by Robert Hichens.
|Mosque of Suleiman at Constantinople|
Stamboul is wonderfully various. Compressed between two seas, it contains sharp, even brutal, contrasts of beauty and ugliness, grandeur and squalor, purity and filth, silence and uproar, the most delicate fascination and a fierceness that is barbaric. It can give you peace or a sword. The sword is sharp and cruel; the peace is profound and exquisite.
Every day early I escaped from the uproar of Pera and sought in Stamboul a place of forgetfulness. There are many such places in the city and on its outskirts: the mosques, the little courts and gardens of historic tombs; the strange and forgotten Byzantine churches, lost in the maze of wooden houses; the cemeteries, vast and melancholy, where the dead sleep in the midst of dust and confusion, guarded by giant cypresses; the lonely and shadowed ways by the walls and the towers ; the poetic glades and the sun-kissed terraces of Seraglio Point.
Santa Sophia stands apart from all other buildings, unique in beauty, with the faint face of the Christ still visible on its wall, Christian in soul, though now for long dedicated to the glory of Allah and of his prophet. I shall not easily forget my disappointment when I stood for the first time in its shadow. I had been on Seraglio Point, and, strolling by the famous royal gate to look at the lovely fountain of Sultan Achmet, I saw an enormous and ugly building, decorated with huge stripes of red paint, towering above me as if fain to obscure the sun. The immensity of it was startling. I asked its name.
I looked away to the fountain, letting my eyes dwell on its projecting roof and its fretwork of gold, its lustrous blue and green tiles, splendid ironwork, and plaques of gray and brown marble.
It was delicate and enticing. Its mighty neighbor was almost repellent. But at length—not without reluctance, for I feared perhaps a deeper disappointment—I went into the mosque by the Porta Basilica, and found myself in the midst of a vast harmony, so wonderful, so penetrating, so calm, that I was aware at once of a perfect satisfaction.
At first this happy sense of being completely satisfied seemed shed upon me by shaped space. In no other building have I had this exact feeling, that space had surely taken an inevitable form and was announcing itself to me. I stood beneath the great dome, one hundred and seventy-nine feet in height, and as I gazed upward I felt both possessed and released.
For a long time I was fully aware of nothing but the vast harmony of Santa Sophia, descending upon me, wrapping me round. I saw moving figures, tiny, yet full of meaning, passing in luminous distances, pausing, bending, kneeling; a ray of light falling upon a white turban; an Arab in a long pink robe leaning against a column of dusky-red porphyry; a dove circling under the dome as though under the sky. But I could not be strongly aware of any detail, or be enchanted by any separate beauty. I was in the grasp of the perfect whole.
The voice of a child disturbed me.
Somewhere far off in the mosque a child began to sing a great tune, powerfully, fervently, but boyishly. The voice was not a treble voice; it was deeper, yet unmistakably the voice of a boy. And the melody sung was bold, indeed, almost angry, and yet definitely religious. It echoed along the walls of marble, which seemed to multiply it mysteriously, adding to it wide murmurs which were carried through all the building into the dimmest, remotest recesses. It became in my ears as the deep-toned and fanatical thunder of Islam, proclaiming possession of the church of Divine Wisdom which had been dedicated to Christ. It put me for a time definitely outside of the vast harmony. I was able at last to notice details both architectural and human.
Santa Sophia has nine gates leading to it from a great corridor or outer hall, lined with marble and roofed with old-gold mosaic. As you enter from the Porta Basilica, you have an impression of pale yellow, gold, and gray; of a pervading silvery glimmer; of a pervading gleam of delicate primrose, brightly pure and warm. You hear a sound of the falling of water from the two fountains of ablution, great vases of gray marble which are just within the mosque.
Gray and gold prevail in the color scheme, a beautiful combination of which the eyes are never tired. But many hues are mingled with them: yellow and black, deep plum-color and red, green, brown, and very dark blue. The windows, which are heavily grated, have no painted glass, so the mosque is not dark. It has a sort of lovely and delicate dimness, as touching as the dimness of twilight. It is divinely calm, almost as nature can be when she would bring her healing to the unquiet human spirit. We know that during the recent war Santa Sophia was crowded with suffering fugitives, with dying soldiers and cholera patients. I feel that even upon them in their agony it must have shed rays of comfort, into their hearts a belief in a far-off compassion waiting the appointed time to make itself fully manifest.
