Writings by Daniel Durand

November 4, 2009

Travels in Türkiye

Filed under: Daniel Durand — curmudgeondan @ 3:57 am

Kind reader,

This journal is written as a substitute for pictorial remembrance. If the detail is de trop, please remember I use this for my memory, and as I get older I need more and more support for it.

Byzantine history and theology are closely intertwined; any historical analysis cannot leave that relationship untold.

The reader must be aware of the Treaty of Lausanne of July 1923. It defined the boundaries of Türkiye and Greece and led to the population exchanges that are mentioned. Over a million Greeks left Türkiye and a half million Turks left Greece. Cyprus is the present legacy.

The musical descriptions are inevitable from a musician.

A brief guide to pronunciation: umlauted letters are as in German, ş = sh, ç = ch as in church, c = Eng. j (jazz is spelled caz), ğ is silent but lengthens the previous vowel, and ı = schwa but different from schwa in any other language, perhaps closest to a German u before two consonants.

I have spelled the name of the country in Turkish with respect for my hosts.



The First Visit in 2002

Since my teens, I have read Byzantine history and wanted to stand in Haghia Sophia to experience the church built by Justinian almost fifteen hundred years ago. The church still stands and provides a physical link between the Christian Roman Empire and our time. Other buildings have survived, notably the Pantheon in Rome, but Haghia Sophia is unique in its dovetailing of spiritual, religious and political  energy. To see it after fifty years of longing would be a very great thrill indeed.

In 2002, during a trip to Europe, I went to Constantinople, Istanbul in Turkish, for three days. I just wanted to see Haghia Sophia and a few other Byzantine remains and continue my European tour.

Getting there became an adventure in itself. My composer friend David Cohen’s daughter had married a man from Istanbul. I called David’s widow, Dorothy, to ask if her son-in-law had any English speaking connections that might be available to guide me around Istanbul. Her son-in-law’s best friend in college became a government-licensed tour guide, speaks and writes excellent English and has e-mail. I contacted him, and we made arrangements. Fate decided to make something go wrong with the aircraft scheduled out of Frankfurt am Main; we left three and a half hours late.

To increase the complications, no one told me I needed a visa to get into Türkiye, not the travel agent in the states, nor the passport control agent at Frankfurt airport, nor any airline personnel. In Istanbul, I lined up to have my passport stamped and was told to get a visa from another official in another office (bureaucratic efficiency?) who told me I had to pay $65 for the stamps. They would not accept a traveler’s check or a credit card, and, as I was not carrying that much cash, I went to an ATM, didn’t get enough millions (literally) of Turkish liras and had to go back for more millions. The ATM was out of cash! I had to go to the airline service desk, get someone to walk me through passport control to go to a bank to cash a traveler’s check. I couldn’t leave my passport with them because I needed it to cash the check; they were kind enough to refuse my offer of my briefcase for surety.

(In 2005 the Turkish government devalued its currency. When I went back in 2006, the more manageable rate was about a lira and a half to the dollar. That made it much easier to figure the conversion rate.)

By this time I was rather anxious that my guide would still be in the airport. I was the last of the passengers to go through customs, and much time had elapsed since the last of them had departed. With relief I saw someone who turned out to be Mahir, my guide, at the customs’ exit holding a placard with my name printed on it. Thus began my adventure at the edge of Europe.

We rode into the city in the dark; I was thrilled to get brief glimpses of the old city walls as we drove. We finally dumped the bags at the hotel, and went out to eat. Mahir had been waiting for me at the airport since three in the afternoon and it was now ten. We walked up to a main street and went to a restaurant located in a cemetery. Eating in a cemetery was a must, but the kitchen was closed. We ended up in an ordinary commercial American look-alike, and I had the first of many bowls of lentil soup.

The next day we went to the two mosques built by Sinan, the sixteenth century architect, and to the eleventh century Byzantine church in Chora, now a museum. Chora interested me more; I had fun telling Mahir arcane things that I knew from my historical and religious studies. He was always interested and often amused.

He took me through the spice bazaar and introduced me to honey-sweetened Turkish delight. I also bought some nutmeg for my kitchen; whenever I grate some, I remember Istanbul.

When setting up my tour, I wrote Mahir that I wanted to see Haghia Eirene, also built by Justinian. Much of it was destroyed in the 740 earthquake and was rebuilt. The information I had was that the museum is generally closed, but could be seen upon application to the director of Haghia Sophia. Mahir tried to get us in but couldn’t. I found out why on the flight to Istanbul. In the airline’s magazine, printed in Turkish and English, was a notice of the Bach festival taking place in September in Haghia Eirene. Musica Antiqua Köln was scheduled to perform there on Monday night. So I got to see the building after all. Before the concert and during intermission I wandered the building to my heart’s content. I walked around downstairs on the main floor, in the galleries, anywhere permitted, and was happy.

No Byzantine ornament remains in the church except one cross (there are others in the narthex, but it was closed). When the Turks took Istanbul, Haghia Eirene was stripped to its bricks and mortar and became an armory. That at least ensured its survival.

Next day began with a visit to Topkapı, palace of the sultans. The history of the Ottomans is enshrined there for all to see and ponder. The glory, the tragedy, the sadness, the same qualities as shared by their Christian imperial predecessors in other palaces. Some things never change.

At last, we went to Haghia Sophia. What an overwhelming impression that building makes not only because of its size but also because of its wonderful dome that seems to float and hover over the church without apparent support.

Besides, while I stood there in awe, all its history as a house of worship with intimate connections to the Byzantine state came to mind – always solemn, sometimes tragic, sometimes comic. My favorite comic episode is that of the Roman functionary of Pope Felix III, afraid to confront the patriarch Acacius with the pope’s bull of excommunication. He pinned it on the back of the patriarch’s vestment as the patriarch was processing into the church.

We lunched behind the church in a charming place built by Sinan that had been in centuries past a medrese or school for boys. The building has been restored and now houses restaurants and shops.

After lunch, we went to the Blue Mosque and then found the old church of Ss. Serge and Bacchus, also built by Justinian and now a mosque badly in need of repair. We walked through the Bazaar to the street of books and had tea “Under the Plane Tree” near the entrance to the university. I was sorry to say goodbye to Mahir.

(I mentioned that his English is excellent. He told me that, when he came to the United States for a visit, he arrived in New Jersey. The first two people he asked for directions did not speak English.)

That night, I took a steam and Turkish massage at Çemberlitaş Hamam (hamam is Turkish for bath). The remarkably beautiful steam room was built around 1584 by Sinan. The steam is not nearly as unbearable as American places can be and was very agreeable to my sinuses, which were bothering me at the time. To enjoy the experience in a beautifully proportioned room such as that was an aesthetically as well as sensually delightful experience, except that the massage was brutally insensitive. Mahir told me that is the common approach of masseurs in hamams in Istanbul.

Before the flight back to Frankfurt, I had a few hours to see the Basilica Cistern, built by Justinian as part of the city water supply. It was well worth going down to see it. The sideways and upside down heads from pagan days at the base of two of the columns spoke eloquently of the complete triumph of Christianity in the East in the sixth century. Then I took in Haghia Sophia for what I thought would be a final and lasting impression. While on the plane back to Frankfurt, however, I decided to return the next year.

The Second Visit

When I returned in 2003, I chose a one-on-one tour with Mahir rather than go on a larger tour because I do not want to see what most tourists prefer. Many places not on the usual tourist’s itinerary have more interest for me. Besides, there is no point in site-hopping without seeing places in context with the people living in the midst of all these splendid ruins. The narrow and crowded streets that contain some of the less visited sites left impressions of life in the city that I would not otherwise have received.

The Living City

The hotel Mahir found for me is across the street from the walls of Topkapı palace, a short walk down the hill from the gate; there was a view of the Bosphorus from my room which was a daily delight. That first evening, I walked the Hippodrome and around Haghia Sophia and then down the hill to the Bosphorus. A waxing moon over the Bosphorus made me envious of Chesterton’s descriptive talent. Sunrise over the Bosphorus was also beautiful; but jet lag and early morning don’t stimulate my poetic instincts.

My room was about fifty yards from the loudspeakers of a minaret. The muezzin no longer climbs the minaret to chant his calls to prayer but sings into a microphone and is amplified in a most horrific manner. Perhaps the adjustment was necessary with the increase of city traffic noise, but it is unpleasant to be awakened by amplified singing rather than the gentler sound of the unaccompanied human voice.

Hearing the different voices all over the city and throughout the country gave ample evidence that musical values are suffering in Türkiye as much as they are in the Western world. Some sang linearly and some sang moving their throats up and down to change the pitch; the difference was palpable.

Next day rain fell; we hired a van to drive us around the city. My purpose in revisiting the city was to see remnants of its Byzantine life. We started with one of the most important Byzantine buildings still in good condition as a Byzantine building, the church in Chora. I had seen it the previous year, but I wanted to experience it again, especially to review the frescoes. I explained to Mahir the purpose of the illustrations: to teach the unlettered and to remind everyone of biblical and religious history. The iconoclastic controversies were settled in favor of images because, among other reasons, of this practical and useful catechesis. The church’s loveliness and grace refresh the soul, and I was happy to see it again.

We went to the northern end of the land walls to find the church of Ss. Peter and Mark (now a mosque) and the remains of the palace of Blachernae. We found the sacred spring of Blachernae with its charming church, which in Byzantine times in an older building housed the robe and mantle of the Blachernitissa, the title by which the Virgin was known as the protectress of the city. Mahir was glad to discover that the custodian of the church is from Antioch, Mahir’s home town. We revisited the church and spring three years later.

The search for our Lady of the Mongols was unsuccessful that day. The Aynalikavak Palace, on the other side of the Golden Horn, where Selim III practiced Western style classical music and which has a collection of Western instruments was closed for renovations. It was still closed in 2008.

We drove along the land walls, sections of which are restored with greater and less success with tourism in mind. To know those walls is to know the reason the city was taken only once. The sultan was even considering abandoning his siege in 1453 when he finally broke through. We westerners whose imaginations are fired by tales of walled cities captured by Joan of Arc (dead only 22 years when Constantinople fell) and fueled by Hollywood epics have no adequate reference to the success and longevity of the Eastern Empire until we see the remnants of those walls. The low outer wall guarded a deep moat protected by a higher inner wall. Each wall had  towers at mutually defensible intervals. There was also a wall along the Golden Horn, the water north of the peninsula, and along the Sea of Marmara side of the city. In Byzantine times, these walls were built at water’s edge; today there is landfill giving highway and rail access to the city, leaving the impression that the water walls were built somewhat inland. The walls and famous secret Greek fire kept the city safe for over one thousand one hundred years with the one exception of the Fourth Crusaders, who took the city in 1204.

Unfortunately, the area around the Golden Gate was disappointing because of closures and unavailability. The Golden Gate was used by the Emperors and important visitors from the West. In 2003, the fortress of Yedikule, which surrounds the gate inside the city, was closed for renovations; in 2006 it was closed because of a rock concert. The latter visit did bring some consolation: we were allowed to walk around sections of the city walls not usually accessible to tourists.

The remains of the monastery of St. John of Studion were only visible from the outside. The Church of Ss. Helena and Constantine was locked; there was no custodian. Later we walked Istiklal Caddesi, a street turned pedestrian mall in Taksim across the Golden Horn.

Next day I walked around Haghia Eirene, the church built by Justinian which is now closed except for concerts. I would not see the inside of the building this trip because there were no concerts scheduled while I was there. After going through the Museum of Istanbul through the Ages, I walked down Gülhane Park to the train station, a very ugly brick edifice built by the Germans in the nineteenth century in imperial drab style, mostly closed now except for the restaurant. Another facility, modern and functional  but more drab, is attached to sell tickets. Admittedly, my opinion is prejudiced by the lucky fact that I make frequent use of the train station in Los Angeles, a stunning Spanish-style art deco building which I have used for fifty years and which still delights.

In the station in Istanbul, some cars from the Orient Express were being stocked for another trip. The cars are immaculately restored and bespeak the golden age of elegant train travel.

After lunch in the station restaurant I walked back to the hotel. In the afternoon, Mahir met me, and we drove across the Golden Horn to the Taksim area of the city to the Military Museum for the afternoon performance of the Janissary Band.

The Janissaries were the elite army of conscripted young boys from conquered areas. Forcibly taken and forcibly converted to Islam, they were a formidable military support for the sultans and were the terror of western Europe until the second siege of Vienna failed. Through the centuries they had acted much like the Praetorian Guard of the ancient Roman emperors. Their influence on the governmnt and their arrogance lowered their military efficiency over the centuries. The Janissaries were finally and brutally suppressed in the nineteeth century.

(An historical accident after the siege in 1683 has the Viennese finding sacks of beans and being taught by a Turkish captive how to roast and grind and brew coffee, a European first. The brew became the rage of Europe; J.S. Bach even wrote a celebration of the drink, his Coffee Cantata.)

Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians traces the influence of Janissary band music upon the military bands of eighteenth century Europe. Their music had quite an influence upon the Viennese. Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca K.300i and the overture to The Abduction and Beethoven’s Ruins of Athens Overture and the B flat variation of the Ninth Symphony are the most famous examples.

When one experiences the band playing and marching with their peculiar swagger, the effect is moving and beautiful. At first they are heard out of sight; then they come into view. The costumes are authentic and colorful, adding to the depth of the musical experience. One can easily imagine the response of fear in olden times, for the military intent of all this is obviously to intimidate.

I enjoyed the performance so much, I asked Mahir to take me to find the conductor to ask if it would be possible to acquire copies of some scores. We went behind the museum to the military post and met the commanding officer. He was pleased with my interest when told that I am a musician. He had an orderly lead us upstairs to the conductor’s office.

We had a good conversation over the best tea in Türkiye. He laughed when he asked how much Turkish music I knew and I sang the first theme of Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca. He brought me to another room and introduced me to a kanun, a zither-like instrument with nine levers for each set of strings that changes the pitch in a way that results in a specifically Turkish, middle-eastern sound. Grove’s states that these levers are a later development of the instrument, I assume to accommodate Western as well as middle Eastern intonations. A soldier was playing it expertly, and musically the result is lovely. When the scores arrived, we took our leave.

Then we went to Piyali Paşa Camii, in my estimation the best and most beautiful mosque in Istanbul (it needs work). The mosque is done in the older Ottoman style of, in this case, six domes of equal size in contrast to its more famous counterparts in the city.

I had noticed during my previous visit that the famous big mosques, the Blue Mosque, the New Mosque, the Süleimaniye, were imitations of Justinian’s single large dome supported by a series of half domes. Mahir agreed with me; but said that his fellow guides scoff at his assertion of the derivativeness.

In the evening I stopped in a store and took a casual interest in a kilim (an embroidered carpet) made by a nomad from central Turkey. At the end of my trip I went back to purchase it. When I first considered it, the owner of the store and I had a very pleasant conversation about how carpets are made and about the nomadic lifestyle and how the modern world is changing it. When I left the shop, I roamed around the area of the city that was somewhat familiar from my visit the year before.

On the way back, I took a wrong turn and was wandering around an area I didn’t know, got lost and ended on a dark street with no public lighting. I saw a security guard locking a gate to one of the entrances of the Arasta Bazaar and asked the way to Haghia Sophia from which I could find my way. The guard motioned me in and walked me down to the other end. Before we got there, he pointed to an open door and indicated I should enter. I was a little taken aback and hesitated until I saw the carpet salesman among a group celebrating someone’s birthday.

For entertainment a scruffy looking man sang Turkish folk songs to the accompaniment of a dar buka, a small drum with a long open resonator. The music had a plaintive sound, even when happy. He expected a tip, and I met his expectations. After a while I expressed my thanks to the people there and went back to my hotel. Tour groups don’t get that kind of experience from their tour buses.

The next two days I was on my own, Mahir having other tours. A tourist walking alone attracts carpet salesmen like flies. They are professionals whose capacity to make contact with people makes snake-oil salesmen appear shy. I have come to believe that the entire population of the city near the main tourist area is connected to selling carpets to tourists.

I first went to Haghia Sophia, the third time my lifelong wish has been granted. The dome still looks as if it is floating over that immense space; its top is the height of a fifteen story building. I saw many more details than on my two visits the year previous, as is natural with further acquaintance. Seeing the building evokes memories of history read, savored and pondered, and the power and grandeur of it and its history create emotional turbulence in me.

The modern city exists on the ruins of the Ottoman and Byzantine empires. The Ottomans converted some of old Constantinople to their own use and so saved that much. This is especially true of Haghia Sophia. The building stands in its grandeur because it became a mosque where the sultans worshipped from 1453 until the sultan was gone in November 1922. It remained a mosque until 1932. Only in 1934 was it opened as a museum. Its mosaics and marbles, the area where the emperors were enthroned and the gallery of the empress mix in space with the Islamic additions and the hordes of tourists. The seeker of Byzantine remnants is left with an almost surreal and disquieting experience.

In the afternoon I took a taxi to the Military Museum to attend an indoor concert of the Janissary Band. For intermission a movie in Turkish gave the history of the band and its instruments, of particular interest to me because of the pictures of instruments as they looked in the eighteenth century.

The band uses six kaba (rough, in Turkish) zurna, a very loud ancestor of the oboe, that is, it is a double reed instrument like a shawm. Playing together they are much louder than the six trumpets in the group. The trumpets are long in the coil but they have valves. The conductor had told me that the purpose of using valved trumpets was for ease of playing in tune with the kaba zurna. (In the early years there were no trumpets.)

Some of the men carry staves with tiny bells suspended from crossbars and an Islamic crescent, perhaps the best known aspect of Janissary music. Finally there are the drums, lots of drums in three sizes. Their lineage throughout the years includes incorporation in symphony orchestras, especially the bass drum, as well as the triangle and cymbals.

Indoors, even with the back wall open to the outdoors, the concert was hard on the ears, especially when they perform music for battle charge, definitely meant to produce fear.

It was Saturday afternoon. After the concert, I walked through Taksim Square down Istiklal Caddesi, a street turned pedestrian mall where Mahir and I had walked the day before (O blessed relief from all that traffic). Record stores were blaring the latest in Turkish commercial music, an odd blend of folk-like melody and disco. Somewhat attractive and danceable, it nonetheless is obviously market driven and aimed at the young. When discussing it with Mahir, I made him laugh when I described it as music with acne. For the rest of our time together he made reference to music with acne.

