Italian travel accounts represent a major source for the history of Iran, especially that of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.




(1) A General Survey

(2) Qajar Period


(1) A General Survey

Italian travel accounts represent a major source for the history of Iran, especially that of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Collections of Italian travel accounts, together with biographical and bibliographical details, have been published from the Renaissance up to the present day.

The first attempt to assemble this kind of material was made by the Venetian humanist, historian, and geographer Giovan Battista Ramusio (1485-1557), who in 1520 began to bring together the main Italian travel accounts in his Navigationi et viaggi (3 vols., Venice, 1550, 1556, 1559). Ramusio’s work was published in expanded editions between 1566 and 1606, and during the 20th century the entire corpus was re-edited (M. Milanesi, ed., Navigazioni e viaggi, 6 vols., Turin, 1978-88; English ed., Navigationi et viaggi, Venice 1563-1606, ed. by G. B. Parks and R. A. Skelton, Amsterdam, 1970-71). Rightly considered one of the main collections of medieval and Renaissance travel literature on the East (Del Piero, 1902; Parks, 1955), Ramusio’s work represented a model for other collections of European travel literature, such as those of Richard Hakluyt and Samuel Purchas in England, Théodore de Bry and his sons in France, and Levinus Hulsius and Jan Huygen van Lischoten in Holland. A new, systematic attempt to list such material was made during the 19th century by the geographer and cartographer Pietro Amat di S. Filippo (1822-95), author of several works dedicated to Italian travelers from the Middle Ages to the 19th century (Amat di S. Filippo, 1882, 1895). Angelo Michele Piemontese’s Bibliografia Italiana dell’Iran includes a chapter on travelers that is the most accurate bibliographical list of such sources, containing all the printed material from the 15th to the 20th century (Piemontese, 1985, I, “Viaggi e viaggiatori,” pp. 131-77). Other, more specialized collections exist, such as the Venetian reports from Persia during the Safavid period, which are collected together in the works of Alberi (1840-55) and Berchet (1865). An extensive list of missions to the East during the Middle Ages was made by G. Golubovich, who produced a rich compendium of Franciscan sources (Golubovich, 1906-28). Certain encyclopedias are also useful, especially for research on the biographies of the travelers. Of such encyclopedias, the Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani is the most complete for Italian authors (57 vols., Rome, 1960-).

Italian travel accounts can be broadly divided into five periods, and the volume of production is different for each. The first period, that of Mongol and Timurid rule in Iran and Central Asia, which takes in works such as merchants’ reports and descriptions by religious missionaries, can be considered, together with the second period, as a kind of Golden Age of Italian travel literature on Persia. The second period coincides with the Renaissance and begins with the special relations between Italy and the ĀÚq Qoyunlu ruler Uzun Ḥasan. It gives way to the third with the successors of Shah ‘Abbās I, in whose reigns the Italian presence in Iran began to change. There was a substantial revival of religious missions, in which the Carmelites played a particular role, although there were also independent travelers at this time. A fourth period, in which there is evidence of a new Italian diplomatic presence at the Qajar court, coincides with the unity of Italy and with a new attitude, which included the beginning of a scientific interest (in the modern sense) in the subject of Iran. This attitude continues in the last phase of the history of Italian travelers and runs from about the beginning of the 20th century until the present day.

The Mongol and Timurid period. The first Italian travelers to Iran and Central Asia during the Middle Ages were religious missionaries sent by the popes to spread the Christian faith in Mongol lands. We have some traces of the journey made during this period by the Lombard Ascelino, who was sent to the East by Pope Innocent IV. Together with André de Longjumeau and other friars, Ascelino met Baiju, the commander of Mongol forces in western Asia, in 1247 near Tiflis, after a journey to Aleppo, Mosul, and Tabriz. The report of this mission, probably the Historia Tartarorum of Simon of Saint-Quentin, is now lost, but references to it are found in chapters of Vincent of Beauvais’ Speculum historiae (Pelliot, 1924, p. 277; Petech, 1962; Richard, 1977, pp. 373-74). In 1246-47 the same pope sent Giovanni da Pian del Carpine [John of Plano Carpini] to the court of Ögödey, and he reached Karakorum when Güyük was in power (Golubovich, 1906, I, pp. 190-213; P. Daffinà et al., eds., Storia dei Mongoli, Spoleto, 1989).

Italian merchants were established in Tabriz from the early Il-khanid period (Petech, 1962, pp. 550-51; Paviot, 1997, pp. 74-75). Marco Polo’s presence in Persia is attested after the years 1271-72, even if the description of the country is dated 1298, when he described Persia as he remembered it while on his journey to the court of Qubilay in China (Franchi, 1941; Gabriel, 1963). Polo followed the journey of his father Niccolò and his uncle Matteo (1261-69), who were in Persia and Bukhara; and he left again with them for Cathay. His journey started from Ayas (Lajazzo) in 1271, and he returned to Venice in 1295. Although the difficult question of the various versions of the Milione cannot be addressed here, it is important to note it provided a model for later travelers; because it included historical, geographical, and anthropological aspects of the journey (see POLO). During the pontificate of John XXI, Friar Gherardo of Prato was sent to the court of Abaqa (1278), who was considered to be inclined favorably towards the Christians. We have traces of this embassy from letters written by the pope (Golubovich 1913, II, pp. 426-28). Franciscan missions in Persia also played an important role in the embassy to Rome in 1288 of the Nestorian monk Rabban Sauma (Borbone, 2000), who carried several letters for the pope from the Franciscans of Tabriz (Golubovich, 1913, II, pp. 437-40). Unfortunately the important role played by Genoese travelers, such as Buscarello de Gizolfi (q.v., ambassador during the reigns of Arḡun, Gayḵatu, and Ghazan), Benedetto Vivaldi, who traveled in Persia and Afghanistan in 1315, and Tommasino Gentile, who tried to reach China but was forced by illness to abandon his journey in Hormuz in 1344 (Lopez, 1952, pp. 92-93), is attested only in passing in sources such as letters, diplomatic notes, and notarial deeds (Petech, 1962, pp. 562-65; Paviot, 1991; Borbone, 2000, p. 256).

Probably the most important description of Baghdad in this period was that written by the Dominican Ricoldo da Montecroce (d. 1320; q.v.), who began his long journey in 1288, traveling through Palestine, Syria, northern Mesopotamia, Sivas, Erzurum, and on to Persia, visiting Tabriz. From there he traveled to Baghdad, where he remained for six months during the reign of Arḡµun (Ricoldo da Montecroce, Itinerario ai paesi orientali di Fra Ricoldo da Monte Croce domenicano. Scritto del XIII secolo dato ora in luce da Fra Vincenzo Fineschi sacerdote dello stesso ordine, Florence, 1793; U. Monneret de Villard, “La vita le opere e i viaggi di frate Ricoldo da Montecroce O.P.,” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 10, 1944, pp. 227-74; idem, Il libro della peregrinazione nelle parti dell’Oriente di Frate Ricoldo da Montecroce, Rome, 1948). The embassy of the friar Giovanni da Montecorvino (1247-1330), sent to Arḡµun by Pope Nicholas IV to evangelize among the Mongols (1279-89), is not attested in any travel account; but Giovanni himself later wrote two letters describing his second journey to China (1289): he went from Ayas (Lajazzo) to Sis and Tabriz, where he met Arḡµun in 1290-91, and then to Hormuz. From there he sailed for China, where he became the first Catholic archbishop of Peking (Amat di S. Filippo, 1882, pp. 79-80; Golubovich, III, 1919, pp. 86-96; R. Almagià, “Giovanni da Montecorvino,” Rivista Geografica Italiana 33/1-2, 1926, pp. 61-65; A. van der Wyngaert, Jean de Mont Corvin O.F.M. premier évêque de Khanbaliq [Peking], 1247-1328, Lille, 1924). There are few references to the journey of the Franciscans Guglielmo of Chieri and Matteo of Chieti, who visited Tabriz around 1291 (Golubovich, 1906, I, pp. 354-55, 472-77).

