CASTELLAN, Antoine-Laurent. Lettres sur la Grèce, l'Hellespont et Constantinople, faisant suite aux lettres sur la Morée; Par A.L. Castellan. Avec vingt dessins de l'auteur, gravés par lui-même, et deux plans, Paris, chez H. Agasse, 1811
Antoine Laurent Castellan (1772-1838) was a French architect, painter and engraver. He studied landscape painting in Valenciennes, and travelled to Switzerland, Italy and the Ottoman Empire. He made a very short tour of Ottoman territories, principally of Southern Greece and the islands (Zakynthos, Cythera, the Peloponnese and Hydra) as well as Istanbul and the Hellespont. At the end of the 18th century, during the reign of Sultan Selim III, in an effort to ameliorate relations with the Ottoman empire, France organized an expedition to Istanbul with the mission to repair ships and aid in other tasks in the port of the city. Castellan participated in the mission as a painter.
The expedition was unable to realize its goals, as its members were forced to flee in the face of war, an epidemic, fires and a revolt. Castellan however published his impressions of this voyage, in a text written in epistolary fashion, which circulated in three editions, with numerous engravings based on his drawings. Unluckily, Castellan’s work circulated at the same time when Pouqueville knew huge editorial success with his own books. Castellan became a member of the Acadèmie des Beaux Arts, to which he dedicated the last years of his life. His work “Moeurs, usages, costumes des Othomans” (1812) was lavishly praised by Lord Byron.
Intelligent and objective as well as sensitive, Castellan depicts the islands, the Peloponnese and Propontis, focusing on each place’s traditions. He is one of the first travellers to become sensitive to Greek music and Greek Orthodox religious art. Harmonious with his text, the French traveller’s drawings accompany his gentle discourse. Free from prejudice, Castellan describes the new world he sees before him: fortresses, cities, mosques, churches, fountains, houses, mills, antiquities and people.
In this edition Castellan briefly describes some islands of the Aegean (Cranae, Kea, Euboea, Calogeros, Psarra, Lesbos and Tenedos), and elaborates on the Dardanelles, Callipolis, Lampsakos, and Marmara Island. He focuses on specific subjects concerning Istanbul, such as Pera, the caikhs, the customs of Greek marines, the Royal Cistern, a Greek noble woman, his reception by an Ottoman official, a big fire, cemeteries, the plague epidemic, palaces on the Bosporus, customs and traditions of the Turks etc. His choice of material as well as his way of describing show a special outlook of a remarkable traveller.
Written by Ioli Vingopoulou