THE GORDION KNOT OF HISTORY: Drawing in Museums

In honor of the recently desecrated Guardians of Nimrud, we repost this classic piece on the importance, not to mention the fun, of museums. Thanks to them, the Guardians are still with us. Read on, and keep reading, to go with them through the Gates and down the garden path, in unexpected company.

ALEXANDER RIDES TO MIDAS

Alexander Rides to Midas

Alexander Rides to Midas (Archeological Museum, Istanbul) ©2012 Trici Venola.

Alexander the Great died in 323 BC. He was 33.  Alexander died of a bone infection from an old arrow wound.  It’s possible that his immune system was compromised by his grief, bordering on dementia, over the death of Hephaestion, his closest friend, greatest general, second in command and, some say, the love of his life.

Hephaestion Straight Up

Hephaestion

Like the god he believed himself to be, the Golden Conqueror would never age. He won the respect and admiration of his own time and successive generations. In awe and affection they continue to laud him, creating imagery in all media from marble to film.

His actual body was mummified in Alexandria, Egypt, by Egyptian necromancers, and was still in a good state of preservation three centuries after his death, when Caesar Augustus leaned into its glass sarcophagus to kiss the Conqueror and, slipping, broke off the mummy’s nose. But Alexander’s tomb and body disappeared. The Alexander Sarcophagus in Istanbul’s Archeological Museum is the nearest thing we have.

Alexander Sarcophagus Detail

Alexander is still fighting and hunting lions on this museum centerpiece  from the great Necropolis at Sidon.  The stunning bas-relief was created by unknown talent during Alexander’s lifetime. It’s possible that the artist actually set eyes on him.

Alexander SarcophagusThe art commemorates victory over the Persians at the Battle of Issus in what is now Turkey, and Hephaestion is there fighting as well. Scholars argue over who was buried in the tomb, but he may have commissioned the work before his death with an eye toward Alexandrian help in future battles. The Alexander Sarcophagus was discovered, in what is now Lebanon, in 1887 and brought to Istanbul by Osman Hamdi Bey, the great Ottoman statesman, archeologist and artist who built Istanbul’s Archeological Museum.

Alex In Better Shape

Alexander Is In Better Shape (Archeological Museum. Istanbul) ©1999 Trici Venola.

Alexander in MuseumAnd here is the rock star himself, Alexander. This still has traces of yellow paint in the marble hair, rose on the lips. It’s one of several done in the second century BC, when the artist might have had Alexander’s mummy to work from. I find this plausible because the forehead wrinkles are realistic for Alexander but idealized out of many statues.

THE GORDION KNOT

 In the drawing up top, Alexander rubs shoulders with an ancient Cypriot statue of Bes, the God of Plenty, a Hittite lion 5500 years old, and King Midas. A skeletal cohort of Midas– nobody knows who it is- rests upstairs among swanky grave goods built of boxwood from 740 BC. Midas was  King of the Phrygians, whose capitol of Gordion is near Turkey’s capitol, Ankara. The Phrygians invented a smelting technique that made bronze shine like gold, so yes, everything Midas touched turned to gold. And we thought it was just a fairy tale. Here’s some Midas Gold in the Archeological Museum in Antalya. It actually looks like titanium. There’s also a Madonna whose breasts weep blood, three jolly bronze creatures and a festive phallic bronze pin. I love drawing in museums. The stuff in those cases is laughing at you.

Midas Gold

Midas Gold (Archeological Museum, Antalya) ©2000 Trici Venola.

Gordion is the Home of the Gordion Knot. More fairy tales: Nobody could untie the Gordion Knot. Alexander famously solved this dilemma. He pulled out his sword and cut it.

Alexander Cuts the Gordion Knot

Alexander Cuts the Gordion Knot by Jean-Simon Barthelemy (1743-1811)

The Gordion Knot

A rendition of the Gordion Knot.

Turkey is a veritable Gordion Knot of history. The threads keep weaving in and out, disappearing and reappearing, and I will never ever live long enough to unravel it. In a beloved tale, King MIdas judged Pan the winner in a music contest with Apollo, and a furiously un-godlike Apollo gave him donkey’s ears. The little figures below are Midas Gold and smaller than a hand. I haven’t yet been to the museum in Ankara, now in restoration, but look forward to its re-opening, when we can see Midas’s magnificent wooden furniture preserved and reassembled over years by dedicated archeologists.

