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Pietro Della Valle

Pietro Della Valle

Pietro della Valle (2 April 1586 – 21 April 1652) was an Italian who traveled throughout Asia during the Renaissance period. His travels took him to the Holy Land, the Middle East, Northern Africa, and as far as India.


  • Biography 1
  • Works (Opere) 2
  • Book Collector 3
  • See also 4
  • Sources and References 5
  • External links 6


Pietro Della Valle was born in Rome on 2 April 1586, to a wealthy and noble family. His early life was spent in the pursuit of literature and arms. He was a cultivated man, who knew Latin, Greek, classical mythology, and the Bible. He also became a member of the Roman academy of the Umoristi, and acquired some reputation as a versifier and rhetorician. When Pietro was disappointed in love and began to consider suicide, Mario Schipano, a professor of medicine in Naples, suggested the idea of traveling in the East. It was Schipano who received a sort of diary in letters from Pietro's travels.

Before leaving Naples, Pietro took a vow to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He left Venice by boat on the 8th of June 1614 and reached Constantinople; he remained there for more than a year and acquired a good knowledge of Turkish and a little Arabic. On the 25th of September, 1615, he went to Alexandria. Because he was a nobleman of distinction, he traveled with a suite of nine persons, and with every advantage due to his rank. From Alexandria he went on to Cairo, and, after an excursion to Mount Sinai, left Cairo for the Holy Land. He arrived there on the 8th of March, 1616, in time to take part in the Easter celebrations at Jerusalem.

After visiting the holy sites, Pietro traveled from Damascus to Aleppo. After seeing a portrait of the beautiful Assyrian Christian Sitti Maani Gioerida, he went to Baghdad and married her a month later. While in the Middle East, he made one of the first modern records of the location of ancient Babylon and provided "remarkable descriptions" of the site. He also brought back to Europe inscribed bricks from Nineveh and Ur, some of the first examples of Cuneiform available to modern Europeans.[1] At that time Baghdad was being contested between Turkey and Iran during the frequent Ottoman-Persian Wars, so he had to leave Baghdad on the 4th of January, 1617. Accompanied by his wife Maani, he proceeded to Persia, and visited Hamadan and Isfahan. (The first documented ancestors of the Persian cat were imported from Persia into Italy in 1626 by Pietro Della Valle.) In the summer of 1618, he joined Shah Abbas in a campaign in northern Persia. Here he was well received at court and treated as the shah's guest.

On his return to Isfahan he began to think of going back home through India, rather than endanger himself again in Turkey. However, the state of his health and the war between Persia and the Portuguese at Ormuz generated problems. In October 1621 he left Isfahan, visited Persepolis and Shiraz and made his way to the coast. But it was not until January 1623 that he found a passage for Surat on the English ship Whale, Captain Nicolas Woodcock.

He sojourned in India until November 1624, his headquarters being Surat and Goa. In India Pietro Della Valle was introduced to the King Vekatappa Nayaka of Keladi, South India by Vithal Shenoy, the chief administrator of those territories. The accounts of his travels are one of the most important sources of history for the region.

He was at Santa Maria in Aracoeli.

By 1665 the portion of his "Travels" dealing with India and with his return had been translated into English. They contain accounts of his discussions with "Hindoo" Brahmans about whether the Egyptians or Indians first came up with the concept of reincarnation, a dialogue with a woman who invited him to her upcoming sati, a description of the barefoot Queen of Olaza (Abbakka Chowta, Ullal), who was out on the embankments giving directions to her engineers—and many other bits of first-rate ethnography.

Apart from his activities as an ethnographer, Della Valle was also a composer and a writer of theoretical treatises on music. He composed several dialogues (actually brief oratorios) on biblical subjects. His only preserved work is an oratorio composed for l'Oratorio del Croficisso di Saint Marcello, where he experiments with musical modes and scales inspired by ancient music theory. For this purpose, he developed two new instruments, such as a "violone panharmonico" and a "cembalo triharmonico". Notwithstanding his interest in ancient musical practices, in his theoretical writings on music (e.g. "Della musica dell'età nostra che non è punto inferiore, anzi è migliore di quella dell'età passata", Rome 1640, and "Note … sopra la musica antica e moderna, indirizzato al Sig.r Nicolò Farfaro", 1640/41), he praises the modern music culture in contemporary Rome and defended the modern music against the criticism of Nicolò Farfaro, an Italian musician of his times.