I had a choice of two churches in which to attend a service. I chose St. Mary Draperis, administered by Italian Franciscans. It dates back to the year of the conquest when the Franciscans had to leave the main part of the city of Constantinople; they settled across the Golden Horn. The present church building dates only from 1789. I had visited it the day before and noticed a pipe organ in a very dark balcony.

With time to kill before mass, I got into conversation with two women who attend the church regularly. They introduced me to the pastor, who on learning I am an organist asked if I would like to play the organ. I said I would like, and he took me to the choir loft and left me to my observations. The instrument is Italian, built by Bossi in 1859, and may not have been touched since it was electrified. In spite of its decrepitude, enough of it works to produce some surprisingly beautiful sounds. The pastor said that ten years ago the parish had received a bid of thirty-seven thousand dollars to repair the instrument. I thought that was a bargain. He moaned that today the estimate would be ten times that figure; I told him it would still be a bargain. Unfortunately, the figure could be a million for all the financial resources of a Roman Catholic parish in Istanbul.

Next day, after seeing the sun rise over the Bosphorus, I walked to the church of Ss. Serge and Bacchus, built by Justinian and now a mosque. I mentioned to Mahir the year before that it needed work. I am happy to say there was scaffolding in the church this visit.

Serge and Bacchus have been and are highly regarded saints in the Eastern rite churches from early Roman times. In the West they were commemorated until in the twentieth century Rome revised its calendar and deleted their feast day. The saints were soldiers in the Roman army and were martyred for their faith in the days of the persecutions.

The church is down by the Sea of Marmara, and when I left it I walked along the sea for quite a distance, watching an endless line of people fishing, picnicking, and otherwise enjoying a brilliant day. I went to the Mosaics Museum to see the remains of the floor of the palace of the Roman emperors and then to the palace that houses the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art. The latter was the palace of Ibrahim Pasha, grand vizier to sultan Süleiman the Magnificent, who was strangled on the sultan’s orders perhaps through the machinations of the notorious Roxelana. The palace lacks any connection to its past; except for a wall or two, it has been converted to a modern looking museum.

After we returned from our road trip a week later, driving up and down tortuous streets, we finally found St. Mary of the Mongols, the only church in the city which has been in the possession of the Greeks since 1453. The church displays the sultan’s firman (decree) confirming the Greeks’ ownership.

The odd name derives from the illegitimate princess who was sent off to be the bride of the Mongol Great Khan, who became a Christian by her influence. He was assassinated in 1281, and the princess returned to Constantinople to found the church with a monastery where she became a nun (she refused to marry another Great Khan – fifteen years were enough of doing her political duty). The church was dedicated to the Virgin, patroness of Christian Mongols. Mahir was delighted to find that the lady who had the keys to the church is also from Antioch.

We walked around the Pantocrator, a monastic church made by connecting three churches together. Unfortunately entry is not allowed during restoration, but we could get a fair idea of the building when we peered into some old window openings.

We drove up the Bosphorus, had lunch at a delightful place in a quiet area, then walked in the Arboretum. We drove back to the city and got into traffic.

Drivers in Paris are remarkably sedate compared to those of Istanbul, and parking in San Francisco is a pleasure in comparison. The city’s population has grown to fifteen million (unofficial estimate), and its vibrancy allows for tourists side by side with the everyday bustle of life in a big city with so much history behind it.

The Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453. The city had stood from its Constantinian dedication in 330 and became the center of an enormous area of Christian civilization which withstood endless invasions of barbarians, most of whom were baptized and civilized by that Christian Empire. Its arts and society flourished for centuries while Europe was still a backwater unable to resist other barbarian hordes that had overrun her. (During the Dark Ages, a Byzantine princess married to a king of somewhere in the West  shocked the court of which she was mistress by insisting on a daily bath.)

The Empire suffered from a lack of coherent law of imperial descent. From the eighth century off and on, much of its territory was controlled by Islam. The battle of Manzikert in 1071, lost to the Turks by treachery, was the first deadly blow against it. The second deadly blow was the loss at the battle of Myriocephalum in 1176. Finally, in 1204, the Fourth Crusade of Christians from the West, who had vowed to fight for the recovery of the Holy Land, repudiated their vows and sacked the city. The pope made the best of it instead of attempting to restore the Empire to the Greeks, a serious omission in justice and charity. Although the Greeks recovered it in 1261, too much wealth had been stolen and too much energy and more wealth were wasted fighting off the West’s attempts to regain what they (the West) had lost. Toward the end, the crown jewels were pawned to the Venetians, and the emperors ate off plate that was definitely not golden.

Church union, much frayed by tempers in 1054, was imposed under Latin rule, lost when the Greeks recovered the Empire in 1261, and won again at the Council of Lyons in 1274 (by means of threats and blackmail), but pope Martin IV excommunicated the Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus because he (the pope) politically supported the King of Naples, Charles of Anjou, who wanted to to retake Constantinople for the West, i.e. himself. Charles’ plan collapsed when he lost his Sicilian domain to the Spanish, an event known in history as the Sicilian Vespers massacre. Martin IV’s anti-Imperial policy fell apart, and the Schism became permanent.

When Constantinople fell a century and a half later, however, Europe and pope Nicholas V were horrified. Many Westerners today are unaware that only the city fell in 1453. There was no Byzantine Empire left except the city and two minor despotates in the Morea (Peloponnisos); everything else was already in the hands of Turks and Arabs and those who controlled the several parts of Italy, notably the Normans and Spanish who had become the masters of Southern Italy.

An interesting aside of history: the last Emperor of Constantinople, Constantine XI Palaeologus, was in union with Rome but was never crowned because of the Greek clergy’s animosity and mistrust. The emperor would not go back on his oath to Rome. He died defending the city in 1453.

With the dissolution of the Eastern Empire, the West was left to its solipsistic unity, which would be permanently shattered beginning in 1517. So much blood was shed in the subsequent conflicts that finally the West would leave the papacy and religion out of political settlements more and more until finally the Imperium of Christian Rome, so long the ideal of Western civilization, would lie in ruins. Türkiye itself, under Atatürk, would take the same path of founding a secular society, upon the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. The city lives on.

Ruined Cities

On a bright Monday morning, we drove south out of the city. Mahir, an Alawi Muslim, reminded me that it was the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin, an important day in the Eastern Christian calendar. I explained that in the West we give greater importance to the dormition or assumption of Mary.

Driving south from Istanbul through Thrace reminded me of California with its low mountains sweeping down to the curving coastline of the sea of Marmara.

We drove down the Gallipoli peninsula. Mahir asked if I wanted to see the battle sites and cemeteries of that dreadful campaign of World War I. I declined, leaving such a painful experience to the multitudes of New Zealanders and Australians who go there looking for peace and comfort.

I said to Mahir that most Americans don’t think that World War I was fought anywhere other than in France. America’s entry into that conflict turned the tide against the Germans, thereby bringing the war to an end. The campaigns of the British against the Ottoman Empire are unknown to us except for the failure at Gallipoli and the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia aiding the Arabs to achieve independence from the Ottomans (thus sowing more dragon’s teeth for the modern world to deal with).

We crossed the Hellespont by ferry and drove to fabled Troy. Nine cities have existed upon that ground and are being carefully excavated. It was a moving experience to see the ruins of the city that has so much history and myth connected to the Western world.

I first became acquainted with the story of the Iliad and the Odyssey in the seventh grade. During the course of the year once or twice a week for the last fifteen minutes of English class the teacher, a remarkable woman with sound dramatic sense, would tell us the story. I remember being spellbound by it and always looked forward to the next installment. I know now that I had participated in an ageless process whereby the oral tradition, handed down by a story teller, became part of the fabric of  my life. In college I had to translate the Iliad from Greek; it did not mean as much to me as hearing it viva voce.

Unfortunately, a wooden horse stands near the entrance to the ruins. The concept was obviously in the Disneyland mode of thinking. Mahir asked if I wanted to climb into it. I replied that I am not that kind of tourist.

That night we spent in Assos, a town split into two parts. We stayed in a hotel in the lower town at the base of a very steep hill with a one lane road for access. The hotel was on the quay giving onto the Aegean Sea, so lovely in moonlight with the Greek Isle of Lesbos so near one can almost touch it. St. Paul passed through Assos on his second journey.

The next morning I walked all around the lower town which sits at the edge of a quay with a breakwater jutting into the Aegean and which consists mostly of hotels, restaurants and campgrounds, for it is a seaside resort area. I saw a farm tractor being driven on the quay – to where I could not guess.

In the upper town, narrow cobblestone streets led steeply further up the hill to the remains of a Byzantine fortress and of a pagan temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. The mosque in the town was built in the 1340’s not in the style of dome supported by semi-domes and was particularly beautiful. This led inevitably to Mahir’s and my renewed conversation about the architectural design of modern mosques and their derivation from Haghia Sophia.

We traveled to Pergamum, a city that became important after the collapse of Alexander the Great’s empire. The city sits about a thousand feet above the plain and above its modern counterpart, Bergama, below; the view is spectacular. A hundred mile long aqueduct brought water to the ancient city; the water was raised to the top of the mountain by downhill segments of the aqueduct that were long enough to push the water uphill short distances in a rhythm of down and up until the water was delivered to the city on the mountaintop.

The altar of Zeus, the temple of Hera, the temple of Trajan and the large theatre are watched over by ruins of Byzantine fortifications in a striking example of how civilizations succeed each other. The rake of the theatre seats is forty-five degrees; the audience saw the panorama of the valley below as a backdrop to whatever was happening on stage.

The modern Turkish city of Bergama has the remains of an enormous temple dedicated to an Egyptian deity; a river runs under it. Later it became a Byzantine church, with Byzantine towers added to either side.

In the evening we walked through the town, its bazaars and more modern shops offering no more or less than any other city. We stayed in a hotel notable for its colors: the exterior was pink and lavender.

Next day on the way to the Asclepion, we drove by an army boot camp and passed some grunts learning to march to their own marching song. About half were tonally off the mark, and I was very amused by one soldier who had a very self-conscious look on his face while trying to sing as we drove by.

A little later we heard a military band playing. The trumpets were vile and the drummers had varying senses of precision as to beat and rhythm, but the fanfare melodies and rhythms had a simple Turkish charm.

The Asclepion was in ancient times a famous place of healing. It was very large; it even had its own theatre. A sacred spring flows from the earth as it has for centuries.  We walked through the chamber that today would be called the psychiatric ward; the patients’ beds lay beneath openings in the vaulted ceiling. The patients were spoken to from above while asleep to help soothe their spirits.

We drove to Sardis through more California-like mountains covered with scrub. Before turning inland, we crossed mountains along the sea, again as in California. At Sardis the remains of an enormous gymnasium with a partially reconstructed front to the swimming pool share a common wall with a Jewish synagogue whose mosaic floor is remarkably intact given its exposure to the weather for so many centuries. Unfortunately, the Torah area of the ruins has been rebuilt with what I can only describe as public bathroom marble. On the other hand, the reconstruction of the entrance to the swimming pool is successfully done with original stones.

That night we arrived in modern Izmir, a city of two million. The ancient Smyrnans would be horrified at what has become of their city and the surrounding country. Mahir said that there are few ruins, none worth seeing. The hills reminded me of those of Caracas, overbuilt, crowded and ugly. The city itself was destroyed by the Turkish army in its pursuit of the Greeks who had tried to take over Anatolia after W.W. I.

Next day we arrived in Selçuk and visited the remains of the huge basilica of St. John the Evangelist. Built long after St. John’s time in the area, the church sits halfway up a hill above the later (1375) Isabey mosque which we also visited. But atop the hill loomed an apparently intact Byzantine fortress which I would have loved to explore if it had been open to the public.

We drove into the mountains to the picturesque town of Sirinçe, formerly a Greek wine producing town. After the Turkish-Greek population exchanges of 1923, the new Turkish townspeople continued to make wine. There are two abandoned Greek churches, one closed for reconstruction, the other still being worked on but open. Walking the narrow cobblestone streets of the town was delightful. Even with the change of ethnicity, one realizes that modern people are living much (but not entirely) as they have for centuries. And these occasional forays into the land of the living give a subtle jab of the now while visiting the ruins of the past.

Then we went through pine-forested mountains to the house of the Virgin Mary. This shrine has been visited of late by Paul VI and John Paul II, both of whom, as reported in the informational signs near the site, have affirmed that this was indeed Mary’s house. I told Mahir that, while it is possible Mary lived there and it is probable that she came to the area with St. John, whether or not Mary did live in this particular house does not affect me one way or another. Besides, I question its provenance because it is very isolated and an impractical walking distance from Ephesus. Nevertheless, it is a lovely house, perhaps the right age and a place of pilgrimage even for followers of Islam, for they too revere the mother of Jesus, because he was one of their prophets.

Next day we walked the marble street of Ephesus, the principal objective of my tour through Anatolia. We went in the morning to avoid the heat of the sun radiating from the marble and stones. So did all the other tourists. It was very crowded.

The ruins are mostly Roman in origin. When St. Paul preached here, it was a seaport. As the harbor silted up, a result of deforestation, the city receded from shore. Now it is a few miles inland, and its remnants were undoubtedly saved by that fact.

What is left of the city is spectacular (the theatre), moving (the library of Celsus), and even funny (the brothel, the footprint pointing to it and the public toilet with the seats nothing but holes in a row cut into a long stone slab – the folds of one’s toga providing privacy, I assume).

After dinner we walked out to a fortress on an island which is now connected to the mainland by a causeway. On the way back I saw a boy trying to do handstands in a park and not succeeding. With no translation from Mahir, I mimed for him to lock his elbows and keep his head down. He succeeded and grinned his thanks.

When we checked out of the hotel in Selçuk, the staff checked not only the mini bar but the room as well. When I commented on this to Mahir, he told me about a tour bus he guided that had the luggage searched until the television set that one tourist had purloined was found.

Driving through the pine forests of Anatolia, I noticed that the trees are more emerald-like than our darker American pines, almost iridescent. The Anatolian sky is like the New Mexico sky, serene in its intensity when cloudless, a brilliant azure contrasting with the brownish land awaiting the next winter rains and snows.

On our way to the next ruins, my eye was caught by a sign pointing to a steam engine museum. I asked to stop there. What a delight! Twenty-six German and English superbly maintained engines, some of them 2-10-2, sat in a park which included a roundhouse turntable. There is even an 1846 Robert Stephenson 0-4-0. The museum is privately owned by a man who obviously loves these wonderful relics.

Aphrodisias was the next ruined city we visited. I had never heard of it, nor does it appear to be well known, given the few tourists there, but it was even more interesting than Ephesus. The theatre, the best of all I saw on the trip, has its original stage. The marketplaces, the baths, the small theatre near the bishop’s palace, the reconstructed eight-columned gate and the statuary in the museum are all an important and wonderful archeological treasure. The 30,000 seat stadium, in surprisingly good condition, gave powerful testimony to the human processes that build our modern stadiums. I wondered whether it was financed by the same bamboozles and scams perpetrated by rich entrepreneurs upon taxpayers as they are today.

We stayed next in Pamukkale. We were the only guests in the hotel, but the eery feeling was quickly dispelled by an excellent dinner. Alas, hot water was not to be drawn.

Outside the town sits Hieropolis. We drove through the large necropolis to the city area. The theatre is enormous. The other ruins had become somewhat predictable by this time. We climbed to the top of the hill to examine the remnant of the basilica of St. Philip, the Apostle, reputed to have been martyred on the spot.

As we were about to leave, Mahir whose tour guide ID was hanging on his chest, was approached by two reporters from an Ankara magazine. We went to their suite at their hotel near the warm springs for which the region is famous. We sat on the patio and drank tea as Mahir answered their questions about tourism in Türkiye. Then I was interviewed, Mahir translating in both directions, about my experiences in Türkiye.

On the road again we passed a couple of nomad campgrounds. My interest in seeing them stemmed from my interest in the kilim I was going to buy before I left Istanbul. The tents were round, outside each an old car or truck. From the Taurus mountains, they travel around and help with the harvests.

We stopped for lunch in Çivril, a charming town. There was a car lot; interestingly there were as many tractors for sale as there were cars.

In inland Anatolia, the tractor is a very important mode of transportation. We saw and passed many with the husband driving and the wife and/or children riding wherever they could find a place. Southern Anatolia is farm country, not unlike the fertile inland valleys of California, but doesn’t seem to suffer as much from agribusiness. As we drove by the fields whose crops were harvested, sheep and goats were grazing the stubble in the annual exchange between farmers and herders. Fruit trees, vegetables and cotton are common. In the seven hours of driving from Pamukkale to Bursa, our next destination, I saw many idyllic scenes of farm life.

There is a dark cloud over these farmers’ heads. The day I left in 2003, the English edition of one of the Turkish newspapers reported that Turkish farm output has dropped drastically over the last half century because of policies imposed by the World Bank.

We arrived in Bursa, the first capital of the Osmanlı empire (the second was Adrianople [Edirne] and then Constantinople [Istanbul]). The Green Mosque and the Green Türbe (mausoleum) are remarkable for the striking shade of green of the tiles which adorn them and which give the buildings their names.

The tram up the mountain didn’t faze me until we passed the first tower. When we came down, I told Mahir that I might not have gone if I had seen the towers first. They were obviously substantial enough to serve the tram without mishap, but……

We drove up to another part of the mountain to have lunch near a plane tree almost six hundred years old. Seating in the restaurant was mostly outdoors; springs of water were flowing through a system of conduits creating a unique atmosphere.

From Bursa we traveled to Nicaea, back in time to Constantine the Great. Nicaea is lovely, set on the shore of its lake. We examined the walls and drove into the city. The ruins of Justinian’s church dedicated to Haghia Sophia are in the center of the city.

The council of Nicaea was called by the pagan emperor Constantine on his own authority (the popes had not yet the authority they have today) to solve a theological difficulty that was disturbing the peace of the empire. Arianism, the heresy that denied the true divinity of Christ and asserted that he merely possessed a dignity superior to human dignity, was the divisive element and was condemned by the council. It would take another council later in that century and several centuries more until Clovis’ baptism in the West before Arianism would finally be vanquished.

Many people are confused about Constantine and his Edict of Milan. He himself remained a pagan; he merely used the superior resources of the Christian bishops to help reform the administraton of his huge Empire. Constantine was not baptized until he lay on his deathbed. The celebrant was, of all people, Eusebius, an Arian bishop. That does not impede the Orthodox from considering him a saint, along with his mother, Helena. The church dedicated to them in Constantinople in the fifteenth century still stands, reconstructed in the nineteenth century.