The great dome is of gold and of either black or very deep blue. Myriads of chandeliers, holding tiny glass cups, hang from the roof. Pale-yellow matting covers the plain of the floor. The silvery glimmer comes from the thousands of cups, the primrose gleam from the matting. The walls are lined with slabs of exquisite marble of many patterns and colors. Gold mosaic decorates the roof and the domes. Galleries, supported by marble arcades, and leaning on roofs of dim gold, run round a great part of the mosque, which is subtly broken up and made mysterious, enticing, and various by curved recesses of marble, by innumerable arches, some large and heavy, some fragile and delicate, by screens, and by forests of columns. Two-storied aisles flank the vast nave, through which men wander, looking almost like little dolls. So huge is the mosque that the eyes are deceived within it, and can no longer measure heights or breadths with accuracy. When I first stood in the nave I thought the chandeliers were hanging so near to the ground that it must be dangerous for a tall man to try to pass underneath them. They are, of course, really far higher than the head of a giant.
In Santa Sophia intricacy, by some magical process of genius, results in simplicity. Everything seems gently but irresistibly compelled to become a minister to the beauty and the calmness of the whole: the arcades of gray marble and gold ; the sacred mosaics of holy Mary and the six-winged seraphim, which still testify to another age and another religion; the red columns of porphyry from Baalbec's Temple of the Sun; the Ephesus columns of verd-antique; the carved capitals and the bases of shining brass; the gold and gray pulpit, with its long staircase of marble closed by a gold and green curtain, and its two miraculously beautiful flags of pearly green and faint gold, by age made more wonderful than when they first flew on the battle-field or were carried in sacred processions; the ancient prayer-rugs, fixed to the walls; the sultan's box, a sort of long gallery ending in a kiosk with a gilded grille, and raised upon marble pillars; the great doors and the curtains of dull-Ad wool; the piled carpets, which are ready against the winter, when the cool yellow matting is covered up; the great green shields in the pendentives, bearing their golden names of God and His prophet, of Ali, Osman, Omar, and AbuBekr. Everything slips into the heart of the great harmony, however precious, however simple, even however crude. There are a few ugly things in Santa Sophia—whitewash covering mosaics, stains of fierce yellow, blotches of plaster, —which should be removed. They do not really matter; one cannot heed them when one is immersed in such almost mysterious beauty.
|In the Cemetery of Eyub, on the Golden Horn|
Men and birds are at ease in Santa Sophia. Doves have made their home in the holy place. They fly under the long arcades, they circle above the galleries they rest against blocks of cool marble the color of which their plumage resembles. And all day long men pass in through the gateways, and become at once little, yet strangely significant in the vastness which encloses and liberates them. They take off their shoes and carry them, or lay them down in the wooden trays at the edges of those wide, railed-in platforms covered with matting, called masbata, which are characteristic of mosques, and which supposed to be for the use of readers of the Koran, and then they are free of the mosque. Some of them wander from place to place, silently gazing; others kneel and pray in some quiet corner; others study or sing or gossip or sink into reverie or slumber. Many go up to the masbata, take off their outer garments, and hang them over the rails, hang their hand kerchiefs beside them, tuck their legs under their bodies, and remain thus for hours, staring straight before them with solemn eyes, as if hypnotized. Children, too, go to the masbata, settle cozily down, and read the Koran aloud, interspersing their study with gay conversation. On one of them I found my singing boy. Small, fanatical, with head thrown back and the fez upon it, he defiantly poured forth his tune, while an older companion, opposite to him and looking not unlike an idol in its shrine, stared impassively, as if at the voice.
Santa Sophia is mystical in its twilight beauty. Its vastness, its shape, its arrangement, its beautifully blended colors, the effects of light and of sound within it, unite in creating an atmosphere that disposes the mind to reverie and inclines the soul to prayer. Along the exquisite marble walls, in the mellow dimness, while Stamboul just outside is buying and selling, is giving itself to love and to crime, the murmur of Islam's devotion steals almost perpetually, as mysterious as some faint and wide-spread sound of nature. The great mosque seems to be breathing out its message to the Almighty, and another message to man. The echoes are not clear, but as dim as the twilight under the arches of marble and beneath the ceilings of gold. They mingle without confusion of in a touching harmony, as all things mingle in this mosque of the great repose.