Antalya Museum Intro

Antalya Museum Intro (Archeological Museum, Antalya) ©2000 Trici Venola.

LIONS CAN LIVE THOUSANDS OF YEARS That Hittite lion back in Istanbul has fellows all over what is now Turkey. Aslantepe (Lion Hill) Huge dig near Malatya features a jocular fountain lion and many real pussycats.

Aslantepe Huge Intro

Aslantepe Huge Intro (Aslantepe Huge Excavation, Malatya) ©2004 Trici Venola.

The museum at the University in Elazig was full of artifacts from Paleolithic to Ottoman. It’s the only place I’ve ever been offered a chair, not to mention tea and conversation.

Reyhan in Elazig Muse ©2004 by Trici Venola.

Reyhan in Elazig Muse ©2004 by Trici Venola.

I love the combination of tribal art and ancient artifacts found all over rural Turkey. Here’s a collection from Aslantepe Huge:

Malatya Artifacts

Malatya Artifacts (Aslantepe Huge Excavation, Malatya) ©2004 Trici Venola.

Here’s a Hittite courtroom, drawn in situ in Turkey in 2004. The culprit sat in the hot seat, surrounded by devils– those paintings on the walls– and was judged by a group. Not much has changed in 5500 years, if you consider the paparazzi.

Hittite Hot Seat

Hittite Hot Seat (Aslantepe Huge Excavation, Malatya) ©2004 Trici Venola.

NIMRUD IN HOLLYWOOD The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is one of the more civilized museums in the world, allowing artists to carry in sketchbooks and work at any time. But they go farther still. I drew this winged, lion-bodied Assyrian Guardian and mapped his beard curls to render when I wasn’t standing up– on feet that felt like two hot anvils pounding upward. But I neglected to render one curl to go by. I went back next day, but the exhibit was closed. At the guard station I explained the problem while flipping pages in the sketchbook. “All I need is five minutes,” I said, and those enlightened people called the actual curator who personally came downstairs, escorted me up to the exhibit, unlocked it and stood there while I drew the beard curl. Now THAT’s a museum!!

Assyrian King at the Met

Assyrian Guardian at the Met (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art) ©2002 Trici Venola.

Nimrud Bird Djinn

Nimrud, Bird Djinn

To the right of the bearded Guardian is a piece from a personal puzzle: that male figure with a bird head, wings and a sideways Egyptian stance, symbol of exotica and ancient mystery. This image strides through my earliest memories, associated with Echo Park, with klieg lights across the sky and the smell of eucalyptus, an enduring symbol of Old Hollywood, of Los Angeles, of home. What a shock to discover this dear and familiar figure to be a djinn– a genie, relic of Nimrud, in Mesopotamia, oceans and continents and millennia away from a childhood in California. I was totally immersed in the Middle East, obsessed with moving to Turkey, drawing to learn more. Echo Park had been the furthest thing from my mind. I stood there in the Met with my mouth open while images strobed through my memory. DW Griffith’s silent epic Intolerance, shot in Hollywood in 1916, stunned viewers with its exotic representation of Babylon. See the figures on the gate?

Griffith Intolerance Set

Set of Babylon, DW Griffith’s Intolerance, Hollywood 1916.

Antiquities in the Middle East were being discovered at the same time as the medium of film. DW Griffith’s Babylon featured this same djinn, still parading in Hollywood shopping malls to this day.

Hollywood Highland Center

Hollywood Highland Center, 2004.

One Ramadan, drawing from memory Eastern Turkish women seen on the tram, I was compelled by a certain strength in their features to intersperse them with Mesopotamian deities. After all, these faces are all from the same region.

Ramadan Women

Ramadan Women ©2011 Trici Venola.