That afternoon, on our way back to Istanbul, we drove to the tiny village of Laledere where Mahir owns a plot of land on which he hopes some day to build a house. We walked down a muddy lane to get there, because it was uncertain that the car would make it. As we walked, I saw humble peasants in their daily occupation with the earth, and on the way back to the car I saw a teenager walking home from school. I wondered what life is like away from any large city in the modern world. This produces a little envy for such a life until I remember my own youth in the Rhode Island countryside and quickly come back to reality. I didn’t hate it because it was what I knew, but I was always attracted to Providence, the center of my musical life at the time.

We ferried across the eastern side of the Sea of Marmara to the highway that leads to Istanbul and crossed one of the wonderful suspension bridges that span the Bosphorus connecting the Asian side with the City.

I had one last day there, which I have already mentioned. That evening Mahir invited me to dinner at his home where I met his wife and their delightful two-year old. Next day Mahir drove me to the airport.

The trip home was less than joyful. We left the gate at Atatürk airport one hour and fifteen minutes late. That caused me to miss my connection in NY, and I had to take a flight to San Diego the next day, followed by a train trip to Oceanside. Jet lag was my companion for too many days thereafter.

The Third Visit in 2006

Mahir met me at the airport in Istanbul and we flew that same afternoon to Trabzon (Trebizond) an hour’s flight to the East. We landed on a brilliant sunny day on a runway right next to the Black Sea. That night we had tea in a park 200 meters above the city. Next day we saw two large houses of note, one built in the late 19th century that later served for fifty years as a girls’ school and is now a museum and another 19th century house, high above the city, which is a shrine to Atatürk.

Byzantine remnants are the Fatih Mosque which was St. Mary’s where the coronations of the Emperors of Trebizond took place and Haghia Sophia, the cathedral now a museum, where there are many frescoes still recognizable. Haghia Sophia was the highlight of that day. Set in a garden park above the Black Sea, it is a beautiful building in traditional Greek cross figuration; it moved me deeply by its majesty and perfect proportions. We found the eighth century church of St. Anne, but there was no way to gain entry. Later we were told that it is never open.

In the evening we sat in a park and had tea. I saw our waiter physically kick a young boy in his teens out of the area where we were sitting. I had Mahir ask him why; the waiter said contemptuously, “Kurd”. On further questioning he said the youth is a troublemaker and a thief. This was my first experience with any of the complicated social issues of the human side of Turkey. Mahir has often mentioned the relationships of Turks, Kurds, and gypsies, but this was the first animosity I saw first hand.

The Fatih mosque, Haghia Sophia, the outside of St. Anne’s, and Sumela, which we would see on the morrow, were the sum of the Byzantine places that we saw in Trabzon. I came to see them and to see the city, now too crowded, that, had it chosen, could have defied the conqueror of Constantinople. It held out until 1461, eight years after the fall of Constantinople, but a quisling persuaded the Emperor to hand it over. So it came under Turkish rule after two and a half centuries as an Empire independent of Constantinople.

The Empire of Trebizond was founded when the Latin fourth crusade repudiated its vows to fight in the Holy Land, sacked Constantinople instead and set up a Latin Empire there in 1204. Members of the Comnenes family, deprived of the capital, set up the Empire in despite of the Latins and of the Empire established in Nicaea. Even after the Greeks recovered Constantinople, the Empire of Trebizond endured. One of the what-ifs of history is, could the Empire have survived longer if it hadn’t surrendered? The place is impregnable. Its basic layout was on a trapezoidal spit of land (hence its name) that was only accessible by bridges. One can still see the walls of the old castle on that outcrop of land and can easily believe it might have been possible.

Next day we drove into the Central Black Sea Mountains to the abandoned monastery of Sumela, founded sixteen hundred years ago. The present buildings date from the fourteenth century. We walked a spectacular path with many switchbacks that rises a thousand feet to the monastery, now a museum. One wonders, given the distance from Trebizond, how a monastery could thrive when anything not produced at the monastery had to come in on pack mules for such a distance. But thrive it did, until the population exchanges of 1923. The monks went to Greece and established a new house there. Sumela was abandoned to hunters and vandals, and many of the frescoes were damaged until the government turned what was left into a museum and began restoring it.

The extent of the damage to the frescoes is directly related to their height; those closer to the ground suffered most. I was puzzled that the faces of the figures were more targeted than the bodies. I surmised that it was because of the Islamic prohibition against depicting humans. Mahir agreed, but he also said that people scrape off the paint of the faces to use in potions to treat diseases.

The monastery church is a large cave, with only one wall to enclose it. Every bit of the wall inside and out and every square inch of the cave walls and ceiling were covered with frescoes. The different eras of icon painting were represented, the large fresoes on the ceiling of the cave being from the eighteenth or nineteenth century.

When we left Sumela, we traveled to a mountain lake resort area called Uzungöl. The mountains are very beautiful with waterfalls and stone arch bridges. The area was restful and generally quiet, except for the inevitable muezzin’s loudspeakers.

The next day we started for Ordu back on the coast but decided to go by the mountain route southwest then northwest instead of by the coast road. We had one of those adventures not available to people on tour buses. We tried to find a road that was indicated on the map which would take us over the mountains. We stopped twice to ascertain that this was indeed the road, and we were assured. Eventually the road narrowed, became a washboard and finally ended up a barely graded dirt road with no road signs.

At one point we were passed by a pickup truck driven by a man in an American Western style cowboy hat. He was driving as if he knew where he was going; we decided to follow him. He tried to shake us, but we persisted. He stopped near a dwelling in a sparsely occupied village, and we pulled up beside him and told him where we were going. He understood our difficulty and told us to continue following him. He would show us the road we needed to find. After miles of eating dust in a treeless but beautiful mountain area (at one point we stopped in the middle of a herd of cows), we arrived at a hotel literally in the middle of nowhere; not another building was there, just the hotel on the crest of a hill! It is owned by our lead driver whose name, he said, is Genghis!

We had tea with him. Pleasant and friendly, he told us he owns a business in Istanbul, but built the hotel because the dirt road we were traveling was going to be paved and become the means of development in the area.

We left the hotel with instructions that would get us down the mountain. We stopped for a young boy, ten or eleven, who flagged us down and asked if we had anything to eat. We gave him some apples, the only food we had in the car, and some money. I was astonished at the worried look on his face, but I was more astonished that he was sitting at the side of a road with few cars traveling it in a bleak and desolate area far from any habitation. I wondered where he could have come from and what his story was.

We finally got back to the civilization of a paved highway and drove across a windswept plain into mountains that look very much like southwestern Colorado. On the way we stopped to visit Karaca Cave, thirty thousand years old, discovered in 1989 and opened as a museum in 1996. The formations are very beautiful and one even looked like alabaster. Though not much interested in such things, I was glad to have seen it, though I am more interested in Byzantine remnants.

We had to forgo a visit to another Greek monastery become museum because it was getting late and we had to make our way to Ordu on the coast.

Ordu is a pleasant city, but unfortunately without Byzantine remnants. There is a 19th century Greek church that was abandoned in 1923 which became a jail and is now a museum, closed on Sundays, the day we were there.

We visited another museum in a striking nineteenth century Turkish house. Across the street was an abandoned nineteenth century Turkish house that must have been equally beautiful in its day. I hope someone restores it.

At an internet cafe I met a young man named Erden who told me in broken English that he is trying to get to New York to study English in a special language school. I got him to tell his story to Mahir who then translated what I had not understood in direct communication. Erden became our guide and took us first to what is called Jason’s church, situated on a lonely promontory that traditionally was the headquarters for a time of Jason and the Argonauts on their search for the Golden Fleece. A Greek Orthodox settlement in the area built the church in the 19th century and abandoned it in 1923. It became subject to the usual vicissitudes.

A man of obvious Greek descent lives near the church and has lovingly restored it. No one knows to whom the church was dedicated, so Jason’s name was attached to it in one of the more bizarre moments of tourism. We had tea in the gentleman’s combination home, tourist center and cafe. I didn’t pay much attention to the conversation because the background music was so interesting. On a CD a Japanese violinist and a Turkish harpist were playing arrangements of music from the Impressionist school quite sensitively.

Erden next took us to Vonalı Celal, a restaurant spectacularly situated on the Black Sea coast. The view was wonderful, and the food was the best we had in the Black Sea segment of our tour. After that excellent meal, Erden next guided us up Boztepe, a hill that rises about two thousand feet to provide a spectacular view of Ordu and the sea. (Boz means tan or ecru and tepe means hill.)

Next day we drove south again to Amasya through mountains that made me think of New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York. Amasya is beautifully situated on both banks of a river flowing between mountains on either side.

We walked along the river in the evening. I heard a train and was determined to find the station next day. Alas, I spent it in bed with a twenty-four hour bug and the beginnings of sinus troubles from all the dust I breathed behind the pickup. Mahir took care of my needs that day; I was grateful. Being sick in a hotel room is a very depressing experience.

Next day we visited an abandoned Greek church, now a mosque and then drove up the mountain to the fortress overlooking the city. We had to move on, and I was sorry not to have a chance to see more of the city, so beautiful in its stunning setting. It has some extraordinary cave tombs in the mountains above the city, but I had to let them be without visiting them.

On the way to Sinop we drove through more mountains, very different from what we had seen on other days. The topography of the Central Black Sea Mountains gives endlessly kaleidoscopic panoramas.

Sinop sits on a neck of land that connects mainland northern Anatolia with an apparently sparsely inhabited promontory. I understood why the promontory is sparsely populated when I experienced the wind and rainstorms that swept over the city from time to time. I would not want to visit in winter.

The strategic position of the city has made it important from early times through the present. One incident took place in 1853 when the Russians attacked the Turkish naval forces in the harbor, starting the Crimean War. The memorial to the sailors who died is located in an interesting park full of other remnants of older civilizations connected to the archeological museum. Inside the museum the nineteenth century icons from an abandoned Greek church were the best exhibit.

We visited an old Byzantine church built in 660, a lovely ruin whose frescoes are still visible (again with the faces scraped off). The church sits on a hill surrounded by family vegetable gardens in a residential area.

We went through Sinop prison, now a museum, which reminded me very much of Alcatraz. I was fascinated by it.

At Sinop Mahir told me about the role of Türkiye in W. W. I, W. W. II and the post war periods. Among other facts, Mahir spoke of the Turkish general, Enver Pasha, who, in winter, took an army of 90,000 during W. W. I towards Russia and lost two-thirds of them in the Caucasus, part of the Ottoman Empire at that time. They died before they ever crossed the frontier, another example of the incredible insensitivity to human life of the political and military leaderships of that dreadful conflict.

We traveled from Sinop to Samsun by the coast road, sometimes lovely and sometimes ugly with too much insensitive development. In Samsun we visited the archeological museum, but there wasn’t much of interest. Atatürk began his revolution in Samsun, and there is a hotel that was given to him in gratitude that has some good exhibits connected to the father of modern Türkiye.

We visited the train station. Mahir was amused that I wanted to see it, and I told him nobody knows me well if they don’t know my fascination with trains. He brought a book to read while I wandered around the station and examined a train waiting to leave for Amasya. After it left, we went to the other side of the tracks to see the city zoo, years behind the times in zoological exhibits. I felt sorry for the animals cooped up in small cages with a minimum of attempts to provide habitat.

We met Erçin, a student of computer programming who was working at our hotel for the summer. He graciously took some time off and guided us to some recently discovered tumuli outside the city. Though still a “dig”, we were allowed to enter the tumuli, which contain their skeletons and a few broken artifacts, anything of interest being lost to grave robbers probably centuries ago. Erçin also guided us to a replica of the Bandırma, the ship that brought Atatürk to Samsun.

Finally we flew to Istanbul. You can sing that you left your heart in San Francisco; I left mine in Istanbul the first time I visited the city. It is still there. I don’t sing about it, I am merely filled with awe and admiration when I am there and am filled with longing whenever I think of the city walls, Haghia Sophia and the other Byzantine remnants, the living city surrounded on three sides by water, the shipping in the Bosphorous, the shopping in the bazaars, Istiklal Caddesi (Turkish for street), the many mosques, on and on.

This visit, my hotel was just around the corner from the Hippodrome. From the breakfast room on the fifth floor I had a view of the Sea of Marmara, the Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia.

Whenever I walk around the Hippodrome, I always think of the tremendous and horrifying end of the Nika riot that almost brought Justinian down. Instead of fleeing the capital, the emperor sent general Belisarius into the Hippodrome with troops. The soldiers proceeded to slaughter all thirty thousand citizens trapped inside. The exits were blocked, and anyone trying to escape was cut down. The back of the insurrection was broken. Lucky the citizens who decided to forgo the races at the Hippodrome that day!

The evening we arrived, while Mahir was home hugging his children after being away, I walked around Haghia Sophia, very beautiful on the outside at night. While walking, I was waylaid by two different carpet salesmen. I remained obdurate. I am learning how to reject and get away from them and keep my equilibrium.

Next morning I went to the church for my fourth visit in four years. The same feelings of disquiet overcame as on the other occasions. Even so, everytime I visit the church, I experience history read and savored. The church was one of the two centers of the Byzantine world; the other was the Sacred Palace nearby, of which nothing is left for the tourist to visit except part of a mosaic floor.

As I have every time I visit the church, I made the traditional circle with my thumb in the hole in the column of St. Gregory in the nave of the church.

Ss. Serge and Bacchus, another of my favorite buildings, was scheduled to reopen after repairs after I left; we were not allowed to see the inside. What we saw of the outside is beautifully restored. The church was built by Justinian and Theodora during the reign of their uncle Justin I, when they were still heirs to the throne.

We were allowed to go into the recently excavated dungeons of the eleventh century that were shown on the History Channel. Attached to and become part of the old city wall on the Golden Horn, they are simply awesome.

In the afternoon we took a ferry across the Bosphorus to Haydarpaşa train station where we spent a delightful hour planning our next trip which will include some train travel. The station, like the one on the European side, was built by the Germans at the end of the ninetenth century to be the western terminus of the Istanbul to Baghdad Railway, never completed because of W. W. I. The station is more beautiful than the one on the European side.

In the evening I attended the service of the Whirling Dervishes. Before the ceremony, there was a concert by the musicians and singers who performed downstairs after which they went up to a balcony to sing and play for the dancers. Some of the music in the concert was newly written, very derivative of contemporary pop music, and some was obviously very old. The music for the ceremony was old and moving. The dancers whirl four different times during the ceremony, an impressive feat. But the whirling was always the same, and I understood why Mahir guides his clients to the place and then goes his way. I won’t need to go again, but it was worth seeing once. There is also a very good display of old musical instruments.

On Monday we took a ferry to Heybeli (Halki in Greek), one of the Princes’ Isles, an archipelago in the Sea of Marmara a forty-five minute boat ride from Istanbul. No automobiles are allowed on the islands.         Mahir’s father is buried there. We visited the grave, and Mahir explained traditional funerary arrangements in Türkiye. Then we walked down the hill and visited his sister who owns a house on the beach. After a wonderful lunch with both his sisters and his mother, we returned to Istanbul.

The Princes’ Isles have a great history because of the many monasteries that flourished on them in Byzantine times and because of the number of deposed Emperors, Empresses and Patriarchs who were confined there, conveniently near enough to Constantinople and far enough away to guarantee they would make no further trouble.

Back in the city, we went to the Spice Bazaar by the Bosphorus to buy nutmeg and Turkish coffee for  friends and myself. That night I had dinner with Mahir and his family. Next day I flew home.

The Visit in 2007

As I was driving home from work one day in the Fall of 2006 I was musing about what I wanted to do for my 70th birthday the next June. I decided that another trip to Byzantium would be a good thing and let my imagination run wild with the idea. So it came about that I took a leave of absence from work to go to live in my beloved Istanbul for two months. To go for two months would allow me to absorb more of the region I have come to love.

My fourth visit to Türkiye started unhappily. Luggage arrived three days after I did, jet lag which I have never had eastbound was a problem, my blind eye refused to respond to medication, severe allergies went on for weeks and all was topped off with a heat wave that reminded me of Phoenix in the summer monsoons. Presently I came down with sweats with no fever and a hoarse voice with no sore throat. It turned out to be an infection on my left tonsil and a severe allergic rhinitis. I know that because I went to a doctor. I never did get rid of the allergies.

When I went to the doctor, Mahir took me to Surp Ağop (St. Jacob) hospital, run by Armenian Catholics. I paid about $50 to see the doctor and another $50 for a chest X-ray. After seeing the radiologist’s report that the X-ray showed no abnormalities, the doctor prescribed an antibiotic that cost around $10. The whole thing was done without appointments and I was in and out in less than an hour. Several years ago I described in another journal a similar medical experience in France. Are we Americans stupid or what?

While waiting for the radiologist’s report, I looked out the back door of the lobby and saw a neatly placed collection of ancient statuary. Refreshing!

The Living City

Mahir, my guide and friend in Istanbul, found me a reasonably priced apartment in the building next door to his house near Taksim Square on the other side of the Golden Horn from the old city. Public transportation is very good in Istanbul, and I could rely on it to get me to the different areas of the city where I could find remnants of the civilization I have so much admired over the last fifty-five years.

Getting around the city is not difficult if one learns to read where buses are going. I already knew the layout of the city from my previous visits, and that helped enormously. As I rode buses, the same size as most American buses, I was amazed how they navigated the narrow streets of the city.

A tram travels from the northern side of the Golden Horn across the Horn through the old city to the airport, and a short subway line serves Şişli which I used on the Sundays when I went up the Bosphorus to Büyükdere.

I finally settled in. Living in an apartment in a crowded neighborhood on a narrow street with no parks nearby differs noticeably from staying in a hotel. The noise level is much higher. The combination of children playing in the street, electronic entertainment thumping out its monotonies, construction, and trash collections twice a night gave me the opportunity to savor what I have called the living city. Living in Manhattan on the third floor of a brownstone would be the same, except that in Istanbul there are very vocal street vendors crying their wares. The vendors are not bothersome when pushing their carts, but when they drive trucks with amplification they become a nuisance akin to the ice cream trucks that plague the neighborhoods of America.

An enormous number of cats, feral and tame, live in the neighborhood. There must not be a single rat or mouse around. The nightly yowling becomes background noise. One tom in particular was amusingly and frequently stentorian. Dogs are few, none wild that I saw.

