Feast of Pulcheria and Marcian
At seven o'clock on Sunday morning, February 17, 2013, I left our flat on the European side of Istanbul, in an area first settled during the reign of Sultan Abdülmecit (1839–61). I would spend an hour walking to the Golden Horn. I would cross this on the Galata Bridge, in order to see some sights within the old walls of New Rome. My guide would be the 2010 revised edition of Strolling Through Istanbul, by Hilary Sumner-Boyd and John Freely.
I first took the main road, whose sections are called Büyükdere (“big stream”), Halâskârgazi (“warrior-savior” i.e. Atatürk, who once lived here), and then Cumhuriyet (“republic”). Along one stretch of the road, several cars were parked on the sidewalk, and a number of people were standing around. I saw that they had come out of a nightclub.
Beyond Taksim Square, I took the pedestrianized İstiklal Caddesi. The few other people on foot had probably been up all night. Some cars and trucks did pass: the road was open to them in the mornings. In the afternoon, the road would be thronged with people on foot.
The other end of İstiklal is called Tünel, because of the underground funicular railway there that can take you down the hill to the Galata Bridge. Built in 1875, the Tünel is said to be the world's second underground urban railway. (The first was in London.) I just walked down the hill myself, past the Galata Mevlevihanesi (Whirling Dervish lodge) and the Genoese Galata Tower. In a cafe at the bottom of the hill, I had a plate of su böreği, “water börek”, a greasy baked dish of sheets of dough like lasagne, layered with cheese. I do not know exactly why it has water in the name; but according to a Turkish friend, who ran an Ankara restaurant that we used to frequent, su böreği had been difficult to make in Saudi Arabia when she lived there with her engineer husband.
It was eight in the morning, but the Galata Bridge was lined with anglers. I used to think these were unemployed men who had nothing else to do but try to catch a free meal. I now think fishing is simply their hobby. At a few places along the bridge, some men set out displays of products that an angler might want to buy: a small wooden platform with a bungee cord, for strapping your fishing rod to the railing of the bridge; bait; even the fishing rod itself.
Underneath the length of most of the bridge, there are bars and restaurants. From the central section where boats can actually pass, fishing is naturally forbidden, so the railing is free. I paused there for a couple of photos. Strolling Through Istanbul has an introductory chapter describing what you can see from the bridge; but that chapter was too long to review right there. At home I had been studying the book for a possible itinerary; but then I decided not to try to plan too precisely. The appropriate sections of the book would be better to read after I had seen the neighborhoods that they described.
As a boat approached the bridge, the tourists aboard waved when they saw me with the camera. They were all women, perhaps from the Far East.
A graffito on the bridge issued the command “Be vegan!” There was a circle around the A of “vegan”, presumably to suggest anarchism and hence “veganarchism”. Militant asceticism has a long history in this city. In 414, the fifteen-year-old Pulcheria declared herself Empress and took a vow of chastity—a vow that she maintained even after marrying Marcian in 550 so as to make him Emperor after the death of her little brother Theodosius.
My own tour would pretty much follow the guide book's chapter called "From the Galata Bridge to Şehzadebaşı". This is the eleventh of 23 chapters. I had seen the Şehzadebaşı Mosque a couple of weeks before (on Saturday, February 2, to be precise). The tour started by following the right bank of the Golden Horn upstream to the Atatürk or Unkapanı Bridge. There were four mosques to see, of great interest for their history, but little for their architecture—which is why I chose to visit them now, since, on a Sunday morning, they would almost certainly be locked up.
Near the end of the bridge, to the right, there is a local bus terminal; beyond that, on the seaward side of the old city wall, there is a parking lot.
One of the towers in the sea wall was apparently used as a dungeon, by both the Byzantines and Ottomans. Empress Irene (reigning 797–802) supposedly imprisoned there an envoy sent from the court of Harun al-Rashid in Baghdad. Now remembered as Cafer Baba, the envoy died in the tower, and his tomb there was “rediscovered” after the Turkish conquest of the city in 1453. (The tomb of the Prophet's standard-bearer Abu Ayyub al-Ansari had already been “rediscovered” during the Ottoman seige of the city.) My visit to the prison tower was too early for the tomb to be open for veneration; but one man seemed to be waiting around for this.
