The Walls of Constantinople
Captain B. Granville Baker
Romance and the history of walled cities are inseparable. Who has not felt this to be so at the sight of hoary ruins lichen-clad and ivy-mantled, that proudly rear their battered crests despite the ravages of time and man's destructive instincts. It is within walled cities that the life of civilized man began : the walls guarded him against barbarian foes, behind their shelter he found the security necessary to his cultural development, in their defence he showed his finest qualities. And such a city — and such a history is that of Ancient Byzantium, the City of Constantine, the Castle of Caesar.
What wonder then that man should endeavour to express by pen and pencil his sense of the greatness and beauty, the Romance of a Walled City such as Constantinople. The more so that a movement is on foot to remove these ancient landmarks of the history of Europe and Asia.
True there are other works on this same subject, works by men deeply learned in the history of this fair city, works that bid fair to outlive the city walls if the fell intent of destroying them is carried into execution, and from these men and their works I derived inspiration and information, and so wish to chronicle my gratitude to them — Sir Edwin Pears and Professor van Millingen of Robert College, Constantinople. There are many others too in Constantinople to whom my thanks are due — His Majesty's Vice-Consul, my host, his colleagues, now my friends, and many others too numerous to mention. They all have helped me in this work, and I am grateful for the opportunity offered me of here recording my thankfulness for their kind offices.
B. Granville Baker.
Note. — As I have taken the historical events recorded in this book not in chronological order, but as they occurred to me on a tour round the walls of Constantinople, I have appended a brief chronological table, for the guidance of my readers and for the elucidation of this work.
THE APPROACH TO THE CITY BY THE BOSPHORUS
Author and Artist have, for the sake of compactness, been rolled into one. This method leaves to both a free hand and ensures absolute unanimity: their harmonious whole now proposes to the reader a personally conducted tour around the walls of Constantinople, within and without, stopping at frequent intervals to allow the Artist to ply his pencil while the Author holds forth to an eager circle of intelligent listeners.
Constantinople should not be approached by those who hail from the West with any Western hustle — no charging to the agents or the booking-office at the last moment to demand a return ticket by the quickest possible route, to traverse all Europe, passing through many strange and interesting countries with the determined tourist's reckless haste, to tumble out on to the platform of the German-looking Stamboul railway station, worn out and wretched and wishing to be back at home again. Rather should the traveller wean his mind from many Western notions. Let him disabuse himself of the hackneyed superstition that time is of any moment. In the East it is not. Men have all the time there is, and plenty of that. In this respect it corresponds to the biblical description of Heaven : " There is no time there." Conscious of their easily won eternity, trains, and more particularly boats, make no attempt to start at the hour mentioned in the schedule, aware that by doing so they would only cause inconvenience to the large majority of their passengers. Any one who has had official relations with the Turk knows that his most frequent exclamation is *' Yarsah — yarsah " (** Slowly — slowly "), but to most foreigners the system is, at first, a little disconcerting. Again, the traveller should prepare his mind for what he hopes to see — a walled city, — so should, ere starting, let his mind's eye travel beyond his garden wall, against which perchance he may safely lean as aid to meditation, to what he has heard of walls, walls that were built by many devoted generations and in return protected their descendants from those hungry powers that seek to destroy whatever prospers.
And travelling toward his Eastern goal the reader passes through many an ancient city whose walls chronicle the history of its inhabitants. He should take his journey easily, should move eastward with no undue haste. Let him go down the Danube, that mighty river which arises from a small opening In the courtyard of a German castle, flows majestically through the lands of many nations, where before the days of history Saga held her sway and gave birth to the NIbelungs. In Its waters many ruined castles are reflected, amongst others Dlirnsteln, where Blondel's voice at length brought hope of deliverance to his Imprisoned liege, Richard Coeur-de-LIon. He will pass many fair historic cities, Vienna, Budapesth, Belgrade, the White Fortress, and soon through the Iron Gates, whence the great stream swells with Increasing volume through the plains of Eastern Europe to throw out many arms to the Black Sea. It is here that Author and Artist await you ; for to worthily approach Constantinople you should do so from the north, and by sea. And you are in good company, for by this seaway came the Russians In their several attempts on the Eastern capital. The Turks, too, the present masters of the situation, found this way and followed It to victory. These, too, overcame great difficulties — they sailed In small vessels and were much at the mercy of wind and weather ; in fact, the Russians found their plans frustrated by the elements. They met with anything but a pleasant reception, whereas the traveller nowadays steams in great comfort in a racy-looking Roumanian liner and is sure of a courteous welcome from his hospitable host, the Turk,
Along, the coast of Bulgaria — that kingdom of strong men under a strong ruler, whose history, with a long and melancholy hiatus, is taken up again, is in the making, and bids fair to rival that of older nations as a record of devotion and steadfastness of purpose. A ad so to the mouth of the Bosphorus, a narrow entrance through which the strong current of the Black Sea forces its way to join the warm waters of the Mediterranean.