One night I heard from my apartment a street concert at the corner of the block. It was entertainment, but like the surprising closing show of the Athens’ Olympic Games it was rather attractive and pleasant to hear. The style was a mix of middle Eastern folk and disco. Later in the show, the tempos were considerably faster than disco, but the principle was the same. Some of the musical ideas were very clever, and one performer actually used the pregnant silences of dramatic pauses for expressive purposes, i.e. the percussion actually stopped with the musical idea. Not only that, but another performer had an accompanist on electric keyboard who played real counter melodies, both as accompaniment as well as interludes. The music itself as well as the performance had a lot of interior energy, unlike the exterior energy that passes for entertainment in the U.S.

The latter part of the evening was filled with a lot of comedic shtick with predictable musical deterioration that I detest. However, the opening two acts were classier entertainment than the ugly and dreary music in the states that causes me to push the mute button or walk out.

Most Turkish entertainment music is good if it is rooted in Turkish folk music. If it is imitative of American rock, it is even drearier and stupider than what we are afflicted by at home.

I tried to find some kanun music. The kanun is a Turkish stringed instrument with levers to adjust intonation. Coskun Uzunkaya at Caferağa Madresesi called a kanun playing friend of his and was told that all the good kanun players were out of town for the summer, and the only ones still in the city were entertaining tourists. I wasn’t interested in that. Later, Ilker, whom we shall meet in Antioch and Istanbul, showed himself to be quite proficient at the bağlama, a six-stringed plucked instrument with a belly like a lute. The strings are arranged in pairs, the outer pairs tuned at the unison and the inner pair tuned in octaves. The result is full-bodied and rich in sound.

The Janissary band did a concert in Taksim Square. I stayed a few minutes to enjoy it, but they were amplified. I left to keep my hearing. With one exception that was the extent of my musical life for two months. When I came home, I found my ears sharper because of the hiatus.

I am often asked if I feel safe walking in Istanbul. First, Turks are not Arabs. They are our NATO allies. Second, the police are everywhere in greater numbers than we Americans would think justifiable. Otherwise, my answer is mixed. At night, I never go out without a companion. During the day, even in unknown neighborhoods, I only once felt unsafe.  Getting around in the tortuous streets is not difficult. Many Turks are not only helpful, they are anxious to be of help. I show the Turkish name of the place I want in the English guidebook, they point, and so I find my way.

However, touristy areas of the city are filled with people waiting to waylay the tourists, especially if alone, and get them into their shops to buy something. I learned never to answer questions such as,  “How are you?” “Where are you going?”, “Where do you come from?” and “What are you looking for?” One man said, “ You walk like a tourist. Are you?” The questioners are not being friendly for the good of tourism in Türkiye. They are remarkably smooth talkers trying to get tourists into their shop. I shrug my shoulders, look quizzical and say nothing even if I am carrying my English language guide book. One man harangued me while I was waiting for a pedestrian signal to change. I still said nothing. A man in the Grand Bazaar amused me when he said, “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you all this time.” Whenever Mahir was with me, I was never bothered.

I had brought my straw panama for protection from the sun, and it turned out to be a tempting bull’s eye. It completed the obviousness that I was an American tourist. I bought a bill cap and became a little less conspicuous.

The city has a plenitude of men who shine shoes. A scam some use as they roam the streets is to spot a pigeon, drop a brush as they walk by. When the target responds by calling to the man that he has dropped his brush, he offers a shine in gratitude and then demands payment at an inflated price. Yes, it happened to me. The second time I saw a man drop a brush, I laughed to myself. He eventually came to me and asked if I wanted a shine. I said, “no, thanks”.

Oddities seen: in a quiet neighborhood a rooster freely walking down the sidewalk, three rainbow flags in Istiklal Caddesi area, a lady lowering a basket on a rope from her third floor apartment to one of the street vendors, the panorama of the old city with thousands of satellite dishes atop the buildings. An almost fundamentalist woman in mostly ordinary clothes walked along the Bosphorus one afternoon with her husband. She was wearing a head scarf and smoking a cigarette, a sign of things to come. I saw this again as I walked by a lady wearing a head scarf leaning on a bridge railing smoking. I also saw a couple of men wearing the fez, which is still technically outlawed in Türkiye. It is permitted as part of a costume for commercial or social purposes, but not for ordinary wear. I also saw a lot of them for sale, something not seen during my previous visits. Many men wear shoes elongated at the toe in imitation of the old Ottoman style. Some shoes even have a slight curl at the front. I saw a rear end collision of no severity. The drivers stopped and got out of their vehicles to do their thing, and the traffic behind them just drove around them on the sidewalk with no regard to the safety of pedestrians. I saw a man wearing a tee shirt with Starbuck’s logo except the B was changed to another letter which creates a rhyme but is not allowed in print. I almost cheered.

Living near Taksim Square I walked almost the whole area between it and Karaköy at the Galata Bridge. The streets behind Istiklal Caddesi are full of charming restaurants and places where one can sit and enjoy conversation without the bustle of the main street. I found several used book stores. Istiklal Caddesi itself, called La Grande rue de Pera in other times, is always crowded. Much of the neighborhood, called Beyoğlu now but in older days Galata and Pera, is being gentrified and is becoming a magnet for people wanting to live “where it’s at”. Besides that, the neighborhood has always had a rather high tone to it because the foreign embassies were built there when Istanbul was the capital in Ottoman days.

I walked Bankalar Caddesi, the street of banks halfway down the hill. The buildings are in the grand style of banks in the early twentieth century. I walked back up the hill because the tunnel, the oldest funicular railway in Europe, was out of order, but I was glad because behind the street of banks, old neighborhoods kept adding more and more delight.

I walked from Tophane (the old Ottoman cannon factory now part of a university) to Karaköy. Top means cannon and hane means house. I discovered three old Greek Orthodox churches that are owned by a group of Turkish Orthodox Christians who do the Byzantine rite in Turkish. They have been squabbling with the Patriarch about their independence for years. The big Armenian Orthodox church in the same area was built in 1960. The old one was torn down in order to widen the street, which is a main thoroughfare.

To go to the old city I went to Taksim Square, took the new funicular tunnel to Kabataş and transferred to the tram which runs across the Golden Horn through Sultanahmet, the principal tourist area, to the southern end of the city. When in the old city, I preferred walking. Wanting to see the column of Constantine again, I found it an easy walk from Sultanahmet to Çemberlitaş. This year the column was hidden by a tall fence to keep people away during repairs. An equally easy walk brought me from there to the Grand Bazaar. The tram goes the same way.

The Grand Bazaar is a most curious and fascinating place. The area of covered streets is huge and the uncovered streets almost as numerous. Wandering around, one comes upon old delights in architecture, some of them no longer in use but worth seeing. In the middle of all this maze one can arrive at unexpected open air plazas to refresh oneself with tea. Mostly ordinary things are being offered in the shops: shoes, handbags and luggage, clothing, jewelry, things like that. Tourists and natives alike crowd the bazaar.

The textile area is a shopper’s Eden. Head scarves are big this year with the fundamentalist party returned to power. The street of books has many shops with old and rare and new books on any subject in any language as well as texts for the adjacent university. The street debouches into the square in front of the university with its enormous plane tree under which, alas, one can no longer relax with a glass of tea.

My favorite area, however, is the Old Bazaar in the same warren of winding streets. It is also covered, and it contains antiques, a better class of jewelry and silver objects, both plate and sterling, and generally caters to shoppers with, shall we say, more discriminating taste for fancier things.

Although every main street in the city is replete with stores, another area of interest is Balat, the old Jewish quarter on the Golden Horn where the shops are generally much smaller. Although there are not as many shops because it is essentially a residential area and the shops purvey more practical things for a residential area, the atmosphere is quieter and more refined. I bought a teapot there which was carefully put back into its shipping box, neatly wrapped in newspaper, tied with ribbon and then put into a carrying bag. That was an experience of the past.

Getting around in Balat is no more difficult than getting around in the Grand and Old Bazaars. Its ambiance is kaleidoscopic, wonderful old Ottoman buildings both of stone and of wood, many abandoned, many being restored, mosques and the occasional church on narrow streets winding up and down hilly terrain. Not very many synagogues are left. The area is more Turkish these days.

The large Jewish population of Balat was a result of Ferdinand and Isabella’s ethnic cleansing of Spain (a modern term, but that is what it was). Beyazit II invited the displaced Jews to settle in the Empire. He knew what solid citizens the Jewish community makes and did not pass up an opportunity to invigorate the Empire with new creativity and activity. Thousands settled in Istanbul and Salonika. There was room for them in Istanbul because so many Greeks had left before and after the fall of the city. Salonika became a largely Jewish city.

I had lunch several times at Caferağa Madresesi, a restaurant owned and operated by the government in a building dedicated to teaching arts and crafts in a school (madrese) designed and built by Sinan, the great sixteenth century architect. A delightful set of classrooms (the dormitories are not evident) surrounding a central open air quadrangle, the school probably housed boys who were caught up in the devşirme, the enrollment of Christian teenage boys who were taken from their homes, usually in the Balkans, forcibly converted to Islam, and trained for the Janissaries.

I had eaten in this delightful atmosphere on my previous visits. The building is down a short alley off the street west of Haghia Sophia. The restaurant is managed by Coskun Uzunkaya, whom I mentioned above. He himself is an artist with a unique approach to abstract art. All he would tell me about his technique is that he paints under water. His work is beautiful and fascinating.

Dolmabahçe Palace sits on the edge of the Bosphorus north of the Golden Horn, built in the nineteenth century for a sultan who was tired of Topkapı. On my previous visits to Istanbul I had carefully avoided it. This time I was being dropped off so near the palace that I decided to go. I had been right to stay away and should have still stayed away. The palace was everything I feared it would be: dull, drab, dreary, pretentious Euro-trash. Designed by Italian architects, it lacks the subtle splendor of Topkapı and has none of the brilliance of Byzantine concepts of architectural statecraft.

Besides, I can harrumph about such a place, because I went to school for three and a half years in a mansion much smaller but similar in intent and not too much newer. One year I shared a bathroom that had a marble fireplace and gold-plated plumbing. The dining room’s fireplace was lapis lazuli and the faculty lounge was done entirely in matched teakwood. The sultans had nothing on me.

Another place I visited was the Galata tower. I had stayed away from it on previous trips because it is too touristy. Built by the Genoese across from the old city in the fourteenth century, it was part of their fortifications. I think it survived the sultan’s demand after the conquest that the Genoese remove their fortifications because it was the fire watch tower for the whole city. I stumbled upon it on one of my aimless walks in the Galata-Pera (Beyoğlu) area and looked at it closely. It sits in a park-like area with enough room to get good views of it from many angles. Then I thought that if I could get through Dolmabahçe I should do the tower. 
An elevator takes the tourists up to the observation deck; I had hoped to walk it. (I walked up the Washington Monument when I visited it). I was glad I went up. The views are spectacular from any point on the circular platform especially when one is as familiar with the city as I had become. There is no better way to understand Constantine the Great’s decision to build his capital there than by seeing how the Golden Horn flows into the Bosphorus just before the Bosphorus flows into the Sea of Marmara. There is a restaurant on the floor above the deck; luckily the tower was built too many years ago for the restaurant to revolve.

I lunched at the train station one day and walked the platform to see what consist was being prepared. The cars I saw were going to Belgrade and Bucharest, not the Orient Express but exotic nonetheless.

Adrianople (Byzantine Greek) – Edirne (Ottoman)

Mahir planned to take two colleagues from his tour business to Edirne to get them acquainted with the city. I tagged along. Edirne was the second capital of the Ottoman Empire (after Bursa) for ninety-three years before it was moved to Constantinople in 1453.

We drove the old road for awhile, because one of the men was buying an apartment some distance from Istanbul and we stopped to see it. We went up to the second floor (first floor in European parlance) and discovered a bird trapped in the corridor. An owl had managed to find its way in but not out. Small like a burrowing owl or a barn owl, it became frightened, tried to fly out and dazed itself on the window. That gave Mahir the chance to pick it up securely and take it outside to release it. Oh how I wish we had had the presence of mind to get a picture of Mahir carrying that bird in his hand! When he threw it upward, the bird looked for a suspenseful moment as though it would fall to the ground. Then it found its wings and flew off.

On the road again, we took the newer toll road as it went along the Sea of Marmara and then inland on a straight line from Istanbul to Edirne through Thrace, with its fields of wheat, already harvested and awaiting the yearly arrival of the sheep to graze the stubble and leave their fertilizer, and miles and miles of sunflowers, called in Turkish moon flowers, grown for the seeds which will be pressed for sunflower oil. Here are gentle rolling hills – with new windmills for electric power starting to be a visual factor –  finally in peace after so many centuries of invasions and war and pillage from ancient times until settled firmly in the Ottoman Empire.

During Roman and Byzantine times the area was infested with wave after wave of Avars, Bulgars, Huns (though Attila was persuaded to take himself to the West to be dissuaded there by Pope Leo I and later some inconclusive military operations in Gaul) , Slavs, Bulgars, Serbs, Magyars, Vlachs, Alans, Pechenegs, on and on. Most were civilized and baptized into the Eastern rites of the Church and contributed to the Eastern Empire for centuries. The Serbs and Bulgars settled close enough to Constantinople to be a constant threat.

In the West most barbarians became Arians, a problem not solved for centuries by the Church which had to coexist side by side with their heretical churches and clergy. The West would not defeat Arianism until the conversion of Clovis and the Franks finally broke the barbarian attachment to the heresy.

Granted the invasions into both the Eastern and Western Empires were brutal and bloody (Europe and the United States are undergoing migrations by legal and illegal aliens in the modern day. Fortunately these are not brutal nor bloody, but I believe they are the same thing – just not as overwhelming), in Byzantium they were creatively dealt with, subtly when possible but cruelly and firmly when not. Basil II was called Bulgaroctonus (the slayer of Bulgarians) for good reason. After four decades or so of fighting the Bulgars (late tenth and early eleventh centuries), he finally broke their spirit by dividing the approximately fourteen thousand defeated and captured Bulgars into groups of one hundred. Ninety-nine of each group were blinded and the hundredth was left with one eye to guide the ninety-nine home. Their tsar died of grief. The Bulgars would not be a problem again until the Empire was weakened enough in its last years to give them opportunities.

When the toll road ended outside Edirne, we paid the toll at the booth and were pulled over by the jandarma who asked for our IDs. We waited while we were checked out by radio. Then we went on our way.

We arrived in Edirne and went immediately to the great mosque built by Sinan around 1580. The architect liked it the best of all he had designed and erected, and I agree. The dome is higher and more daring; the space of the floor area appears larger than it is, the unexpected always a pleasure to the eye.

We had lunch, and I saw the washroom called “lavobo”, a misspelling of “lavabo”. I saw the same sign later in another restaurant on the trip to Cappadocia, also misspelled, and I saw it once in Istanbul correctly spelled. I was curious about the use by Turks of a Latin word used to indicate the washroom.

A second mosque two blocks away from Sinan’s was built around 1490 on the plan of nine equal domes, an arrangement I prefer. The massive columns supporting the domes, and the resultant spacious floor from so many domes were impressive and moving. Form follows function, Aristotle said. Arabic calligraphy was abundant on the massive pillars and the walls.

The third mosque was built around 1445 and was, by far, the most wonderful. One large dome flanked by two smaller domes created a building that made us all sit down and contemplate it. Besides, it was cool in there, and the city was like Phoenix in June (so far inland, the air is drier than in Istanbul). Though I was traveling in Türkiye to see Byzantine things, I was glad to see those mosques as I was glad to see the city. There are no Byzantine remains that I know of.

We visited a museum of the city’s history in a restored nineteenth century Turkish house. The house itself was worth the visit, especially the wooden ceiling in the main room downstairs. The history was interesting, if predictable.

A real surprise was the hospital built and endowed by Beyazit II in the fifteenth century. I was astonished to discover a place where all kinds of illnesses were treated, twice a week medicines were dispensed to the people of the city free of charge, the staff consisted of a head doctor, two assistants, two surgeons, two ophthalmologists, nurses and support staff. After a while, the complex was given over to the care of the insane, who were treated with water therapy (there was a running fountain in the ward), music (the hospital had an orchestra of ten who played several days a week) and aroma therapy as well as drugs and herbs. All this took place in a large complex of beautiful buildings at a time when Europe burned its more intractable insane people. The complex is now a working museum operated by Trakya University which has some of its medical school classes on the premises.

(Later that week, I went to the Pantocrator monastery church in Istanbul. In Byzantine times it too had a hospital, an insane asylum, a leprosarium and a hospice for old men. Nothing is left of the monastery buildings, just the church, so there is no comparison of the physical plant of the two places possible.)

On the way to Edirne, I saw a river named Karajusuf and asked who black Joseph was that he has a river named after him. I was told that Black Joseph was a famous wrestler who had won the oil wrestling tournament several years in a row. Later in the day we went to see the arena where the famous competition is held each June.

Near the arena were scanty ruins of the old palace of the sultans. On the way out of town, we stopped for tea at a grapevine-covered outdoor shop next to an old Ottoman public fountain. The atmosphere was as refreshing as the tea.

On the way home, Mahir told this true story: He was giving a bus tour for some cruise ship tourists. An American saw a bird in a field. He asked Mahir what he called the bird. Mahir said, “A crow.” The man said in astonishment, “So do we!”

A Week on the Road

On a Thursday afternoon, Mahir and I crossed the Bosphorus on one of the suspension bridges and went to Haydarpaşa station on the Asiatic side. The crush of traffic near the station was overwhelming. We arrived with not even enough time to get a look at the station itself. Luckily, I had seen the station the year before. We went from the street to the track for the afternoon express train to Ankara, the first leg of a trip to other areas of Türkiye.

In a remote area the power unit broke down. The train sat for quite some time awaiting help, and we were allowed to leave the train to walk about in some farm country of gentle hills. The line to Ankara is electrified, and the pantagraph which connects the electric power line to the motor was down. Finally a support vehicle came down the track, and six men, two working, one handing up tools and three watching (I had taught Mahir the term “featherbedding” on a previous trip), got the unit working well enough for us to limp into the next station where another power unit was attached to the old and pulled us the rest of the way.

Ankara is not an interesting city. It was a sleepy inland town, but Atatürk chose it for the capital of the republic because it was in the center of the country, away from the reach of any European power which might like to continue the dismemberment of the nation after the Ottoman Empire’s defeat in World War I. All the ambassadors, except the Vatican’s, had to leave their palatial embassies in Istanbul and rebuild in Ankara. Istanbul ended up with the fanciest consulates ever.