Nimrud is on the Tigris, just southeast of the eastern Turkish border. It was originally excavated in the 1850s. One example of our bird-djinn was surely found between then and Intolerance. DW Griffith employed artists from all over the world. One of them knew the image, which was used precisely because of that sense of ancient mystery it conveys. Many more were found at Nimrud in 1931 by archeologist Max Mallowan. The one above,  used as reference for the djinn drawing, was photographed by his wife, Agatha Christie.

Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie at Nimrud, c1937.

AGATHA CHRISTIE? That Gordion Knot again! The most prolific and well-known mystery writer of all time was no stranger to Hollywood, since so many movies have been made of her novels, including Murder on the Orient Express which begins in Istanbul, where she often stayed on her way to and from her husband’s digs in Mesopotamia. I had always associated Agatha Christie with floral dresses, trains, lorgnettes, a detective with patent-leather hair. But here she is in the dusty winds of the Middle East. She funded many digs, used up her face-cream cleaning ancient sculpture, and was an inveterate shutter-bug. She photographed many of the considerable Mallowan finds and wound up on many a museum plaque, along with all those best-seller lists.

Big Faces Agape

Big Faces Agape (Archeological Museum, Istanbul) ©2012 Trici Venola.

Turkey is a mystery I will never solve, but it sure is fun trying. One way is to travel, and another way is to go into the museums and draw. When I get fascinated by a piece of art and draw it, I learn more and more about this place. Everyone was here, many at the same time. Check out these strange bedfellows from the 2nd century AD, at the Archeological Museum in Antalya.

Unholy Trio

Strange Bedfellows.detail (Archeological Museum, Antalya) ©2000 Trici Venola.

Priapus, God of Sexual Enthusiasm, was as popular with the ancients as he is with us. The one on all those postcards is in Selchuk, along with many other aspects of love.

Eros & Priapus

Aspects of Love (Selchuk Museum) ©2012 Trici Venola.

There’s Priapus actual size– fist-sized–  at right center. He was in a glass case with a light you press for two minutes of illumination. I kept pushing the button so I could see to draw, and looked up to see a large crowd– the entire museum!– standing behind watching and giggling.

THE BYZANTINE FANTASY ZOO

Dragon Lamp at the Met

Dragon Lamp at the Met (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art) ©2002 Trici Venola.

It turns out that a dragon was a symbol of Christianity. So was a foot, which represented pilgrimage. Drawing in the Met, I realized that Christianity had spread all over the Middle East long before Islam. It incorporated all the fantastic animals of the Shamanistic religions that preceded it.

Peter Paul and Mary at the Met

Peter, Paul and Mary at the Met (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art) ©2002 Trici Venola.

Thanks to the movies, the co-mingled Egyptian animal-human gods are old friends. But who ever heard of a Senmurv, a rocking-horse-like winged creature with a peacock tail?

Byzantine Trappings

Byzantine Trappings (Archeological Museum, Istanbul) ©1999 Trici Venola.

Bosch Delights.Detail

Hieronymus Bosch, Hell.detail, 16th century.

All the early Christian exhibits are full of these strange co-mingled creatures: bird-headed lions, griffins, dragons,  hippogriffs, pigs with wings. By the Middle Ages, artists were using them to populate Hell, most famously Hieronymus Bosch. The ancients combined lions and eagles and bulls. Bosch used animals he saw in Holland: frogs, birds, cats, mice, rabbits. Gradually these conglomerate fiends disappeared from Christian art, and all that is left of them now are those gargoyles on Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Gargoyles

Gargoyles, Notre Dame, Paris 2000.

Heaven got the winged deities. The visual depictions of angels evolved from those Shamanistic figures, from fiery six-winged Seraphim to Cupid-inspired cherubs. And this powerful winged male figure: our dear and familiar djinn with a human head: the Archangel.

The Archangel Michael, by Guido Reni, 16th Century.

The Archangel Michael, by Guido Reni, 16th Century.

A PRIDE OF LIONS

On the Steps of the Met

On the Steps of the Met (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art) ©2002 Trici Venola.

Not every fabulous museum denizen is in a glass case. Derek here posed on the steps of the Met with all the insouciance of one of the stone lions within, while I was able to delight nine-year-old Faisal by drawing his incipient mustache.

Assyrian Lions

Assyrian Lions (The British Museum, London) ©2006 Trici Venola.

