“In the Time of the Sultans: Urban Chronicles From 19th Century Istanbul”
By Panos N. Tzelepis
Translated by Charles Howard
With an introduction by Niki Stavridi
Paperback. 248 pp.
Cycladic Press (2021)
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During the 1930s, the Greek architect and writer Panos Tzelepis (1894-1976) recorded the memories and tales of Stavris, an older relative, who as a young man was a member of the underworld subcultures of late-19th century Istanbul.
Realising the importance of these accounts as a unique record of life during the final decades of the Ottoman Empire, Panos Tzelepis published them in two volumes, the first appearing in 1965 under the title “In the Time of the Sultans.”
In this first collection of urban chronicles we encounter colourful characters, from a Jewish doctor who treated the poor, the owner of a secret hash-den, the madam of a high-class brothel, to the lives of the kabadayi, or “tough guys,” who developed their own codes of honour, conduct and social justice in the sprawling multi-cultural metropolis that was Istanbul towards the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th.
Translated into English for the first time by Charles Howard, a prominent archiver and compiler of rebetiko music, Tzelepis’s literary renderings of Istanbul and its people are given new life in a book brimming with intricate and dazzling details of a world that has long since vanished.
The book also features an introduction written by Niki Stavridi and a glossary of Greek & Turkish terms and place names.
Panos N. Tzelepis (1894-1976) was an architect and writer born in Constantinople (Istanbul). In 1915, he moved to Athens, where he studied painting and sculpture at the School of Fine Arts. He later moved to Paris where he studied architecture at the École Spéciale d’Architecture. On his return to Athens in 1922 he first engaged in graphic design work, and then over the next two decades established himself as one of the foremost representatives of modernist architecture in Greece. From 1956 onwards Tzelepis dedicated himself mainly to writing books. He died in Athens in 1976.
Charles Howard (b. 1936) is a painter, researcher and archiver of Greek rebetiko music who was born in London. He has lived in Greece for over forty years and has compiled, edited, translated and annotated 22 compilations of rebetiko music for the Heritage, Rounder and JSP record labels in England and the U.S.A. In the Time of the Sultans is his first book-length translation work. He currently lives in Athens.