One source of information about Cafer Baba is the seventeenth-century traveller and writer called Evliya Çelebi. Near the prison tower is the Ahi Çelebi Mosque, constructed at the end of the fifteenth century. Apparently Evliya dreamt he was in this mosque, surrounded by saints and martyrs and the Prophet himself. Evliya meant to request, of the Prophet, şefaat or intercession at the Last Judgment; in his confusion, he asked for seyahat “itineration”; and so he became a traveller.
Here is a view of the Süleymaniye Mosque from the shore. Kilit means “lock”, and Kale is a brand of this. Kale, pronounced in two syllables, kah-leh, means “castle”. One finds Yale locks in Turkey, but the locksmith may pronounce “yale” in two syllables, to rhyme with kale.
The other mosques along the shore are presumably named for the guilds of workers that they used to serve. The region is still dominated by the shops of people who work with their hands. On a Sunday morning, there was not much going on. Here is the mosque of the steelyard balance makers, the kantarcılar. Construction was in 1460, that is, just seven years after the conquest.
This is just one of the old shops. The main shore road, and the Golden Horn itself, is on the other side.
A new bridge is being built over the Golden Horn, to accommodate expansion of the metro. Another way to expand mass transit would be to make use of existing roads after banning cars from them. In fact this has already been done with the metrobüs, a system of busses that use dedicated lanes of a highway.
Through the bridge construction, the Galata Tower can be seen on the other side of the Golden Horn.
The mosque of the cauldron-makers, the kazancılar, was under renovation. I know the word kazan from the dessert called kazandibi, “bottom of the pot”. Again, original construction of the mosque was not long after the Conquest; but then the mosque was enlarged a couple of times, so now it is known as the Üç Mihraplı Camii, the Mosque with Three Mihrabs.
Finally, here is the mosque of the sağrıcılar “leather-workers”. In fact the normal word for leather is deri; according to a dictionary, sağrı is leather made from the rump of a horse, or the rump itself. The mosque also goes by the name of Yavuz Ersinan, its founder in 1455. He had been a standard-bearer in the Ottoman army beseiging the city, and he became an ancestor of Evliya Çelebi, who was born in the family house nearby. Yavuz is supposedly buried by the mosque, along with Horoz Dede, Grandfather Rooster, who used to wake up the soldiers in the morning during the seige.
I turned left at Atatürk Bulvarı and headed up to the pass between the third and fourth of the seven hills of the old city. The retaining wall here is said to belong to a cistern that served the Monastery of the Pantocrator. One of the domes of the monastery church (now Zeyrek Mosque) is visible on the left.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the street was Şebsafa Hanım (or Hatun) Camii, an eighteenth-century mosque constructed by a woman from the harem of Sultan Abdülhamit (1774–89). This is what the book says; but one may wonder how women from the harem had the means to build mosques. A blog (in Turkish) on some baroque mosques of the city says Fatma Şebsafa Hatun was one of the Sultan's wives (eşlerinden biri), and the mosque was in memory of her son. Wikipedia indeed names Fatma Sheb-Safa as one of the Sultan's thirteen wives, as opposed to a concubine; but it says nothing of a son. Her mosque was not like the other small urban mosques I had seen that day: it had a large garden with grass and shrubs and flowers. Unfortunately the gate was locked.
Within the nearby modern complex of shops, the guide alerted me to the existence of the old tomb of a seventeenth-century scholar called Kâtip Çelebi. What is pictured here, with the cats playing on it, is not Kâtip's tomb, but that of Hızır Bey (1407–58), the first kadı of Istanbul after the conquest.
I crossed the street and found my way up to the plateau on which sat Zeyrek Mosque, the old Church of the Pantocrator. It was walled off by corrugated sheets of metal; I took this picture by holding the camera over the wall.
There was a garden nearby, overlooking the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus itself. The garden was presumably attached to a restaurant there, called Zeyrekhane and recommended by the guide book. Signs in the garden said, No photos without permission. They said this in Turkish only, and I considered pretending to be a dumb tourist, if the guard in the booth objected. But I knew from experience that some people in uniform did care whether photos were taken in some places; and I did not feel like dealing with such a person.
Down below the garden, there seemed to be a shrine, which had the attention of a number of people. They seemed to be praying or intending to pray. I thought I would find myself down there eventually, but I never did.
In my wanderings, I tried to find another former Byzantine church that was mentioned in the book. I walked along dingy streets, breathing the yellow coal-smoke that poured onto the street from some chimney pipes. There were few people about. There was no reason why there should be, on a gray Sunday morning. But where, in particular, were the children? Were they huddled about television sets inside, or just sleeping?