The Argonauts found their way through here, braved the crash of the Symplegades, and sailed out into the unknown in search of the golden apples of the Hesperides. Let no man say that these were simply oranges, for these a man may cull in many a Greek garden to-day. No — it was an ideal they sought, and, like true men, they found and followed it.
A narrow entrance this, and strongly held, as it deserves to be if Nature be man's handmaid. Strongly fortified it was, too, in olden times, for on that height to the left stands a frowning ruin, a Genoese castle, commanding the entrance for many miles round the open sea and the rolling, wooded heights of Asia inland.
Intensely interesting are the naval exploits of the city republics of Italy during the Middle Ages. It is not easy to realize the power developed by such towns as Pisa, Genoa, and Venice, and the enormous importance of the part they took in the development of Europe. Other cities are so much overshadowed by Rome, that those who are not historians hear only echoes of their greatness.
Primarily there seems to be a divergence in the origin of empire between those gained by a northern or southerly race. Latin empires grew out ot cities — Rome and Constantinople, and Athens with her Delian Confederacy ; the States of Pisa which owned large oversea possessions, Genoa which to a long strip of coast counted Corsica among her spoils, Venice which with varying fortunes controlled Dalmatia and I stria and built the stout fortress of Nauplia commanding the Gulf of Argolis. Whereas England, France, Germany, in fact those empires founded by the men of a Northern race, began, it appears, by the conquest of other people's cities, and, making themselves masters of a number of such towns, started states of their own, drawing liberal and very elastic boundaries round them which they could enlarge when strong enough by the simple expedient of picking a quarrel with their neighbours. These depended for their defence more on those who lived in fortified seclusion on the marches of their domain than on the town-dwellers.
The Genoese navy, composed of ships fitted out alike for battle as well as for commerce, was free to look further afield as soon as Pisa, their whilom ally against the Saracens of Africa, Spain and the Mediterranean islands (but a formidable rival at all other times), had been finally crushed at Meloria. Opportunity soon offered, for trouble arose as usual in the Eastern Empire. The Latin dynasty put into power by the crusaders was sinking lower, and a feeling for the restitution of the Greek Empire was growing. Also, the Venetians, new rivals, had assisted the Latins, so there was every reason to interfere. The interference proved successful, Michael Palseologus conceded the suburbs of Pera and Galata to the Genoese. These places were fortified, and served as a base from whence to push Genoese enterprise further into the Black Sea, and in the Crimea a factory was established. From time to time the Genoese turned against the Greeks, no doubt in order that their swords might not rust for want of exercise during the piping times of that peace which in the East was a seldom acquired taste. They stood by the Greeks, however, when trouble came from elsewhere, and to the last upheld their high reputation for bravery and devotion . . .
The correct thing to do is to walk round the tomb a great many times (there is a fixed number, but it does not matter much), tie a bit of rag to the railing and express a wish, keeping it strictly to yourself. The next best thing to do is to forget the wish, pay twopence in baksheesh and ride away to get the most of a glorious view. Artist and Author alike do so.
And a pleasant thing it is to ride on into Asia Minor on an alert, sure-footed Arab ; he need be surefooted, for at one time your road leads along the very edge of a steep decline, at another over the bed of what is a rushing torrent in the rainy season. Everywhere a changing vista, bold, rolling hills, now covered with short scrub and heather, with black rocks peering through it — now under oak and beech, everywhere the glorious bracing air of the uplands mingled with breezes from the Northern Sea. Here and there you find patches of cultivation, the patient team of oxen drawing the primitive plough, merely an iron-shod staff at an angle to the shaft to which the team is yoked. Near by, a village, small wooden houses sheltered by fig-trees, a little shady cafe where of an evening the men smoke a solemn hubble-bubble and discuss events in the measured sentences of a conversation which begins about nothing in particular and ends in the same district.