Lord Elgin was the British ambassador to Ottoman Istanbul. Distressed at the rural peoples’ indifference to antiquities, he bought as many as he could afford, bullying an old friend into building an entire wing at The British Museum to house them, and bankrupting himself in the process. This is now a cause of discord between Turkey and England, but in the end the glories are preserved. Many village walls sport chunks of carving along with the rock and brick.

The Lion from Xanthos

The Lion from Xanthos (The British Museum, London) ©2006 Trici Venola.

In The British Museum, while drawing these lions from Xanthos, I was surrounded by schoolchildren. In uniforms, with sketchbooks, little Harry Potters all, saying in those lovely accents, “Are you actually drawing those lions? Truly?”  Yes, I said, these lions are from Xanthos, a city in Turkey. They were astonished, they were entranced. They had not known that Turkey is the Asia Minor referred to in the museum. My sketchbook at that time had pictures of the British Ambassador to Turkey, our Anglican Canon, the chandeliers in the British Consulate, and Cappadocia.

Big Church in Goreme

Big Church in Goreme (Goreme, Cappadocia) ©2006 Trici Venola.

What these kids loved was the Open Air Museum in Cappadocia. They would not let me turn the pages. They wanted to know the story of every single pigeon cave in the cliffs, every window, every cave church. “These are pigeonholes? Real ones?”

Cave Church Door

Cave Church Door (Ortahisar, Cappadocia) ©2006 Trici Venola.

“Look at this, it’s old Father Theodosias’s church, look here, where he prayed, the stone is worn there, that’s Arab painting up top, you can see-” When I looked up, there were a hundred kids there, parents, teachers, docents… now THAT’s a museum!

Turkish Flashback

Turkish Flashback ©2000 Trici Venola.

There are plenty of Hittite lions in Cappadocia, too. All of Turkey is one breathing, palpating, interwoven fist of historical threads, pulling in the whole world. We live at the center, then and now. And what’s all this history for? Well, for starters history gives me hope. In these perilous times it’s reassuring to realize that the ancients, too, often thought– with good reason!–that the world was ending. It’s relaxing, when distressed by the antics of some fruitcake potentate or terrorist thugs, to read of the same a thousand years ago and know that these lethal fools too shall pass. History is humbling: no matter how unique I feel, I learn of legions of others. Wandering through the museums, looking at familiar expressions in ancient bronze and marble and clay, I feel at one with the great tide of humanity: following that Gordion thread, seeing it disappear into the knot, wondering if I will ever see it re-emerge, or if I must wait for another incarnation. One day I may have all the answers, but by then the questions probably won’t matter anymore.

Syrian Bronze Sphinx

Bronze Sphinx from Syria (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art)©2002 Trici Venola.

All drawings Plein Air. All drawings © Trici Venola, created with drafting pens on rag paper in sketchbook format, standard size 18 X 52 cm / 7 X 20 inches. All drawings part of The Drawing On Istanbul Project. Original drawings are for sale. If you see one here and love it, contact  Trici Venola. We love your comments.

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A DATE WITH AN ANGEL: Worlds Collide in Hagia Sophia

A Date With An Angel ©2012 Trici Venola

IT’S ALL ALIVE The date of this angel is probably slightly after 1261. That’s when the re-enfranchised Eastern Christians of Constantinople dug up Henri Dandolo and threw him out the window of Hagia Sophia, officially ending the sixty-year Roman Catholic aftermath of the Fourth Crusade. You remember Dandolo, don’t you? The old blind Doge of Venice who told the Fourth Crusade to sack Constantinople? Buried in Hagia Sophia, center of Eastern Christianity and its foremost temple, which he turned into a cathedral after trashing its entire congregation and their city? That guy. Out the window, his bones gnawed by the dogs. How I love the history here.

Ayasofya Angel photo

This Angel is actually a Seraph, a sexless bodiless representation of Divine Thought. Its re-emergence in 2009, thanks to the Turkish government, colors the whole eastern side of the basilica. It’s the only whole survivor of four, mosaiced into the four pendentives below the dome. A pendentive is that triangular space  that allows a dome to join with the square space beneath it. Why not fill the space with angels? Made sense to the Byzantines. Makes sense to me, but then I’ve been living here awhile.