Spying a minaret, I walked to it. A man with a bushy Islamic beard came out of a nearby shop to talk to me. He guessed I was American, though he spoke only Turkish, at least when it appeared that I could understand that language. The man was anxious to inform me that Turkish people were not terrorists and did not believe in Osama bin Laden! Europeans did not understand this, he said; but Turks did not even hurt the cats in the street. Asking me whether I was Christian, he hastened to add that he was not going to criticize me, because basically there was no difference between Jesus and Muhammad. At least he said something like this; I could not understand the theological subtleties. He may have named the other prophets of Islam too, like Abraham and Moses.
The small mosque near us was not the one I was looking for. The man told me that I could find that one by turning back and taking the second right. But in saying this, he gestured to the left! I pointed this out, and he corrected his words.
Making my way back, I paused to contemplate this picture, with captions:
Attila, Europe's captain, whip in hand.
Oghuz Khan, conqueror of Central Asia.
Attila ruled the Huns from 434 till his death in 453. Their language was possibly Turkic. Because they occupied the same land north of the Black Sea, Gibbon speculates that their rituals were those that Herodotus ascribed to the Scythians, who apparently however spoke an Iranian language. Attila held power because he possessed the sword of Mars—which sword a shepherd had found buried in the earth after a heifer cut her foot on it. The Scythians used to burn their sacrificial victims on a huge pyre, on which they had placed also a sword. Gibbon reports these two facts, in Chapter XXXIV of Decline and Fall, and he cites Book IV, Chapter 62, of Herodotus for the latter fact. Does Gibbon suppose that you might look up the reference? If you do, then you may glance Chapter 64 and learn:
The Scythian soldier drinks the blood of the first man he overthrows in battle. Whatever number he slays, he cuts off all their heads, and carries them to the king… In order to strip the skull of its covering, he makes a cut round the head above the ears, and, laying hold of the scalp, shakes the skull out; then with the rib of an ox he scrapes the scalp clean of flesh, and softening it by rubbing between the hands, uses it thenceforth as a napkin. The Scyth is proud of these scalps, and hangs them from his bridle-rein… Many make themselves cloaks, like the capotes of our peasants, by sewing a quantity of these scalps together. Others flay the right arms of their dead enemies, and make of the skin, which stripped off with the nails hanging to it, a covering for their quivers.
Should one infer that that Huns were like that? Gibbon's main source on the Huns seems to be Priscus, who accompanied an embassy to the Huns sent by Theodosius the Younger (i.e. Pulcheria's little brother). There, as Gibbon reports, he met a Greek man who had been captured in battle and enslaved by a Hun, but who preferred to live as a Hun, even after manumission.
Gibbon nonetheless introduces a question about the humanity of Attila:
Whether human sacrifices formed any part of the worship of Attila, or whether he propitiated the god of war with the victims which he continually offered in the field of battle, the favourite of Mars soon acquired a sacred character, which rendered his conquests more easy and more permanent; and the barbarian princes confessed, in the language of devotion or flattery, that they could not presume to gaze, with a steady eye, on the divine majesty of the king of the Huns.
Attila is used as a given name in Turkey today.
Following the directions given me, I took the second left, which brought me to the edifice below. It was not the one I was looking for, but it was also in the book. Now called Şeyh Süleyman Camii, Mosque of Solomon the Sheikh, it may be the only surviving part of the Monastery of the Pantocrator (apart from the church itself, I suppose). There was an abandoned graveyard, but also a clean paved garden and a utilitarian şadırvan (ablutions facility); perhaps the building was currently used for prayers. I sat on one the benches, studied the book and the map, and found that I had originally headed in the right direction for the old church, but on the wrong street.
When I headed back, first I found the Hacı Hasan Mosque. The plaque there said it had been built in 1505. According to the book, locals refer to the minaret as eğri minare, crooked minaret, “for obvious reasons”. Apparently the criss-crossing of stone and brick in the minaret is what is alluded to; this feature may be unique to this mosque (at least among mosques in Istanbul).