Pietro Della Valle also wrote texts and librettos for several musical spectacles, such as "Il carro di fedeltà d'Amore", (music by his teacher of harpsichord Paolo Quagliati, performed in Rome in 1606 and printed in 1611), and "La valle rinverdita" (written in celebration of the birth of his first child in 1629 - music lost).

Works (Opere)

  • Il Carro di Fideltà d’amore (music by Paolo Quagliati), Robletti, Roma, 1611.
  • "Funeral Oration on his Wife Maani", whose remains he brought with him to Rome and buried there (1627)
  • Account of Shah Abbas (1628)
  • Discorso sulla musica dell'età nostra, Roma, 1640.
  • The Travels in Persia (2 parts) were published by his sons in 1658, and the third part (India) in 1663.
  • Viaggi di Pietro Della Valle il pellegrino, con minuto ragguaglio di tutte le cose notabili osservate in essi: descritti da lui medesimo in 54 lettere familiari all'erudito suo amico Mario Schipano, divisi in tre parti cioè: la Turchia, la Persia e l'India. Colla vita e ritratto dell'autore. Roma 1650-1658, Torino 1843.

Book Collector

Pietro Della Valle was also a famous book collector. "In a letter written in Damascus and Aleppo, dated June 15, 1616, dell Valle described his delight at finding some rare Samaritan manuscripts, some of them with glosses in Arabic, for sale." [2]

See also

Sources and References

  1. ^ The Sumerians: Their History, Culture and Character, by Samuel Noah Kramer, University of Chicago Press, 1963, p. 7
  2. ^ "Pietro dell Valle, Pilgrim of Curiosity." by Carolina Stone. Saudi Aramco World. Volume 65, Issue 1, January/February 2014. Page 26.
  •, The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001

For excerpts of the early English translation and for further information:

  • R. Amalgia, 'Per una conoscenza piii completa della figura e dell'opera di Pietro della Valle', Rendiconti dell'Accademia dei Lincei, series vin, vol. vi, 1951, 375-81.
  • L. Bianconi, Viaggio in Levante di Pietro della Valle, Florence, 1942
  • P. G. Bietenholz, Pietro della Valle 1586-1652: Studien zur Oeschichte der Orientkenntnis und des Orientbildes im Abendlande, Basel-Stuttgart, 1962
  • Wilfrid Blunt, Pietro's pilgrimage: a journey to India and back at the beginning of the seventeenth century, London, 1953.
  • I. Ciampi, Della vita e delle opera di Pietro della Valle, il Pellegrino, Rome, 1880
  • E. Rossi, ' Pietro della Valle orientalista romano (1586–1652) ', Oriente Moderno, XXXIII, 1953, 49-64
  • ________, 'Versi turchi e altri scritti inediti di Pietro della Valle', Rivista degli Studi Orientali, xxn, 1947, 92-8
  • A complete edition of della Valle's letters to Mario Schipano is by G. Gancia, Viaggi di Pietro della Valle, il Pellegrino, Brighton, 1843
  • Other letters from Persia have been edited by F. Gaeta and L. Lockhart, viaggi di Pietro della Valle: Lettere dalla Persia, vol. I, Rome, 1972.
  • John Gurney has two informative articles on della Valle: One is J. D. Gurney. “Pietro della Valle: The Limits of Perception” in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol. 49 (1986), no. 1, pp. 103–116; the other one is his entry in the Encyclopedia Iranica
  • Robert R. Holzer. "Della Valle, Pietro." Grove Music Online., October 2010. Oxford Music Online
  • Avner Ben-Zaken, "FROM NAPLES TO GOA AND BACK: A SECRETIVE GALILEAN MESSENGER AND A RADICAL HERMENEUTIST", History of Science, xlvii (2009), pp. 147–174.
  • Avner Ben-Zaken, "Exchanging Heliocentrism for Ur-Text", in Cross-Cultural Scientific Exchanges in the Eastern Mediterranean 1560-1660 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), pp. 47–75.

External links

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