Another Franciscan, Odorico da Pordenone (q.v.), who visited Armenia, Tabriz, Solṭāniye, Kāšān, Yazd, Mesopotamia, and Hormuz (1314-30), is one of the more interesting sources on Persia during the Il-khanid period. This journey must be connected with the foundation of the archbishopric of Solṭāniye in 1318 by Pope John XXII and subsequently that of the archbishoprics of Marāḡµe (1328) and Tabriz (1329). Archbishops such as Bartolomeo of Poggio (better known as Bartolomeo of Bologna), archbishop of Marāḡe (1328-33), played an important role in the spread of knowledge about the Persian language in Western countries through translations of the Gospels into Persian and the production of the Codex cumanicus (“Viaggio del B. Odorico da Udine, dell’Ordine de’ Frati Minori, Delle usanze, costumi, & nature, di diverse nationi, & genti del Mondo, et del martirio di quattro frati dell’Ordine predetto, quali partirono tra gl’Infedeli,” in Ramusio, Navigazioni et viaggi, Venice, 1583, II, foll. 245b-253a; Golubovich, 1919, III, pp. 205-7, 374-93; Piemontese, 2001, pp. 322-23). The friar Tomaso da Tolentino traveled in Persia between 1305 and 1307 with letters written by Giovanni da Montecorvino (Golubovich, 1919, III, pp. 219-21). From Francesco Petrarca’s Epistles we know also of the travels of Giovanni Colonna (ca. 1298-1332), who traveled in Persia presumably between 1324 and 1332 (Ciampi, 1874, pp. 870-79; Surdich, 1982). The itineraries traced by the Florentine Francesco Balducci Pegolotti (q.v.) in his Pratica della Mercatura form one of the most important sources on Persian and Central Asian commercial routes during the last part of the Il-khanid period (around 1335 and 1340). Pegolotti never visited the countries he describes, relying instead on the accounts of merchants who had been in the East (Pegolotti, La pratica della mercatura, ed. by A. Evans, Cambridge, Mass., 1936). Some years later, in 1339-53, Giovanni de’ Marignolli (see MARIGNOLLI) passed through Hormuz and Mesopotamia before returning to Avignon in 1353. During the last years of the Il-khanid Empire, there was a revival of Christian missions by Dominicans and Franciscans together with a strengthening of the bishopric in Persia. The bishop of Tabriz, Guglielmo Zigio, reached Persia during the last part of Abu Saʿid’s reign and there assisted in the appointment of Giovanni da Cori as bishop of Solṭāniye. About the same time, Tommaso Mancasole became the first bishop of Samarkand (Golubovich, 1919, III, pp. 350-59; on this period see also pp. 424-541).

After the fall of the Il-khanid Empire and the troubles of 1340, there followed a period of obscurity in relations between Italy and Persia, until the Italian presence there revived during the reign of Timur—in particular at the end of the fourteenth century, after the first encounters between the Central Asian sovereign and the Italians. Italians, however, did not entirely stop visiting Persia in the interim period. The Venetian ambassadors Giovanni Querini and Giuffredo Morosini traveled to various courts in Persia between 1345 and 1346 (Donazzolo, 1929, p. 19).

The first meeting between Italians and Timur occurred in 1395 near Azaq and is referred to in the Cronaca di Treviso of Andrea de Redusiis (“Chronicum tarvisinum ab anno MCCCLXVIII usque annum MCCCCXVII,” in Rerum Italicarum Scriptores XIX, Milan, 1731, cols. 802-04; Bernardini, 2002, pp. 395-98). The Sienese merchant Beltramo Mignanelli (q.v.; Fischel, 1956. Piemontese, 1996) wrote a Vita Tamerlani, in which he included his impressions of the military events of the years 1401-02. Although Timur was the object of special interest in Italian courts (Knobler 1995), the meeting between him and the Italians did not lead to any further developments in Italian relations with the Timurids after Timur’s death in 1405. Nevertheless Italians continued to cross Persia, following the southern routes (on land or by sea). in particular as Niccolò de’ Conti (see CONTI) did when on his way to India through Birecik (Turkey), Mosul, Bandar ‘Abbās, and Hormuz at the beginning of the 15th century (“Viaggio di Nicolo di Conti Venetiano scritto per Messer Poggio Fiorentino,” in Ramusio, Navigationi et Viaggi, Venice, 1550, I, foll. 365a-371b; V. Bellemo, I viaggi di Nicolò de’ Conti riscontrati ed illustrati con proemio storico, documenti originali e carte geografiche, Milan, 1883; idem, La cosmografia e le scoperte geografiche del secolo XV e i viaggi di Nicolò de’ Conti, Padua, 1908; G. Caraci, “Il Quattrocento e Nicolò de’ Conti,” in Nuove questioni di storia medievale, Milan, 1969, pp. 448-51; idem, “Viaggiatori italiani in Persia nel Medioevo,” Il Veltro 14, 1970, pp. 39-60).

