The Byzantine Capital
It is impossible to convey to the reader any adequate idea of the beauties of the Bosphorus at the point where Constantine located the capital of the Byzantine empire. The best way to approach it is by the sea, and as the traveler usually enters from the west, he sails through the Dardanelles, known in ancient times as the Hellespont, passes through the sea of Marmora and enters the Bosphorus between Constantinople, on the one side, and Skutari on the other. The Bosphorus itself is between fifteen and twenty miles long and very deep. It is the connecting link between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmora and the hills that jut into it on either side are nearly all covered with towns and villas. The water is as clear as the water of a lake, and fish may be seen at a great distance below the surface. A ride through the Bosphorus reminds one of a trip up the Hudson, although the former has the advantage in the depth of the stream, in the transparency of the water, in the height of the banks 'and in the irregularity of the course. In fact, the channel contains so many curves that one seems to be passing through a succession of lakes.
A little more than half way between the Sea of Marmora and the Black Sea, on the north bank, is Therapia, the summer capital, to which the officials repair when the warm weather begins, and upon the same bank, about half way between Constantinople and Therapia, is Roberts College, an institution for boys, established and maintained by American philanthropy. 'It occupies a promontory which over-looks the Bosphorus at its narrowest point, the point at which Mohammed II crossed over from Asia, when in 1453 he succeeded in capturing Constantinople.
The Golden Horn is the name given to an arm of the Bosphorus which, leaving that strait a few miles from the Sea of Marmora, stretches northward five or six miles to receive a stream called the Sweet Waters of Europe. It may have been that the Golden Horn at one time rivaled the Bosphorus in beauty, but it does so no longer. Full of ships and boats of every description, from war vessels to canoes, and polluted by the sewage of two cities, it disappoints as much as the Bosphorus delights.
The city of Constantinople is divided by the Golden Horn, Stamboul, the Turkish city lying on the west, and Galata and Pera, the foreign quarters, lying on the east. Skutari stretches along the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus, and the navies and merchant vessels of all the world could ride in safety in the waters adjacent to these three cities.
In the seventh century, B. C., a small colony of Greeks under the lead of Byzas settled at Cape Bosphorus, now the site of Stamboul, and in the rise and fall of the dynasties of the east, it has played an important part. Being on the boundary line between Asia and Europe and guarding the water communication between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, it possesses strategic advantages which statesmen and warriors have been quick to recognize. The Persians always wanted it and several times captured it. The Greeks were continually taking it and losing it; Phillip of Macedon laid siege to it and in so doing furnished Demosthenes with a theme for some of his greatest speeches. There is a tradition that Phillip would have succeeded, in spite of the aid given by the Athenians, but for the barking of dogs, which apprised the inhabitants ,of a night assault. As the dogs were set to barking, not by the enemy, but by the moon which rose just in time to save the city, the Byzantines adopted the crescent as their emblem and it has continued to be the emblem of Turkey, having been retained by the Turks after their victory.
Alexander the Great became master of the Bosphorus, and later Byzantium fell into the hands of the Romans. After a checkered career of two centuries it was taken by Constantine, who decided to make it the capital of the Roman world, ,and his own name has been given to it, although he intended to call it New Rome. No one can doubt the political wisdom of the first Christian emperor in putting the seat of government at this place. If Europe, Asia .and Africa are ever brought together under one government or under one confederation, Constantinople will be the natural and necessary capital. The shores of Africa, southern Europe and Asia Minor are washed by the Mediterranean and by its gulfs and bays; the Black Sea is the outlet of southern Russia and part of Asia Minor, and the new railroad which is being built to connect Europe with the Euphrates and India, crosses the Bosphorus here. When this road is finished, it will be possible to go from London to India in about six days, and one of the Turkish governors expressed the hope that it would be completed within six or seven years.
Constantine built a magnificent cathedral, one of the greatest ever constructed, it being his purpose to surpass any house of worship that mari had reared. It is in the form of a Greek cross and was originally rich in 'mosaics, some of which still remain. The dome is one of the largest in the world. This cathedral, called St. Sophia, fell into the hands of the Mohammedans when Constantinople was taken and is now used as a mosque. When hope of successful resistance was gone, the Christians of Constantinople crowded into the cathedral—some have estimated the number as high as a hundred thousand, but that seems hardly possible—praying that the church might at least be spared, but the leader of the Turks rode into the building on his charger, and, striking one of the pillars with his sword, exclaimed; "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet!" Then followed a slaughter so cruel and bloody that the Christians never recall the day without indulging the hope that the building may some day return to the possession of those who cherish the faith ,of its founder.