What changes those fields have known ! armies pouring into Asia full of enterprise and the lust of conquest, returning to escort a victorious emperor in triumph through the Golden Gate, or beaten remnants of a host to seek refuge behind the city walls. And a plough of the same construction, drawn by the same faithful servants, stopped its course a while to watch, and then went on its way unchanging.
But the fairest road is still that glittering waterway with its ever-increasing number of craft, so we pass on to Constantinople. With a fair breeze from the Black Sea dead astern small sailing vessels hurry on towards their goal — the Golden Horn. They are high in the bows, higher still in the poop, with an elegant waist but withal a reasonable breadth of beam, brightly painted too, with cunning devices on the prow and sails that glisten white under the Ottoman ensign; they carry for a flag a crescent argent in a field gules (the Artist insists on heraldic terms, as they are so picturesque). These little ships have been busy collecting many things for the Stamboul market along the Black Sea Coast. Heavy-laden tramps thump onward to Odessa to return with corn or wool. We overhaul a yacht-bowed Russian mail-boat and get a shrill whinny of greeting from the stout little passenger steamers, Tyne-built, that ply between the many landing-stages along the Bosphorus bringing officials, business men and even artists back from the city to those quiet, cosy little bungalows that hide among the trees on either side. White-painted caiques flit across from side to side, one-oared and even two-, some more pretentious ones with more oars still, the boatmen dressed in becoming uniform, veiled ladies in the stern sheets. A hustling steam-pinnace shoots by from one or the other "stationaires," for every larger Power keeps one here; and there on the right, that row of gleaming palaces by the waterside is Therapia, those palaces the different embassies in their summer quarters. Here homesick travellers of many nations may feast their eyes on the warflag of their country and get up a thrill, if the scenery should have failed to cause one. It certainly is a pleasant sight to see a sturdy British bluejacket again or his smart colleague of the U.S. Navy in his jaunty white hat. Therapia will tell you that this is the only place to live in during the summer; other places along the road on either hand claim the same advantage, and the claims must be allowed where the choice is so difficult. For there is Candilli, and who that has spent some sunny weeks under the trees of that favoured spot, has dived from the garden wall (displacing volumes of water) into the evening phosphorescence of the Bosphorus, but wishes to return and to repeat the performance ? And Arnoutkeni, where, on a hill-top, lives the most hospitable of consuls-general.
The silvery way narrows and widens, and winds, though slightly, past ever-increasing signs of human habitation. Wooden Turkish houses with the jealously latticed windows of the harems dipping their stone foundations in the sea, some with a little scala leading to a stoep, where the veiled ladies of the house may take the air while children play around them. Stately palaces walled off towards the land, the sea-front open and mayhap the lordly owner's steam-yacht moored just opposite, barracks and cafds with vine-clad trelliswork, and behind the narrow stone streets and little shops. Every now and then a mosque, its dazzling minarets pointing to the sky, and also, too frequently, a very modern residence in the very latest bad taste, which is saying a good deal . . .
THE WALLS BY THE SEA OF MARMORA
Let us go ashore under the sea-walls of Constantinople. We now approach the white Seraglio lighthouse, keeping a little south of it and yet a little more, rounding a slight bend of the coast to westward. Here, beyond a strong square tower which formerly showed a flare of Grecian fire to guide the mariner, is a stretch of beach, Author and Artist insist on landing. The tower we left on our right joins on to a large front of masonry, built stoutly of rough stones as you may see where the walls are broken, and where a few marble pillars frame hollow openings for the windows. This place is full of the memories of dark and strange events, it is the Palace of Justinian.
Old chroniclers called this the Palace of Hormisdas, or Hormouz, Prince of Persia, who sought refuge here with Constantlne the Great. Others, again, suggest that this palace was built by Justinian himself before he began his long and useful reign.
At any rate, great and famous names occur to us as we survey these ruins. It is an astounding chapter of history this, which tells how Justinian came to inherit the Imperial Purple. His uncle Justin was the founder of his house, a simple Dacian peasant who left his native village and the flocks he tended to enter the military service of the Eastern Empire. Through his own strength, his own ability and valour in the field, Justin the Dacian peasant rose step by step until he took his place next to Caesar himself in importance. Then when the Emperor Anastasius died, after carefully excluding his own kinsman from the throne, Justin was acclaimed Emperor by the unanimous consent of those who knew him to be brave and gentle, his soldiers, and by those who held him to be orthodox, the priests. So in his old age, for he was sixty-eight when Anastasius died, Justin climbed the throne and reigned for nine years. Strange, too, it is, that he and yet another ruler of his time, Theodoric, the King of Italy, even in those days when learning was by no means uncommon, should both have been unable to read and write. Justin had brought his nephew Justinian out of Dacia, and had him educated in Constantinople to be trained for the Purple.