And yet not all things.
One day I saw standing alone in the emperor's doorway a child in blood-colored rags. The muezzin had called from the minaret the summons to the midday prayer, and far off before the mihrab, and the sacred carpet on which the prophet is said to have knelt, the faithful were ranged in long lines: pilgrims on the way to Mecca; Turks in quilted coats and in European dress; two dervishes with small, supple limbs and pale faces smoldering are with reverie; and some hard-bitten, sun-scorched soldiers, perhaps bound for the battle-fields of the Balkan War. Moving almost as one man, they bent, they kneeled, they touched the floor with their fore heads, leaned back, and again bowed down. Their deep and monotonous voices were very persistent in prayer. And the echoes, like secret messengers, bore the sound along the arcades, carried it up into the vast space of the dome, under the trans verse arches and the vaulted openings of the aisles, past the faint Christ on the wall, and the "Hand of the Conqueror," with horrible outspread fingers, the Sweating Column, and the Cradle of Jesus, to the child in the blood-red rags. He stood there where Theophilus entered, under the hidden words, "I am the Light of the World," gazing, listening, unaware of the marvelous effect his little figure was making, the one absolutely detached thing in the mosque. The doves flew over his head, vanishing down the marble vistas, becoming black against golden distances The murmur of worship increased in power, as more and more of the faithful stole in, shoeless, to join the ranks before the mihrab. Like incense from a thurible, mysticism floated through every part of the mosque, seeming to make the vast harmony softer, to involve in it all that was motionless there and all that was moving except the child in the emperor's doorway who was unconsciously defiant, like a patch of fresh blood on a pure-white garment. The prayers at last died away, the echoes withdrew into silence; but the child remained where he was, crude, al most sinister in his wonderful colored rags.
Close to Santa Sophia in the Seraglio grounds is the old Byzantine church Saint Irene, now painted an ugly pink, and used by the Turks as an armory and museum. It contains many spoils taken by the Turks in battle, which are carefully arranged upon tables and walls. Nothing is disdained, nothing is considered too paltry for exhibition. I saw there flags riddled with bullets, but I saw also odd boots taken from Italian soldiers in Tripoli, caps, belts, water-bottles, bloodstained tunics and cloaks, saddles, weapons, and buttons. Among relics from Yildiz Kiosk was a set of furniture which once belonged to Abdul-Hamid, and which he is said to have set much store by. It shows a very distinctive, indeed, a somewhat original taste, being made of red plush and weapons. The legs of the tables and chairs are guns and revolvers. As I looked at the chairs, I could not help wondering whether ambassadors were invited to sit in them, after they had been loaded to their muzzles or whether they were reserved for subjects whom the ex-sultan suspected of treachery. Near them were several of Abdul-Hamid's favorite walking-sticks containing revolvers, a cane with an electric light let into the knob, his inkstand, the mother-of-pearl revolver which was found in his pocket, and the handkerchief which fell from his hand when he was taken prisoner by the Young Turks, who have since brought their country to ruin.
In a series of galleries, under arches and ceilings of yellow and white, stands, sits, reclines, and squats, in Eastern fashion, a strange population of puppets, dressed in the costumes of the bygone centuries during which Turkey has ruled in Europe. Those fearful ex-Christians, the Janizaries, who were scourges of Christianity, look very mild now as they stand fatuously together, no longer either Christian or Mussulman but fatally Madame Tussaud. Once they tucked up their coats to fight for the "Father" who had ravished them away from their fathers in blood. Now, even the wicked man, who flees when no one pursueth, could scarcely fear them. Near them the chief eunuch, a plump and piteous gentleman, reclines absurdly upon his divan, holding his large black pipe, and obsequiously attended by a bearded dwarf in red and by a thin aide-de-camp in green. The Sheik ul Islam bends beneath the coiled dignity of his monstrous turban; a really lifelike old man, with a curved gray beard and a green-and-white turban, reads the Koran perpetually; and soldiers with faces made of some substance that looks like plaster return blankly the gaze of the many real soldiers who visit this curious show.