A street away was the real find: Eski İmâret-i Atîk Camii, the Mosque of the Old Soup Kitchen. This was probably the Church of St Savior Pantepoptes (παντεπόπτης “all-seeing”), built by the mother of Alexius I Comnenus (r. 1081–1118), the emperor whose pleas for aid against the Seljuk Turks were answered to excess by the First Crusade. However, the Wikipedia article on the mosque describes also another possible identification, with a church almost two hundred years older than the Pantepoptes.
There were still some old wooden houses around the neighborhood, perhaps not looking their best, unless they had been turned into something like this “private education and rehabilitation center”.
This is a (zoomed) view of the dome of the Soup Kitchen Mosque from the next block. Being hemmed in by houses, the mosque is hard to behold from a distance.
I continued up to the pass between the two hills. There was a nice promenade a block away from the highway. This terminated in the fourth-century Aqueduct of Valens.
On the other side of the aqueduct was this great plaza with a statue of Mehmet the Conqueror himself. I was going to see his mosque complex nearby; the old soup kitchen that became the Soup Kitchen Mosque may have been attached to this.
First I had a look at the nearby remains of the Church of St Polyeuctus, which had been uncovered during the construction of Atatürk Bulvarı. It seems bits of this church had already made their way back to Venice, and other points west, in the hands of the members of the Fourth Crusade; for these Crusaders decided just to sack the Christian city of Constantinople in 1204, rather than go all the way to Jerusalem, which had been seized from earlier Crusaders by Saladin.
The Latin soldiery subjected the greatest city in Europe to an indescribable sack. For three days they murdered, raped, looted and destroyed on a scale which even the ancient Vandals and Goths would have found unbelievable. Constantinople had become a veritable museum of ancient and Byzantine art, an emporium of such incredible wealth that the Latins were astounded at the riches they found. Though the Venetians had an appreciation for the art which they discovered (they were themselves semi-Byzantines) and saved much of it, the French and others destroyed indiscriminately, halting to refresh themselves with wine, violation of nuns, and murder of Orthodox clerics… The Greeks were convinced that even the Turks, had they taken the city, would not have been as cruel as the Latin Christians. The defeat of Byzantium, already in a state of decline, accelerated political degeneration so that the Byzantines eventually became an easy prey to the Turks. The Crusading movement thus resulted, ultimately, in the victory of Islam, a result which was of course the exact opposite of its original intention.
Down a nearby street, I spied the Column of Marcian. Pulcheria had made Marcian Emperor in 450; he reigned till his death in 457. Generally contemptuous of the Byzantines, Gibbon nonetheless has words of approbation for Marcian, as at the head of Chapter XXXV of Decline and Fall. Here we meet again Attila, who demanded of Marcian the annual tribute that Marcian's predecessor Theodosius had been paying:
IT was the opinion of Marcian, that war should be avoided as long as it is possible to preserve a secure and honourable peace; but it was likewise his opinion that peace cannot be honourable or secure, if the sovereign betrays a pusillanimous aversion to war. This temperate courage dictated his reply to the demands of Attila, who insolently pressed the payment of the annual tribute. The emperor signified to the barbarians that they must no longer insult the majesty of Rome by the mention of a tribute; that he was disposed to reward, with becoming liberality, the faithful friendship of his allies; but that, if they presumed to violate the public peace, they should feel that he possessed troops, and arms, and resolution, to repel their attacks.
Instead of attacking Constantinople, Atilla invaded Italy, though he could not take Rome before he died, in 453, in the marriage bed with his latest young wife.
Meanwhile, Marcian (presumably with the urging of Pulcheria) called the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Some websites (such as Wikipedia) say that Marcian is a saint of the Orthodox Church, and that the feast day of Pulcheria and him is February 17—just the day I visited the column erected in his honor. I did not however see any wreaths laid at the base of the column.
The Council of Ephesus in 431 established that Jesus Christ was one person. The Council of Chalcedon established that Jesus Christ had two natures, one human, one divine. I learned about these at my Episcopalian school, in an obligatory course called Christian Ideas—a course that, I said in class one day, ought perhaps to be called Christian Facts. The teacher may have said something about how the fact of the Council of Chalcedon is inseparable from its finding that the idea of monophysitism is heretical. Still, for us students, I don't know that there were any clear ideas behind phrases like “one person” and “two natures”. I have since become aware that Collingwood's Religion and Philosophy addresses these matters:
The doctrine of the Incarnation, in its most central characteristics, may perhaps be outlined in some such way as this. There was a certain historical person who was both divine and human. He was truly and actually divine with the full characteristics of Godhead, and fully and completely human in all the individuality of manhood. He was not, however, a compound of two different personalities, but one single personality.
