Thursday, July 12, 2018

1900 | Galata



The Story of the old Capital of the Empire by William Holden Hutton, 
Fellow of S. John Baptist College, Oxford.

Illustrated by Sydney Cooper

London: J. M. Dent & Co.
Aldine House, 29 and 30 Bedford Street
Covent Garden, W.C.  1900

The two acts of tragedy by which it has been attempted to destroy a large, and that perhaps the richest and most progressive, part of the population of Constantinople, emphasise an important historical fact.  Not only by the importations of Mohammed II., but gradually during the four centuries and a half that have elapsed since the Conquest, the population of Constantinople has changed its character. Pera and Galata are the home of a mixed race, of whom every writer says hard words, and of many nationalities still striving to preserve their separate life. Greeks, Italians, Germans, French, English, immigrants from the Balkan lands, are the most prominent, after the Jews and the wealthy Armenians. The divisions that are to be seen in the Orthodox Church, perpetuated by politicians for their own purposes, are the reflection of the national and political divisions that we pass through on our way to Constantinople and find there in full force. Every league nearer to the city walls, as the railway drags its tedious length, is a step nearer to barbarism; and Pera is indeed but a poor outpost of civilisation. It has over it a veneer of the West. As you walk through the streets you might think yourself in an inferior Italian city; when you descend to Galata, down steep streets, half stairways, you pass through the gate of the Middle Ages into a town like any cosmopolitan seaport, crowded with sailors and travellers of all nations.

The Galata bridge, the most wonderful pathway in Europe, with its thousands of passengers in every strange garb, its Parisian carriages, its Arab steeds bearing alert officers, its beggars, mollahs, white turbaned and white coated toll-takers, its ceaseless stream of life all day long, brings you to the harbour, the historic anchorage of great ships for fifteen hundred years or more. "Eothen" has said once for all what comes to mind as we gaze at that magnificent sight, life, ships, walls, domes, minarets.

"Even if we don't take a part in the chaunt about 'Mosques and Minarets,' we can still yield praises to Stamboul. We can chaunt about the harbour; we can say and sing that nowhere else does the sea come so home to a city; there are no pebble shores—no sand bars—no slimy river beds—no black canals—no locks nor docks to divide the very heart of the place from the deep waters; if being in the noisiest part of Stamboul, you would stroll to the quiet side of the way amidst those cypresses opposite, you will cross the fathomless Bosphorus; if you would go from your hotel to the Bazaars, you must pass by the bright blue pathway of the Golden Horn, that can carry a thousand sail of the line. You are accustomed to the gondolas that glide among the palaces of St Mark, but here at Stamboul it is a hundred-and-twenty-gun-ship that meets you in the street. Venice strains out from the steadfast land, and in old times would send forth the chief of the state to woo and wed the reluctant sea; but the stormy bride of the Doge is the bowing slave of the Sultan—she comes to his feet with the treasures of the world—she bears him from palace to palace—by some unfailing witchcraft, she entices the breezes to follow her, and fan the pale cheek of her lord—she lifts his armed navies to the very gates of his garden—she watches the walls of his serail—she stifles the intrigues of his Ministers—she quiets the scandals of his Court—she extinguishes his rivals, and hushes his naughty wives all one by one, so vast are the wonders of the deep!"[49]

