Books about Istanbul

Some suggestions from Blue Guides’ historical consultant Charles Freeman

I haven’t been to Istanbul for some years, so it is good to be going back at last, to set up a tour I shall be leading in October. Of course, I shall be keen to put the new Blue Guide to Istanbul to the test and I have already been browsing. John Freely has alerted me to several smaller mosques that I have never visited so my appetite is already whetted. All my group will have their copies of the Guide but I need to offer them other recommendations.

I was depressed by Orhan Pamuk’s novel Snow, which I read last summer, but have preserved much warmer memories of his Istanbul, Memories of a City, a bittersweet account of his growing up in the city in the 1960s and 1970s (Faber, 2005). Pamuk brilliantly describes the complex and brooding relationships of a family that is trapped between traditional life and the pseudo-western alternative that is replacing it. He mourns the wooden buildings of the old town but in his adolescence he gradually found his own way into the complex and transient cultures that were being erased. So here too is an introduction to the literature of the city, the writers who visited it with their preconceptions and desires. Over the city, for Pamuk, rests huzun, a blanket of melancholia, heavy with the memories of those who have passed through. Has anyone really found a permanent home in a city of such transience? Pamuk suggests not. This haunting and beautifully-written book will certainly be on the list.

Recently out is Peter Clark’s Istanbul, A Cultural History in The Cities of the Imagination series (Signal Books, Oxford, 2010). Clark has never lived in Istanbul but he has family there and a long experience of viewing, as a British Council employee, its impact as the capital of the empire on its former provinces. He has amassed a large repertoire of stories and impressions, of his and others, and writes with a pleasing style. The bulk of the book comes after the Ottoman conquest of 1453; only 45 pages are on the Byzantine Empire and much of this on the empire rather than the city (although this could be justified by his title). As the book continues, it gradually becomes more of an anthology, a pastiche of the stories Clark has picked up in his wide reading or gleaned from his wanderings in the city. While never dull, it really needed to be brought into better order. Chapter Four, on the nineteenth century, jumped from subject to subject, often without any relationship between them. Another chapter is a wander through Belle Epoque Istanbul. I would happily sign Peter Clark as a real guide here but in print, and with few illustrations, the details of each building overwhelm. The chapter ‘Sailing to Istanbul’ is simply a series of vignettes of nineteenth-century travellers who left some memories of their visits. With good editing, however, there is a valuable second edition waiting to emerge from the present text.

So I have gone back to rereading Philip Mansel’s superb Constantinople: City of the World’s Desire, 1453–1924 (John Murray, 1995). I finished it the first time as I was on a boat going up the Bosphorus in the late 1990s and found it magnificently detailed and absorbing. It brilliantly captures the atmosphere and tensions of the city. Much of my work on Istanbul is on its Christian Byzantine past and I have forgotten most of what I learned about the sultans the first time around, so it will be a treat to meet them again in Mansel’s vivid account. He reminds us too just how much Istanbul was part of a wider Mediterranean commercial and political world in the nineteenth century as the European powers tried to fit it into their strategic plans. It remains a great and relevant read nearly twenty years on and so will certainly be on my recommendations list.

Reading list for Florence and Tuscany

Taken from Blue Guide Tuscany, 5th edition (2009)

Gene A. Brucker Renaissance Florence (Wiley, 1969). An excellent and very readable historical introduction.
Margaret Haines (ed.) The Years of the Cupola 1417-1436. A fascinating digital archive of the sources of the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, now available on line at
Amanda Lillie Florentine Villas in the 15th century: An Architectural and Social History (Cambridge University Press, 2005). Provides a careful new interpretation of the countryside around Florence, concentrating on the properties owned by the Medici’s wealthy contemporaries.
John M. Najemy A History of Florence 1200-1575 (Blackwell, 2006). The most recent scholarly work, concentrating on the ‘Elite’ and the ‘Popolo’ as well as the Medici. The shift in emphasis from the ruling family to social history makes this a particularly intriguing book to read.

General Books on Florence
Eve Borsook The Companion Guide to Florence (Collins, first edition 1966; sixth revised edition of 1997, reprinted with corrections 2000). This remains one of the best books ever written on Florence.
Olive Hamilton Paradise of Exiles (Andre Deutsch, 1974) and The Divine Country: The British in Tuscany 1372-1980 (Andre Deutsch, 1982). Following on from Treves’ The Golden Ring, discussing Anglo residents in the region.
Christopher Hibbert Florence: The Biography of a City (W. W. Norton, 1993, reissued 2004). One in a series (others include Rome and Venice, both also by Hibbert) and provides an intriguing general view of all things connected with Florence.
Michael Levey Florence: A Portrait (Harvard University Press, 1996, repr. 1998). An equally intriguing view of Florence as Hibbert’s Florence: The Biography of a City.
Richard W.B. Lewis The City of Florence (Historical vistas and Personal sightings)  (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1995). As the title suggests, this book provides a highly personal account of the present-day town.
Giuliana Artom Treves The Golden Ring. The Anglo-Florentines 1847-1862 (Longmans, Green, 1956). One of the first books to discuss the importance of the English residents in Florence.