A Date With An Angel Progression ©2012 Trici Venola

ALL HISTORY MUST INCLUDE A CAT So: fifteen hours drawing this angel from this exact spot: a complete sweep of history. We have the 6th-Century windows around the dome, the post-Latin mosaic Angel, some of Sultan Abdulmecid’s 1841 paint, the Byzantine balustrade, an Ottoman chandelier, and a medallion with Abdulmecid’s tribute in Arabic to family and Allah. All of this in one shot required sitting on a campstool precisely lined up against certain scars on the marble floor, because I have to get up now and then, moving the stool, and the perspective hangs on a hair. Lots of concentration here! As always I muse, while drawing, on the passionate concentration of the original mosaic artists, keeping the grand gesture in such a slow tedious medium. That face up there is over three feet wide.

To break things up a little, I wandered around drawing those graffiti crosses, probably put here by Fourth Crusaders. We talked a lot about them in the post HOT CROSSES: Drawing Crusader Graffiti in Hagia Sophia. I was down on the floor in front of the nave drawing this one hacked into the floor when another sort of angel came over to watch, followed by his parents.

Emirhan on His Sunnet Day ©2012 Trici Venola

COMING OF AGE If there is an icon of boyhood in Turkey, this is it. Emirhan here is attired for his Sunnet, his circumcision, followed by a  party to celebrate his manhood. Every Turkish boy goes through this ceremony, and it bonds them for life. It may or may not take place with an anesthetic, but it will take place. Before the great event the little boy parades around town in as grand a fashion as his parents can afford, often in this costume of a miniature Sultan. Normally I don’t take requests, but when his father asked I just couldn’t resist.

Obama Kedi & Friends ©2012 Trici Venola

AND HERE’S THE CAT One of Hagia Sophia’s stellar guards with Obama Gul Kedi, who our President petted on National TV while visiting Hagia Sophia back in 2008. Hagia Sophia is popular with American Presidents: here it is in 1999 with the Clintons inside.

Ayasofya wClintons 72

Ayasofya with the Clintons Inside © 1999 Trici Venola

Obama Kitty In SituObama Gul lives in Hagia Sophia and like all girl cats has always behaved as a queen, but since her media appearance with the President she is even more fat and smug.

WHIRLIGIGS UNDER HEAVEN

And check out that inlay work above the pillars around the upper alcoves! I always loved whirligigs and so did the Emperor Justinian. St Catherine was one of his patron saints, and we find Catherine Wheels everywhere in Hagia Sophia. Is it mother-of-pearl? With some dark wood or tortoise-shell or black stone, porphyry in the circles…

Justinian and his Empress, Theodora, began building on Hagia Sophia in 532, to replace the previous temple which had been burned in the Nika Rebellion. To create what they hoped would be a glory for heaven, they commissioned Isadore of Miletus, a physicist, and Anthemius of Tralles, an architect and mathematician. Justinian and Theodora’s love was legendary. Like Hagia Sophia, it has outshone all the contemporary criticism, all their probable and all too human flaws. For fifteen hundred years, now, their great temple has stood, a miracle of sensual symmetry, of space and light and beauty. It’s what happens when  great physics, architecture and mathematics combine with great love.

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So, whatever this whirligig façade is made of, it was made in the 6th Century. It’s recently been cleaned, and what a revelation. It used to look like shallow gray bas-relief. Here’s a drawing from 2004, see? I couldn’t make out the design and had to make do with curlicues.

Balustrade Cross Graffiti 72 ©2004 Trici Venola

The roughened surface of the marble balustrades is acturally fifteen centuries of people carving their names. Over time the names fade down into the marble, leaving a scratched, pitted texture I love.

DSC01143 copyPEELING TROMPE L’OEIL The far right arch in these photos is trompe l’oeil from the Fossati Brothers, Swiss architects hired in 1841 by Abdulmecid to do a restoration. That’s their yellow paint job peeling off the upper walls, trying to match the original gold mosaic below. The Fossati Brothers found the Angel face plastered over. They carefully documented it, drew it, and according to Islam’s proscription on faces, covered it up with a medallion like the ones still on the other three. Our angel is on the northeastern pendentive. The ones to the west are trompe l’oeil to match the mosaic ones to the east. The southeastern medallion may have a face under it. I sure wish I knew.