We visited the Museum of Ancient Civilizations of Anatolia, which is excellent. The Hittites and succeeding civilizations and empires were well explained with the usual selection of the flotsam of history and archeology. After the museum visit, we walked up the hill where there are several fortifications worth seeing. They are all closely hemmed in by dwellings and shops in a jumble of coexistence.

Then we went to the tomb of Atatürk, founder of the Turkish republic and Mahir’s hero, and after a brief period of respect we went through the fine museum filled with many of his personal and governmental things. A pictorial history of the republic under Atatürk’s presidency gave interesting historical information that was new to me. 
Unfortunately, a re-creation of the two major battles (complete with recorded battle sounds) that secured the independence of Türkiye after W. W. I wrecked my nerves. I cannot stand Disneyland kinds of approaches to history any more than I can stand anything of Disney or his successors. The appeal to most people is strong, but not to me. They are always done as pabulum: nobody really dies, but heroes are made, and the stomach of the viewer is never allowed to get queasy. Vulgar, distractive entertainment! I have been absorbed by enough sarcophagi in museums not to pay attention to such nonsense. War may be glorious for the victors, but it is still hell for all that.

In the museum a song book that had belonged to Atatürk was open, and Mahir asked if I could read the music. I sang him the melody printed there, and a lovely melody it is. The key signature was E flat and F sharp, quite common in the Middle East (as is the key signature of D flat and A Flat). Mahir was moved. I wish I could have sung the words, but the script was Arabic, not the present day’s Western type.

We took the afternoon train, diesel-powered this time, to Caesaria (Kaiseri), and rented a car. While Mahir was signing the papers, I wandered over for a better look at a wonderful hundred year old German-built steam engine on display in the park in front of the station.

We drove to Ürgüp in Cappadocia. For centuries Cappadocia was an important Christian center whose most famous saints were Basil the Great, his brother Gregory of Nyssa and Basil’s friend Gregory of Nazianzos (fl. 4th cent.). Basil and Gregory of Nazianzos are doctors of the Church, honored by both East and West.

In Ürgüp many buildings, commercial and residential are made of tufa, a soft sandstone that abounds there, part of the geologic makeup of the area. But the fascinating thing about the geology is the number of caves and spire-shaped formations. In Göreme, eight kilometers from Ürgüp, many of those natural stone formations were turned into churches large and small and monasteries and residences as well without any change to the rock formation except some further expansion of the caves. Most of these are in a park that was very crowded. If a tour group was in a church, we had to wait until they left it before we could go in to see it, because all these churches are quite small.

The remaining frescoes in all the churches are stunningly beautiful. Marred by time and some vandalism, they still create strong impressions of the deep faith of those who decorated the churches and those who had them decorated in such a lively manner. In the Church of the Buckle, so named because of a large buckle worn by one of the saints depicted, the background blue made from crushed azurite is still so vivid after almost a thousand years that it leaps out while the saints float serenely in such effervescent color.

We went to Zelve, an outdoor museum of more caves that had been villages and monasteries. I declined to go into the underground city in the park. I won’t do a closed  MRI, never mind crawl on my hands and knees through a tunnel whose other end I cannot see. Mahir cinched it when he told me of the tourist who got stuck in the tunnel and was wounded from all the pulling and tugging to get him out.

From Göreme we went to the small and beautiful town of Sinasos, deserted by the Greeks in 1923 and now totally populated by Turks. Most buildings were made of sandstone. The front door to each house was different in decoration and often in design from its neighbors. With no Byzantine remains to seek out, we just walked around the town, climbed the hill to the cemetery and started down again, got lost in a delightful deadend canyon that had several shallow caves with living room furniture in them. Many fruit trees grow in the canyon, which is called Green Valley. The experience was worth the error. (That is not a dubious tenet for a tourist as it would be for a moral theologian.) Having climbed out again, we lunched in an outdoor restaurant attached to a pension hotel that had at one time been a monastery. The atmosphere was wonderful; the food was excellent.

I mentioned that on my first visit to Istanbul I went to a hamam (Turkish bath) and got a massage. I have been haunted by the insufficiency of that brutal and essentially worthless massage ever since (as I said above, the steam was great and the hamam itself beautiful). The hotel in Ürgüp had a gym, steam room and sauna and a masseur. I decided to try another Turkish massage. Now I know I was right to question the first one. I have never been so reinvigorated by a massage. It may sound like I was participating in decadence, but mens sana in corpore sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body), as the Romans used to say.

When we left Ürgüp, we drove back to Caesarea and took a rail bus to Adana. There were only three cars in the consist, and by the time we reached Adana there was definite need for more. Train buffs will know what I mean when I say they were Budd cars. Railroading was gradually deteriorating from leg to leg of the trip. The inconvenience was made worth while by the scenery of the Taurus mountains, very much like the high country of Colorado except that the pine forests were sparser and the green hue of the trees became paler as we descended from the pass. As we descended further, prickly pear cactus in full fruit appeared on the down side of the mountains. The line has many tunnels, some rather long, always an indication of rugged terrain.

(A note for train buffs: I noticed that freight cars vary in their design. Some have single axle trucks, and others have the double axle trucks we are accustomed to see in the states. They are used indiscriminately in the consists of the trains. Turkish freight cars are like European freight cars, smaller than those of American trains.)

The unattractiveness of the rail bus prepared me for Adana, population over one million, a dreadful, modern city with not a single attraction. The taxi to the hotel made me feel we might not make it. I don’t think Mahir tipped the driver after telling him what he thought of his driving. I did manage to keep my eyes open enough to see palm trees in the medians of the major streets.

That afternoon we went to Tarsus, St. Paul’s hometown, a city of about two hundred thousand today. An old, rebuilt church in honor of Paul, a well he may have used, and something known as Cleopatra’s gate were all the attractions. The church has a barrel vault with four pillars in the nave to support it. The gate was part of the old city walls, and Antony and Cleopatra entered the city through that gate on their way to Actium. St. Paul probably went through it many times. The neighborhood near the well drew me into it; the charm of the buildings and the ambiance were noteworthy.

On the road back to Adana we stopped at the last of a long line of tea vendors where we were royally treated by the proprietess and her children.

There is no train service from Adana to Antioch; I think Mahir was happy about that but he is too tactful to say so. We drove the toll road rather than crawl down the coast. We passed Iskenderun, one of the multitude of cities Alexander the Great founded and named after himself. It sits on the Mediterranean Sea but negates the beauty of its setting by the manufacture of steel. Its mills spew noxiousness and poison into the air from numerous high smokestacks.

South of Iskenderun we crossed high and rugged mountains of great beauty and grandeur. The road is mostly new; Mahir said that in ancient days the beach route was used. Then we came into Antioch. The approach to the ancient city was aesthetically offensive, too many commercial buildings having been built in the last half-century with no nod to city planning. After Adana I feared the worst, which was to come, but not in Antioch.

Antioch, the first of whose Christian leaders was St. Peter himself, sits on the Orontes River. The river no longer flows with the power that made the site a natural for a city foundation because the Syrians have built dams upstream.

The first building I saw downtown was so surprising I had to look at it several times before I realized it was designed in Art Deco style. It has been somewhat spoiled by the ground floor having too many shops and eateries in it, but there it was in its glory. What a delight to see it, somewhat incongruous on the edge of the river in the ancient city of Antioch!

The city was founded by Seleukos I Nikator, son of Antiochus, one of Alexander the Great’s generals shortly after the death of Alexander. With abundant water flowing through it, it quickly grew to a major city until destroyed by an earthquake in 562 C.E. After rebuilding, it was taken by the Arabs in 637, underwent political and military changes of Byzantines, Crusaders and Arabs for six hundred years until finally taken in 1268 by the Turks.

We picked up two of Mahir’s cousins, Enis and Ilker, who were home from the university in Istanbul. We went to the church dedicated to St. Peter, a cave halfway up the mountain. The frescoes are practically all gone and the facade was built ca. 1860. It is still used as a church even though it is a state museum. It served the early Christians in times of fear because it had a natural tunnel that could be used to escape without going out the front. Earthquake, presumably the big one in 562, has sealed the tunnel. A natural spring drips into the church at the corner.

I was very moved standing in that church with so much connection to the early Christians. I do not know if St. Peter himself ever was there; there were no persecutions that we know of in those early days.

Pope Paul VI visited the church. In Türkiye, I often follow in the footsteps of that unhappy Hamlet. I mentioned his visit to Ephesus and the house of the Virgin in my last journal. Even in Istanbul when I went to mass at St. Anthony’s, there is a plaque saying he had celebrated mass there.

The day was ferociously windy. We walked further up the mountain to see a rock with two pagan figures carved in it, one of them supposedly Charon, the boatman on the river Styx.

We drove to the top of the mountain to the remains of fortifications high above the river. The wind was blowing so hard that I did not get out of the car. The trees on that summit grow bent over by the constant wind. The view of the city is spectacular.

Back in the city we visited the church of Ss. Peter and Paul, home of today’s Antiochene Turkish Catholics. The congregation numbers some seventy people, served by a resident priest. Their church is very beautiful, tastefully decorated, and very hard to find. It is near the Jewish synagogue and the Orthodox church and a mosque. Ecumenism appears strong in Antioch.

Antioch is one of the five patriarchal sees, with Jerusalem, Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome. With so much Christian distinction and division, there are now five patriarchs of Antioch: for the Catholics one each for the Syrian, Maronite and Greco-Melchite rites and for the Orthodox one for the Greeks and one for the Syrian-Jacobite rite. Some or all have their offices in Damascus. It sounds confusing, but I’m sure they all end up in the right church when they are required.

We visited a restored nineteenth century house which is now a restaurant. We had tea, and Enis and I went through all the rooms that we were allowed. Wooden ceilings, original carved doors (the windows are replacements), a covered balcony along the upper floor, a large inner courtyard with tall trees all testified to  elegant and safe living.

We visited the cousins’ home. Their mother touched my heart when she said to me through Mahir’s translation that she knew that her sons spoke English and that she was very proud to hear them speak it with someone whose native tongue is English. Tea and homegrown fruit were our reward.

She knows that Mahir does group tours and wondered where the rest of the group was. She was surprised that I was the group. Pleasant encounters like these are not available from tour buses.

Next day in town we walked the narrow street of endless shops that reminded me of Istiklal Caddesi in Istanbul, except in Antioch cars are allowed and the street is much narrower. Self-preservation is a priority for the uninitiated.

Over tea in a city park Ilker asked me what is the meaning of life. I said you have to arrive at a concept of transcendence to find any answer. That may not be precise, but it is the fastest I could think while gulping. That led to a long discussion that inevitably came to the concept of happiness which wandered all over the place ending even more inevitably in politics and economics. I insisted that Ilker give me a definition of happiness. Ilker and Enis both answered with examples but no definition. After more insistence on my part, Ilker described a state uncannily like Thomas More’s Utopia. Both the brothers knew the book. They felt the political and economic state of the Utopians would produce happiness, thus giving meaning to life. I don’t think so and said that happiness is not a state to be sought but arrives when we are absorbed in other matters. We never got back to the idea of transcendence. It was an interesting hour!

Later Ilker came with me when I revisited the church of the Pammakaristos in Istanbul. He was very impressed with what he saw. I told him that Christians who believe in Isa (Jesus) find the meaning of life in the Cross.

In Antioch we found Trajan’s aqueduct. What is left of it is now just a walkway between two hills. One has to be astonished that people can use these old things in their daily lives, so long as they haven’t become a museum.

Next day we drove through Samandağ, founded under the name Seleucia Pieria by the same Seleukos I Nikator mentioned above. Today it is a large residential town for people with bad taste. This was the worst I had feared. We finally got through it and arrived at the Mediterranean coast.

We sat on a hill overlooking the beach and had tea and then walked up to and into one of those Roman engineering feats that leave the visitor agape. The emperors Titus and Vespasian (of Jewish War fame – enslaved Jewish captives from the war worked on it) had a tunnel built to divert the river because the river was silting up the port. Along the side wall water runs in a small irrigation channel that still serves local growers.

Walking through that tunnel to its start was not easy because of loose rocks and boulders and water seeping down the channel. I estimate the tunnel to be about thirty feet high and a quarter to a third of a mile long. At the front end there was a flat commemorative stone tablet from Roman times that said, “The divine Titus and the divine Vespasian made (it).” There was another stone with an eye carved into it, whose purpose we could not divine. At the downstream end, the river was crossed by a beautiful Roman arch bridge which we used to get down into the tunnel whose entrance was on the other side.

We drove up a mountain giving ever widening spectacular views of the sea until we arrived at the village of Vakif Könü, a tiny Armenian enclave that does not allow automobiles except those of resident villagers. A quaint village with irrigation ditches along the streets, it has an ambiance of charm and placidity that were obviously enjoyed by the inhabitants. We walked most of the length of the village and at the Orthodox church spoke to a nun who welcomed us and told us she was preparing the church for a baptism to be held shortly. We left her to her duties and drove down the back side of the mountain. That way we avoided part of Samandağ.

On the northern edge of the city we turned off the highway and drove up a mountain to the end of the road where we found the remains of the monastery of St. Simeon Stylites, famous for having sat so many years on top of a pillar. The church and monastery are in ruins, but much of its plan can be realized. The ambulatory around the apse was obvious. The views from the mountain were glorious, especially the view of the Orontes far below.

My cynical mind wonders who took care of St. Simeon all those years. Food had to be sent up and slops disposed of. Mahir stood on the base of the stylite for his cousin to take a picture, and he laughed when I said not to leave a mess.

We went back to Antioch. As we walked the old section of the city, I was easily distracted by details of this or that old apartment building. I was also interested to discover that cleaning stone stairwells was done by letting water run down the stairs and sweeping it into the street.

The archeological museum has a wonderful collection of pagan mosaics mostly from the second century, a reminder that Christianity was not yet a done deal. There is a panel of three mosaics that depict a Roman whose eyes seemed to follow us as we walked by. The coin collection was thorough, from ancient Greek and Roman through the Byzantine and Ottoman eras. That and the inevitable Roman statuary and sarcophagi were what were available to see. Just enough.

We drove back to Adana and barely had time to wolf down a quick dinner at Mahir’s aunt and uncle’s home before we had to leave for the airport from which we flew back to Istanbul.


Mahir had some business he wanted to take care of in Bursa and suggested I come along. At the same time we could stop in Nicaea which we had seen together four years previously. His business was postponed, but he suggested we take a day and go to Nicaea anyway. Özdal, one of the men in the office, came with us.

We drove the long way around the long eastern inlet of the Sea of Marmara and then took the shorter mountain road to Nicaea, totally paved but a little rough and totally worth it. High mountains giving sweeping vistas of the Sea of Marmara gradually overlook fertile valleys and eventually lead down to the level of the large oval-shaped Lake of Iznit with its wonderful green color and to the city on the eastern end of the oval.

Nicaea or Iznit is a pretty town of some twenty thousand people living in one of the more important Byzantine cities. Much of the city walls and all of the city gates remain, testimony to the strength of the Byzantine Empire of Nicaea that existed in the face of the Latin possession of Constantinople (1204-1261).

Ash writes of the Emperor telling off the pope for being so stupid as to think that the Byzantines ought to leave well enough alone, leaving the Latins in possession of Constantinople. In the event, the Greeks retook the capital, and Nicaea, having been for a brief time intellectually and artistically important in the political Greek world, settled down to its fate as a provincial town until the Turks took it over.

Nicaea was famous for its ceramic tiles, but the reputation dwindled as did the business. There are efforts to restore its reputation, and later we stopped for tea in an old madrese converted to tile shops and tile making (it reminded me of the madrese in Istanbul where arts and crafts are taught and where one can get an excellent lunch. I wrote of it above.)

When we arrived, we had lunch in the restaurant where we had eaten good lamb the previous visit and then went to Haghia Sophia, built by Justinian the Great. Mahir said that the Council of Nicaea met in the Senate House and we visited what little remains of that august building graced with the presence of Constantine the Great and St. Athanasius, the champion of orthodoxy, both illustrious and shady in character, and Arius, his foe. After that we toured the remains of the several gates of the city and some of the walls.

The second Council of Nicaea held most of its sessions in Haghia Sophia in Nicaea in 787; it put an end to the first of the two episodes of Iconoclasm. Note the date, a mere thirteen years before the coronation of Charlemagne. Pope Leo III decided that, given the military, administrative and religious unreliability of the emperors in Constantinople together with the notion that the throne was at the moment occupied by a woman (horrors!), he would create his own emperor from the West and arrogate to himself the power to appoint an Emperor in the West. Thus, dragon’s teeth aplenty were sown for the future of Christendom by the papacy.

When we left the city we drove along the northern edge of the lake through endless groves of olive trees. We stopped for another lunch at an outdoor restaurant that Mahir knows and drove to a tiny village called Yenigürle where the arrival of a strange car with an American in it caused I don’t know what. To call it a stir would be to impute too much to the placid lives of the villagers.

We visited the grandmother of Mahir’s wife. Bent over and walking with difficulty, she was an astonishingly lively lady who still gardens and collects kindling wood against cold weather. I understood not a word of what she said, but it was evident she makes up in the vivacity of her mind what she lacks in body. Her house is rough-built but large enough to have two huge pits sunk into the ground floor for pressing olives for oil.

After tea in a pleasant outdoor spot we drove about fifty miles to visit the land Mahir owns in Laledere and then went to the ferry to take us the shorter way across the Sea of Marmara. The first suspension bridge across the Bosphorus was congested, so we took the second bridge. That was the first time I had seen that bridge up close. And so to home after a happy day.

Christian Practice in a Muslim Secular Society

One of the ironies in my life is that I have never attended a Greek Byzantine rite mass in Constantinople. Whenever I go to Phoenix on a weekend and attend mass, I go to the Ruthenian Byzantine rite cathedral at 16th St. and Northern. In Constantinople most Greeks are Orthodox and Byzantine rite Catholics are very few. I had heard last year that their priest had died and that the Byzantines were attending mass with the Chaldeans. I did not discover whether he had been replaced yet and decided to try to find masses in other Catholic rites.

The first Sunday I attended the Chaldean liturgy. An electric keyboard provided Western common practice harmonies to spoil the effects of the Middle Eastern melodies that, unaccompanied, are heart-wrenchingly beautiful. Before the liturgy, eight men sang morning prayer, unaccompanied and with unwavering pitch. It was very moving. During the liturgy the choir was comprised of all women and girls, but the music is all unison and mostly congregational.