One day, when I was strolling among the puppets of Saint Irene, some soldiers followed me round. They were deeply interested in all that they saw, and at last became interested in me. Two or three of them addressed me in Turkish, which, alas! I could not understand. I gathered, however, that they were seriously explaining the puppets to me, and were giving me information about the Janizaries, and Orkhan, who was the founder of that famous corps. I responded as well as I could with gestures, which seemed to satisfy them, for they kept close beside me, and one, a gigantic fellow with pugnacious mustaches, frequently touched my arm, and once even took me by the hand to draw my attention to a group which he specially admired. All this was done with gravity and dignity, and with a childlike lack of self-consciousness. We parted excellent friends. I distributed cigarettes, which were received with smiling gratitude, and went on my way to Seraglio Point, realizing that there is truth in the saying that every Turk is a gentleman.
Upon Seraglio Point I found many more soldiers resting in groups by the edge of the sea, upon the waste ground that lies at the foot of the walls, beyond the delightful abandoned glades that are left to run wild and to shelter the birds. If you wish to understand something of the curious indifference that hangs, like moss, about the Turk, visit Seraglio Point. There, virtually in Stamboul, is one of the most beautifully situated bits of land in the world. Though really part of a great city, much of it has not been built upon. Among the trees on the ridge, looking to Marmora and Asia, to the Bosporus and the palaces, to the Golden Horn, Galata, and Pera, lie the many buildings and courts of the Old Seraglio, fairy-like in their wood. The snowy cupolas, the minaret, and towers look ideally Eastern. They suggest romantic and careless lives, cradled in luxury and ease. In that white vision one might dream away the days, watching from afar the pageant of the city and the seas, hearing from afar the faint voices of the nations, listening to strange and monotonous music, toying with coffee and rose-leaf jam in the jewel-like kiosk of Bagdad, and dreaming, always dreaming. There once the sultan dwelt in the Eski-Serai, which exists no longer, and, there was built the great Summer Palace, which was inhabited by Suleiman I and by his successors. Hidden in the Old Seraglio there are many treasures, among them the magnificent' Persian throne, which is covered with gold and jewels. Beyond this neglected wonder-world the woods extend toward the waters—hanging woods by the sea; and the Turks care nothing about them. One may not wander through them; one may not sit in them ; one may only look at them, and long to lose oneself in their darkness and silence, to vanish in their secret recesses. The Turk leaves them alone, to rot or to flourish, as Allah and nature will it.
|Royal gate leading to the Old Seraglio|
On the third of Stamboul's seven hills stands the Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent, all glorious without, as Santa Sophia is not, but disappointing within, despite its beautiful windows of jeweled glass from Persia, and the plaques of wonderful tiles which cover the wall on each side of the mihrab. Somber and dark, earth-colored and gray, dark green and gold, it has a poorly painted cupola and much plastered stone, which is ugly; but there is fascination in its old dimness, in its silence and desertion. More than once I was quite alone with it, and was able, undisturbed, to notice its chief internal beauty—the exquisite proportions which trick you at first into believing it to be much smaller than it is.
When seen from without, it looks colossal. It is splendid and imposing, but it is much more, for it has a curiously fantastic and, indeed, almost whimsical charm, as if its builder, Sinan, had been a playful genius, full of gaiety and exuberance of spirit, who made this great mosque with joy and with lightness of heart, but who never forgot for a moment his science, and who could not be vulgar even in his most animated moments of invention. Massiveness and grace are blended together in this beautiful exterior. Round the central dome multitudes of small domes—airy bubbles thrown up on the surface of the mosque—are grouped with delightful fantasy. Four minarets, the two farthest from the mosque smaller than their brethren, soar above the trees. They are gray, and the walls of the mosque are gray and white. In the forecourt there is a fine fountain covered with a cupola; the roof of the cloisters which surround it is broken up into twenty-four little domes. A garden lies behind the mosque, and the great outer court is planted with trees.