From Uzun Ḥasan to Shah ‘Abbās I. The appearance of Uzun Ḥasan on the scene in the 15th century was heralded by Western, and in particular Italian, powers as a great opportunity for their anti-Ottoman policy (Woods 1999, pp. 87-123). The travel account of the Venetian diplomat Josapha Barbaro (1473-78; q.v.; L. Lockhart, R. Morozzo della Rocca, and M. F. Tiepolo, I viaggi degli ambasciatori veneti Barbaro e Contarini, Rome, 1973) was one of the first pieces of evidence in the West of the power of the ĀÚÚq Qoyunlu in this period. To this work we should add the account of Ambrogio Contarini (1474-75; q.v.), which was first published in Venice in 1487 and subsequently included, together with Barbaro’s account, in Ramusio’s Navigationi et Viaggi (see also N. Di Lenna, Ambrogio Contarini politico e viaggiatore del secolo XV, Padua, 1921). Later Venetian material should also be mentioned, such as the report by Lazaro Quirini (1471; Berchet, 1865, pp. 1-6; Donazzolo, 1929, p. 47) and that of Giovanni Dario, who gave information on the state of Persia at the end of the 15th century in his dispatches sent to the Venetian Senate (Berchet, 1965, pp. 150-53; F. Babinger, Johannes Darius [1414-1494]: Sachwalter Venedigs im Morgenland, und sein griechischer Umkreis, Munich, 1961). Another writer who was at the court of Uzun Ḥasan, Giovanni Maria Angiolello (ca. 1451-1524; q.v.), who was in the entourage of Meḥmed II as defterdār, probably went to the Āq Qoyunlu court (Babinger, 1961) during the reign of Bayezid II. Even though the work of Angiolello is considered more important for the history of the Ottoman Empire, his Vita e fatti del signor Usuncassano (in “Breve narrazione della vita et fatti del Signor Ussuncassano fatta per Giovan’ Maria Angiolello” in Ramusio, Navigazioni et Viaggi, Venice, 1559, II, foll. 66a-78a; Navigazioni e viaggi, ed. by M. Milanesi, III, 1980, pp. 359-420) offers important data on events relating to the Āq Qoyunlu, such the battle of Baškent (1473). Barbaro, Angiolello, and Domenico Romano were later included in the Historia turchesca of Donato da Lezze (Historia turchesca [1300-1514], ed. by I. Ursu, Bucharest, 1909). To these accounts must be added that of the Venetian ambassador in Persia, Caterino Zeno, who was in the court of Uzun Ḥasan between 1471 and 1473 (Berchet, 1865, pp. 6-8, 130-35; De i Comentari del Viaggio in Persia di M. Caterino Zeno il K. & delle guerre fatte nell’Imperio Persiano, dal tempo di Ussuncassano in quà, Venice, 1558; V. Formaleoni, Caterin Zeno. Storia curiosa delle sue avventure in Persia tratta da un antico originale manoscritto ed ora per la prima volta pubblicata, Venice, 1873). During the last years of the 15th century, the Genoese merchant Geronimo da S. Stefano wrote a letter from Tripoli in Syria in which he recounts his travels from Hormuz through Persia with Armenian and Azami (Persian) merchants. He passed through Shiraz, Kāšān, Solṭāniye, and Tabriz before reaching Aleppo (“Viaggio di Hieronimo da Santo Stephano Genouese dirizzato à Messer Giouan Iacobo Mainer, di lingua portoghese tradotto nell’Italiana,” in Ramusio, Navigationi et Viaggi, Venice, 1563, I, foll. 345-46; P. Peregallo, “Viaggio di Geronimo da Santo Stefano e di Geronimo Adorno in India nel 1494-99,” Bollettino della Società Geografica Italiana 38, 1901, pp. 24-40; M. Longhena, “Il testo originale del viaggio di Geronimo Adorno e Geronimo da S. Stefano,” in Studi Italiani di Filologia Indo-Iranica diretti da Francesco Pullè 5, 1905, appendici, pp. 1-56; Viaggi in Persia India e Giava di Nicolò de’ Conti. Girolamo Adorno e Girolamo da Santo Stefano, ed. by M. Longhena, Milan, 1929).

A significant source for the beginnings of the Safavid period was written by a Venetian, known formerly as the “Anonimo Mercante” (for example, by Ramusio who published his travel account, “Viaggio di un mercante che fu nella Persia,” Navigationi et viaggi, II, Venice, 1583, foll. 78a-91a; “The Travels of a Merchant in Persia,” in A Narrative of Italian Travels in Persia, transl. by C. Grey, London, 1873, pp. 141-207); he has been identified by Jean Aubin (1988, p. 129; 1995, p. 258) as Domenico Romano (q.v.). This merchant was in Persia from 1507 to 1510. He describes several places, mainly in Azerbaijan, and gives important information on Uzun Ḥasan, Šayḵ Ḥaydar, and Šāh Esmāʿil I. Although Domenico Romano can be considered the more important traveler of the period of Shah Esmāʿil I, one must also mention the Itinerario of Ludovico Varthema (or Bathema, as Ramusio calls him; see VARTHEMA). His account of a journey to India and Southeast Asia between 1502 and 1508 (the years when he passed through Hormuz) includes descriptions of Ḵorāsān (Herat) and Transoxania (Samarkand) which do not seem to reflect actual visits there (“Itinerario,” in Ramusio, Navigationi et Viaggi, Venice, 1550, I, foll. 159a-188b; Varthema, Itinerario dallo Egypto alla India, ed. by E. Musacchio, Bologna, 1991). Some years later, the Florentine astronomer and geographer Andrea Corsali traveled through Persia on his long journey to India. His descriptions of Hormuz and the Shiʿites reflect a rationalistic approach (A. Corsali, “Lettera d’Andrea Corsali Fiorentino allo illustrissimo Signor Duca Giuliano de Medici scritta in Cochin terra dell’India, nell’anno MDXV alli VI di Gennaio. Della Navigazione del Mar Rosso & sino persico fino a Cochin città nella India, scritta alli XVII di Settembre MDXVII,” in Ramusio, Navigationi et Viaggi, Venice, 1550, I, pp. 192a-203b). Other Italian reports are mentioned in the Diarii of Marin Sanudo the Younger (d. 1536; q.v.), in which there is much information for the reign Shah Ismāʾil (Šāh Ismāʾil I nei “Diarii” di Marin Sanudo, ed. by B. Scarcia Amoretti, Rome, 1979; see also: Marin Sanuto il Giovane, I Diarii, ed. by R. Fulin, F. Stefani, N. Borozzi, et al., 58 vols., Venice, 1578-1903; F. Babinger, “Marino Sanuto’s Tagebucher als Quellen zur Geschichte der Safawiyya,” in T. W. Arnold, R. A. Nicholson, eds., A Volume of Oriental Studies Presented to Edward G. Browne, Cambridge, 1922, pp. 28-50).