With very negative feelings about the electric keyboard, I asked Mahir to find where the Armenian Catholic church is. He found it a mere seven minute walk from where I was living. Trying to learn the time of the Sunday service, I met George Hawarian, a recently ordained subdeacon in the Armenian rite who was serving in the area for the summer. He said that the Armenian community does not worship in town during the summer and that there are two Sunday celebrations miles apart from each other, one in a town about twelve miles north of Istanbul on the Bosphorus called Büyükdere and the other on one of the Princes’ Isles in the Sea of Marmara. I opted for the former.

To get there I had to take the subway to the end and transfer to a small van bus for the rest of the journey.

Büyükdere (Large Stream in Turkish) is a large village on the southern side of a bay along the Bosphorus. Its beauty made it a natural magnet for summer residences. The Armenian community meets in a nineteenth century faux-Gothic edifice. In America it would have been constructed with red bricks. It is dedicated to Surp Boğoh (St. Paul).

The prayers of the Armenian liturgy are very beautiful (as I came to follow them in English translation the second time I went there). There is more use of incense in one Armenian liturgy than we Romans use all year, including funerals. The celebrant for the two Sundays that I attended was the auxiliary bishop of the Armenian Catholics in Türkiye. There were about thirty in the congregation.

Musical expression is related to the Middle Eastern traditions of melodic structure, but unique in flavor. I actually recognized one of the melodies from an organ setting I knew by an Armenian-American composer, Berj Zamkochian. When I mentioned this to the bishop after the liturgy (during an excellent post-liturgy lunch), he told me he had met Berj and heard him play. Pardon the cliché, but small world. Unfortunately, the melodies at the liturgy are also accompanied on a harmonium by weak harmonies that dilute their power.

George left after the second visit to Büyükdere. He went home to Lebanon for the consecration of a new bishop in the Armenian Catholic rite and left from there to go to the Angelicum in Rome to study theology in preparation for the priesthood.

The following two Sundays I missed mass. First I was sick and second I was on the road and never would have found a church.

After we got back, I found the Syrian Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart, formerly run by the Jesuits who were evicted by the government. The Syrians got it rent free for ninety-nine years. My source did not say why. When I went on the Saturday to find it, a neighbor said the mass was at ten o’clock. I went next morning at ten and found not a soul. So I quickly walked to catch as much of the Chaldean mass as I could. After the Chaldean mass I went back to Sacred Heart and the Syrians were there. So I caught most of their liturgy and was glad. Again there were about thirty in the congregation.

Theirs is a very intense liturgy musically, especially for the celebrant. I was amazed at the power of the musical expression. The congregation sang well strongly supported by a loud harmonium in unison. No wimpy Western harmonies ruined those powerful melodies. The most used scale was F, G flat, A, B flat, C, D flat and E flat. Play it on your instrument and discover a new world of melodic possibility.

The sermon was just before communion. During the preparation for communion, the celebrant dips the host into the wine, puts it on the paten and touches each eye and his nose with it. A few minutes later, he touches both the paten and chalice to each eye and his nose. I had no chance to inquire into that ceremony, but it was fascinating to see.

Unfortunately there was no repeat. The following week I went back at eleven and there was no one there. I walked quickly to St. Anthony’s, a large nineteenth century imitation Gothic church, in whose basement chapel the Chaldeans celebrate their liturgy, and caught the late mass in the upper church in Italian. There was a woman on a guitar leading the singing. G. B. Shaw was right; never go to Italy to study singing. The style was imitation pop and boring, like the U.S.

The following week the same thing happened (I had to go back to the Italian mass). No Syrians, but the custodian was there and told me that mass is at nine thirty. I fully intended to go on my last Sunday, but Mahir told me that he found the Georgian (think geography, not English architecture) Catholic Church of Our Lady of Lourdes above the main altar of which is a painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa (I told you to think geography!). It is a short bus ride from where I was living, and I went to check it out. The custodian said that mass was at eleven fifteen each week. It was my last week and I had not heard a mass in Turkish yet, so I went there instead of to the Syrians. Mistake. A guitar accompanied the singing; the music was o.k. except that at the end of mass they sang the Lourdes hymn (in Turkish), an inappropriateness that always bothers me. Hearing God called Allah in a celebration of mass was very odd.

The custodian told me that there were no Georgians in that area and that the congregation was mostly Turkish Catholics. Again the congregation numbered about thirty. The church was built in 1860 in faux-Gothic and is lovingly taken care of, having been restored the year before.

On one of my walks I stumbled upon the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, four blocks from where I was living. One would think a building like that in the neighborhood would be obvious, but Turkish Christian churches generally keep a low profile and are often built with a courtyard in front that is walled off from the street. I had actually found the back of the church and by luck one of the priests walked by. He said that they were doing summer schooling for refugee Chaldean children. He took me into the church by the back door and led me through the church to the front so I would be able to find it from the street. The building is a basilica in form, i.e. a flat ceiling and roof.

In the courtyard I was surprised to see a statue of Benedict XV (not the present Benny 16) who had been such a great advocate of peace during W. W. I. Interesting to find in Istanbul!

Speaking of statues, there is one of John XXIII in the courtyard in front of St. Anthony’s. As Archbishop Roncalli, he had been papal legate in Istanbul before he became a cardinal. He had been much loved in Türkiye as he was wherever he served. When I left, Mahir’s wife gave me an English translation of a Turkish novel about W. W. II, and in it I was reminded that Archbishop Roncalli made Christian baptismal certificates available to Turkish Jews trying to flee the Nazis in order to travel to Türkiye, which had stayed out of W. W. II. Many imams (Islamic clerics) also provided false religious papers for the refugees.

I stopped in the cathedral a second time; the sexton was there and spoke enough English for me to communicate my desire to play the pipe organ in the gallery. He got the keys and led me up, turned the organ on and left me. The instrument was built in 1897 by Rieger Brothers, a German firm. Tonally beautiful, quietly intimate with light registration and effectively powerful in full ensemble, it is rarely used (an electronic sound device sits on the main floor), and is in much better shape than the organ at St. Mary Draperis which I had played four years previously.

These religious experiences over a two month period have been very important along with my reading of Erasmus (see below). Regardless of my grousing about music, to discover these tiny enclaves of the Catholic faith in a country which is predominantly Muslim and in a country whose Christian tradition has been predominantly Orthodox for a thousand years has produced a change in my own views of religion and its practice. That the Catholic faith survives in such small flocks stands in stark contrast with the four to five thousand people served by one or two priests every Saturday and Sunday in the parish where I used to provide music in southern California.

The Remains of the City

I came to Istanbul to walk the city to find as many remnants of the Byzantine city as I could. Mainly what I found were the churches, those I already knew and others I saw for the first time. Many became mosques and so were saved. All but two of the churches stand stripped. The exteriors are brick, stone and mortar. Gone are the revetments of marble and granite and the like that would bring them to life. Looking at them is like looking at ancient Roman statuary; they lack the colors imagination clothed them with. Inside, most of the mosaics and frescoes are gone; as mosques the interiors are mostly whitewashed.

The church of Ss. Serge and Bacchus or Küçük Aya Sophia (little Haghia Sophia) was near the end of restoration last year and not open. The restoration is now finished and is reopened. Visually the work done is splendid. The building itself is always a joy. It is still a functioning mosque, and when we were there some children were being taught their faith. To see the interior space again with its off center octagon in an irregular rectangle is to calm the spirit while the eye is drawn to the dome high on its drum. The dome is a miracle, alternating eight flat panels and eight rounded ones which make it appear wavy. In the interior, the columns are pairs of matching marble, upstairs and down, with no two pairs matching any other. Even without revetments and mosaics, its effect is powerful.

As to the success of the restoration, Mahir pointed to one of the interior support pillars which showed a water stain from a leak in the roof.

The church is close to the railroad on the south and on the west is bounded by a courtyard and park which do not allow a good view form those sides. On the north and east the church used to be hemmed in by buildings built very close to it. They have been cleared, and I hope that a park will take their place to preserve the present view of the church. I will stay tuned.

The legend is that Justinian was arrested on suspicion and then released from custody and restored to favor with his uncle the emperor Justin I when Justin dreamt that St. Serge (without Bacchus!) appeared and told him to restore Justinian. In gratitude, Justinian and Theodora, his wife, built the church in honor of the two saints (they are inseparable in dedications as they were in life). It was part of their palace complex.

Another day at the end of a long walk, I found myself very near the church of Chora, the last of the three most important Byzantine churches in the city for tourists to visit. I went there and stayed quite some time. I looked at the mosaics and frescoes without any reference to the identifications in the guide book. I went several times through the narthex, the nave and the parecclesion (funerary chapel) just letting the mosaics and frescoes speak to me as they wished. I knew the church from previous visits and found the change of approach good. The beauty of these sermons in stone and paint is lively and comes from their intent to remind the viewer of Bible stories and of the saints and angels for whom the stories were the basis of their faith (saints) and adoration (angels).

A new museum has recently opened in the church of the Pammakaristos (the Joyous Mother of God or Fethiye Camii), a mosque which is closed except for prayers. However, the parecclesion (funerary chapel) has been walled off from the main part of the church and is open to the public. The many mosaics and few frescoes that remain have been lovingly cleaned and restored and have become an important addition to those of the church in Chora. They are contemporary with each other (early fourteenth century). The exterior of the building is stunning and I spent a lot of time there admiring the outside and being in awe inside. Later I returned with Ilker, whom we have met, to enjoy the museum again. A Muslim, he was impressed. I already mentioned our visit together to this church.

During my time in Istanbul I sought out as many remaining churches as I could find. Other than churches, there is little of Byzantium left other than remnants. With two exceptions, the palaces are all gone. The two exceptions are the ruins of Blachernae, near the junction of the land walls and the sea wall of the Golden Horn and the palace of the Porphyogenitus near the Adrianople gate in the land walls. Neither gives any indication of their splendor. Of the original palace on the first hill below Haghia Sophia and the Hippodrome, there is only a large piece of floor mosaic well worth seeing. There are no private homes of the rich that have survived. The constant fires in the city over the centuries were the major cause of their destruction. In 1203-4, while the Venetians were manipulating the Fourth Crusade there were three major fires that destroyed much of the city. When the Greeks recaptured it, they found the Latins had done nothing to rebuild. Even after the conquest fires were to scourge the city time and again.

Consequently we have few examples of Byzantine secular art. But if one looks carefully at the remaining mosaics and frescoes in Chora and in the Pammakaristos, one can see playful things like birds and animals and geometric designs that indicate the possibilities of how wealthy Greeks might have decorated their homes.

A double church with parecclesion near Aksaray district is complex. The first church was built by Constantine Lips (907) to which was added a second church and the parecclesion after the Latins left in the 13th century. It was open and I got to see its complexity from the inside. When I left it, I walked up the hill, not knowing where I was going and came upon the Column of Marcian (see below) which I had previously found from another direction. That brought a smile, for I realized how well I was getting to know the city.

Other churches that remain are: St. Theodosia, the last church visited by the last Byzantine emperor the night before the final assault of the Turks in 1453, Pantocrator (three literally connected churches making one, still being restored), St. Savior Pantopoptes (the All-seeing) near Pantocrator, St. Theodore, and the Theotokos Kyriotissa (unusually, Mother of God, Ladyship). Some I could get in to see and others were locked. The exteriors of most are available to be photographed, the exception being St. Theodore so closely hemmed in on all sides by residences and  stores. The Kyriotissa used to contain frescoes of the life of St. Francis, the only Latin artwork known to have survived Greek reoccupation. The remains of these frescoes are now in  the Archeological Museum, where I saw them.

All these buildings are still standing despite earthquakes and fires over the centuries; some were built before and most were built at the same time as Gothic buildings in the West. To experience them is to gain some small insight into life in Constantinople during the Empire. They all are built with a main dome on a drum base and there is always a sense of balance between the dome and any other aspect of the roof, regardless of the size of the building or its unity.

Trying to find St. Savior Pantopoptes, I wandered around the area of Pantocrator. Pantopoptes is very difficult to find afoot. While wandering around looking for it, I saw many unidentified ruins (perhaps the remains of the monastic buildings?). Once I found it, it (Eski Imaret Cami) became my favorite. Never was a building so unified with the land it sits on, imposing, graceful and unobtrusive all at once. I returned to see it a second time with Mahir and was overjoyed to stand agape at its perfect proportion of design.

The one impressive remain that I love that is neither church nor palace is the aqueduct of Valens. Roman rather than Byzantine, the only remnant left is that which brought water from the fourth hill to the third. I visited it and spent some time letting it display its grandeur. There is a park next to it that allows a vista of much of its length. A major thoroughfare goes through four of the arches on the ground level. I often traveled through the arches either on buses or in private cars, always a wonderful experience.

Across the street from the park I found the remains of St. Polyeuctos, built before Haghia Sophia. By the time of the Fourth Crusade the church had fallen into some disrepair, and the Venetians stripped it of everything of value, especially its marble columns. Some old capitals from columns are scattered ornamentally throughout the nearby park, but all that is left of the church are some of the foundations, surrounded by an ugly metal fence. The gate was open, and I saw someone come out of the area, so I ventured in for a better look. Mistake. The odor was overpowering, and I left immediately. If one wishes to see anything of St. Polyeuctos church, one must go to Venice.

When I left St. Polyeuctos, I walked up the hill and found the Column of Marcian in its small square off the main street. The column, banded with iron straps to keep it intact, is dedicated to the Emperor Marcian (450-457). Though not in good condition, it is a precious remnant of ancient Roman times, like the column of Constantine in Çemberlitaş.

I walked the area of the Hippodrome several times and on a trip with Mahir around the city got a photo of the ruins of its oval end exposed on the hillside. I spoke of the Hippodrome in the last journal. It was the center of the city’s secular life for centuries and still is the center of the Sultanahmet area; it is surrounded by mosques, museums and restaurants and hotels.

I took a bus to Yedikule, which I mentioned in my previous journal. This impressive fortress was built by the Ottomans after the conquest. Two earlier trips were wasted because it was closed, one year for repairs and another year for a rock concert. With seven towers (yedi means seven), the five-sided fortress – four sides attached to the existing part of the land wall on the inside –  was added to the land walls at the Golden Gate, the gate reserved for the emperors whenever they entered or left the city in state. The gate has been sealed up since long before the final siege and is covered by a sound stage used for rock concerts. That certainly jumps the centuries! The fortress was alternately used as a treasury, a prison and a place of execution.

I walked through the small golden gate used then and now by lesser mortals, with a Byzantine eagle above it. Wide enough for one lane of traffic, it serves a two-way street and pedestrians must be wary.

With a thought “off the top of my head”, I was curious to know why the sultans, who considered themselves the successors of the Byzantine emperors, never unsealed the Golden Gate to use it the way the emperors did. Back at home, I bought Nicol’s The Immortal Emperor, in which the author explains the Ottoman superstitions related to the Golden Gate.

Several weeks later I took the bus to Yedikule again and got off at a Greek church I had seen the first trip. Churches that you see from a main street have a tendency to disappear in Istanbul when you try to find them because the side streets are so tortuous and because Christian churches are usually behind a walled courtyard. I finally found it, rang the bell and was told it is St. Menas Rom Orthodox. From there I could make my way around the area with my guidebook and found Sulu Monastir, an interesting nineteenth century Armenian church beneath which are remains of the original Byzantine monastery. Excavations are ongoing but not open to the public.

I walked by the Martyrium of Ss.Karpos and Papylos, an ancient crypt that was only identified in 1935. It is a workshop, but the owner would not let me in to see it. He looked weary of tourists wanting to see his place of business.

From there I went to find the remains of the monastery of St. John Studion. As I wandered around, I kept asking where I would find them until the proprietor of a teashop who spoke English had a youth lead me there. Fully expecting the boy to lead me back, I told the proprietor I would be back for tea.

The youth led me through some back streets until we came upon both the ruins of the monastery and the church of Ss. Constantine and Helena, which I had tried to see five years previously. The gate to the church was closed, but the boy just put his hand inside and undid the bolt, something I would not have done. He explained to some people in the courtyard that I am an American tourist wanting to see the church, and the custodian led me into a pretty nineteenth century church with a vaulted ceiling and some noteworthy icons. The present church replaces one founded in the fifteenth century. The guide book does not explain why the Byzantines were founding a new church at the most perilous time of the city’s history (perhaps looking for a miracle from Constantine and Helena?) or why it was replaced in the nineteenth century. When I came out, the boy was gone.

Studion was nearby, so I went to it. It is not being archeologically dealt with. The monastery had been turned into a mosque fifty years after the conquest, but it was abandoned after severe damage to it from the earthquake of 1894. Having been the intellectual and spiritual center of the Byzantine Empire for centuries until the conquest and even after, it deserves attention. It was not turned into a mosque until the end of the fifteenth century.

After seeing Studion, I wandered around trying to find the tea shop. I eventually got there and told the proprietor that the boy had left me. He did show up again, and I gave him a tip. The proprietor and I got better acquainted over a couple of glasses of tea and I promised that I would look him up whenever I came back to Istanbul. To help me keep my word, he pointed out that his shop is next to a fort, whether Byzantine or Ottoman he did not know. He took me to the door and asked if we could enter, but the boy who answered the bell said no.

The teashop proprietor told me that it is often open at five. I did not want to wait and left. I went back at the five o’clock hour a couple of days before I left for home. A girl answered the door this time and said it was not open. The guide book makes no mention of the place.

The day I walked Bankalar Caddesi, I discovered the Dominican church built in the early fourteenth century. It has a square tower topped by a conical roof. The architectural style was to be expected because it was built in the Genoese area of Galata. Nonetheless, it looked odd there. It is now a mosque, an even odder imbalance of form and function.

I returned to Haghia Sophia several times, experiences always awesome.  The scaffolding is still there blocking a complete view of the dome. Wandering the building still moves me deeply. I made the traditional circle with my thumb in the hole in the column of St. Gregory, the Miracle Worker.

I also saw the Basilica cistern again. I had seen it five years previously on my first visit. The enormous underground chamber whose ceiling is supported by such a forest of columns to provide water for the center of the city is still intact in earthquake country after sixteen hundred years.

Because I was familiar with them from previous visits, the only portion of the land walls I visited was at the Adrianople Gate (Edirne Kapi). I climbed up to the top for an excellent view, came down and walked along the inside of it to the palace of the Porphyrogenitus, a ruin and shell that was being worked on by a single workman. The palace was fenced to keep people out, but the gate was open. I went in, stayed out of sight of the workman and got a look at the inside.