In the garden are the turbehs, or tombs, of Suleiman the Magnificent and of Roxalana, "the joyous one," that strange captive from Russia, who by her charm and the power of her temperament subdued a nation's ruler, who shared the throne of the sultan, who guided his feet in the ways of crime, and who to the day of her death was adored by him. For Roxalana's sake, Suleiman murdered his eldest son by another wife, and crept out from behind a curtain to look upon him dead; and for Roxalana's sake that son's son was stabbed to death in his mother's arms. Now the fatal woman sleeps in a great octagonal marble tomb near the tomb of her lord and slave.
An atmosphere of peace and of hoary age broods over these tombs and the humble graves that crowd close about them. Mulberry-trees, fig-trees, and cypresses throw patches of shade on the rough gray pavement, in which is a small oval pool, full of water lest the little birds should go thirsty. A vine straggles over a wall nearby; weeds and masses of bright yellow flowers combine their humble efforts to be decorative; and the call to prayer drops down from the mighty minarets to this strange garden of stones, yellow flowers, and weeds, where the lovers rest in the midst of Stamboul, which once feared and adored them. They were two criminals, but there was strength in their wickedness, strength in their pride and their passion. Romance attended their footsteps, and romance still lingers near them.
One morning, as I sat beneath the noble fig-tree which guards Roxalana's tomb, and listened to the voice of the muezzin floating over old Stamboul, and watched the birds happily drinking at the edge of their little basin in the pavement, I thought of the influence of cities. Does not Stamboul forever incite to intrigue, to lawlessness, to bloodshed? The muezzin calls to prayer, but from old Stamboul arises another voice, sending forth an opposing summons. Suleiman heard it echoed by Roxalana and slew his son; Roxalana heard and obeyed it; and how many others have listened and been fatally moved by it! It has sounded even across the waters of the sea and over the forests of Yildiz, and Armenians have been slain by thousands while Europe looked on. And perhaps in our day, and after we are gone, old Stamboul will command from its seven hills, and will be horribly obeyed.
I shall always remember, among many less famous buildings, the small mosque of Rustem Pasha near the Egyptian bazaar, with its beautiful arcade and its strangely confused interior, full of loveliness and bad taste, of atrocious modern painting and oleographic horrors, mingled with exquisite marble and perfect tiles. The wall of the arcade gleams with lustrous faience, purple and red, azure and milk-white, and with patterns of great flowers with green centers and turquoise leaves. I recall, too, the Mosaic Mosque, once the church of the monastery of the Chora, which stands on a hill from which Stamboul looks like a beautiful village embowered in green, cheerful and gaily fascinating. The church is ugly outside, yellow and lead-colored, with a white plaster minaret, and it is surrounded by wooden shanties like booths; but its mosaics are very interesting and beautiful, and its chief muezzin, Mustafa Effendi, is a delight in his long golden robe and his yellow turban.
Mustafa Effendi was born near Brusa in Asia Minor, but for forty-two years he has held the office of chief muezzin at the Mosaic Mosque, on which all his thoughts seem centered. He speaks English a little, and has an almost inordinate sense of humor. As he pointed out the mosaics to me with his wrinkled hand, he abounded in comment, and more than once his thin voice was almost overwhelmed by ill-suppressed laughter. He seemed especially entertained as he drew my attention to two birds on the wall—" Monsieur Peacock and Madame Peahen," and he was obliged to abandon all dignity and to laugh outright when we came to a company of saints and angels.
The most sacred mosque in Turkey lies outside of Stamboul, at Eyub, far up the Golden Horn and not very distant from Zile "sweet waters of Europe." In it, on their accession, the sultans are solemnly girded with Osman's sword instead of being crowned. Eyub is a place of tombs. Chief eunuchs and grand viziers sleep near the sea in great mausoleums enclosed within gilded railings, and some of them surrounded by gardens; on the hillside above them thousands of the faithful rest under cypresses in graves marked by dusty headstones leaning awry.
The center, or heart, of Eyub is a pleasant village, which gathers closely about the mosque, and is full of a quietly cheerful life. Just beyond the court of the mosque is a Turkish bath, where masseurs, with shaven heads and the usual tuft, lounge in the sunshine while waiting for customers. Nearby are many small shops and cafes. In one of the latter I ate an excellent meal of rice and fat mutton, cooked on a spit which revolved in the street. If you stray from the center of the village toward the outskirts, you find yourself in a deserted rummage of tombs, of white columns, white cupolas, cloisters, rooms for theological students, mausoleums of white and pink marble. No footsteps resound on the pavement of the road, no voices are heard in the little gardens, no eyes look out through the railings. As I wandered through the sunshine to the small stone platform where the sultan descends from his horse when he comes to be girded with the sword, I saw no sign of life; and the only noise that I heard was the persistent tap of a hammer near the sea, where his Majesty is building an imperial mosque of white stone from Trebizond.