Tuscan History
Denys Hay and John Law, Italy in the Age of the Renaissance 1380–1530(Longman, 1989). An excellent, scholarly paperback dealing with this specific period.
Harry Hearder Italy: A Short History (Cambridge University Press, 1990, repr. 1996). A very readable paperback which provides an introduction from earliest times right up to the 20th century.
Daniel Waley The Italian City-Republics (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1969, repr. 1978).
Describes the rise of the communes in the middle ages, and Lauro Martine’s Power
and Imagination
City-states in Renaissance Italy (Vintage, 1979) carries the story
forward. Waley has also written more specific studies (including Siena and the
Sienese, 1991).

Art History
Bernard Berenson The Italian Painters of the Renaissance (1930 and subsequent editions). A fundamental work, well worth reading for a fresh and clear account of the works of the greatest artists.
Jacob Burckhardt The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860; repr. 1965, HarperCollins). The classic work on the Renaissance.
Doris Carl Benedetto da Maiano. A Florentine sculptor at the threshold of the High Renaissance, (Brepols, 2006). Beautifully illustrated, providing a careful study of the work of this sculptor.
Mary Hollingsworth Patronage in Renaissance Italy, and Patronage in Sixteenth Century Italy (J. Murray, 1994–96). A serious two-volume study on patronage.
Walter Pater The Renaissance (1873, repr. 1967, Collins). Another classic work on the Renaissance.
Numerous monographs in English on the most famous artists include works published in the last half of the 20th century by Kenneth Clark and John Pope-Hennessy.

The Medici
Christopher Hibbert The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici (Morrow, 1974). Still provides an interesting account of the history of the family.
Dale Kent Cosimo de’ Medici and the Florentine Renaissance (Yale University Press, 2000). One of the most recent books on the Medici.
Nicolai Rubinstein The Government of Florence under the Medici, 1434-94(Clarendon Press, 1968). Still one of the most important works on the Medici family. It was Rubinstein who began the project to publish all the Letters of Lorenzo il Magnifico, continued under the direction of Michael Mallet and Humfrey Butters (the first 11 volumes cover the period 1460–1488).
The Medici Archive Project is an on-going database project which, since 1993, has been concerned with preserving the papers of the Medici grand-dukes, consisting of some 6,429 volumes of approximately 3 million letters. These are preserved in the Archivio di Stato in Florence and the intent is to promote research on them (

Accounts of life in Tuscany
Kinta Beevor A Tuscan Childhood (Viking, 1993). Of all the many books written by
The English about their lives in Tuscany, this stands out as one of the most sincere
and interesting.
Iris Origo War in Val d’Orcia (Penguin, 1956), an account of the war years. Also, her
autobiography Images and Shadows. Part of a Life (J. Murray, 1970).

Reading list for Venice

This reading list is taken from Blue Guide Venice, 8th edition (2007). And Blue Guide Literary Companion Venice (2009) is an anthology of writing about or set in Venice:

The number of books that have been written about Venice is enormous. Ever since the first published descriptions of the city appeared in the 16th century, writers have been exploring her history, analysing her art and architecture, and using her as the backdrop for works of fiction. The list below gives some of the most recent publications, as well as seminal works of scholarship, or works of unique charm and vision, though these may be less readily available. Where relevant, first editions are given in square brackets, latest editions in rounded brackets.

General background
Paolo Barbaro, Venice Revealed, Souvenir Press (2002)
John Freely, Strolling Through Venice, Penguin (1994).
Christopher Hibbert, Venice: Biography of a City, [1988], Grafton (1990)
Hugh Honour, Companion Guide to Venice [1965], Companion Guides (2001)
Joe Links, Venice for Pleasure [1962], (2003)
Jan Morris, Venice [1960], Faber & Faber (1993)

History and Social history
David Chambers and Brian Pullan, Venice: a Documentary History 1450–1630, Blackwell (1992)
Charles Freeman, The Horses of St Mark’s, [2004], Abacus (2005)
Ralph A. Griffiths and John E. Law (ed.), Rawdon Brown and the Anglo-Venetian Relationship, Nonsuch Publishing (2005)
Jonathan Keates, The Siege of Venice, Vintage (2006)
Frederic C. Lane, Venice: A Maritime Republic, Johns Hopkins University Press (1973)
Mary MacCarthy, Venice Observed [1963]; The Stones of Florence and Venice Observed, Penguin (2006)
Jan Morris, The Venetian Empire: A Sea Voyage, Penguin (1990)
Francesco da Mosto, Francesco’s Italy, BBC Books (2004)
Jane da Mosto and Caroline Fletcher, The Science of Saving Venice, Umberto Allemandi
& Co (2004)
John Julius Norwich, Venice: The Rise to Empire, Alan Lane [1977], and Venice: The Greatness and the Fall, Viking [1981]; reissued as a single volume in paperback as The History of Venice, Penguin (2003)
John Julius Norwich, Paradise of Cities: Venice and its Nineteenth-century Visitors, Penguin (2004)
John Pemble, Venice Rediscovered, Oxford University Press (1996)
Bruce Redford, Venice and the Grand Tour, 1670–1830, Yale University Press (1996)
Margaret Plant, Venice: Fragile City 1797–1997, Yale University Press (2002).

