Home 9 In-depth 9 The Leiden Sketchbook

Towns along the road from Vienna to Constantinople (1577-1585).

Hainburg/Donau staging point on the road to Istanbul, seen from the Slovakian shore. Devin in the foreground. Sketch from the Leiden Sketchbook, 16e century.

Collection of Old Manuscripts

Somewhere in the collection of old manuscripts of the University of Leiden, lie 26 sketches from the 16th century, made by an anonymous artist, of villages and towns along the road from Vienna to Constantinople (Istanbul). These sketches are special for two reasons. The first one is that the artist, apparently, was familiar with the two drawing techniques for representing town views, that had developed in the 16th century: the bird’s eye view and the panorama perspective. The second one is that they clearly show the many changes that had taken place in the town layouts, after the Ottoman takeover. The Ottomans immediately started to change the town appearances by building mosques, minarets, hammams, bridges, and other typical buildings.


At first, the Danish-German renaissance painter Melchior Lorichs (Lorck) (1526-183) was taken to be the author of these sketches. He spent three and a half years in Istanbul (1555-59) in the retinue of the Habsburg envoy oi Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, the Flemish diplomat who was sent to Istanbul by King Ferdinand I, to negotiate with sultan Süleyman about the future of the Hungarian kingdom. But his style of drawing differs too much from the Leiden Sketchbook. More importantly, the construction dates of the buildings that are in the sketchbook do not match with this diplomatic mission. The sketches must have drawn some 20 years later. Thus far no other potential author has been found. On last drawing (Rab/Györ) two words which could be read as “bolwerk” (bulwark) and “batterij” (battery) indicate that the author could have been Dutch of Flemisch, but no name has been attached to it. So, for the time being, they stay anonymous. Nevertheless, the drawings present an interesting view on the towns along the diplomatic route to Constantinople in the early days of the Ottoman Empire, seen through the eyes of a traveller from the west.

The Mustafa Pasha bridge across the Maritsa river in Svilengrad (Bulgaria). Sketch from the Leiden Sketchbook, 16e century

Lud’a Klusáková

The Czech historian Lud’a Klusáková (1950-2020) made a detailed study of the sketches and published her results in “The Road to Constantinople. The Sixteenth-Century Ottoman Towns through Christan Eyes”. (Prague: ISV Publishers, 2002, ISBN 80-85866-97-8). She sees in the author of the Leiden Sketchbook an educated person with an exceptional interest in the towns along the route. “Far from every traveller (he) had an interest in the town as a socially organised space. Only rarely do we find comments in travelogues that can be interpreted as a sign of understanding the Ottoman system. The author must have been aware of the exceptional importance of the Constantinople Highway. If he did not notice its cultural importance, he certainly noticed its strategic significance. The unique and valuable feature of the author of the Leiden Sketchbook lies in his systematic approach to his task of depicting the towns along the road, and in his decision to depict places of usual and obligatory halt”, and “his importance lies in his focused interpretation of towns that had been integrated into Ottoman society and transformed in order to be able to function within it.”

The Sketches

Below we present the sketches, as published by Lud’a Klusáková.

Hainburg/Donau, in: Klusáková 2002, page 33
Bratislava (Presburg), in: Klusáková 2002, page 34-35
Komarnó, in: Klusáková 2002, page 36-37
Eszetergom, in: Klusáková 2002, page 38-39
Visigrad, in: Klusáková 2002, page 41
Buda, in: Klusáková 2002, page 42-43
Érd, in: Klusáková 2002, page 44
Vukovar, in: Klusáková 2002, page 45
Bodin(?), in: Klusáková 2002, page 46-47
Petrovaradin, in: Klusáková 2002, page 48-49
Stari Slankamen, in: Klusáková 2002, page 50-51
Zemun, in: Klusáková 2002, page 53
Belgrade, in: Klusáková 2002, page 54-55
Niš, in: Klusáková 2002, page 56-57
Pirot, in: Klusáková 2002, page 58-59
Sofia, in: Klusáková 2002, page 60-61
Plovdiv, in: Klusáková 2002, page 62-63
Svilengrad, in: Klusáková 2002, page 65
Edirne, in: Klusáková 2002, page 66-67
Havsa, in: Klusáková 2002, page68-69
Babaeski, in: Klusáková 2002, page 70-71
Lüleburgaz, in: Klusáková 2002, page 72-73
Çorlu, in: Klusáková 2002, page 75
Silivri, in: Klusáková 2002, page 76-77
Büyükçekmece, in: Klusáková 2002, page 78
Küçükçekmece, in: Klusáková 2002, page 79
Unknown Castle, in: Klusáková 2002, page 80-81
Osijek, in: Klusáková 2002, page 82-83
Győr, in: Klusáková 2002, page 84-85
Győr, in: Klusáková 2002, page 86

Klusáková, Lud’a (2002). The Road to Constantinople. The Sixteenth-Century Ottoman Towns through Christian Eyes. (Prague: ISV Publishers, 2002, ISBN 80-85866-97-8). 245 pages.

November 2020

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