A visit to Ankara in the 1850s: the Travelogue of Cristina Trivulzio di Belgiojoso

By bringing up a half-forgotten travelogue with observations on Ankara, what are we trying to achieve? Especially but not exclusively for a female scholar or reader, the main attraction of this text is the author’s talent for observation, the results of which, admittedly, we must sometimes disentangle from the Orientalist assumptions so widespread between the late 1700s and later 1900s; for it was this gift of close observation that allowed Cristina Trivulzio (1808-71), Princess of Belgiojoso after her marriage, to note certain things happening in and around Ankara in the mid-nineteenth century, which most other authors did not consider worth recording.

As a political exile from Italy that was certainly a cultural unit but not yet a nation state, Cristina Trivulzio spent several years in Anatolia, Syria and Palestine, where at one point in time, she evidently planned to settle. We will look at her notes on the political situation in Central Anatolia, an enterprise that has become much more rewarding now that Ottoman documents concerning Cristina Trivulzio and the affairs of mid-nineteenth-century Ankara have become available. From there, we will proceed to the author’s encounters with certain groups of people that she chose to highlight, especially women and dervishes. But perhaps even more importantly, we will focus on a key interaction on which she made some worthwhile observations, namely the interaction between people and animals. At the end of our discussion, we will find that despite the prejudices of her time, of which she was certainly not exempt, Cristina Trivulzio‘s sensitivity as a writer allowed her to express doubts and misgivings about her own certitudes that people did – or do — not often articulate, not in her world and not in ours either.