Several Italian travelers were in Iran during the reign of Ṭahmāsp I (1524-76). Alberi and Berchet have not included the Relazione of Michele Membré (q.v.), written in 1542 (Relazione di Persia [1542]. Ms. inedito dell’Archivio di Stato di Venezia, ed. by F. Castro, G. R. Cardona, and A. M. Piemontese, Naples, 1969; English transl. by A. H. Morton, Mission to the Lord Sophy of Persia [1539-1542], London, 1993). This Relazione is an important report on the first period of the reign of Ṭahmāsp I. The edition of 1969 also contains other important evidence, such as the Viaggio di Colocut of the Venetian Giovanni Veneziano (pp. 105-114), which was first published in 1543 (L. Runcinotto, “Viaggio di Colocut descritto per messer Aloigi di Messer Giovanni Venetiano, nel quale si narra le mirabil forze, provincie, terre, & città del gran Signore Sophi et come passò infiniti Spagnoli in soccorso di esso signore contra Turchi: & etiam narra le meravigliose isole che producono Oro & pietre preciose: cosa invero molto curiosa da intendere,” in Viaggi fatti, da Vinetia, alla Tana, in Persia, in India, et in Costantinopoli: con la descrittione particolare di città, luoghi, siti, costumi, et della Porta del Gran Turco: et di tutte le intrate, spese et modo di governo suo, et della ultima impresa contra portoghesi, Venice, 1543, foll. 108a-120a). Other information useful for the reign of Ṭahmāsp I are found in the Vita di Ismael e Thomas Sofì of Theodore Spandugino (Spandugino, “La vita di Sach Ismael et Tamas re di Persia chiamati Soffi, nella quale si vede la cagione della controversia ch’è tra il Turco e il Soffi,” in F. Sansovino, Dell’Historia Universale dell’origine et Imperio de Turchi. Parte Prima, Venice, 1560, foll. 125-34; also in Membré, 1969, pp. 143-75) and in the report of Vincenzo degli Alessandri (q.v.), who was sent to Persia in 1570 by the Venetian Senate on the unsuccessful diplomatic mission which gave rise to his polemic remarks about the Safavids (V. Alessandri, “Relazione presentata al Consiglio dei Dieci il 24 settembre 1572 e letta l’11 ottobre da Vincenzo Alessandri veneto legado a Tahmasp re di Persia,” in E. Alberi, Relazioni degli Ambasciatori veneti, ser. III, II, Florence, 1844, pp. 103-27; “Narrative of the most noble Vincentio Alessandri, ambassador to the King of Persia from the most illustrious Republic of Venice,” in Narrative of Italian Travels in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, ed. by C. Gray, London, 1873; Berchet, 1865, pp. 29-38; Berengo, 1960). The adventurous travels of the merchant Cesare Federici (or de’ Federici), originally from Val Camonica near Brescia, who was in Persia between 1563 and 1581 and who journeyed through Birecik, Aleppo, Baghdad, and then Hormuz on his way to India, merits special mention for his rational objectivity. Particularly interesting is his description of the coronation of the King of Hormuz (Viaggio di M. Cesare dei Federici nell’Indie Orientali et oltra l’India, Venice, 1587; C. de’ Federici, “Viaggio di M. Cesare de i Federici nell’India Orientale et oltra l’India per via di Soria,” in Ramusio, Navigazioni e viaggi, Venice, 1605, III, foll. 386b-398b; “The voyage and travel of M. Caesar Fredericke into the East India and beyond the Indies,” in R. Hakluyt, The second volume of the Principal Navigations, Voyages, traffiques and discoveries of the English Nation made by Sea or over Land, in the South and South-east part of the World, London, 1599, pp. 213-44). Later, Gasparo Balbi, a Venetian merchant and jeweler, traveled in Persia (1579-88) on his way to India. His description of Hormuz, which he passed through in 1580, offers a considerable amount of information about navigation and pearl production in the area, together with various somewhat fantastic details (Viaggio dell’Indie Orientali, di Gasparo Balbi, Gioielliero Venetiano. Nel qual si contiene quanto egli in detto viaggio hà veduto per lo spatio di 9 anni consumati in esso dal 1579 al 1588, Venice, 1590; O. Pinto, “Il veneziano Gasparo Balbi ed il suo viaggio in Mesopotamia,” Rendiconti dell’Accademia dei Lincei, classe Scienze morali etc., ser. VI, vol. 8, 1932, pp. 665-734; idem, “Viaggi di Cesare Federici e Gaspare Balbi in Oriente nel secolo XVI,” Bolletino della Reale Società Geografica Italiana 83, 1946, pp. 1-5; idem, ed., Viaggi di C. Federici e G. Balbi alle Indie Orientali, Rome, 1962). For the reigns of Shah Ismāʾil II (1576-77) and Muḥammad Ḵudābanda (1578-87), mention can be made of the important report of Giovanni Minadoi (q.v.), who refers to the war between Murad III and Muḥammad Ḵudābanda in his Historia. This text also offers extensive information on the Safavid Empire (G. T. Minadoi, Historia della guerra fra Turchi, et Persiani, descritta in quattro libri da Gio. Tomaso Minadoi; cominciando dall’anno MDLXXVII nel quale furo li primi mouimenti di lei, seguendo per tutto l’anno MDLXXXV, Rome, 1587; idem, The History of the wares betweene the Tyrkes and the Persians, trans. by A. Hartwell, London, 1595).

A revival of political and diplomatic relations between the Italian courts and Persia occurred during the reign of ʿAbbās I (1587-1629), when three travelers in particular played a noteworthy role in the spread of knowledge of Persia. Two brothers from Cosenza, Giovan Battista (1552-1619) and Girolamo Vecchietti (1557-1640; qq.v.), left a collection of material that demonstrates their deep knowledge of Persia and the Persian language, together with their special diplomatic ability. Cardinal Ferdinando de Medici, the future Grand duke of Tuscany, following a commission of Pope Gregory XIII, sent Giovan Battista to the Safavid kingdom with the aim of forming an alliance against the Turks. He reached Tabriz in 1586. In 1590, he again traveled through Persia on his way to India, where he was joined by his brother Girolamo. They returned separately to Italy, Girolamo in 1608 and Giovan Battista, who had been a prisoner of the Turks in Tunis, in 1618. Their detailed report on Persia and the kingdom of Hormuz represents a very important source for the last period of Muḥammad Ḵudābanda and the beginnings of the reign of ʿAbbās I (H. F. Brown, “A report on the condition of Persia in the year 1586,” The English Historical Review 7, 1892, pp. 314-21; U. Tucci, “Una relazione di Giovan Battista. Vecchietti sulla Persia e sul Regno di Hormuz, 1587,” Oriente Moderno 35/4, 1955, pp. 149-60. R. Almagià, “Giovanni Battista e Girolamo Vecchietti viaggiatori in Oriente,” Rendiconti dell’Accadermia Nazionale dei Lincei, ser. VIII, 11, 1956, pp. 313-50; P. Donazzolo, “Gerolamo Vecchietti e la sua ‘Peregrinazione d’Oriente’,” Rivista di Geografia 12, 1932, pp. 391-97). The period of Shah ʿAbbās I is also described in the accounts of travels in Persia by the Roman noble Pietro Della Valle (q.v.), who left Italy for a 12-year journey in the East in 1614. His descriptions of Baghdad (1616), Isfahan (1617), where he met Shah ‘Abbās I, Persepolis, and Shiraz are certainly unique for their objectivity and acuteness. The important information given by this traveler has been published only in part. While his Viaggi, travels, have been variously edited, his Diari needs further extensive research (see Piemontese, 1982, vol. I, nos. 831-85; see also P. Della Valle, In viaggio per l’Oriente: Le mummie, Babilonia, Persepoli, ed. by A. Invernizzi, E. Lesopo, and F. Pennacchietti, Alessandria, 2001). For this period one must also mention the Relatione of Gian Francesco Sagredo, Venetian consul in Syria from 1608 to 1611, who gives an account of the Safavid Empire (Donazzolo, 1929, pp. 78-79).

The late Safavid period. During the reign of Shah ʿAbbās I, Pope Clement VIII sent the first Carmelite mission to Persia (1604); this order would be followed later by the Augustinians, Capuchins, Dominicans, and Jesuits (see CARMELITES and P. Ambrosius a S. Teresia, Bio-bibliographia ordinis carmelitarum discalceatorum, Rome, 1941; H. Chick, A Chronicle of the Carmelites in Persia and the Papal Missions of the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries, 2 vols., London, 1939; see also Richard, 1993). A discalced Carmelite, Phillipe de la Sainte Trinité, was dispatched to a mission in Persia. He left Italy in 1629 and traveled through Persia to India, where he arrived in 1631. His long travel account was translated into Italian from the original Latin and contains several chapters on the Persian Empire, the role played by the Portuguese, and the customs and manners of the Persians (Viaggi orientali del Reverendissimo P. Filippo della SS. Trinità Generale de’ Carmelitani Scalzi Da lui composti nella lingua latina e nuouamente tradotti nell’Italiana da un Padre del medesimo Ordine, Rome, 1666). The Carmelites played an important role in the spread of knowledge of Persia in this period. Other travel accounts include those of Father Giuseppe di S. Maria (1620-89) from Caprarola (Prima spedizione alle Indie Orientali del P.F. Giuseppe di Santa Maria Carmelitano Scalzo, delegato apostolico ne’ regni de’ Malavari Ordinata da Nostro Signore Alessandro VII, Rome, 1666; Seconda spedizione all’Indie Orientali di Monsignor Sebastiani Fr. Giuseppe di S. Maria dell’Ordine de’ Carmelitani Scalzi Ordinata da Alessandro VII di gloriosa memoria, Rome, 1672) and the report written by Vincenzo Maria di S. Caterina (d. 1680; Il viaggio alle Indie Orientali del P.F. Vincenzo Maria di S. Caterina da Siena Procuratore Generale de’ Carmelitani Scalzi, Rome, 1672; see also V. Prinzivalli, Viaggiatori e missionari nell’Asia a tutto il secolo XVII. Appunti di storia della geografia pubblicati nel IV centenario della scoperta d’America, Rome, 1892).

