemon juice in a saucer or small bowl.

Wash the quinces and scrub them to remove any down from the skin. Slice off the tops and set them aside. Remove the cores and some of the flesh of the fruit, using a melon baller, to create a hollow for the stuffing. Rub the insides of the quinces with the honey and lemon juice mixture. This step is both for flavor and to prevent the quinces from browning on the inside. Stuff the quinces with the meat mixture, pressing the filling down hard. Put the tops back on as lids. Wrap each quince in foil and stand them upright in a baking dish or ovenproof shallow pan.  Add the stock to the baking dish. Place the dish in the preheated oven and cook for 45 minutes or until the fruit are soft.

Pour the cooking juice over each quince when serving. Serve with rice or fresh crusty bread and plain yoghurt.

Nov 282015
 

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Today is a triple anniversary in Albania, celebrating the first time the black double-headed eagle flag was raised by Skanderberg in 1443, independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, and the new parliamentary constitution in 1998. Big one. Here’s a brief history lesson to situate the three dates. Good luck not getting confused.

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Albania as a semi-distinct region emerged from the pre-history of the Balkan states around 3,000 BCE, in early records of Illyria in Greco-Roman historiography. The modern territory of Albania had no counterpart in the standard political divisions of classical antiquity. Rather, its modern boundaries correspond to parts of the ancient Roman provinces of Dalmatia (southern Illyricum), Macedonia (particularly Epirus Nova), and Moesia Superior. The territory remained under Roman and Byzantine control until the Slavic migrations of the 7th century. It was integrated into the Bulgarian Empire in the 9th century.

The territorial nucleus of the Albanian state was formed in the Middle Ages as the Principality of Arbër and a Sicilian dependency known as the medieval Kingdom of Albania. The area was part of the Serbian Empire, but passed to the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century.

Ottoman supremacy in the west Balkan region began in 1385 with the Battle of Savra. In the conquered part of Albania, which stretched between the Mat River on the north and Çameria to the south, the Ottoman Empire established the Sanjak of Albania (also known as Arvanid Sancak), and in 1419 Gjirokastra became the principal town of the Sanjak of Albania. Beginning in the late-14th century, the Ottomans expanded their empire from Anatolia to the Balkans (Rumelia).

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Flag Day

By the 15th century, the Ottomans ruled most of the Balkan Peninsula. But their advance in Albania was interrupted in the 15th century, when George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, the Albanian national hero who had served as an Ottoman military officer, renounced Ottoman service, allied with some Albanian chiefs forming the League of Lezhë and fought off Turkish rule from 1443–1468 (his death). Skanderbeg frustrated every attempt by the Turks to regain Albania, which they envisioned as a springboard for the invasion of Italy and western Europe. His unequal fight against the mightiest power of the time won the esteem of Europe as well as some support in the form of money and military aid from Naples, the papacy, Venice, and Ragusa. It was during a battle on this date in 1443 that Skanderberg first used the double-headed flag as the nationalist emblem.

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Three major attacks (Siege of Krujë (1450), Second Siege of Krujë (1466–67), Third Siege of Krujë (1467)) were launched against Albania by the great Ottoman sultans themselves, Murad II and Mehmed The Conqueror. Albania was almost fully re-occupied by the Ottomans in 1479 after they captured Shkodër from Venice. Albania’s conquest by Ottomans was completed after Durrës’ capture from Venice in 1501.

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Independence Day

Albania remained under Ottoman control as part of the province of Rumelia until 1912, when the first independent Albanian state was founded by an Albanian Declaration of Independence following a short occupation by the Kingdom of Serbia. The formation of an Albanian national consciousness dates to the later 19th century and is part of the larger phenomenon of the rise of nationalism under the Ottoman Empire.

At the All-Albanian Congress in Vlorë on this date in 1912, 83 leaders declared Albania an independent country and set up a provisional government. The official Provisional Government of Albania was established at the second session of the assembly held on 4 December 1912. It was a government of ten members, led by Ismail Qemali until his resignation on 22 January 1914. The Assembly also established the Senate (Albanian: Pleqësi) with an advisory role for the government, consisting of 18 members of the Assembly.

Albania’s independence was recognized by the Conference of London on 29 July 1913, but the drawing of the borders of the newly established Principality of Albania ignored the demographic realities of the time. The International Commission of Control was established on 15 October 1913 to take care of the administration of newly established Albania until its own political institutions were in order. Its headquarters were in Vlorë. The International Gendarmerie was established as the first law enforcement agency of the Principality of Albania. At the beginning of November the first gendarmerie members arrived in Albania. Wilhelm of Wied was selected as the first prince.

In November 1913 the Albanian pro-Ottoman forces had offered the throne of Albania to the Ottoman war minister of Albanian origin, Izzet Pasha. The pro-Ottoman peasants believed that the new regime of the Principality of Albania was a tool of the six Christian Great Powers and local landowners that owned half of the arable land.

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A short-lived monarchical state known as the Principality of Albania (1914–1925) was succeeded by an even shorter-lived first Albanian Republic (1925–1928). Another monarchy, the Kingdom of Albania (1928–39), replaced the republic. The country endured an occupation by Italy just prior to World War II. After the collapse of the Axis powers, Albania became a communist state, the Socialist People’s Republic of Albania, which for most of its duration was dominated by Enver Hoxha (died 1985). Hoxha’s political heir Ramiz Alia oversaw the disintegration of the “Hoxhaist” state during the wider collapse of the Eastern Bloc in the later 1980s.

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Constitution Day

The communist regime collapsed in 1990, and the former communist Party of Labour of Albania was routed in elections in March 1992, amid economic collapse and social unrest. The unstable economic situation led to an Albanian diaspora, mostly to Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Germany and North America during the 1990s. The crisis peaked in the Albanian Turmoil of 1997.

Albanians ratified a constitution on this date in 1998, establishing a democratic system of government based upon the rule of law and guaranteeing the protection of fundamental human rights. Albanians approved its constitution through a popular referendum which was held in November 1998, but which was boycotted by the opposition. The general local elections of October 2000 marked the loss of control of the Democrats over the local governments and a victory for the Socialists.

This telegraphic history lesson should give you an idea of the complexity of Albania’s past in political and ethnic terms, which, of course, impacted the regional cuisine. It is a Mediterranean cuisine heavily influenced by Italian and Turkish traditions. Tarator, is a soup, appetizer, or sauce found in the cuisines of all the former Ottoman Empire regions, and is popular in Albania. It is cold soup (or a liquid salad), popular in the summer, made of yogurt, cucumber, garlic, ground walnut, dill, vegetable oil, and water, and is served chilled or even with ice. Fried squid is a common accompaniment. Here’s a basic recipe if you need one.

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Tarator

Ingredients

2 – 3 cucumbers
500 g yoghurt
½ cup walnuts
3 – 4 cloves garlic
olive oil to taste
salt
dill to taste

Instructions

Beat the yoghurt with crushed, minced garlic, ground walnuts, freshly chopped dill, finely diced cucumbers, oil, and salt. Dilute with a little cold water, then chill for several hours or overnight.

Serve sprinkled with finely chopped dill.