Art history
J. Clegg, Ruskin and Venice, Junction Books (1981)
Ennio Concina, A History of Venetian Architecture, Cambridge University Press (1998)
Patricia Fortini Brown, The Renaissance in Venice (1997); Venice and Antiquity, Yale University Press (1997).
Richard Goy, Venice: the City and its Architecture, Phaidon (1999)
Julian Halsby, Venice. The Artist’s Vision [1990], UnicornPress (2002)
Robert Hewison, Ruskin and Venice, La Stamperia di Venezia (1983)
Paul Hills, Venetian Colour—marble, mosaic, and glass 1250–1550, Yale University Press (1999)
Deborah Howard, Venice and the East: The Impact of the Islamic World on Venetian
, Yale University Press (2000); The Architectural History of Venice[1980], Yale University Press (2005)
Peter Humfrey, Painting in Renaissance Venice, Yale University Press [1995], (2001)
Ralph Lieberman, Renaissance Architecture in Venice, Frederick Muller (1982)
Mary Lutyens (ed.) Effie in Venice: Effie Ruskin’s Letters Home 1849–1852[1965], Pallas
Athene (2003)
Margaret F. MacDonald, Palaces in the Night: Whistler in Venice, University of California
Press (2001)
Sarah Quill, Ruskin’s Venice. The Stones Revisited, Lund Humphries (2003)
John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice (3 vols) [1851], Pallas Athene (2003)
John Steer, Venetian Painting, Thames & Hudson [1970], (1991)
Arnold Whittick, Ruskin’s Venice (1976)

Literary works and poetry
Robert Browning, ‘A Toccata of Galuppi’s
Lord Byron, ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’, ‘Marino Faliero’, ‘The Two Foscari
Henry James, The Princess Casamassima [1886], The Aspern Papers [1888], The Wings of the Dove [1902]
Thomas Mann, Death in Venice [1913]
Hetty Meyric Hughes (ed.), Venice: Poetry of Place, Eland (2006)
Marcel Proust, Albertine Disparue [1925]
William Wordsworth, ‘On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic

Modern fiction
Michael Dibdin, Dead Lagoon, Faber & Faber (1995)
L.P. Hartley, Eustace and Hilda [1947]
Donna Leon, crime novels set in Venice. The most recent include Through a Glass Darkly, (2006); Doctored Evidence, (2005); Wilful Behaviour, (2003); Death at La Fenice (2004)
Daphne du Maurier, ‘Don’t Look Now’ (short story in the collection Not After Midnight
[1971], famous as the basis for the Nicholas Roeg film of the same name)
Frederick Rolfe (Baron Corvo), The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole (1934)
Muriel Spark, Territorial Rights, Penguin [1979]
Emma Tennant, Felony, Vintage (2003)
Barry Unsworth, Stone Virgin [1985]
Salley Vickers, Miss Garnet’s Angel, HarperCollins (2001)

Modern non-fiction and anthologies
Milton Grundy, Venice. An Anthology Guide, Giles de la Mare Publishers (1998)
Ian Littlewood, A Literary Companion to Venice, St Martin’s Press (1995)
David C. McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson and the Myth of Venice, University of Delaware Press (1990)
Michael Marqusee, Venice. An Illustrated Anthology, HarperCollins (1989)
Paula Weideger, Venetian Dreaming, Pocket Books (2004). A memoir of a year spent living in the Palazzo Donà delle Rose.

Some older histories and descriptions
Horatio Brown, Life on the Lagoons [1884]; Venice: An Historical Sketch [1895];In and Around Venice [1905], Studies in Venetian History [1907]
Shirley Guiton, No Magic Eden, Hamish Hamilton [1972], on Torcello, Burano, and Murano in particular, and A World by Itself:Tradition and Change in the Venetian Lagoon, Hamish Hamilton [1977], the sequel
William Dean Howells, Venetian Life [1866], Northwestern University Press (2001)
Edward Hutton, Venice and Venetia [1911]
Henry James, Italian Hours [1909], Kessinger (2004)
Logan Pearsall Smith (ed.), Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, (2 vols); a vivid insight
into life in Venice in the early 17th century [1907]
E.V. Lucas, A Wanderer in Venice [1914], Indypublish (2005)
Pompeo Molmenti, Venice [1906]
Thomas Okey, Venice and its Story [1910]
Margaret Oliphant, The Makers of Venice [1898]
Lonsdale and Laura Ragg, Things Seen in Venice [1912]; Venice [1916]
Alexander Robertson, Venetian Sermons [1905], Kessinger (2004)
Margaret Symonds, Days Spent on a Doge’s Farm [1893]
Alethea Wiel, Venice [1894], Kessinger (2005)

Reading list for Rome

Unlike the Blue Guides to Florence and Venice, Blue Guide Rome does not include a list of recommended reading. Blue Guide Literary Companion Rome is due out Dec 2010, a sister volume to the Blue Guide Literary Companion Venice, to be joined by London in Spring 2011.

In any case you won’t find a much better list of recommended reading for Rome than Robert Barrett’s list on