The 17th century closes with some travel accounts of special importance because of their interest in archeology. The first is that written by Angelo Legrenzi, a physician from Venice, who joined a caravan in Syria and traveled through Tabriz, Solṭāniye, Qazvin, Isfahan, and Persepolis. In 1678 he left Persia via Hormuz for India. He returned to Venice in 1694 (Legrenzi, Il pellegrinaggio nell’Asia cioè viaggi del Dottor Angelo Legrenzi Fisico, e Chirurgo, Cittadino Veneto. Con i ragguagli dello Stato dell’Imperio Ottomano, dei Rè di Persia, de Mogori, e Gentili loro leggi, vite e costumi, II, Venice, 1705). A similar journey was undertaken by the Calabrian Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri (1648-1724). This magistrate of the kingdom of Naples returned in 1700 after a long journey, in which he also visited India and China. Gemelli Careri reached Isfahan in 1694 and, as a member of the Polish delegation, witnessed the coronation of Sultan Ḥosayn. He visited Persepolis and traveled along the southern coast of Iran before his departure for India in 1695. His travel account achieved particular success during the 18th century (G. F. Gemelli Carreri, Giro del mondo del Dottor D. Gio. Francesco Gemelli Carreri. Parte seconda contenente le cose più ragguardevoli vedute nella Persia, 2nd ed., Naples, 1708 [1st ed., 1699-1700]; P. Doria, “Gemelli Carreri, Giovanni Francesco,” in Dizinario Biografico degli Italiani LIII, Roma, 1999, pp. 42-45). Another non-religious traveler was the Venetian noble Ambrogio Bembo (1652-1705), who was in Persia in 1674 and remained there for four months. Modeled on Polo’s Milione, Bembo’s travel account gives important information on Persia, paying particular attention to the monuments of Persepolis, Naqš-e Rostam, Kermānšāh, and Kordestān. In Isfahan Bembo met Chardin and the illustrator G.-J. Grelot (J. Morelli, Dissertazione attorno ad alcuni viaggiatori eruditi veneziani poco noti, Venice, 1803; A. Welch, “Safavi Iran through Venetian eyes,” in Society and Culture in the Early Modern Middle East. Studies on Iran in the Safavid Period, ed. by A. J. Newman, Leiden, 2003, pp. 97-121; Tucci, 1966). In 1693 the Lombard Carmelite Francesco Maria di S. Siro (Antonio Gorla di Portalbera) visited Tabriz, Solṭāniye, and Qom, where he witnessed the celebration of Āšura, and Isfahan where he assisted in the expulsion of the Carmelites from Julfa (P. Donazzolo, “Viaggi in Oriente ed in Occidente [sec. XVII e XVIII] del fratello Francesco Maria di S. Siro, [Carmelitano Scalzo], al secolo Antonio Gorla di Portabbera [Pavia],” Rivista Geografica Italiana 19, 1912, pp. 337-54, 423, 436, 530-37, 584-605). At the end of the 17th century, the Carmelite Fulgenzio di S. Giuseppe (1696-1703) visited Persepolis and wrote about the coronation of Sultan Ḥosayn (Alberto Dallolio, “Un viaggiatore in Oriente alla fine del secolo XVII,” L’Archiginnasio 2, 1907, pp. 73-106). During the first half of the 18th century, Florio Beneveni was sent by Tsar Peter I to Bukhara; from there he sent several letters published in 1986 in a Russian translation (Poslannik Petra I na Vostoke. Posol’stvo Florio Beneveni v Persiyu i Bukharu v 1718-1725, ed. by V. G. Volovnikova, Moscow, 1986; see C. Poujol, “L’ambassade à Boxârâ de Florio Beneveni. ou comment contourner en vain la Mer Caspienne: Chronique,” in J. Calmard, ed., Études Safavides, Paris and Tehran, 1993, pp. 247-49).

In the 18th century another Carmelite, Leandro di S. Cecilia (Giovanni Augusto Cottalorda), left a series of travel writings. He was in Persia between 1736 and 1738 and traveled in Kermanšāh, where he visited Ṭāq-e Bostān. He also visited Bisotun, Hamadān, and Baghdad (Persia ovvero Secondo Viaggio di F. Leandro di Santa Cecilia Carmelitano Scalzo in Oriente scritto dal medesimo, e dedicato a Sua Altezza Serenissima il Principe Arciduca d’Austria, Rome, 1757 [which reproduced his drawing of Ṭāq-e Bostān]; Mesopotamia ovvero Terzo Viaggio di F. Leandro di Santa Cecilia Carmelitano Scalzo in Oriente scritto da lui medesimo, e dedicato a Sua Altezza Serenissima il Principe Leopoldo Arciduca d’Austria, Rome, 1757; B. Genito, “Un Carmelitano Scalzo del XVIII secolo: tra ideologia medievale e coscienza moderna del reale in alcune interpretazioni e disegni di resti archeologici,” La conoscenza dell’Asia e dell’Africa in Italia nei secoli XVIII e XIX, ed. by U. Marazzi and A. Gallotta, I/1, Naples, 1984, pp. 489-501; P. Orsatti, “Il Carmelitano Leandro di S. Cecilia, viaggiatore in Oriente (1731-1751),” in La conoscenza dell’Asia e dell’Africa in Italia nei secoli XVIII e XIX, ed. by U. Marazzi and A. Gallotta, II/2, Naples, 1985, pp. 509-31”).

The Qajar period. At the beginning of the 18th century Italian men of letters began to show a certain interest in Persia. Antonio Ranieri Biscia (1780-1839), a native of Forlì, traveled in Iran and translated several Persian works, although he apparently left no account of his long journey in Persia from 1804-14 (M. Nallino, “Un orientalista dei primordi del sec. XIX: Antonio Ranieri Biscia (1780-1839),” in A Francesco Gabrieli. Studi Orientalistici offerti nel suo sessantesimo compleanno, Rome, 1964, pp. 175-88). An important travel account was written by the professional traveler Gaetano Osculati (1808-84), who was with Felice De Vecchi in Iran in 1841. During his travels he visited Tabriz, Solṭāniye, Tehran, Shiraz, Bušehr, and Hormuz (De Vecchi, Giornale di carovana o Viaggio dell’Armenia, Persia ed Arabia fatto negli anni 1841-42 da Felice De Vecchi e G. Osculati, Milan, 1847. Bandini, Pietro, Un viaggio nella Persia e nelle Indie Orientali intrapreso dal chiarissimo signore Gaetano Osculati negli anni 1841 e 1842, Udine, 1845).

