The Frenchman Pierre Gilles or Petrus Gyllius (1490-1555) was well-versed in Classical Greek and Latin, as well as in natural history. Keenly interested in ichthyology, he studied marine life on the coasts of France and the Adriatic, and published a treatise on fish names in 1553. He entered the service of Bishop Georges d’Armagnac, and as a genuine humanist was as much interested in science as in ancient sources, publishing some representative works in this spirit. He translated Aelian, Heliodorus, Porphyrius and Oppian, and compiled a Greek-Latin dictionary. He was in Rome around 1540. In 1544 Gilles arrived in Constantinople, together with André Thevet, as envoy of Francis I of France to the court of Suleiman the Magnificent, with the mission to collect manuscripts for the French king’s library.
He stayed in the Ottoman capital until 1547 and explored Chalcedon together with André Thevet. In 1548, being completely penniless, he joined the Ottoman Army, taking part in the campaign against Persia, and marched as far as Aleppo. There he met French ambassador d’Aramon and his escort G. Postel, and joined them on their journey to Egypt and the Holy Land. In 1550, while returning to Constantinople, Gilles was captured by pirates. Cardinal d’Armagnac offered to pay his ransom, and asked for a description of Gilles’ travels in return. Once back in Rome, Gilles diligently composed the first archaeological studies on Constantinople and the Bosporus, invaluable guides to all travellers to come. However, due to Gilles’ sudden death, these texts were not published until 1561-62, by his nephew Antoine Gilles.
In his four books on the topography of Constantinople, Gilles describes initially the geographical location, the natural environment, the water supply and the climate of the region. He then reviews the city’s mythological and historical past, and subsequently, for each one of the seven hills of the city, describes the monuments, walls, gates and towers. He comes back to the most ancient monuments on every hill and ends with the description of Galata and the Ottoman monuments. To this English translation was added a description of Constantinople in the reigns of Arcadius and Honorius, and an Appendix, with the text of a manuscript in the Bodleian Library, on the statues of Constantinople, which were plundered by the Crusaders in 1204.
Written by Ioli Vingopoulou