This statement of two natures in one person may be taken as our starting-point. It represents approximately the “formula of Chalcedon”; and it must be noticed in passing that this formula is no more than a starting-point. As stated, it puts the problem without offering any solution at all. It is our task to discover how such a problem can be solved. The problem, more precisely, is not for us, “Was such and such a person both divine and human?” but, “How is it possible for a person to be both?”…
How can there be an identity between a human being and God? There are two types of answer to this question…
I moved along to Fatih Camii, the Mosque of the Conqueror, built on the order of the Second Sultan Mehmet himself. It was built on top of the ruins of the Church of the Holy Apostles, whose imperial tombs had already been looted by the Fourth-Crusaders. The original Mosque of the Conqueror had been destroyed by earthquake and rebuilt in the eighteenth century.
Probably the mosque has seen a lot of recent refurbishment—I mean, in the last ten years or so. On arrival, I noted the sundial on the southwestern wall, showing (in the terminology of Apollonius of Perga) two conjugate hyperbolas, which the shadow of the tip of the gnomon would traverse on the solstices. The hyperbolas' conjugate axis was also given: the shadow would traverse this on the equinoxes. The sundial did not show morning hours; but this would not matter, since the only morning prayer is at first light (i.e. nautical twilight, in my experience). The shadow of the gnomon would reach the vertical line at solar noon. Apparently the Ottoman day was divided into 24 equal hours, counted as now in two groups of twelve. But the day started at sundown, when the shadow would hit the horizontal line at the top: so this line is labelled as 12. Noon on an equinox would be six hours earlier, or 6 o'clock; but this last number is lower in summer, when there are more hours till sundown; and higher in winter.
This şadırvan in the courtyard was where a couple of tourists first got me to take their picture. They would make this request of me two more times, in English. They were from Oman. They didn't ask me any questions; they did not offer to take my picture, though I had to put my camera away in order to hold theirs. I do not know if they understood that I was not Turkish. Probably they did; but some Turkish strangers ask me in Turkish for directions or the time of day.
Inside the mosque proper, some men were vacuuming the floor. One of them noticed me when I was photographing two brass plaques at the back. Each plaque had text attributed to Mehmet Akif Ersoy, author of the words of the Turkish national anthem. But it was the same text in each case, one in Mehmet Akif's original Ottoman words (albeit in the new Latin alphabet), the other in current Turkish words. The fellow with the vacuum cleaner handed me a brochure about the mosque; it was in English.
The brochure described the various buildings of the Fatih complex, some of which were no longer extant. Of these it was said that they “could not reach our day”. This must be an overly literal translation of the Turkish günümüze gelememiş; one would not say günümüze gelmemiş “did not reach our day”.
I photographed this interior well before a father and son sat down to drink from it.
Here is where the couple from Oman got their photo from me for the last time. If they could not read the Turkish text, they must have read the Arabic, which perhaps says the same thing. It appears to be part of a prophecy attributed to the Prophet himself:
Happy the leader who will conquer the city of Constantine; and happy his troops.
The Omanis posed flanking this. A saying of Atatürk is grammatically parallel: “Happy the man who says I am a Turk.” In the background of the photo is the tomb of the Conqueror himself. I did not join the faithful who went in to revere the tomb.
Apparently Muhammad predicted that Muslims would take Constantinople first, and then Rome. Some Muslims await the fall of Rome, or indeed are actively involved in taking it. Such is the concern of one blogger, who is exercised by a 2010 conference in London, held to support Muslim women in Italy.
Is the blogger righteous in his concern? The website of the Association of Italian Muslim Sisters features ths stories of some “reverts”; but converts must be meant in at least some cases. These are women who became troubled in their lives, but found that the Christianity of their upbringing could not help them, while Islam could.
Military conquest in the name of religion is probably not a good thing. The Spanish Reconquista was not obviously an advance in the condition of humanity. As for the Turkish conquest of Constantinople, the city was by that time an empty shell, thanks in part to the Fourth Crusade as mentioned above. Under Ottoman rule, the city became a haven for Jews and Muslims expelled from Spain after the Reconquista.
Cats in Turkey seem to have few troubles.
I walked back to Atatürk Bulvarı, where I found a bus that would take me home.