The new political conditions under the reign of Nāṣer al-Din Shah (1848-96) brought about a change in the Italian approach towards Iran, and renewed attention was given to the diplomacy which had been interrupted at the beginning of the 18th century. The first attempt to conclude a treaty was made in 1848 by Romualdo Tecco, a Sardinian minister in Constantinople, who had a good knowledge of Persian and was clearly interested in Persian matters (G. D’Erme, “Romualdo Tecco (1802-1867). Diplomatico sardo «Orientalista»,” Annali di Ca’Foscari 9/3, 1970, pp. 107-22). Diplomatic relations flourished particularly in the second half of the century, especially after the Persian embassy to Europe in 1856 of Farroḵ Khan Amin al-Molk. This ambassador met the plenipotentiary minister of the kingdom of Sardinia, S. Villamarina, in Paris and in 1857 signed an important treaty; this was followed in 1862 by an embassy to the court of Nāṣer al-Din Shah headed by Marcello Cerruti. The details of this diplomatic mission were recorded by the naturalist Filippo De Filippi (1814-67), who took part in it together with other scientists (Michele Lessona, Giacomo Doria, Camillo Ferrati). An important album of photographs also records this embassy (F. De Filippi, “Note di un viaggio in Persia nel 1862,” Il Politecnico 20, 1864, pp. 28-63, 168-222; 22, 1864, pp. 5-37, 233-54; 23, 1864, 233-45; 25, 1865, pp. 5-32, 154-94; 26, 1865, pp. 5-32, 261-76; idem, Note di un viaggio in Persia, Milan, 1865; A. M. Piemontese, “Le relazioni tra Italia e Persia nel XIX secolo. I trattati del 1857 e del 1862,” Oriente Moderno 48, 1968, pp. 537-66; idem, “Le relazioni fra Italia e Persia nel XIX secolo. La corrispondenza reale,” Oriente Moderno 49, 1969, pp. 1-20; idem, “Profilo delle relazioni italo-persiane del XIX secolo,” Il Veltro 14/1-2, 1970, pp. 1-20; idem, “The Photograph Album of the Diplomatic Mission to Persia (Summer 1862),” East and West 22, 3-4, 1972, pp. 249-311; G. Branca, “I viaggiatori italiani del nostro secolo. C) Viaggi in diverse parti dell’Asia: Brocchi nella Siria e nell’Egitto, Osculati e De Vecchi in Persia, Dandolo in Palestina e nel Sudan, De Bianchi nel Curdistan, Botta nelle rovine di Ninive, la Missione italiana in Persia nel 1862, Gavazzi a Bucara, Guzmani nell’Arabia, gli Italiani in Palestina. Conclusione,” Bollettino della Reale Società Geografica Italiana 3, 1869, pp. 345-409). In 1863 the Lombard patriot Modesto Gavazzi (1828-68), together with P. Litta and F. Meazza, undertook an adventurous journey to Bukhara in search of silkworms. Gavazzi was taken prisoner by the local khan and left a vivid account of his year in detention there (Gavazzi, I prigionieri italiani a Bocara. Lettera di Modesto Gavazzi al comm. Cristoforo Negri, Turin, 1864; idem, Alcune notizie raccolte in un viaggio a Bucara, Milan, 1865). During the same period, A. de Bianchi traveled in Armenia and Kurdistan and wrote a travel account, Viaggi in Armenia, Kurdistàn e Lazistàn (Milan, 1863), while Giuseppe Anaclerio recorded his journey in his work, La Persia descritta. Relazione di un viaggio (Naples, 1868).

In 1857 Captain Enrico Andreini from Lucca went to Persia, where he worked as an instructor in the Qajar army in which he served until 1886. Andreini wrote a series of reports to the Italian Foreign Ministery that were rightly considered an invaluable source on Qajar history. There are 437 reports, about 100 having been lost, which give details not only on the army but also on the economy, commerce, and administrative structure of the Iranian state in this period (A. M. Piemontese, “An Italian Source for the History of Qajar Persia: the Reports of General Enrico Andreini (1871-1886),” East and West 19/1-2, 1969, pp. 147-75; idem, “L’esercito persiano nel 1874-75 organizzazione e riforma secondo E. Andreini,” Rivista degli Studi Orientali 49/1-2, 1975, pp. 71-117). Another Italian instructor of the Qajar Army was Antenore Perini (1855-1934), who was sent by the Austrians on a diplomatic and military mission to Persia from 1882 to 1884. He left a rich collection of his travels with some photos (Un trentino alla corte dello Scià di Persia. Le memorie di Antenore Perini 1882-1884, ed. by Mir Gialal Hashemi, Trento, 1997).

The 20th century. The end of the Qajar period and the constitutional period produced a certain interest in Italy and occasioned further travels by Italians to Persia. Such interest is shown by the reports of the various ambassadors, especially between 1907 and 1914, including those of Camillo Romano Avezzana (ambassador from 1907 to 1910), Giulio Cesare Montagna (1910-14) and Carlo Arrivabene Valenti (1914-18). These reports offer important data on the changes in Iran during this period (Maria Gabriella Pasqualini, L’Italia e le prime esperienze costituzionali in Persia (1905-1919), Naples, 1992; see also A. Rizzini, “Un paese in agonia: la Persia,” La Lettura 12, 1912, pp. 150-58).

During the period of Reżā Shah, Italian interest was frequently scientific. Ardito Desio, for example, explored the region and prepared an important report on the mountains of the Zarda Kuh in the Zagros and on Mount Damāvand (Desio, “Una spedizione italiana ai monti della Persia,” Nuova Antologia 49, August 1934, pp. 338-51; idem, “Appunti geografici e geologici sulla catena dello Sardeh Kuh in Persia,” Memorie Geologiche e Geografiche di Giotto Danielli 4, 1933-34, pp. 139-67; G. Polvara, P. Righini, “La spedizione alpinistica italiana in Persia,” L’Illustrazione Italiana 60, 1933, II, pp. 562-63, 700-701; G. Polvara, A. Desio, A. Prosperi, L. Bonzi, “La spedizione italiana ai Monti della Persia 1933,” Bollettino del Club Alpino Italiano 43/76, 1936, pp. 39-78). Father Giuseppe Messina investigated the ancient religious background of Iran during his travels (Messina, “Viaggio in Iran. I. Impressioni e riflessioni. II. Iran antico. Iran moderno,” La Civiltà Cattolica 88, 1937, I, pp. 227-42, 319-31). The participation of a large group of Italians in the construction of the Trans-Iranian Railway (1939) resulted in various Italian reports, such as that written by P. M. Bardi (“La ferrovia transiriana [sic, for transiraniana],” L’Ingegnere 1935, pp. 905-17). This new approach to Iran required a certain regional knowledge of the country, exhibited, for example, by Giuseppe Capra, who wrote an account about Mashad and the Persian Gulf (Capra, “Mashhed la città santa sciita [Persia],” Le Vie d’Italia e del Mondo 2, 1934, pp. 223-37; idem, “Una via maestra tra occidente e oriente. Il Golfo persico,” Le Vie d’Italia e del Mondo I, 1933, pp. 1057-84; idem, “Il Golfo persico e gli interessi italiani,” Rassegna Italiana 17, 1934, pp. 561-75 and 649-70; see also V. Pozzi, “Vagabondo nel Tagikistan,” L’Illustrazione italiana 60, 1933, I, pp. 808-09). Such writings were paralleled by a new political and cultural stance taken during the period of fascism. This involved also a revival of the classical and medieval glories of the East. Capra, for example, retraced the old Italian merchant journeys in Persia (“La ‘strada dei Genovesi’ nell’Asia Minore,” Le Vie del Mondo 1, 1933, pp. 939-70; see also A. Cipolla, Sulle orme di Alessandro Magno [dal Granico al Caspio], Verona, 1933). This kind of revivalism appeared again after World War II and obviously involved the rediscovery of Marco Polo (A. Gaudio, “Sulle tracce di Marco Polo. II. Dall’Anatolia Orientale all’Iran. III. Iran Meridionale e Belucistan. VI. La via del ritorno,” L’Universo 35, 1955, pp. 250-56, 369-82, 892-904). During this period the more traditional travelers also continued to travel to Iran. Gastone Tanzi traveled in Afghanistan during the reign of Amān Allāh and left a very vivid account of his journey (G. Tanzi, Viaggi in Afghanistan, Milan, 1929; for Afghanistan in this period, see also C. M. Pecorella, Fardà. Tavolozza di Afghanistan sotto l’Emiro Amanullah, Palermo, 1930). Other travelers were influenced by the strong ideological background of the time (A. Cipolla, Asia Centrale Sovietica contro India. Viaggio in Turchestan ed Afghanistan, Milan, 1935; see also idem, Sino al limite segreto del mondo. Per terra e per aria dall’Oriente all’India, Viaggi terrestri ed aerei nel Vicino Oriente. Iran, Afghanistan, India, Florence, 1937; idem, Sugli altipiani dell’Iran, Milan, 1926).