I walked along further and found the Orthodox Church of St. Mary of the Dagger, so named because the icon of Mary has a dagger in her belt. I continued walking and found the church in Chora, mentioned above.

I walked a lot along the several remnants of the sea wall of the Golden Horn on several different days. As I did, I noticed I was higher than the water level of the Horn and realized that the sea wall was quite formidable in its day. Like the sea wall on the Sea of Marmara, in imperial times it was at water’s edge. Now there is landfill providing parks and the highway between the water and the wall.

The fourth crusaders crossed to it at the western end of the Horn from the masts of their ships in 1204. The Horn was normally protected by a heavy chain raised across its mouth to prevent enemy ships from entering from the Bosphorus. This allowed the government to use less heavily concentrated defenses along the Horn in times of siege. But, the crusaders were already in the Horn because they took possession of the tower on the Galata side and let down the chain. They took the city and replaced the rightful emperor, but there was no money to pay the crusaders the agreed price because the dethroned emperor took the treasury with him. The replacement emperor even robbed previous dead emperors’ sarcophagi in a desperate attempt to find the payments promised the crusaders. There was not enough. Hence the rage of the crusaders and the sack of the city.

Norwich writes of the disaster for the Eastern Christian world, “that there are few greater ironies in history than that the fate of Eastern Christendom should have been sealed – and half Europe condemned to some five hundred years of Moslem rule – by men who fought under the banner of the Cross. Those men were transported, inspired, encouraged and ultimately led by Enrico Dandalo in the name of the Venetian republic; and, just as Venice derived the major advantage from the tragedy, so she and her magnificent old Doge must accept the major responsibility for the havoc they wrought upon the world.”

Dandalo died in Constantinople, and his tomb is still to be seen in the upper gallery of Haghia Sophia. Mahir says the body was disinterred by the Greeks when they regained the city and dumped in the Marmara.

Europe was much enriched by the sack. There are no statues from ancient Roman times in Istanbul; they were all shipped to Europe. Golden artifacts, art works of all kinds, marble columns and such were all looted. The churches were stripped of anything movable and private homes invaded. Nothing was left in the city to tell its glory as the queen of cities. It was worse than any sack of Rome. The walls had stood unbreached for nine hundred years.

The wall along the Golden Horn was breached again by the Turks in 1453 because the sultan, unable to get past the chain across the Horn, with Genoese help had his ships towed on rollers over the hills across from the city down into the Horn. It was fatal for the Greeks. The day of the fall of the city, the Porta Puteae (Cibali Kapı) was breached as well as the northern and weakest end of the land wall. The gate is still in existence, and there is a commemorative plaque attached.

I found the Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas whose north wall is part of the sea wall on the Golden Horn. When I got there, it was locked. Before I could leave, a taxi drove up, let out the custodian’s family whose son had both ankles in casts. They told me the church was closed, but I inquired about the boy (he had congenital problems that were being solved) and the custodian let me in. There are two St. Nicholas churches on the site. The old smaller one about seven hundred fifty years old is not quite a ruin and appears to be in process of slow restoration. The newer building is only two hundred years old and is very beautiful in the Orthodox tradition and still in use.

The custodian asked me if I am Orthodox and proudly pulled up his sleeve to show me a cross tattooed on his upper arm.

Another time I walked up the short distance from the Golden Horn to the Greek Patriarchate and its church, open to the public. At the entrance to the property by the guardhouse, I saw the main gate welded shut and painted black. This was done to express the intransigence of the Greeks to the Turks when the sultan had the Patriarch hanged for treason at the start of the Greek war of independence (1821) of Lord Byron fame. Under Ottoman law the patriarch was responsible for the behavior of all Christians in the Empire, and when the Greeks revolted he was executed. The gate did not look as if it had been opened for the two popes who recently visited. The patriarchal church is a basilica (i.e. flat roof and ceiling) because the Ottomans did not allow Christians to build domes.

From the patriarchate I walked up the hill through unfamiliar parts of the city to the second patriarchal church after the conquest, Pammakaristos mentioned above. Rather than try to find my way down, I asked about a bus, went to it and rode until I recognized where I could transfer to one that would take me back to Taksim Square. I loved going on adventures like that. I never knew what I would see, but it was always interesting and worthwhile.

I made several excursions to the wall along the Sea of Marmara, which is extant in large segments. I took several days to walk along them and photograph them. After five years I could still remember the thrill of seeing some of the segments lit up at night as I was driven into the city when I first arrived. As I said, they were at water’s edge in imperial times. Today most of them are slightly inland because of landfill required to build the railroad and the highway into the city. Upon close inspection one can see remains of imperial palaces. The emperors often traveled by water and would descend marble steps from the palace to an awaiting vessel.

Before we left on our road trip, Mahir and I drove to different areas of the city back to St. Savior Pantopoptes, Ss. Serge and Bacchus and then through still used city gates along more portions of the sea wall. I just could not get enough of these remnants of things that had become such a thrilling part of my life from the reading I have done over the years.

So for two months I found the things I sought, but time was playing a trick on me. My previous trips were of two weeks duration at most, and much of that time was spent away from the city in other parts of Turkey. Being there two months with most of it spent in Istanbul, I came to know other realities in a vibrant city which has other interests and its own life. In two months there came the embodiment in my life of the haunting statement of Henri Daniel-Rops, “Museums are necessary, but it is not from their galleries that life issues forth.”

Enough. My heart is filled with grief for what is no more. I came to find remains of Byzantium. It is gone. The orthodox civilization, though in tatters, still fulfills its mission, but its root and foundation are gone. The queen of cities has been transformed.

The Byzantine emperors and their empire are gone, as are the Ottoman sultans and their empire. The Turks are still in Constantinople, Thrace and Anatolia constituting a country which was established for them by the determination of Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) after the disastrous defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I.

Among the Turkish people I found hospitality, generosity, fairness, humor and all the other virtues (and faults) of humans living together. I have enjoyed my stays in their country and have fond memories of people I met: Mahir’s family and relatives, Rasim, the clerk at the small neighborhood market where I always bought eggs, milk, bread and tea, the Kurdish fruit seller from whom I usually bought fruit at the corner of my block, Mustafa, who works in the family charcuterie, who toured me around Istiklal Caddesi looking for kanun music and who wants to go to China to learn the language to become an interpreter, Levent, the proprietor of the tea shop and his waiter, Furkan, a lively boy of insatiable curiosity and wonderful affability, and Mehmet, the friendly waiter and busboy at the tiny restaurant where I often had a bowl of excellent soup. Özdal, who works in Mahir’s office, was always kind and helpful. The others in the office were always patient with me as I visited frequently to check my e-mails on Mahir’s computer.

An Asiatic people, the Turks came to the area in the first place by a fluke of history. In 1071 they were on their way to deal with the Fatimid caliphate in Egypt  when they were intercepted by the superior forces of Romanus IV who challenged them at Manzikert and lost the battle by the treachery of some of his own generals. Anatolia, the source of the empire’s strength and wealth was left fatally weakened. It took another four hundred years for the Turks to capture the capital, but its capture was inevitable after Manzikert and after the Fourth Crusade.

The Serbs have their own country more than a thousand years after they migrated into the region. The Bulgars have their revenge against both the Greeks and the Ottomans  in having their own country, again after more than a thousand years. The Magyars have theirs. None of them has an empire, but they do have their own countries. All the other barbarian tribes have been absorbed more or less into the stream of civilized humanity wherever they settled or were settled by the Emperor.

The Normans of Sicily and southern Italy, the Venetians, the Genoese and the Pisans are all gone, absorbed into a state whose only claim is a leader who strutted around thinking he had restored the Roman Empire, got the trains to run on time and led the country into a disastrous war which left a weak and venal state to be shored up by the European Union. His biggest claim is that in 1929 he settled the silliness of the “prisoner of the Vatican”. Two foolish people putting a foolish issue to rest. Erasmus must have smiled.

The Patriarch of Constantinople is still on the stage in his role as spiritual head of millions of Orthodox settled in other countries around the world. His role in Türkiye is so diminished that the archbishop of Athens says that he ought to be the Ecumenical Patriarch because he has had the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Greeks under him since 1923. (Fifteen hundred years ago Pope Gregory I said that the Patriarch of Constantinople should not use the title, “Ecumenical”. When the Patriarch ignored him, Gregory countered by calling himself “Servus servorum Dei” – the servant of the servants of God). The Patriarch of Moscow says he should be the Ecumenical Patriarch because he is the religious leader of the third Rome (called that by an earlier self-serving patriarch or tsar in Moscow). Erasmus must be smiling at this foolishness also.

The only major actor left in the drama is the pope, still a monarch, whose predecessors aggrandized so out of proportion to Christ’s commands that they too contributed to the downfall of that which was a splendid Christian civilization when they (the popes) were murdering and being murdered in the period known in the West as the end of the Dark Ages (tenth century) and when, in the words of William Stearns Davis, Paris and London “were little better than squalid villages” (eighth century). From the eleventh century the West did much to weaken the Empire, often with the pope’s connivance, sometimes not. Whatever was swirling around them, the popes stayed focused on building their monarchy and aggrandizing their power. A thousand years are not enough for the bitterness to dissipate. The popes have not stopped aggrandizing yet.

I am aware of the suicidal strife especially after Manzikert and after the retaking of the city in 1261 that also led to the downfall of the Empire. However, for the West to make demands before they would help the Greeks against the Turks was a betrayal of Christendom and all it stood for both politically and, more seriously, spiritually. It was always the same arrogance: the Greeks must first submit before discussions could begin. The two attempts at union failed, and the Crusades were a disaster for the Empire as well as useless in the long run. So the Empire disappeared.

Empires arise from intelligence, virtue and the luck of arms; empires fall from stupidity, venality and the luck of arms. The Empire of the Romoi (Romans), as they themselves called it, became a great Empire and disappeared. My attachment to what made it great is constant. Its civilization, though shredded, is with us still in Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, eastern Ukraine and Russia, none of which have I visited. My privilege and joy have been to seek out its remains in the land of its foundation.

Türkiye 2008

The flights took me through Minneapolis and Amsterdam. I was wearing a wrist splint at the time and got aisle seats because of it. The flying time bothers me very little since I bought a pair of therapeutic compression stockings. I mention that detail for those who are or will be bothered by circulation problems from long sitting in a confined space. They make life comfortable during long hours on a plane.

The biggest problem was the time in airports between legs of the journey. In Minneapolis I lost my sweatshirt and had to buy a heavy shirt to replace it. Then, while sitting on the plane waiting for takeoff, the announcement came through that the desk had found a sweatshirt and would the owner please claim it? The minutiae of life on the road can leave creases on the forehead and vacancies in the wallet.

In Istanbul Mahir had found a pleasant place, Hotel Antea, on a small side street in Sultanahmet near the hotel where I stayed on my first visit in 2002. That night I had dinner in Şişli with Mahir’s mother and sisters and tea with his wife and kids. I made my own way back to the old city which I know quite well by now, but I could not find the hotel. I wandered around for almost an hour before I came upon it. When we got back from the road trip, I continued to have that problem until I finally wised up to the Mexican food restaurant on the corner as my marker. Being the only Mexican food restaurant in Istanbul, it was an easy guide. But I got to know the area better and saw more of life in the city and how friendly the Turks are.

Across the street from the hotel was Theodosius’ Cistern, an old fourth century underground water storage that was being restored. When I visited the next morning, I was the first tourist of the day, and the custodian just left me to wander along the scaffolding as I wished.

That same day we flew to Nevşehir to a brand new airport forty miles from town. (It sits in the middle of nowhere. Maybe forty years from now it will be applauded as good planning, but right now it is ridiculous.) The baggage retrieval system was uniquely poorly designed.  The car we rented was delivered to the airport from town, and we had to drive the rental agent back to town where he got a bus to take him to another town from which he commutes!

Now, gentle reader, I am going to tell you something so unbelievable that even I, who did it, am incredulous. When we got into the car to start our road trip, I sang from an old country song that I used to hear on commercials selling something or other, “On the Road Again”, a Willie Nelson song of long ago. All I sang was that incipit because I had never heard the entire song, but there I was “On the Road Again”. Mahir often sang it during the following days when we set off in the morning for wherever. I sent Mahir a CD of it after I returned to the states. It never arrived.

We drove to Ürgüp in Cappadocia; we had stayed there last year. This year we stayed in a noble but not fancy hotel which was converted from a Greek monastery whose church no longer exists.

This trip took place during the fasting season of Ramadan. Though I was not disturbed during the night I had just spent in Istanbul, in Ürgüp I was awakened every night by someone beating a drum at 3 a.m. to accomodate those who fast during the day. After sundown, the fasters eat dinner, go to bed, and then get up at 3 a.m. to eat again , and then go back to bed. The purpose of the drum is to alert people to get up and eat.

I enjoyed seeing many more churches that we had not seen previously. All carved into the sandstone formations of the area, there is a no end to them. We saw so many churches and monasteries, the list of them would be very dull reading. Of the many, the outstanding experience was at Eski Gümüş, old silver in Turkish, with the best preserved of all the frescoes. Luckily for the frescoes, flash photography is not permitted; I had to buy postcards of the frescoes. We drove on one occasion through Göreme which was the center of attention last year but did not stop because jetlag was getting to me. Later, when we were about to leave Cappadocia, we did stop to see again the church of the Buckle with its mysteriously majestic blue backgrounds in the frescoes. I told Mahir that, though I had not felt it necessary to stop there again, I was happy to see once more those frescoes with that glorious blue azure a thousand years old.

The high point of this trip to Cappadocia was the day we spent in Ihlara Valley. This narrow valley, more than two miles long, has high steep walls and a river flowing through it. Many churches cut into the walls of the valley tell of a high Christian civilization, probably monastic. The church dedicated to St. George was an especially severe climb, turning us into mountain goats to keep our footing, not the last time we would be so challenged during this trip. But the climb was worth it to see the wonderful fresco of St. George attended by a functionary in Turkish court dress and his wife in Greek dress. The man’s wife commissioned the fresco; husband and wife were both Christians, but he had a government job which obligated him to Turkish dress.

Not the least joy of the day was the time spent with Mahir as we walked along the river with nearly perpendicular walls on either side. The walk itself brought to my mind the walks I took as a boy along the river near my grandmother’s house; but the setting of the river under a magnificent sky took second place to the talk of all manner of things from philosophy and religion to the difference in thrust between Roman arches and Gothic arches to (though we never saw the cows, just the droppings) a new word in Mahir’s English vocabulary, “cowpies”, which led inevitably to the impending U.S. election. I ate lunch at the end of the valley in a restaurant whose kitchen was on the bank of the river, and whose dining area was on platforms built over the water. Mahir was fasting.

I have not yet finished exploring the region. Next trip will begin again in Cappadocia at a place called Binbir Kilise, the thousand and one churches.

I have said in previous journals that the frescoes are mostly damaged by vandals. The easy assumption that the vandals were and are all Turks is inaccurate. We saw several signatures by Greeks, one dated 1888, another 1890.

From the Cappadocian region we traveled south through the Taurus mountains by car. We had traveled though them by train the previous year, and from the road we often saw the tracks of the rail line and its frequent tunnels. We spent a night in the mountains at an interesting resort hotel in Çamliyayla, far off the tourist routes. At the top of the mountain sat the remains of a tenth century Armenian castle. We assumed our role as mountain goats and climbed up and into it and walked around. The experience was a foretaste of the rest of our road trip.

Driving along I see a sign. “What castle is that?” “Do you want to see it?” “Yes!” The car stops, backs up and turns up a road often unpaved. We did that often without planning; Türkiye is full of such sites. One castle overlooked two valleys, one to the west and another with southern access to the Mediterranean Sea.

We drove through Tarsus but did not stop. We saw all there was to see last year. From Tarsus we drove east along the coast road. At first the road ran at sea level and supported too much development. We reached Mersin, a rather agreeable city of a million people, past which the road became more mountainous and the scenery more spectacular as the road ran along the coast, climbed and came down to the coast again. Along the way we saw a waterspout far out to sea.

On the way to Silifke we stopped at Kizkalesi, the Maiden’s Castle, which has some romantic legend or other attached to it. It is built on an island 200 meters out to sea. Mahir asked about getting to it, but the museum official said the sea was too choppy. I have photos of a calm sea, which I took from the ruins of Korykos Castle built or rebuilt by the Byzantines on the shore, part of the same museum as the Maiden’s Castle.

The blue of the Mediterranean along this stretch of coastline is intense.  Sometimes there are two and even three shades of blue and blue-green. When the sun came over mountains dropping down into the sea, or when rainclouds dissipated and the sun returned, the sea was ever more beautiful. At one point we stopped to see the supposed remains of a monastery. What was there looked like a tower of a fortress and was disappointing, but the waves crashing into the headland and on to the beach induced the fascination of primeval experience of waves on beaches everywhere.

Outside Silifke we visited the site of the monastery of St. Thekla, St. Paul’s reputed disciple. She retired to this part of the coast and was head of the Christian community in that area. (Question: If she was real, did she preside at the Eucharist? I bet she did, pace the Vatican with its male-only distortion of early Christian history.) The remnant of the church dedicated to her was interesting but obviously not of her time, having been built in 480. Next to it was a cistern from ancient times to store water which must have been difficult to supply at the top of that hill.

The distasteful Crusades of the Middle Ages came to the fore at Silifke. On June 10, 1190 the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa drowned in the Kalykadnus River which winds through the city. The Third Crusade came to an end for the German arm of the expedition. The French and English (under Richard the Lion-hearted) kept the crusade from being a total dismal failure but did not free Palestine from Saladin, who by the way was a Kurd and neither Turkish nor Arab. I had read of the death of Barbarossa countless times in my reading over the years but never knew where the Kalykadnus River is. Now I know and have seen it from the castle high above and up close as we walked along its banks and over it on one of its bridges in the city before a heavy rainstorm drove us into a restaurant for dinner.

We stopped in the mountains and bought tiny native bananas with their wonderful natural flavor so unlike the relatively tasteless monstrous hybrids of United Fruit sold in the U.S. off the backs of underpaid peons in Central America. (The hybrids are also available in Istanbul, but southern Türkiye grows its own.)