But you cross the bridge, or you take a caique, and land under the old walls; you pass through some gateway, scarcely recognisable; and in a moment you are in a new life. It is the East. The hundreds of solemn figures climbing the hill to the daily afternoon prayers at the mosque of Mohammed the Conqueror; the busy market that goes on outside the walls, the stalls displaying everything that man needs to buy, the carpets, the great earthenware vessels, marked in white wax with delicate arabesques, the fresh fruits, the strange liquors, the stranger cates. A few yards off and you are among the streets that belong to particular trades, the workers in brass, the cobblers, the blacksmiths, the horse-dealers, the sellers of every conceivable object under the sun, all in their windowless shops, laughing, talking, selling, with that stately mien which makes a ceremonial of the simplest act. There is no vulgar European haste here, no chattering impatience to serve or to bargain; the ages as they have passed over the place seem to have left their solemn impress on the people. Let the story-teller come and amuse them; for themselves they will not hurry or fret or speed. All is dignified, stately, restrained. This is a Turkish quarter, but the Turks are rarely indeed of pure blood. Almost every Asiatic race, and many European nationalities, have gone to make the Turks of Stambûl—pilgrims from the far East, Christian slaves, converts to Islam from every quarter of the globe. Negroes are constantly to be met with, eunuchs, slaves, and free trading folk. Pass further on and you are among the Jews, who remain as large a proportion of the population as in the fifteenth century, when some forty thousand of them were to be found in Stambûl. It was they who first opened regular shops for the sale of manufactured goods, and the greatest shops in the Bazaar to-day are the property of Jews. In the great Bazaar with its intricate streets and quarters, a great desolation reigns. The Jews and the Europeans have invaded its recesses, and the pictures that the old books draw of the haggling and the humour and the riches, have no meaning to-day. In the enclosure of the Ahmediyeh you may see characteristic Eastern sights. There a man sits being shaved. There are stalls heaped with fruit. There are sellers pressing rich stuffs and linen on Turkish ladies as they pass. And indeed it is not all stateliness even among the Turks. Desert the streets of the leather-sellers and the brass-workers, come down to the markets by the mosques, and there is enough vigorous and vivacious life. In the harbour among the shipping, where the rowers of caiques clamour for employment, in the Greek quarter, or in the Psamatia among the poorer Armenians, there is plenty of stir and movement. For a succession of pictures, there is no city like Constantinople. Pilgrims from the far East, Mongolians, Persians, men of Bokhara and Khiva, negroes from the heart of Africa, armed many of them to the teeth, most with the strange wistful half frightened look of strangers and foreigners in a civilisation of which they have not dreamed; the groups at the fountains, the staid ancients smoking solemnly at the doors, the closed windows with the wooden lattices, through which sometimes comes a sound of soft music, the tramp of armed men, the clatter of cavalry as they trot up the street, the endless processions of donkeys and draught horses, and sometimes camels,—these sights and sounds are, in the sunlight by the old walls, in the narrow streets, or by the great domed mosques, never to be forgotten or to be rivalled in Europe to-day.

Constantinople remains, with all its changes, a city of the dark ages. At any moment the curtain may be lifted on a scene of tragic horror, and meanwhile there is the grotesque mimicry of Western civilisation, the parade of meaningless forms, justice, government, finance, which in a moment may be destroyed, which never have, it is hardly an exaggeration to say, any real meaning. How does the city fare? Even now, interviews with officials, walks through 229 the streets of Stambûl, the sights of each day, remind one irresistibly of "a chapter in Gibbon or some tale of wonder in the Arabian Nights." Soberly and solemnly the Turks go about their business. Before the horrors of the last decade an observer who knew well the people and the history wrote these words.

"I have been present in the city during the deposition of two Sultans. The most striking characteristic in the circumstances attending these depositions was the utter indifference of the great body of the native, and especially of the Moslem, population to the change which was being made. There was a small but active party which took action, but beyond this there was comparatively very little excitement; no resistance, no rioting, no expression of dissatisfaction. When newspaper correspondents and foreigners generally were aware that a revolution was in preparation, it is impossible to believe that thousands of Turks and rayahs were in ignorance of the fact. The general feeling among the Sultan's subjects was one of indifference. If the conspirators failed it would go hardly with them. If they succeeded it would go hardly with the Sultan. That business only regarded the parties concerned. Beyond a vague belief that any change could hardly be followed by a worse condition of things than had existed, there was no public sentiment on the matter."[50]

The words would be as true to-day. Save only at moments of sudden and fanatic excitement, organised there can be no doubt at least under the impression that there is a religious duty, and a command which may not be disobeyed, the calm of the city is unbroken. We seem to be standing with Candide when he heard the news that "two viziers of the bench and the mufti had just been strangled at Constantinople, and several of their friends impaled," and when he heard the instructive comments of the old Turk who never knew the name of any vizier or mufti. "I presume," said that sage, "that in general such as are concerned in public affairs come to a miserable end, and that they deserve it; but I never enquire what is doing at Constantinople. I am content with sending thither the produce of my garden, which I cultivate with my own hands." To-day it would seem that the people of Constantinople are of the same mind with this philosopher. "Our country is rich, capable of prosperity, and of supporting in comfort twenty times its present population; but alas a gang of robbers has seized it," are the published words of a Turkish prince. Vice and luxury and despotism triumph. Eh bien! je sais qu'il faut cultiver notre jardin.

This at any rate may be said. It is idle to prophecy the future of the Ottoman power in Europe. Has the last Greek war really strengthened it? Does the approach of Russia foreshadow an occupation of Constantinople and the longed for return of S. Sophia to the worship of the Orthodox Church? Of all people the English are the least fitted to foresee the future. Nothing can be more ludicrous than the letters of Tom Hughes, an observer acute enough, written from Constantinople in 1862, in which he says that Islam is all but dead, and that what the Turks want is the English public-school system. The Turk hears such things with a smile; il faut cultiver notre jardin.

[49] Eothen, pp. 30, 31. 
[50] Pears, Conquest of Constantinople.

excerpt pg 225-230

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