Some journals, like Le Vie d’Italia e del Mondo, became an important means of publishing travel accounts and descriptions of Iran in Italy, even after World War II (see e.g., O. Maier, “Attraverso la Persia settentrionale,” Le Vie del Mondo 13, 1951, pp. 801-18; idem, “Teheran capitale dell’Iran,” Le Vie del Mondo 13, 1951, pp. 1279-92; idem, “Attraverso la Persia meridionale,” Le Vie del Mondo 14, 1952, pp. 987-1002). After World War II authors were struck by the social and economic conditions in Persia. Vincenzo Bianchini, for example, left an impressive account of the rural society of Iran during the reign of Moḥammad Reżā Shah which has been compared with the work of Jamālzādeh for its realism (V. Bianchini, L’Acqua del Diavolo, Bari, 1962; N. L. Tornesello, Šurābād e il “realismo” di Seyyed Moḥammad ‘Ali Jamālzāde. Funzione letteraria e veridicità storica, Rome, 2000). This interest was paralleled by the anthropological approach to Persia of travelers such as G. C. Castelli Gattinara (L’Islam dei nomadi afghani. Note di viaggio, Rome, 1967 and I nomadi Kuci dell’Afghanistan, Rome, 1970). The revolution of 1979 and the emergence in Iran of the new Islamic Republic resulted in a particular interest in the country on the part of journalists. Filippo Bertotti, using the nickname Filippo Rumi, has written several articles in the newspaper Il Manifesto. His “Sciismo e politica nell’Iran contemporaneo” (in L’Iran e i suoi schermi, Venice, 1990, pp. 29-39) contains a memoir that represents a synthesis of his experiences in that country. More recently, the role of several Italians involved in Afghanistan as volunteers was evidenced by books in which they described their experiences. A representative example is the Storie da Kabul, (Turin, 2003) by Alberto Cairo, who worked as a physical therapist in the orthopedic centers of the Red Cross in Afghanistan.



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F. Surdich, “Colonna, Giovanni,” in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani XXVII, Rome, 1982, pp. 337-38.

G. Tanzi, Viaggi in Afghanistan, Milan, 1929.

[Gir. Vecchietti,] “Della sua peregrinazione d’Oriente,” Ms. Athens, Gennadios Library, no. 73, foll. 48-160.

U. Tucci, “Bembo Ambrogio,” Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani VIII, Rome, 1966, pp. 101-2.

Idem, “Mercanti veneziani in Asia lungo l’itinerario poliano,” in Venezia e l’Oriente, ed. by L. Lanciotti, Venice, 1987, pp. 307-21.

J. E. Woods, The Aqquyunlu. Clan, Confederation, Empire, revised and expanded, Salt Lake City, 1999.

S. Yerasimos, Les voyageurs dans l’Empire ottoman (XIVe-XVIe siècle), Ankara, 1991.

P. Zurla, Di Marco Polo e degli altri viaggiatori più illustri. Dissertazioni del P. Ab. D. Placido Zurla con appendice sulle antiche mappe idrografiche lavorate in Venezia, Venice, 1818-19.



(2) Qajar Period

There is ample evidence of an Italian presence in Persia throughout the Qajar period, when many Italians went to work there as physicians, military advisors, or merchants. They left little written testimony of their Persian experience until the second half of the 19th century, when the number of Italians who went to Persia increased, and with them the bulk of recorded data. The most salient aspect of the accounts written by Italians who lived in Persia between 1850 and the turn of the century is that almost all of them had official assignments. In fact, most of the Italian material published are the reports of military officials who were in Persia to train the Persian army, of natural scientists researching the zoological world, or of financial advisors to the Persian government.

The first Italian travelers who left significant accounts of their visits to Qajar Persia were the members of the 1862 mission, which included diplomats, scientists and military officers. The greatest contributions in terms of scientific articles and general information about Persia were brought by Filippo de Filippi (q.v.) and the physician Michele Lessona (1823-1894). Lessona was particularly interested in zoology and his essays are basically devoted to natural life in Persia, such as its landscapes and “magnificent nature [that is] so great and excellent that I cannot describe it properly” (letter written in 1865, in Camerano, pp. 25-26). He also became very interested in the Bahai religion, so much so that he wrote a book on it (I Babi).

In the second half of the 19th century, Qajar governors employed Italian officers both as teachers at the Dār al-Fonun (q.v.) in Tehran and as advisors within the ranks of the military. The first Italian officer who left a written account of Persia was Count Luigi Serristori (1793-1857), in whose brief account one finds information on Persian geographical and economic conditions, on the trade and commerce, as well as many comments on Persian people with whom the author sympathized, because they were “repressed by the monarch’s endless tyranny” (p. 211), but whom he also accused of barbarous customs and of falsehood and vanity, although they were also “intelligent, quick learning, cordial, and merry tempered” (p. 214).

More substantial and responsible are the accounts by two other officers, Alessandro de Bianchi and Enrico Andreini. De Bianchi was a captain of the Italian army, who served in the Ottoman armed forces in the 1850s and came into contact with the Persians who lived on the borders between the Ottoman and the Qajar domains. Most of de Bianchi’s observations concerned the Kurds, whose way of life he described in detail, especially their bellicose recreations.

De Bianchi presented himself as an expert on Muslim manners and languages (p. 38) and enriched his narrative with historical notes, legends, anecdotes and linguistic annotations. Muslim women were another interesting topic for de Bianchi, who reflected on their ways and manners among the Turks, Armenians, Kurds and Persians. He scorned the overall confusion made by books on the Middle Eastern people, and he was particularly critical of the Christian missionaries (such as the Italian Father Maurizio Garzoni, author of the first vocabulary of the Kurdish language, who would antagonize everyone who professed a non-Christian religion; de Bianchi, p. 225). He also labeled the Christians who resided in the Levant as “ignorant, full of prejudices, fanatically attached to their religion and therefore hostile to other religions’ believers” (p. 226).

