The Hijaz, that part of the Arabian Peninsula which contains the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, was long subject to imperialism, but not of Western variety: it was instead subject to the Ottomans. Although nominally under Ottoman suzerainty for centuries, it was ironically 19th-century British imperialism that forced Istanbul to attempt to consolidate its control over the region.

In 1480, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, who had conquered Constantinople fewer than three decades earlier, sat for a portrait by the Venetian painter Gentile Bellini. Bellini had been sent to Istanbul to fulfill a request for a “un bon depentor que sapia retrazer”—“a good painter who knows how to paint portraits”. The Sultan apparently wanted his portrait done.

Two men stand in front of a vegetable and fruit stall, completely absorbed by their own private conversation. Behind them, two other, younger men intimately shake hands on leaving the “Cafés Salonu” while a boy next to them is trying to wipe the water and trash from the sidewalk. The whole setting appears cinematic, the characters shimmering in the moody atmosphere engendered by the beam of the street light.

To read Türkiye Diary (The Bridge) is to lounge on wicker deck furniture, with comfortable pillows, ensconced on a terrace overlooking the Sea of Marmara in the warm summer night, drinking raki, eating mezze—those fatal Levantine hors d’oeuvres—and listening as a raconteur cagily lets slip indiscretions, eased by raki, night sea air, and a life spent doing things the raconteur is now not sure he should have done.

Alan Mikhail’s much-publicized and lavishly-illustrated new book on Selim I, which he calls “a revisionist account, providing a new and more holistic picture of the last five centuries,” would seem, at first, to be a very welcome addition to a rather sparse list of books, especially biographies, on Ottoman sultans.