Constantinople is full of mosques, their minarets rising above all other buildings, but none of them possess for either Christian or Moslem the importance that attaches to St. Sophia.
The modern mosques lack the stateliness of Contantine's building, and are not so rich in their ornamentation as some of the mosques of India. There is one, however, near the upper end of the Golden Horn which is regarded by the Turks as especially sacred because it is the burial place of the first Mohammedan (a standard bearer of Mahomet) who attempted the capture of Constantinople. Each sultan visits that mosque as he enters upon his reign, and Christians are not permitted to use the street leading to the mosque. The sultan visits St. Sophia once a year, but he is in such fear of assassination that he usually has a street cleared for his passage and then quietly goes by water to elude the crowd.
The first settlement at Constantinople, or at Byzantine, as it was originally called in honor of its founder, was made at what is now known as Seraglio Point, an elevation which extends into the Bosphorus between the Sea of Marmora and the Golden Horn. ' It commands the best view of any place in the city. The historian, Bancroft, visited this spot and was so impressed by the magnificence of the panorama spread out before him that he stood gazing at it for an hour. - This was the site selected for the royal palace, and the kings, emperors and sultans lived here until recent years, but it is so exposed to the attack of any hostile fleet that the sultan's palace has, as a matter of pre-caution, been removed to the hills back of Galata, and Seraglio Point is now a sort of curiosity shop. It is visited with difficulty, permission having to be obtained from the sultan himself, upon application of the diplomatic representative of the nation to which the visitor belongs. By the courtesy of our legation we obtained a permit .and found it full of interest. One of the buildings contains a very old library, another is a reproduction of a Persian summer house which, a former sultan having admired, his chief eunuch had removed to Constantinople without his master's knowledge.
The most important building on the Point, however, is the treasury where the crown jewels, ornamented arms, royal gifts and the robes of former sultans are kept. It would require more space than that allotted to a dozen articles to describe even the more important pieces of this collection. One room contains two thrones brought from Persia, one of which must have rivaled the famous Peacock Throne of Delhi. It is of unusual size and literally covered with rubies, emeralds and pearls, arranged in graceful patterns. The seat is of crimson velvet embroidered with gold and pearls. The other throne, while smaller, is even more richly ornamented; it is incrusted with larger jewels and has a canopy, from the center of which is suspended an emerald of enormous size.
Along the walls of one room were exhibited the costumes of the various sultans from Mohammed II to the present. Nowhere else have we seen such evidences of Oriental splendor in dress. The robes of state are flowered and figured and heavy with gold; the turbans are huge—sometimes fifteen inches in height and breadth—and adorned with aigrettes of great value. One of these ornaments contains three stones, a ruby and two emeralds as large as pigeons' eggs and without a flaw. With each robe is the sword or dagger carried by the sultan and each has a jeweled handle. While the robes differ in color and design—as star differeth from star in glory—and while the aigrettes and sword handles vary in pattern, all are on the same scale and show lavish expenditure. They are in striking contrast with the last of the series, which is simply a red military uniform covered with gold braid.
The treasury contains numerous portraits of sultans and family trees, presenting the heads of the present royal line. It seems that nearly ,all of the Mohammedan rulers wore a full beard, and some of them had strong faces.
Besides the swords of the sultans, there are in the treasury innumerable other swords with jeweled handles, and with scabbards inlaid with gold, silver and gems. There are guns also of every description, many of them engraved and ornamented with gold and silver. One fortification gun bears upon the barrel quotations from the Koran written in gold.
Then there are jewel boxes, vessels of gold and vessels of silver, rare china, some of it set with jewels, not to speak of enameled ware and embroideries. Many of these pieces were gifts sent or brought by other rulers, for in the Orient the gift is as indispensable in dealing with the sovereign tas "baksheesh" is in dealing with the subordinate Turkish official.
When we had finished the inspection of Seraglio Point, we were conducted to one of the reception rooms and refreshed with a jam made of rose leaves, and this was followed by Turkish coffee. Turkish coffee by the way, is very different from the coffee of the Occident. The berry is ground or pounded until it is as fine as flour; it is then put into water and raised to the boiling point and cooled three times. It is usually served hot, and is very black and so thick that at least half of the small cup is sediment.