The Captain Enrico Andreini, who lived in Persia from 1857 until his death in 1895, was an instructor of the Persian army and also taught at the Dār al-Fonun. He was appointed general in 1872, soon after his proposal to the Italian governor to become the Italian correspondent for Persian affairs. His 437 reports are a very complete account of the most important Persian events in those crucial years. Andreini’s main concern was the reform of the Persian armed forces, and in 1864 he translated into Persian a French manual on infantry maneuvers (Ḥarakāt-e afwāj; see Piemontese, 1969, p. 156, and n. 14), one of the first works of this genre to be published in Persia. In May 1875 he also wrote in French a project of reform of the Persian army, which he addressed to Nāṣer-al-Din Shah, whom he highly esteemed. Andreini also had a great interest for the Central Asia question and devoted many dispatches to the analysis of the various components involved in the Great Game (q.v.), in which he showed his political and diplomatic acumen (see Piemontese, 1972).

Very little is known abut Giuseppe Anaclerio, who spent three years (1862-65) in Persia working in the army. His account, La Persia descritta, although much influenced by his prejudices and preconceptions about Persian civilization, nonetheless gives interesting descriptions of life in Persia. Particularly remarkable is his description of Tehran prisons, which he had the chance to visit.

Some 19th-century travelers to Persia went to investigate the Persian methods of silk-worm cultivation for the Italian government, such as Giulio Adamoli (1840-1926), an engineer and mathematician, who was extremely knowledgeable about Middle Eastern countries and who lived in Ḵoqand for about one year (1870). He only wrote some articles in which he described the Ḵoqand Khanate in great detail: its mosques and sanctuaries, the bazaar, the Khan’s residence and private dwellings, the administrative system, the local customs and celebrations, including the ceremony for the circumcision of a dignitary’s son and some ruhawzi performances. He was very critical of the conditions of women and ascribed all the faults of Ḵoqand’s society to the “most fanatic and stubborn ignorance” (“Un’escursione,” p. 442) and to the superstition that abided among every social group.

More ponderous is the account written by Eteocle Lorini (1805-1919), a professor of Financial Sciences at the University of Pavia who spent the years 1897-98 in Persia. His extensive monograph, La Persia, covers a variety of topics, ranging from religion to political institutions, from the world of work and business to that of art and literature, from the public realm to the private. It is an interesting, readable guidebook, in which Lorini showed his familiarity with, and knowledge of, both past and present Persia. His chapters on Persian administrative hierarchy is a model of clarity and accuracy, as are his economic and financial observations, which reveal both his wit and capacity for perceiving and analyzing the complex Persian situation. Another outstanding aspect of Lorini’s study is a collection of authoritative assertions aimed at correcting and eliminating many prejudices about Persia and her people. He contradicted the common Western bad opinion about Muslim education (p. 103). He also had a series of provocative assertions on Persian women, whom he described as the sovereigns of Persia, happy with their position in the harem, and protected by Muslim law (pp. 107-9). He is also the author of reports on Persian commerce (Lorini, 1887, 1888, 1983).

More extensive was the Persian experience of Carlo Chiari, who had previously studied Persian and other Asian and African languages at the Institute of Oriental Languages in Paris. At the turn of the century he went to Persia and entered the Persian financial services under the directorship of the Belgian Josef Naus. In 1910 he was appointed director of customs of Persian Kurdistan, where he lived for about thirty years. His autobiography, Notti persiane, describes at length the Kurdish way of life and the manners of Christian populations dwelling on the fringes of the Qajar realm; but it is also rich in episodes regarding the eventful period of civil war in western Persia in the first decades of the 19th century.

The writings of Italian travelers in Qajar Persia reveal some common characteristics: the majority of the writers showed a sympathetic attitude towards the country they visited and its people. Though they were critical of certain events and situations, they were usually not affected by the prejudices and preconceptions of the time; moreover, they were eager to make a good impression in the foreign country. This attitude and the way it is expressed in these accounts is important as these writings fostered other Italian interests towards Persia and Persian studies. They offered information about Persian matters which were virtually unknown in Europe, such as the richness of Persian zoological and botanical life, the organization of the Persian army, and the life of the people who lived on the periphery of the Persian world.

Moreover, the material provided about Persian politics benefited from the authorship of politically impartial observers; Italy had no immediate or direct interest in the rivalry among European powers, for it was too small and too weak a state to entertain such ambitions.



Giulio Adamoli, “Un’escursione nel Kokan [sic], Aprile-Maggio 1870,” Nuova Antologia di lettere, arti e scienze 22, 1873, pp. 411-48.

Idem, “Una spedizione militare in Asia Centrale, Agosto-Settembre 1890,” ibid., pp. 917-53.

Giuseppe Anaclerio, La Persia descritta: relazione di un viaggio, Naples, 1868.

Enrico Andreini, “Relazione sull’industria ed il commercio della Persia del Generale Andreini,” Bollettino consolare 2, 1884, pp. 493-536.

Alessandro de Bianchi, Viaggio in Armenia, Kurdistàn, Lazistàn, Milan, 1863.

Lorenzo Camerano, “Michele Lessona, notizie biografiche e bibliografiche,” Bolettino dei Musei di Zoologia e di Anatomia Comparata della R. Università di Torino 9, no. 188, 1894.

Carlo Chiari, Notti persiane: Mezzo secolo di vita sugli altipiani dell’Iran, Rome, 1946. Maurizio Garzoni, Grammatica e vocabolaria della kurda . . . , Rome, 1787.

Michele Lessona, I Babi, Conferenza tenuta alla Societa Filotecnica di Torino addi 5 e 12 dicembre 1880, Torino, 1881.

Eteocle Lorini, “Commercio in Persia,” L’Esplorazione commerciale 2, 1887, p. 374.

Idem, “La produzione della seta in Persia,” ibid., 3, 1888, pp. 151-52.

Idem, La Persia economica contemporanea e la sua questione monetaria: Monografia fatta per incarico del Ministero del tesoro (1897-1898), Rome, 1900; repr., Pahlavi commemorative reprint series, Tehran, 1976.

Idem, “Da Roma a Teheran: Note di un viaggio in Persia,” Nuova Antologia di letter, arti e scienze, no. 84, 1899, pp. 327-47.

Idem, “La Persia all’esposizione mondiale,” Minerva 5, 1983, pp. 461-62.

Idem, “Economia e finanza e commercio della Persia” ibid., pp. 468-69.

Angelo M. Piemontese “An Italian Source for the History of Qāğār Persia: The Reports of General Enrico Andreini (1871-1886),” East and West 19, 1969, pp. 45-79; tr. Ḵosrow Fāniān as “Yak maʾḵaḏ-e tāriḵi dar bāra-ye Qājāriya: gozārešhā-ye Ženeral Enriko Āndreʾini,” Barrasihā-ye tāriḵi 9, 1974, pp. 37-70.

Idem, “La questione centroasiatica in E. Andreini (1872-’86),” Il Veltro 16, 1972, pp. 475-530.

Idem, “L’esercito persiano nel 1874-75: organizzazione e riforma secondo E. Andreini,” Rivista degli Studi Orientali 49, 1975, pp. 71-117.

Luigi Serristori, “Notizie geografiche e statistiche della Persia: Memoria del colonnello conte L. Serristori,” Annali Universali di Statistica 65, 1840, pp. 207-15.


(Michele Bernardini, Anna Vanzan)

Originally Published: December 15, 2007

Last Updated: April 5, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XIV, Fasc. 3, pp. 250-259