Credit: Heather, William, et al. A new chart of the Mediterranean Sea. London: W. Heather & Co, 1797. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

Since the symbolic foundation of Mediterranean Studies by Fernand Braudel with the publication of La Méditerranée[1] in 1949, one the greatest debates in the field has been the challenges of its conceptual unity. Is the Mediterranean space a unified entity, a unique geographical and cultural koinè embracing all the varieties found along its shores and on its islands? Does a Mediterranean way-of-being exist, a common frame that merges social, historical and anthropological models of all the different Mediterranean societies? Is the tendency to hybridization of Mediterranean environments tout court inevitable, or it is impossible to reduce all cultural components present in the area in a single definition? Based on Braudel, scholars have measured themselves with the key issue of the tendencies to unity or fragmentation of Mediterranean societies.[2]
The recent trend of early modern historiography again emphasizes the centrality of the Mediterranean, inaugurated by the publication of Horden and Purcell’s The Corrupting Sea (2000).[3]
The One-Plural nature of the Internal Sea has been problematized and then applied to a variety of scholarly analyses. While some scholars have argued that the commonalty of the Mediterranean is a northern European conceptualization[4], others have accented to the idea of the connectivity of the area, according to which the different parts are constantly re-negotiating their boundaries and identities.[5]
The peculiarity of the Mediterranean as a trans-cultural and trans-national space, allows groups to easily enter in contact and communication with one another, causing them to share historical elements and events and to be submitted to the same geographical, political and economical influences. The paradigm of the Mediterranean as a borderland explains its nature of space in which cultures are not opposing but overlapping, and, as a result, influencing each other. At the core of this exchange is identity, both of the individual and of groups.[6] Recent scholarship influenced by post-modern and post-orientalistic discourse and by the approach of connected history has underlined the premodern identity as a dynamic process determined by the porosity of the barriers between the self and the other, due to daily contiguity and contact.[7]
Using the term identity as identification or/and auto-identification of individuals as members of a group (linguistic, religious, social, and cultural),[8] the premodern identity was of inclusive nature, since the adoption of one identity did not exclude participation in other/others.[9]
My research follows this theoretical assumption and aims to analyze identity as a dynamic process in the plural space of four Mediterranean port-cities. It enters into the debate on the One-Plural nature of the Mediterranean on two critical levels: the ways in which Mediterranean identities interact with one another and how they generate a multicultural zone. With the MedRoute project, first I intend to analyze Mediterranean multiculturalism (if we can speak of a one), a shared model that encompasses all types of multiculturalism(s). Secondly, I investigate the balance between the desire of the various groups in marking their identities and how they integrate through hybridization. Through a comparative analysis, I trace the answer to the issue of cultural pluralism in the port-cities of Izmir, La Valletta, Livorno and Marseille. Port-cities were materialization of the borderland, a contact zone and middle ground characterized by a large number of foreigner communities permanently residing in the urban fabric. My main criterion in selecting the cities is their geographical location on a 17th century trading route that divided the Mediterranean from east to west. In following this guideline, I believe the succession of places and their comparison grant an added value to the research, for reproducing the sequences of multiculturalisms’ experiences of a hypothetical traveller who actually went across the route. For this reason, my research takes its starting cue from travel accounts, a flourishing genre from the early modern period onwards. Moving on the trading route, a traveller would first meet gavur (‘infidel’) Izmir, so-called by Ottomans for the high number of non-Muslims inhabitants. In Izmir, different groups of Europeans and non-Europeans interacted quite harmoniously, due to the Ottoman administration’s pragmatism in managing otherness that granted relative independence to non-Muslim groups.[10] The second port, La Valletta, embodied the bulwark of Christendom. Nevertheless, Maltese society was quite open to foreigners, a kind of cosmopolitism of assimilation, according to which everyone could become Maltese, providing his confessional adherence to Catholicism.[11] However, free worship was also guaranteed in Malta for Muslim slaves by providing the bagno with a small mosque. Livorno, instead, presented an institutional pluralism. In launching the development of the city, the Grand Duke promoted with the Livorine (1591; 1593) religious tolerance for future inhabitants, seeking to attract great merchants and highly skilled manpower from across the Mediterranean.[12] On the last stage of the journey, the multiculturalism of Marseille enhanced the claims of control by the absolute monarchy and the will of autonomy of the municipals elites. Marseille also represented an open door on the Atlantic, serving as an arrival port of ships from the Antilles and American French colonies.[13] It is my opinion that political factors, and not a global Mediterranean attitude, were crucial in the elaboration and development of multiculturalism in these different environments. The new “city users”[14] introduced in the urban discourse not only new cultural elements but also new demands, stimulating the responsiveness of entities entrusted to the organization of geographical and social spaces. I agree with Villani that the practice of multiculturalism enhanced spontaneous tolerance as an effect of a relativistic cultural shock.[15] This means that in early modern Mediterranean port cities, multiculturalism was fostering practical tolerance, not theoretically regarded as valuable but functionally employed by the urban users. The interaction of political factors with foreign groups developed different forms of multiculturalism(s), from the creation of a new universal society, as in Malta’s case, to a different degree of separation/hybridization of the others. Social sciences analysis has depicted the two extremes of the scale as both negative. On one hand, a homogenizing unity, or super-unity according to which everything is englobed, runs the risks of oversimplification, discrimination and exclusion of diversity. On the other hand, an extreme pluralism that considers cultures atomically and not reducible, runs the risk of the lack of a common ground of communication, the auto-exclusion of cultures’ otherness, and the sacrifice of the personal identities in the name of group identity.[16] This research offers an answer to possible middle ground ways, historically elaborated in the laboratory of multiculturalism in the early modern Mediterranean. At the beginning of the 18th century, the French traveller Pitton de Turnefort wrote about the Franks Street in Izmir: “When we are in this Street, we seem to be in Christendom; they speak nothing but Italian, French, English or Dutch there. Everybody takes off his Hat, when he pays his respects to another. There one sees Capuchins, Jesuits, Recolets [...] They sing publickly in the Churches [...] and perform Divine Service there without any trouble [...] Taverns are open all Hours, Day and Night.”[17] This guarantee of living à la européenne went hand in hand with the hybridization of European community through mixed marriages. In 1721, the Catholic priest Antonio di Val di Sole wrote to Rome how the daily practice of common worshipping with Greek Orthodox made Catholic women to “think that the Greek faith must also be valid and so many Catholic ladies and girls marry Greeks.”[18]
Izmir is a clear example of the complex interchange between marking and hybridizing identities. To summarize, the aim of my project is to carry out an interdisciplinary study on the ineradicable ambiguous nature of multicultural zones in the Mediterranean, providing a tangible content to it. I undertake this goal through the analysis and verification of three main assumptions that form the basis of my research:

  1. The role of the political factor in determining the type of multiculturalism which developed and the ethical role of politics in assuming tolerance as a tool for fostering a more vibrant and resourceful society.
  2. The role played by internal members of the communities on the basis of social class, education and gender, and how these factors determined the individual positioning on the scale from integration to segregation.
  3. The functionality of multicultural policies in enhancing urban welfare.

  1. Fernand Braudel, La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à V époque de Philippe II (Paris, 1949). ↩︎

  2. Andrew C. Hess, The Forgotten Frontier: A History of the Sixteenth Century Ibero-African Frontier (Chicago, 1978), ed. David D. Gilmore, Honor and Shame and the Unity of the Mediterranean (Washington, DC, 1987). ↩︎

  3. Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell, The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History (Oxford, 2000). ↩︎

  4. Michael Herzfeld, “The Horns of the Mediterraneanist Dilemma”, American Ethnologist 11 (1984): 439-454. ↩︎

  5. Antony Molho, “Il Mediterraneo”, in Pisa e il Mediterraneo. Uomini, merci, idee dagli Etruschi ai Medici (Milan, 2003), ed. Marco Tangheroni, p. 273-79. ↩︎

  6. Linda Darling, “The Mediterranean as a Borderland”, Review of Middle East Studies, 46 (2012), p. 54-63. ↩︎

  7. Molly Greene, A Shared World: Christians and Muslims in the Early Modern Mediterranean, (Princeton, 2000; Eric Dursteler, Venetians in Constantinople. Nation, Identity, and Coexistence in the Early Modern Mediterranean (Baltimore, 2006); Francesca Trivellato, The Familiarity of Strangers: The Sephardic Diaspora, Livorno, and Cross-Cultural Trade in the Early Modern Period (New Haven, 2009); Natalie Rothman, Brokering Empire. Trans-Imperial Subjects between Venice and Istanbul (Ithaca, 2012). ↩︎

  8. Rogers Brubaker and Frederick Cooper, “Beyond ‘identity’”, Theory and Society, 29 (2000), 1–47; Stuart Hall, “Who needs ‘identity’?”, in Identity. A Reader, eds. Paul Du Gay, Jessica Evans and Peter Redman (London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi, 2000), pp. 15–30. ↩︎

  9. Filomena Viviana Tagliaferri, “In the Process of Being Levantines. The ‘Levantinization’ of the Catholic Community of Izmir (1683–1724)”, Turkish Historical Review, 7 (2016), p. 74. ↩︎

  10. Marie Carmen Smyrnelis, Une ville ottoman plurielle. Smyrne aux xviiie et xixe siècles (Istanbul, 2006). ↩︎

  11. Anne Brogini, Malte, frontière de Chrétieneté (1530-1670) (Roma, 2006). ↩︎

  12. Cfr. Trivellato, The Familiarity of theStrangers; Stefano Villani, "Religious Pluralism and the Danger of Tolerance: The English Nation in Livorno in the Seventeenth Century," eds. Barbierato and Veronese, Late Medieval and Early Modern Religious Dissents: Conflicts and Plurality in Renaissance Europe (Pisa, 2012), p.120. ↩︎

  13. Junko Thérèse Takeda, Between Crown and Commerce: Marseille and the Early Modern Mediterranean (Baltimore, 2011). ↩︎

  14. Saskia Sassen, “The Global City: Strategic Site/New Frontier” American Studies, 41 (2000), p. 91. ↩︎

  15. Stefano Villani, "Religious Pluralism and the Danger of Tolerance", p. 122. ↩︎

  16. Fernando Hernández, “From Multiculturalism to Mestizaje in World Culture” Visual Arts Research, 19 (1993), pp. 1-12. ↩︎

  17. Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, A Voyage into the Levant (London, 1741), p.377. The French edition was printed in Lyon, 1727. ↩︎

  18. Tagliaferri, “In the Process of Being Levantines. The ‘Levantinization’ of the Catholic Community of Izmir (1683–1724)”, p. 109. ↩︎