Presently, growing weary of the white and silent streets of the tombs, I turned into a narrow alley that ran by a grated wall, above which great trees towered, climbing toward heaven with the minaret of the Mosque of Eyub, but failing in their journey a little below the muezzin's balcony. They were cypresses, and creepers climbed affectionately with them. Just beyond them I came into the court of the mosque, and found myself in the midst of a crowd of pilgrims before the tomb of Abu Eyub, which is covered with gilding and faience. Near it is a fountain protected by magnificent plane-trees which are surrounded by iron railings decorated with dervish caps.
|Mosque of Santa Sophia, Constantinople|
I had been told more than once that the Christian dog is unwelcome in Eyub, and I was soon made aware of it. In the facade of the tomb there is a hole through which one can look into the interior. Taking my turn among the pilgrims, I presently stood in front of this aperture; and was about to peep in discreetly when a curtain was sharply drawn across it by someone inside. I waited for a moment, but in vain; the curtain was not drawn back, so at last I meekly went on my way, feeling rather humiliated. A Greek friend afterward told me that an imam was stationed within the tomb, and that no doubt he had drawn the curtain against me because I was an unbeliever.
Duly chastened by this rebuff, I nevertheless went on to the mosque, and was allowed to go in for a moment on making a payment. The attendant was very rough and suspicious in manner, and watched me as if I were a criminal; and the pilgrims who thronged the interior stared at me with open hostility. I thought it wiser, therefore, to make only a cursory examination of the handsome marble interior, with its domes and semi-domes, and afterward, with a sense of relief, took my way up the hillside, to spend an hour among the leaning gravestones in the shade of the cypresses. Each stone above the grave of a man was carved with a fez, each woman's stone with a flower; and tiny holes formed receptacles to collect the rainwater, so that the birds might refresh themselves above the dust of the departed.
The great field of the dead was very tranquil that day. I saw only two closely veiled women moving slowly in the distance and an old Turk sitting with a child, at the edge of the hill before a cafe.
On the bare hill to my left I saw the white gleam of the stones in a Jewish cemetery; and, beneath, the pale curve of the Golden Horn, ending in the peace of the desolate country. Red-roofed Eyub, shredding out into blanched edges of cupolas and tombs by the sultan's landing-place, marked the base of the hill; and, beyond, in the distance, mighty Stamboul, brown, with red lights here and there where the sun struck a roof, streamed away to Seraglio Point. The great prospect was closed by the shadowy mountains of Asia, among which I divined, rather than actually saw, the crest of Olympus.
In these Turkish cemeteries there is a romantic and poignant melancholy such as I have found in no other places of tombs. They breathe out an atmosphere of fatalism, of bloodless resignation to the inevitable. Their dilapidation suggests rather than mere indifference a sense of the uselessness of care. Dust unto dust, and there an end. But far off in Stamboul the minarets contradict the voices that whisper over the fields of the dead; for the land of the Turk is the home of contradictions, and among them there are some that are welcome.
To rid myself of the clinging impression of sadness that stole over me among the cypresses of Eyub, later in the day I took a boat to the shore of Asia, and visited the English graveyard at Haidar Pasha, where long ago Florence Nightingale established her hospital for soldiers wounded in the Crimean War, and where now Germans have built an elaborate station from which some day we shall be able to set out for Bagdad. Already smart corridor cars, with white roofs and spotlessly clean curtains, and with "Bagdad" printed in large letters upon them, are running from the coast to mysterious places in the interior of Asia. In the excellent restaurant beer flows freely. If the mystic word "Verboten" were not absent from the walls, one might fancy himself in Munich on entering the station at Haidar Pasha. On the hill just above the station lies the English cemetery, a delightful garden of rest, full of hope and peace. It is beautifully kept, and contains the home of the guardian, a British soldier, who lives with his wife and daughters in a cozy stone bungalow fronted by flower-beds and trees. Close to his house is a grave with a broken column, raised on a platform which is approached by three steps and surrounded by a circular grass-plot. Here I found a serious Montenegrin, one of the workers in the cemetery, busily employed. He had spread sheets of paper all over the grass-plot, and up the steps of the grave, and had scattered above them a great mass of wool which suggested a recent sheep-shearing. When I came up he was adding more wool to the mass with a sort of grave ardor. I asked him what the wool was for and why he was spreading it out. He glanced up solemnly and replied:
"It is for my bed. I live in that shed over there, and am preparing my mattress for the winter."
