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Life in the Khans: The Venetians in Early Ottoman Aleppo

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In the second half of the fifteenth century, Aleppo became increasingly important as a center of the Levant trade. The Venetian merchant community grew, and the consulate was eventually transferred there. The Venetians’ base of operations was the khan, a commercial building type that can be found in various forms across the Mediterranean and the Middle East. How did the khan accommodate the day-to-day life of Venetians in Aleppo—and how did it mediate their relationships with local authorities, merchants, and residents? This essay explores these questions through a study of khans used by Venetians in sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It shows that they utilized a network of khans that extended throughout the city. Khans were highly adaptable structures, and Venetians used them for multiple purposes, including trade, lodging, socializing, worship, and diplomacy. The portrait of Venetian life that emerges from this study provides an interesting micro-history. It also sheds light on the wider process of cultural reception and translation: how a group of foreigners makes the exotic familiar, and how this impacts notions of self and other.

Affiliations: 1: University of Maryland, College Park, Md.

Field and archival research for this essay was funded by grants from the Fulbright commission, the American Philosophical Society, and the Delmas Foundation. Among the many people who have contributed to this research, I would like to thank Donatella Calabi, Ennio Concina, Olivia Remie Constable, Suraiya Faroqhi, Giorgio Gianikhian, Abdullah Hajjar, Omar Abd al-Aziz Hallaj, Deborah Howard, Cemal Kafadar, Gülru Necipoğlu, Steven Ortega, Stefano Piacentini, Jenny Poche, Nasser Rabbat, Nancy Um, Heghnar Watenpaugh, and Steven Wolf. I am grateful to the merchants of the Khan al-Banadiqa and the Khan al-Nahhasin, who welcomed me into their spaces. Unless otherwise noted, translations from Arabic, Italian, Venetian, and French are mine.

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