His was a curious and eventful reign. Of great strength and comely of face, full of the best intentions and restless in his pursuit of knowledge, Justinian entered into his inheritance ; he had been his uncle Justin's right hand, and so was well acquainted with all the devious ways of statecraft. So everything promised well, and in a measure he succeeded. The wars he undertook were brought to a successful issue, the laws he framed should have earned him the people's gratitude, yet Justinian was not beloved.
No doubt these walls could tell the reason — you may almost hear them whisper, "Theodora, the actress, the dancer, and Justinian's empress." Surely those were stirring times, when Justinian and Theodora sat side by side upon the throne, when circus and streets rang with the cries of factions, Blue and Green. And Theodora favoured Blue — her cause for doing so dates back to the day of her earliest appearance in Constantinople — in the theatre. Here she and her sisters, daughters of Acacius, whose office was to tend the wild beasts that the Green faction kept for the games, were brought by their mother in the garb of suppliants. The Green faction received them with contempt, the Blues with compassion, and hence the reason that Theodora favoured that colour.
Then some time elapsed, during which it were best not to follow Theodora's fortunes. During this epoch a son was born to her. Years after, the father of the child when dying told him : *' Your mother is an empress." The son of Theodora hastened to Constantinople, hurried to the palace to present himself — and was never seen again. When in seclusion at Alexandria Theodora had a vision which told her that one day she would wear the Purple, so she returned to Constantinople, and ere long won Justinian's love. So they reigned side by side, and Justinian first of that name is still called "the Great." Let whatever evil she may have done be forgotten. Are not the scandals of that time softened by the mists of romance which enshroud them, for all but those who like to peer about among the secrets of dead men, and to cavil at their failings, and tear what tatters of reputation they can find into yet smaller shreds.
Nearly four centuries had passed, and yet again the Palace of Justinian was witness of Imperial weakness. The Greek fleet rode at anchor beneath the windows of the palace, and from his ship the Admiral Romanus Lecapenus made his way into the presence of the Emperor. There he demanded of Constantine VII, called Porphyrogenitus, a share in the government of the Empire, and was proclaimed co-Emperor. At one time during this reign five Csesars wore the Purple; he who was born in It, Constantine VII, Porphyrogenitus, ranked least among them, but he survived them all in office to die of poison, it is said administered by Theophane, the wife of his son, Romanus II.
Again a woman plays a strong part in the history of these palace walls. A woman of low origin, this wife of the Eastern Emperor, son of Constantine VII, and under the careless reign of her good-natured husband, she made her vigorous personality a power in the land. Four years did Romanus II reign, and in that time did nothing that could afford the historian excuse for lingering on his name. Strongly built and fair to look upon, his time was spent in the pleasures he best loved. While the two brothers Leo and Nicephones triumphed over the Saracens, the Emperor's days were spent in strenuous leisure. He visited the circus in the morning, feasted the senators at noon, and then adjourned to the sphaeristerium, the tenniscourt, where he achieved his only victories. From time to time he would cross over to the Asiatic side, and there hunt the wild boar, returning to the palace well content with what he probably considered a good day's work.
Theophane tired of her useless spouse, and mingled for him the same deadly draught which killed his father. She then aspired to reign in the name of her two sons, Basil and Constantine, one five, the other only two years old, but found she could not support the weight of such responsibility, and looked about for some one to protect her.
She found the man in Nicephorus Phocas, who was then accounted the bravest soldier in the land. In other ways he appeared suitable, for he combined with the military genius that had led to many victories the reputation of a saint. For the rest, in person he was deformed, so that perchance Theophane s spacious heart was aided by her head when she set about to choose the successor to Romanus in her affections. Another like him lived many centuries later and ruled over England, Richard of Gloucester — and through the hazy veil wherewith romance so kindly clothes the crude outlines of history, it is difficult to decide to what extent the religious practices and utterances of these two monarchs were prompted by sincerity or guile. For Nicephorus wore hair-cloth, fasted, and clothed his conversation with pious terms ; he even wished to retire from the business of this world into the serene seclusion of a monastery. Whatever the value of the sentiments he expressed, the people and the Patriarch trusted him, and so he was invested with the command of the oriental armies.
