Cities of the Levant: the Past for the Future?
Joint BM/PEF/Council for British Research in the Levant/British Foundation for the Study of Arabia Lecture
Thursday 13 November 2014, 16.00
BP Lecture Theatre
Free – booking essential.
Philip Mansel, Author of Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean.
Cities have their own dynamism. Location, population, and wealth can give them the power to defy or ignore states. They subvert received ideas about national identity. Dr Philip Mansel, author of Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean, will speak about the cities of the Levant, particularly Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut. Under the Ottoman Empire and its successors they were inhabited by Muslims, Christians and Jews. The alliance between France and the Ottoman Empire - called by one French ambassador 'the union between the lily and the crescent' - and the capitulations enabled foreigners to live, trade, and establish schools there. For a time dialogue trumped conflict, deals came before ideals. Smyrna was described as a light-house illuminating every corner of the Ottoman Empire. 'If Smyrna is the eye of Asia’, it was said, ‘the quay is the pupil of the eye’. Norman Douglas called it ‘the most enjoyable place on earth’. Alexandria, 'the Queen of the Mediterranean', was compared to a European ship moored off the coast of Egypt; Beirut was called the Paris of the Middle East. Philip Mansel asks how these cities functioned and explores their shared characteristics - diplomacy, trade, hybridity, pleasure, modernity and vulnerability. In the end Smyrna was burnt, Alexandria Egyptianised, Beirut ravaged by civil war. What is the message of the cities of the Levant for today's mixed cities, such as London, Paris, and Dubai?
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