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Before the Kaiser: The Memory of Saladin and the Crusades in the Near East from the Fifteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries
By Jonathan Phillips
Kreuzzüge des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit: Realhistorie – Geschichtskultur – Didaktik (Historische Europa-Studien, vol. 15), edited by F.Hinz (Georg Olms Verlag, 2014)
Introduction: In 1898 Kaiser Wilhelm II courted the declining Ottoman Empire with a major state visit to Istanbul, Jerusalem, Baalbeck and Damascus. He reached Syria in early November where an important destination during his stay in Damascus was Saladin’s mausoleum, a building that housed both the recent (1878) Ottoman marble shrine and the wooden medieval coffin associated with the sultan’s burial. There, Auguste Victorian, the kaiserin, laid a wreath (now located in the Imperial War Museum, London) on the Ottoman tomb bearing a message in Arabic commemorating the visit of the one great leader to the presence of another. Wilhelm himself said that the sultan ‘was the great sign of his time, because of his boldness, his justice and his noble nature.’
Later that evening the imperial party were guests at a lavish dinner hosted by Nazim Pasha the local Ottoman governor. William Shortland Richards, the British diplomat present, reported the Kaiser’s words: “I remember that I am now in a city in which once lived the greatest prince whose name is recorded in history, the valorius hero, whose courage, his elevation and nobility of character and his devotion to his religion was an example in heroism even to his enemies. I refer to the great sultan Saladin of the dynasty of Ayyub when I think of this.”