TAVERNIER, Jean Baptiste. Les six voyages … en Turquie, en Perse, et aux Indes ... Seconde Partie, où il est parlé des Indes, & des Isles voisines, Paris, Gervaise Clouzier et Claude Barbin, M.D.C.LXXVII [=1677].
Jean Baptiste Tavernier (1605-1689) was Flemish, the son of a map seller. Passionate about travelling, he had visited numerous European countries (Italy, France, England, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Switzerland) and spoke their main languages, before he had turned twenty-two. In 1631 Tavernier started out on his first journey to the Ottoman Empire and Persia. He stayed in Constantinople for eleven months, waiting for a caravan that would take him to Persia. On the trip eastwards he visited Tokat, Erzurum and Yerevan, finally reaching Isfahan. He returned by way of Baghdad, Aleppo, Alexandretta and Malta, and through Italy reached Paris in 1633.
Six more journeys followed until 1668, during which Tavernier became a dealer in precious stones, which he sold to the princes of the Orient. He reached Japan and Java and, in his own words: “for forty years... I recorded information on religion, government, customs and commerce of each country, as well as weights and measures and the value of their money”. At the age of eighty-three, Tavernier started out on a journey to India. However, while crossing Russia he died in Moscow in 1689. In his forty years of travels, he had covered some two hundred and forty thousand kilometres. Until the end he remained, as Voltaire reproached him, “more of a merchant than a philosopher”. Montesquieu drew extensively from Tavernier’s work for his "Lettres persanes".
An adventurous spirit, intrepid in the face of adversities in travel, Tavernier first published the impressions from his six journeys in 1676 and 1677. In spite of confusion in the sequence of events and itineraries, this work was a precious manual for all merchant-travellers active in the East and in Asia, as it contains a wealth of information on coinages, weights and measures, the value and price of products, customs and commercial regulations, etc. Tavernier was highly respected in his country and received many honours from King Louis XIV. He married at the age of fifty-seven. An important part of the chronicle of his travels was written in the sultan’s palace in Constantinople. This publication was a great success, reprinted repeatedly and translated into various languages.
Written by Ioli Vingopoulou