I was amazed to discover the number of castles and fortresses along the coast, a matter of necessity for survival in the days of Arabs and Turks and Turkomen overrunning the Empire who had to maintain their own security when they had taken over from the Byzantines. The enormous castle called Mamure on the edge of the sea was especially wonderful because it is in remarkably good state (the name means repaired). We clambered all over that castle and had a glorious time doing it. I broke my wrist brace at one point and gratefully spent the rest of the trip without it.

We stopped to see two remarkable natural sites outside Alanya. We walked down to the bottom of the “Asthma-curing Cave”. Its constant 95% humidity seems to relieve symptoms of the disease. Local doctors even send their patients. The other place was a remarkable canyon called the Chasm of Heaven and Hell. At the bottom was a very large, dark and damp cave which we did not explore. But the delight was to find just above the mouth of the cave a beautifully proportioned church from the fifth century dedicated to the Virgin. Roofless, windowless and doorless, the shell testifies to the aesthetic sense of those who built it. I was very moved by it and its location. The walls of the canyon were a multi-colored abstract from nature.

The fortess at Alanya is spectacular with its view of the mountain descending into the Mediterranean from high above the water and the fortess wall following the contour of the hill and overlooking the city which sits on a not very spacious littoral plain and is popular with Russian tourists. Inside the fortress a tenth(?) century chapel made me wonder. Its size was too small to accommodate a congregation of the size that would attend services in such a large military installation. What did the Byzantines use on feast days? Why did the Turks keep it? The tourist information provided no answers.

On the way into Antalya we visited the ruins of Perga, an old Greco-Roman city which was abandoned in the late sixth or seventh century after earthquake and Sassanid and Arab invasions. Too many things relatively all at once put an end to rebuilding. The people abandoned the site and moved higher into the mountains.

The main street with the main water supply running down the middle in a trough, the impressive baths and agora indicate a high degree of urban development. Mahir and I wondered how the officials kept the water supply clean, the trough being open and uncovered.

Antalya is a resort town on a wide expanse of beach on the Mediterranean that ends where another spur of the Taurus mountains drops into the sea. We arrived just after the summer season when the restaurants, hotels and refreshment stands cater to the stragglers. Personnally I prefer the role of straggler, free from crowds, high prices and unruly children. The atmosphere, however, weighs with a little sadness because the summer is finished as the seasons march on. We spent two nights there.

One evening at dinner in an open-walled restaurant, we were amazed to smell a perfume of startling power and beauty coming from shrubs called aksham sefasi or evening joy. Its flowers only bloom at night and fill the air with a remarkably sensuous odor unlike any other I have known, much more powerful than jasmine.

We drove and then climbed up into the mountains to visit another ruined city called Termessos. The theatre was the most interesting remnant because the least ruined. The enormous size of it, the intact wing of stage left with unmortared arches having survived the proverbial vicissitudes of the centuries filled me with admiration and a spirit of adventure. I climbed all over that theatre, whether easily or not.

The city was built by a fierce people that held off Alexander the Great. The location of the city in such a mountain fastness is ample proof of why. In 71 or 70 B.C.E. the city was allowed by the Romans to have an independent status as ally. One source says that the city was abandoned in the fifth century C.E. when an earthquake destroyed the aqueduct and the water supply.

In Antalya itself, the three attractions for me were the astonishingly beautiful tenth(?) century church converted to a mosque, an unusual fluted minaret and Hadrian’s Gate, majestic and beautifully proportioned. Though we were in shorts, we entered the mosque because it was being restored; the dirt floor was being removed to get to the original floor. I hope to see it fully restored, because we will start the coastal leg of the next road trip at Antalya.

Too soon our road trip was done, and we returned to Istanbul. The first visit I made was to the Armenian Catholic Church to see if George Hawarian, whom I had met the previous year, was still there. It was late September, and I thought he might have left for Lebanon to visit his family before school started in Rome on October 1. After trying to get information from the porter who could only say, “Ermeni CATOLIK kilesi” (Armenian {with great emphasis} Catholic church), I went into the church to make a visit, as we Catholics say. A priest was saying mass, and assisting him was George. I was delighted to see him. He recognized me on one of him many trips from one side of the altar to the other, came down to give me the Peace, and gave me Communion.

To receive the Eucharist in Istanbul during Islamic Friday prayers during Ramadan in an Armenian Catholic church from the hand of a friend who is a subdeacon studying in Rome for the Armenian priesthood was a participation in the eternal in mystical ways.

George was still in Istanbul because his family has moved to Sweden to escape the turmoil in Lebanon. I saw George again on Sunday at mass and for a few minutes after; he left the next day to return to school in Rome.

During the Sunday mass, one of “God’s children” entered the church with an old man evidently her guardian. She walked into the sanctuary to the top of the altar steps and began assuming odd postures. I was very touched by the way the celebrant, George and the bishop, who was attending in the sanctuary, kept their cool. The ushers were ready to prevent sacrilege, but nothing untoward occurred. The girl eventually lost interest and walked out of the church and the mass went on.

That afternoon I went out to where the land walls meet the wall along the Golden Horn. I walked along the land walls for quite a distance and saw how they defeated so many attempts to capture the city. If the Golden Horn had not been taken by the Conqueror’s strategem of carrying ships from the Bosphorus on rollers over the very steep hill down to the Horn, the city might not have been taken. With the necessity of having to place more defenders on the Golden Horn wall, those left to defend the land walls were too few, and the city fell.

I revisited the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus and got a better photograph of it than I got the year before. The remnants barely form a shell but still give an idea of the Byzantine capacity for architectural statecraft.

On Friday between my two visits to the Armenian church a terrific thunderstorm with winds over 100 kilometers per hour blew down a minaret. Heavy rain persisted through Saturday.

The next week I walked around the area of Yedikule where the land walls meet the Sea of Marmara wall on the southern end of the city. Levent, the teashop proprietor who befriended me last year, later told me that it is not safe to walk on Kennedy Street in that area, but I saw nothing threatening.

What Levent didn’t know was that I discovered an enormous old railroad shop area with roundhouse. What fun! I wandered around in there in complete contentment. Everything was reduced to ruins, and because there was not a soul around I had to be careful where I stepped and into what I peered. I had a wonderful time. And all the time trains were going by on the mainline. Many of the trains were passenger, or rather, commuter trains. At the end of a visit to Levent, he showed me the train station just around the corner from his shop. After that I took the train to go to visit him. I embody Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “I never saw a train I wouldn’t take.”

Over the years that I have visited Istanbul, I have noticed many young men walking arm in arm. I asked Mahir about it. He said that is a sign of good friends in Türkiye. I remember often raising my eyebrows in question, and he would say that they are not gay. I even saw two policemen walking arm in arm . I commented on that and said that would never happen in the U.S.A. Mahir replied, “What is it with you Americans that you can’t touch one another?” I did, however, see two young men on the funicular, and they were definitely more than friends. I was surprised to see that much freedom of expression in Istanbul.

The Tuesday before I left was a holiday; Haghia Sophia was closed in the morning (it is usually closed all day Tuesday). I got picturess of the outside of the Great Church without any people in them. That afternoon it was open because of the holiday and I went for another visit. I had fewer mixed emotions than on previous visits. This time I just saw it as a Byzantine edifice. There is still scaffolding impeding a complete view of the dome, but another walkway to the upper gallery has been opened. Its proportions and twists and turns had more interest than the other (which is now used only for down traffic). My lifelong wish to experience that building has been fulfilled, but I will always be drawn back to it whenever I am in Istanbul.

I plan to return to Istanbul in summer 2010. By the end of the year, I will add that journal to these.


Turkish food is simply wonderful. We have had one bad and one so-so meal; the rest was to be relished. I used to think that Mahir has an almost infallible sense of finding good food, but good food is simply usual.

We stopped at one roadside place that I would never have considered on my own. It had an outdoor eating area next to a horse pasture. The clientele were laboring farmers at their noon meal. But the chickpeas and rice were sublime and the Turkish meatballs, though a little firm, were delicious. Lettuce all over Turkey is crisply fresh.

My favorite dish is lentil soup, excellent everywhere. In Trabzon it was a bit different in taste from that served in Istanbul. The different areas of the Black Sea and the interior that we visited all had differences, but it was always  excellent. I adjusted nicely. My evening meal usually consisted of lentil soup and yoghurt; I was always content. Mahir’s wife also makes excellent lentil soup.

At Sardis, Mahir found another outdoor restaurant with a large roof cover and a small fountain. We ordered lamb chops, and they were grilled at table side as we needed them, so they were always hot. We had the same experience in Bursa at the 600 year old plane tree, except that Mahir himself did the grilling. Dinner at the hotel in Assos was excellent, but dinner in Pamukkale was worthy of an article by M.F.K. Fisher. The same can be said of the lunch we had on the beach outside Ordu in 2006. In Bursa, we ate Iskander, named for Alexander the great, a dish for which the city is famous.

Breakfast in hotels usually consists of bread, feta cheese, usually another cheese, tomatoes, cucumber slices and black olives. Boiled eggs in the shell are often available, but not consistently, even in the same hotel. There is always a cold sausage which I find unappetizing; it reminds me of Kraft processed foods. I have always visited in late August and early September when watermelon is plentiful. There are often other types of melons that are wonderful; I prefer them.

Yoghurt is readily available in Turkey, and it is very good indeed. In Pamukkale, yoghurt cheese, one of my favorites, was served. Mahir did not know of it and asked about it. I explained that it is made by draining the whey out of yoghurt through a filter, leaving only the curds. When he understood those two words, I shared two poems with him. I recited the nursery rhyme, “Little Miss Muffet”, and then told him David Cohen’s limerick (I made it fit the country where we were):

A Turkish Miss Muffet went one day
on pilgrimage to Iran to pray.
She didn’t quite make it;
she had to forsake it,
because there were Kurds in her way.

In contrast to all this wonderful food, at the hotel near LaGuardia airport in New York in 2003, I ordered chicken soup and a salad for a light meal before retiring. The soup was canned broth with pieces of roasted chicken thrown in with a few seasonings. The salad lettuce was wilted and brown. Welcome home.

In Türkiye, we never bothered eating in posh restaurants; the food in ordinary places is reliably very good. My favorite place for lunch, though hardly ordinary, was Caferağa Madresesi, managed by Cosgun Uzunkaya whom I mentioned above. The daily special is uniformly excellent and the cookies are better than my mother’s. I have tried other desserts there, and they are all excellent but the cookies are my favorite. A meal there can be had for about twenty lira, maybe sixteen dollars in 2007.

Mahir has a favorite restaurant where we ate several times. Located on a street off Istiklal Caddesi, we sat outdoors under a grapevine that covered the street. The tables were on either side of the street. No cars were allowed. The lamb was great and the bread unusual and excellent.

Bread is always at hand at all meals. Crusty white bread is the most usual, though I was able to buy a darker wheat bread at times. My favorite bread was the buns that the Chaldeans gave out after mass, still warm from the oven. Even next day it was wonderful.

Baclava is readily available, but the Turks don’t put enough nuts in it. I gave up on it and learned how to say “less sugar” in Turkish and discovered a wonderful world of cookies that totally satisfy my always raging sweet tooth.

Once I discovered them, cookies were my usual dessert the remainder of my stays in Turkey. I am afraid I went overboard on the sugar, but then the Turks don’t put as much sugar as Americans do in their recipes, so my metabolism could absorb it more easily without high and low glycaemic episodes.

The Turks like cake with thinner layers than we are used to in the U.S, I tried it a few times when it was topped with fruit on the cream frosting. It was excellent;  I even tried it with watermelon on it. Watermelon and frosted cake do not marry happily on the taste buds.

In Antioch Mahir introduced me to künefe, a baked cheese regional dessert. I told him that, like the whirling dervishes of the year before, the experience was all right, but once is enough. The texture was not interesting and the taste was rather bland. It is an Antiochene specialty and not available anywhere else. I am glad. Mahir did not like it at the establishment where we ate it and assures me that it is always much better elsewhere.

I am not sure why I had not found it on my previous trips, but in 2007 I was introduced to börek, a baked dish of phyllo dough filled with feta cheese soaked in water to get the salt out. The cook can add whatever else that is subtle; it is wonderful. The first Sunday I went to the Armenian service, börek was served with lunch. Later that week it was served again at Mahir’s. And the following Sunday I ate it again at the Armenian post-liturgy lunch. I bought a Turkish cook book (in English) at a shop on the street of books in hopes of making it at home.

In summer fresh fruit is abundant and cheaper than at the farmers’ markets at home. Street peddlers push carts of it through the neighborhoods, and small groceries sell it as in Manhattan.

Vegetables are not as big a factor in Türkiye. Carrots are available but not as plentifully as at home. Most important are tomatoes, cucumbers and olives, served at practically all meals including breakfast. Eggplant and okra are big. It took me awhile to find zucchini, a staple whenever I ate lunch at home with roasted chicken, bought at a neighborhood charcuterie.

Evenings I stopped at a restaurant and had a bowl of soup. Then I went home for yoghurt and fruit (and cookies). Yoghurt, by the way, is a Turkish word – yoğurt. The “ğ” is silent.

Mahir’s wife’s name is Gülçin (Chinese rose). Her mother is a wonderful cook. I told Gülçin that if her mother opened a restaurant I would eat there three meals a day. One day she brought home a cheese börek baked elsewhere. Mahir asked how I liked it and I said it was not as good as hers. When Mahir translated, her face showed a  mixture of appreciation and pride as she nodded agreement.


Mark Mazower’s Salonika gives details of the population exchanges of 1923 that are powerful if gruesome and explain a lot. For instance, few people realize that many Greeks from Anatolia were descendants of Greeks who had lived there for two thousand years and spoke a Greek that had little to do with the Greek of their new homes. Yet they were uprooted and went to Greece where many had problems of assimilation.

Another book that dealt briefly with the subject of the exchanges is John Ash’s  A Byzantine Journey, a travelogue by someone, like me, in search of Byzantine remains. It is a personal tribute to the past from a man who has moved to Istanbul. His exposure of the cynical attitude of the Allies during the Greek retreat is chilling.

In 2006, I reread Christopher Dawson’s Progress and Religion and Jared Diamond’s Collapse, a fortuitous pairing, the former dealing with the collapse of culture and the latter dealing with the collapse of societies. I come by my cynicism honestly. In Istanbul, I picked up a copy of Walter Wangerin Jr.’s Saint Julian, an astonishing novel in beautiful prose which kept getting interrupted by amateurishly ungrammatical Latin. Benedico Domino instead of the correct benedico Dominum (or the more usual benedicam Dominum), and Deus nostrus for the correct Deus noster are just two examples of the annoying distractions.

A tremendously important book I borrowed from Mahir is Samuel P. Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations, appropriate reading in Türkiye and urgent anywhere in the world. Neither liberal nor conservative, it gives a realistic evaluation of Reagan, Bush (first) and Clinton and, though published in 1996, foretells every mistake Bush (shrub) and the neo-cons could possibly make to weaken the U.S. Amazing book. I give one quote: “The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion (to which few members of other civilizations were converted) but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.” A potent source of meditation in a land where so many Western crusaders tried to do just that to the Arabs, Saracens and Turks.

I reread Christopher Dawson’s Medieval Essays, another brilliant book by the great English historian and dipped in and out of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which infuriated me whenever I picked it up. How could I have been so stupid all those years swallowing the official line?

A collection of writings of Erasmus travels well. Rereading The Praise of Folly is always fun, but the Handbook of the Militant Christian, An Inquiry Concerning Faith, and The Complaint of Peace are very great works of deep faith. Erasmus was a humanist hated by both sides of the Lutheran-Catholic debate (that means he was right). I have always been attracted to Erasmus because of his admiration of Thomas More. I once slept in the rectory of the parish church whose revenues Henry VIII granted Erasmus while he was in England before the divorce business.

Godfrey Goodwin’s The Janissaries is a thorough history full of interesting tidbits. One of my favorites is that the household cavalry began to lose effectiveness because they would not switch from sabers to firearms because gunpowder soiled their gorgeous uniforms. Another tidbit is that the sultan’s one hundred fifty personal bodyguards each had his spleen removed, a practice the sultans continued from  the Byzantine emperors. Why the emperors and sultans did it is not explained. I have never come across this in any other source.

One last bit: the sultans’ method of execution by strangling grew from the Mongol and Turkish belief that shed blood contained a magic force that could be used malevolently by others.

Goodwin points out that the devşirme or impressment of boys into the Janissaries was probably not a hardship to most of the boys. They were, after all, teens from small villages and probably shrugged off the separation as they went on a real adventure away from a boring existence. The Janissary corps simply became a new society for the emotional attachment necessary at that age.

Finally, although this list is not complete, I found a copy of Lincoln Reconsidered by David Donald. Published in 1956 the book is a different look at that most peculiar man who has always mystified me. I am but a little less mystified. It does, however, give a more lucid analysis of the social processes in the country that led to the war.

In 2007 Mahir told me of a Turkish translation of a novel by William Stearns Davis originally written in English under the title, “The Beauty of the Purple”. When I got home, I found a copy at Powells.com. This historical novel about the rise of Leo the Isaurian, emperor during the eighth century, was published in 1924. If you can find a copy, it is a wonderful read.

I read the weekend edition of the Herald Tribune when I in Istanbul; I never found it outside the city. At three dollars a copy, the weekend edition was all the budget allowed. I have already mentioned the English edition of a Turkish newspaper which I got from the airline when we were getting ready to take off in 2003; it was not available at the airport three years later.

I always read books when I travel, and on the second trip Mahir loaned me Colin Falconer’s Harem, the fictionalized biography of Roxelana. It was a good read, full of intriguing speculation about what drove that scheming woman. It was an especially good read in the city where it all took place.

In 2003 besides my Blue guide to Istanbul, I carried with me two of Charles Williams’ novels, all seven of which I reread from time to time. T.S. Eliot was right to call these supernatural thrillers, best read on a journey. The stories are unique in conception and the style is narrative elegance. In them one finds such flashes of intelligence as this:

Lord Arglay, at once in contact and detached, at once faithless and believing, beheld all these things in the light of that fastidious and ironical goodwill which, outside mystical experience, is the finest and noblest capacity man has developed in and against the universe.


This argument, though sound within its limits, suffered from the same trouble that invalidates all human argument and makes all human conclusion erroneous, namely, that no reasoning can ever start from the possession of all the facts.


Chloe was ignorant what things have been done……. or with what passionate anxiety men have struggled to protect the subordination of Omnipotence.

These stories have nourished me for forty years.


1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for article. It’s useful for me. Btw your website looks good.

    Comment by William Browne — May 11, 2011 @ 4:41 pm

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