CERVANTES IN ISTANBUL

Miguel de Cervantes (1547 – 1616)
Photo credit WeLoveIst
In mid- 16th century, an Italian family wanted their 11-year old son to be a Minister. However, in their home-town there was no Ministerial school. They decided to send the child to Napoli – by boat!  In that era the Turkish corsairs (pirates) dominated The Mediterranean. They captured the ship in which the child was travelling.  They brought the child to Istanbul.      
by Ayhan ÖZER           

                                            

In mid- 16th century, an Italian family wanted their 11-year old son to be a Minister. However, in their home-town there was no Ministerial school. They decided to send the child to Napoli – by boat!  In that era the Turkish corsairs (pirates) dominated The Mediterranean. They captured the ship in which the child was travelling.  They brought the child to Istanbul.

At that time, the Head of the Turkish Navy was Barbarossa, also a captive when he was a child. He had a red beard, and people called him “Barbe Rose” in French, meaning “Red-bearded”. This nickname stuck, and he carried it throughout his life. Barbarossa had risen to the Supreme Commandership of the Ottoman Navy, in a country he was not even a native-born.  Barbarossa met the child, and had a chat with him.  He was impressed by his intelligence. He decided to take the child in his care. He renamed the child “Ali”.

That boy, in the years that followed caught the attention of his seniors, and rose quickly through the ranks. He followed the footsteps of Barbarossa, and became an Admiral in the Turkish Navy. He was elevated to the rank of “Pasha”, meaning “General”. He modernized the Turkish Navy with new vessels (Galleon – In Turkish “Kalyon”) and new battle techniques. He commanded several naval  warfares, and won numerous victories.  He was accorded with the title of “KILIC”, meaning “Sword” for his exploits in the battle fields. He converted to Islam.

Then, like most dignitaries, he decided to have a mosque built to his name. Himself being of a captive background, in his construction he employed mostly the captives .  The architect of his mosque was a giant in his field: SINAN.  In the construction team there was a captive man who was destined to win universal fame. His name was Muguel de Cervantes, a  Spaniard. He was born in Toledo in 1547.  What the circumstances had been that brought Cervantes to Istanbul?  

Here is his story:  At the age of 22, in Spain, Cervantes involved in a wrangle, and somebody was injured. Police captured  Cervantes,  and as a punishment the Judge ruled his right hand to be chopped. Cervantes  couldn’t take this cruel punishment, and escaped. He came to Italy. At that time, the Pope Pius V was organizing a Holly League against the Turks, and Italy was swarming with activities for an imminent war, the Lepanto war against the Turks !  (in Turkish History it is called INEBAHTI).  

What  triggered the Lepanto War was the Turkish capture of the island of  Cyprus in 1570 from the Venetians.  The Christian Europe was alarmed by this invasion of the Eastern Mediterranean by the Turks; it meant a direct threat to Europe.  Therefore, all the Papal States of Europe joined in this Holy League of Pope Pius V; they were: The Knights of Malta, Venice, Genoa, Savoy, Spain, and its possessions Naples and Sicily.  It was a Crusade against the Turks.   The Lepanto War took place on October 7, 1571. There was a call-up to assemble a volunteer army.  Cervantes was hungry and miserable in a foreign land. He enlisted in that Army, and became a mercenary.  

The Lepanto War was a defeat for the Turks.  Its 300 vessels  were destroyed. That meant the Ottoman naval force was no longer a threat to Europe in the Mediterranean. There is an anecdote about this defeat. In a conference in Europe right after the Lepanto disaster, the Venetian Foreign Minister said to the Ottoman Ambassador in a boastful manner, “We thrashed your Navy in Lepanto so badly…You won’t forget it for a longtime”. The Ottoman Ambassador replied, “ Excellence, in Lepanto you clipped our beard…But by capturing Cyprus we broke your arm. The clipped beard grows more strongly, but a broken arm will never be the same…” In fact, within a year time the Ottoman Fleet was re-built, and sailing in The Mediterranean.

In Lepanto Cervantes fought the Turks. To save his right hand he had left his country, but in that war, he lost his left hand. He wanted to go back to his country, Spain. Yet, on the way, in 1575 the Turkish pirates captured the ship. He was brought to Istanbul. He stayed in captivity for five years. His work in the construction team of Kilic Ali mosque falls within that period. In 1580 he was able to contact his family in Spain, they paid the ransom, and Cervantes was released. He went back to his country. Later, in 1600s he started writing his masterpiece: DON QUICHOTE! He published the first part of DON QUICHOTE in 1605.  DON QUICHOTE became world’s first Best-Seller, and was eventually translated into more than 60 different languages. Cervantes  published the second part of the story in 1615. He died in 1616.  Since his passing, Cervantes has been credited with writing the first modern novel.  His work inspired countless other authors, including  Gustave Flaubert, Henry Fielding, Dostoyevski…

The story of DON QUICHOTE has been retold in many ways, including the popular musical The Man of La Mancha, and it was described in an artwork by Pablo Picasso.                                                                                                

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