The streets of Constantinople are narrow, crooked and dirty. 'There is no park system, and the cemeteries scattered through the city, being shaded with cypress trees, furnish about the only picnic grounds for the people. It is not an unusual sight to see a gay party spreading its lunch amid the tombs. A Mohammedan graveyard is full of headstones as well as trees, and on top of the stone is often carved a fez or to turban. While most of this stony head wear is unadorned, one sees occasionally a painted fez, red being the popular color.
There is one park, called the Sweet Waters of Europe, and extending along the stream which bears that name, where the Turkish women congregate—especially on Friday afternoon. As might be expected, the men have formed the habit of driving in the park on these days in order to catch a glimpse of the women, for Turkish women live in such seclusion that they are seldom seen. They wear veils, but as we visited the park, we can testify that the veils tare not always heavy enough to conceal the features. When the 'eye is especially lustrous or the face more comely than usual, the veil is occasionally lifted.
The ride to and from the park also gives one an opportunity to see a great many fine teams perfectly matched, for the Turk has caught the Arab's fondness for the horse.
The bazaars of Constantinople repay a visit, though quite like the bazaars of Cairo and Damascus. The booths are more substantially built and more commodious, and the labyrinth of streets and alleys which form the old bazaar are all under roof. As these passages wander about aimlessly, one can easily become lost in them. While one cannot rely upon the first price given, the vendors have a reputation for honesty, and a lady told us of having had her attention called to a mistake of five dollars in change and of having the money returned to her when she next visited the bazaar.
I mentioned the Oriental dog in speaking of Damascus; he forces himself upon public attention in Constantinople also. The dogs of this city act as scavengers and are relied upon to keep the streets neat—a vain reliance, for while they devour everything that they can digest, they are not sufficient for the task imposed upon them. These dogs are wolfish in ,appearance and generally yellow in color. Lacking the fidelity which the dog is accustomed to show to his master, these animals roam about the street and haunt the places where food is most likely to be found. The people .of Constantinople assert that the dogs maintain a police force of their own, and, .dividing the city into districts, enforce their own regulations. If a strange dog comes into the district, he is at once driven out by the canine sentinel on that beat.
The Golden Horn is spanned by two pontoon bridges (if the word spanned can be used in connection with such a bridge) and the one connecting the business portions of Stamboul and Galata is a veritable mint, the income from the tolls amounting at times to two thousand dollars per day. It is owned by the government, and bridge companies have ,offered to replace it with a good bridge for the income ,of two or three years, but it is so profitable that it is allowed to remain in its present dilapidated condition.
One can stand on this bridge and see all phases of life and all types of human beings. All nationalities meet in Constantinople and all colors are represented here. Two streams pass each other on this bridge from dawn to dark, and there is no better place to study the tragedies and the comedies of life as they are depicted in the faces of the people.
The haste that is to be seen on the bridge is in sharp contrast with the air of leisure which pervades the coffee houses and the side streets where fezzed or turbaned Turks meet to smoke their hubble-bubble pipes (the smoke being drawn through water) and discuss such topics as are not forbidden by the extremely watchful government under which they live.
Before leaving Constantinople we crossed over to the Asiatic side to visit the American school for girls, which has enjoyed a prosperous existence for more than twenty years. It is another evidence of the far-reaching sympathy of the Christian people of the United States and adds to the feeling of pride with which an American citizen con-templates the spreading influence of his country.
When we recrossed the Bosphorus we bade farewell to Asia, within whose borders we had spent about seven months. They have been wonderfully instructive months, and we have enjoyed the experiences through which we have passed, but we can not say that we have fallen in love with Asiatic food. We have been afraid ^of the raw vegetables; we have distrusted the water, unless it was boiled, and we have sometimes been skeptical about the meat. The butter has not always looked inviting, and our fondness for cream has not been increased by the sight of the goats driven from door to door and milked in the presence of the purchaser. The bread was not a rival for the Vienna brand, and the cooking has not been up to western standards. But the hen-long life to her! She has been our constant friend. When all else failed we could fall back upon the boiled egg with a sense of security and a feeling of satisfaction. If I am not henceforth a poultry fancier in the technical sense of the term, I shall return with an increased respect for the common, everyday barnyard fowl. There ^are many differences between the east and the west—difference in race characteristics, differences in costume, differences in ideals of life, of government and religion, but we all meet at the breakfast table—the egg, like "a touch of nature, makes the whole world kin."
( Originally Published 1907 )
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