And he continued quietly and dexterously to scatter the wool over the tomb.
The cemetery, which looks out over the sea and the beautiful shores of Europe, is full of the graves of soldiers who died of wounds received in the Crimean War, or of maladies caught in camp and in the trenches. Among them lie the bodies of many devoted women who worked to allay their sufferings.
Bent perpetually on escape from the uproar of Pera, in which at night I was forced to dwell, I made more than one excursion to the walls and the seven towers of Stamboul. There are three sets of walls, the land, the sea, and the harbor walls. The Seven Towers, Yedi Kuleh, are very near to the Sea of Marmora, and are now unused and deserted, the home no longer of imprisoned ambassadors, of sultans, and viziers, but of winds from the islands and from Asia, of grass, yellow wild-flowers, and the fallen leaves of the autumn. When I went there I was alone save for one very old man, the peaceful successor of the Janizaries who long ago garrisoned this marvelous place of terror and crime. With him at my heels I wandered among the trees of the deserted enclosure, surrounded by gray and crenelated walls, above which the towers rose up grimly toward the windy sky; I penetrated through narrow corridors of stone; I crawled through gaps and clambered over masses of rubble and fallen masonry; I visited tiny and sinister chambers enclosed in the thickness of the walls; peered through small openings; came out unexpectedly on terraces. And the old man muttered and mumbled in my ears, monotonously and without emotion, the history of crime connected with the place. Here someone was starved to death; here another was strangled by night; in this chamber a French ambassador was held captive; the blood of a sultan dyed these stones red; at the foot of this bit of wall there was a massacre; just there some great person was blinded. And, with the voice in my ears, I looked and I saw white butterflies flitting, with their frivolous purity, among the leaves of acacia-trees, and snails crawling lethargically over rough gray stones. Near the Golden Gate, where an earthquake has shaken down much of the wall, and the Byzantine dove of carved stone still remains—ironically?—as an emblem of peace, was a fig-tree giving green figs; Marmora shone from afar; in the waterless moat that stretches at the feet of the walls the grasses were waving, the ivy grew thick, here and there big patches of vegetables gave token of the forethought and industry of men. And beyond, stretching away as far as eye could see, the cemeteries without the city disappeared into distances, everywhere shadowed by those tremendous, almost terrible, cypresses that watch over the dead in the land of the Turk.
Beauty and sadness, crime and terror, wonderful romance, and a ghastly desolation, seemed brooding over this strange region beyond the reach of the voices of the city. Even the ancient man was silent at last. He had recited all the horrors his old memory contained, and at my side he stood gazing with bleary eyes across the moat and the massy cypresses, and with me, he turned to capture the shining of Marmora.
On the farther verge of the moat three dogs, which had somehow escaped the far-flung nets, wandered slowly seeking for offal; some women hovered darkly among the graves; a thin, piercing cry that was not without a wild sweetness, rose to me from somewhere below. I looked down, and there, among the rankly growing grasses of the moat, I saw a young girl, very thin, her black hair hanging, and bound with bright handkerchiefs, sketching vaguely a danse du ventre. As I looked she became more precise in her movements, and her cries grew more fierce and imperative. From some hovel, hidden among the walls, other children streamed out, with cries and contortions, to join her. For here among the ruins the Turkish Gypsies have made their home.
I threw down some coins and turned away. And as I went, returning through the old places of assassination, I was pursued by a whining of pipes and a thrumming of distant guitars. The Gypsies of old Stamboul were trying to lure me down from my fastness to make merry with them among the tombs.
From The Century Magazine – August 1913.