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Crusing the brothels in Cumania (murdar qatın = dirty Madams, or rough guides as we like them)…

March 15, 2013


Given  the fact that the first Romanian rulers were Turkic Cumans, it is of the greatest interest to try to find more about this great nomad people converted to the religion of the Cross.

We thus have that old conversation manual in the  Cuman language, the ”Codex Comanicus“ (12th – 13th cent.), with its triple rows of lexical equivalences ”dog-Latin“ – Persian – Cuman, which also includes some less conventional items for the use of merchants and Christian missionaries in the huge, fluid realm of the Cumans, stretching from China to today‘s Romania.

Alongside Our Lord‘s prayer in Cuman and other obligatory lexical exercises, the traveler was also presented with the following list of terms useful in Central Asian brothels and inns :

                                                                                   Latin          Persian    Cuman

Meretrix (Latin both for prostitute and for a ”Madame“)   chagba    murdar 

Rofiana (Venetian; cf. Ital. ruffiana)                                  Trel        Chaltac

Bordellum (this is ”kitchen Latin“ indeed)                         Garabat    Charabat

Vuluua (well, you know…)                                                Chus        Amu


Two pages further, a Teutonic hand had added:

— koti daer ars (der Arsch; in classical Turkish, göt is the arse, but koti could also renderkötü, meaning abominable, or evil, which is used even today in Turkish to refer to prostitution); what this addition meant was literally: a “piece of ass“…

The Codex Comanicus (12th – 13th cent.) is a very fine survival travel guide, as accurate as the many successive copyists had made it: obviously Chagba, Chaltac, Garabat and Charabatare only various spellings of the same Persian kharabat (خرابات, from Arabic, which then passed through Persian into the neighbouring Turkic languages). Kharabat  خرابات , literally: ”a wreck“, ”a ruin“, was extended to mean a tavern (very often also a brothel), as well as theMadam (a moral wreck) and the ”personnel“ (moral AND physical wrecks). That this is so is shown by one of the synonyms for prostitute: ”murdar“, from ”murdar (qatın)“ = ”dirty woman“!…

So, this is not your Michelin guide to Cumania, but rather the Rough Guide, with its motto: ”Make the Most of Your Time on Earth“.


Tourists guides have existed since Herodotus, down to us through Marco Polo, but it is the German Romantics who invented traveling for traveling. Baedecker was a German Romantic, while Kafka, according to his unfaithful friend and biographer Max Brod, was the first to have had the brilliant idea of a tourist guide for the hasty -and lazy- travelers, which would contain pre-established circuits indicating what should absolutely be seen and what could safely be ignored in a short visit. They didn‘t propose the concept to an editor, though, because Kafka was afraid that the idea could be stolen.

Also, let us not end without mentioning that modern disease of the traveler, the maniac dependency on the tourist guide. Here is an extreme case from E. M. Forster:

Tears of indignation came to Lucy’s eyes. How could she find her way about in Santa Croce without her Baedeker? Her first morning was ruined, and she might never be in Florence again. A few minutes ago she had been all high spirits, talking as a woman of culture, and half persuading herself that she was full of originality. Now she entered the church depressed and humiliated, not even able to remember whether it was built by the Franciscans or the Dominicans. Of course, it must be a wonderful building. But how like a barn! Of course, it contained frescoes by Giotto, but who was to tell her which they were?!… She walked about disdainfully, unwilling to be enthusiastic over monuments of uncertain authorship or date.“

(E. M. Forster, A Room with a View)

At the opposite end there is the attitude of the eccentric British millionaire in a Jules Verne novel who is sailing around the world and, when throwing anchor in Alexandria, Egypt, he sends out his servant to visit the city for him… He was too busy reading the Codex Comanicus.


  1. Adrian permalink

    dar se pare ca prima forma de turism organizat, de dragul turismului, ar fi fost practicata de patricieni romani, care vizitau Egiptul deja cucerit, faceau croaziere pe Nil

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