No sooner had he received the leaders and the troops than he marched boldly into Constantinople at their head. He trampled on his enemies, avowed his correspondence with the Empress, and assumed the title of Augustus. Unlike his double, Richard, he spared the lives of the young princes.
After some dubious dealings, the silence of the clergy made his union with Theophane possible, so he reached the height of his ambition — the Imperial Purple. But, strange to say, the once so popular general when in the Purple lost the affection of his people. No doubt the faults were equally divided, the Greeks disliked him for his parsimony, and he had ample precedent of how easily a fickle population can change from favour to fierce hatred. A demonstration of this change caused Nicephorus to fortify the Palace of Justinian ; he had been stoned by his own people, and had barely reached the palace in safety.
Whilst standing by the sea under this mass of ruins, let us go back to a winter's night in 969. The additions to the palace that Nicephorus had made to guard him against the fury of his subjects had that day been completed. The gates were locked and bolted, the windows strongly barred, and, as a further precaution, the Emperor had moved from the couch and room he generally occupied at night, and lay asleep stretched on a bear-skin on the floor of a smaller chamber. But treachery lurked within the palace walls ; murderous plans were rife, and they were conceived in the brain of an adulterous empress. And listening by those dark waves we hear the sound of muffled oars. A boat takes shape in the gloom at the foot of the palace stairs. Headed by John Zimisces, lover of Theophane, a man of small stature but great strength and beauty, and a soldier of renown, shadowy forms ascend a rope ladder, lowered from a window by some female attendants. Other conspirators were hidden in Theophane's most private chambers ; they reached the Emperor s retreat, and with much cruelty and insult Nicephorus II Phocas was done to death.
John Zimisces reigned in his stead, but ere he was allowed to assume full power with the sanction of the Church he had to face at least one upright man. On the threshold of St. Sophia, whither he went to his coronation, the intrepid Patriarch stopped his progress, charged him with entering the Holy Place with blood upon his hands, and demanded, as a sign of penance, he should separate himself from his guilty companion . . .
A steep incline leads from the beach, past little wooden houses perched anywhere against the ruined walls. They look like that old house — that dear old house — Hans Andersen speaks of in the shortest of his fairy tales. We climb up the steep ascent, and at the top find more ruins — the base of a gigantic marble pillar, broken arches built of brick and glorious in their subdued colour; and then — the railway. Yes, gentle readers, the Roumelian Railway, to give it its full and awesome title. And we must follow this railway if we would see more of the city walls. You may walk anywhere you like along the single track. A little pathway winds about here and there and everywhere, and on either hand are houses, some of wood, some more pretentious, scattered about with irregularity.
Above us is the ridge on which the Hippodrome, theatre, and circus used to stand in days when a pleasure-loving population spent time and money in much the same way as do some Western nations of this day. No doubt they too considered themselves sportsmen ; no doubt they too danced abject attendance and stood numerous dinners to the stalwart hero who was awarded his ** Blue " or his " Green," as the case might be. And as to some forms of sport in those days of the Byzantine Empire, we have already given account of one sportsman's strenuous day, the Emperor Romanus, and we have seen how his wife discouraged his proclivities, by methods effective, but far too drastic for the present age.
Ancient chroniclers make mention of a polo-ground, but it is too much to expect such very learned men to tell you how the game was played. Yet this concerns the Author and Artist nearly, for both have spent much time and pleasantly in the saddle. No doubt the game, under whatever rules, was extremely picturesque ; the life, the colour, the movement of horses and men engaged in such a keen pursuit can never fail to give a series of brilliant and entrancing pictures. But when you come to details ! No trim pigskin saddles, but possibly some coloured bolsters, with loose bits of braid or tassels for adornment ; no doubt bright-coloured brow-bands — that abomination! And then the ball. The Artist wonders whether it was painted the colour of one of the many factions that made up the political life of the city — Blue, Green, or Red — or whether, like keen sportsmen, such differences were dropped in contests of this kind.
Undoubtedly party feeling ran high when races — chariot-races chiefly — were in progress at the Hippodrome. These Green and Blue kept up a continual wordy warfare, and no doubt backed their own fancy colour with the same indiscriminate ardour not altogether unfamiliar even in the world's greatest Empire of to-day. And here again another likeness presents itself, for the games were played and contests entered by men paid to show their skill, while thousands sat and watched, shouted advice, or yelled their disapproval, though quite unable and unwilling to venture on the game themselves . . .