Guards at Ayasofya ©2012 Trici Venola

Here are more faces from Hagia Sophia’s wonderful security staff. I drew each one at different times and separated them for gift prints. If you are going to spend any time drawing monuments, be nice to the guards.

RELENTLESS BEAUTY

St Irene in Pala d’Oro Altarpiece, St Mark’s, Venice

That there are faces at all on the walls of Hagia Sophia is due largely to Empress Irene of Athens, who ruled Byzantium at the turn of the eighth century to the ninth. Notice her shield and cross: she was a kind of warrior.

ICONS: PORTALS TO POWER  Irene’s Emperor, Leo IV, was an Iconoclast. His father Leo III of Armenia, the first Iconoclast, is said to have been influenced by Islam in his abhorrence of icons. We all know icons as those little gizmos that pop up on your desktop, letting you know where to click to access all manner of things.

Mac Icons

Their origin, like so much else, is pretty much Byzantine. What the Byzantines were accessing was faith. Here are some religious icons.

Religious Icons

A modern program icon designer works with much the same limitations as the original religious painters. In a (usually) small space with limited colors you must create an instantly recognizable image that conveys a sense of where you want the viewer to go.  We icon designers want you to know you’ll be  transported to Desktop or Skype or Adobe Photoshop. The Byzantines wanted you to be transported into Faith. Faith that the saint represented by the icon would intervene with the Power of the Universe to help you. Come to think of it, they’re not so different.

Battle Over Icons, Medieval painting

DESTRUCTION OF ART Icons are a touchy subject. In Communist Russia you could get into a lot of trouble for possessing them. Many were said to perform miracles, survive all manner of cataclysm. In our time icon has come to mean a powerful representational figure, or face, like Hitler meaning Fascism, or Steve Jobs representing idealistic progress. The Byzantines prayed to pictures of the saints, lit candles to them, went on their knees before them, fought wars under and for them. The power was in the faith, but Emperor Leo believed that people worshipped the pictures themselves, so he destroyed them. All of them. Every icon, large and small, and then every pictorial mosaic, fresco and bas-relief went. Hagia Sophia is full of empty frames, carved marble around a vacant space, and lone, austere crosses. The original gold mosaic ceiling, with its geometric designs, was allowed to remain. After the Iconoclasts– the breakers of images– had done with the pictures, they started in on the artists. Leo is not my favorite emperor, but at least there aren’t a lot of pictures of him.

Ceiling Gold in Hagia Sophia

HELL HATH NO FURY… Irene his wife was an Iconodule or Iconophile: she loved icons. She is remembered as a beauty: a tall noble brunette. One fable has Leo discovering some icons she’d hidden, and refusing to sleep with her afterwards.

Harun Al-Rashid

Was she a woman scorned? Leo died in 775, and Irene set about gaining the throne. Beset by her own ministers, Bulgars, and Harun Al-Rashid, she never gave up…wait a minute. Worlds collide….Harun Al-Rashid? Isn’t he supposed to belong in Arabian Nights? Yes, and he did his best to invade Byzantium. Irene kept him out by paying him a whopping annual tribute. When the Pope refused to recognize her rule and crowned Charlemagne Roman Emperor, rather than sulking over the insult, she simply arranged to marry Charlemagne. But she was deposed first.

Medieval drawing of Pope Crowning Charlemagne

ECLIPSE OF THE SON Her son by Leo, Constantine VI, grew up in the shadow of his vivid autocratic mother. He too became an Iconoclast. When the inevitable clash came, Irene gave him short shrift: she seized the throne, and in the same porphyry chamber in which she had borne him, she had him blinded. He died of his wounds. This sickened the people, who proclaimed it “a horror of Heaven” and blamed on it a 17-day solar eclipse.

Byzantine Empress regnant Irene of Athens

Irene and Constantine VI by Hubert Goltzius 16th-Century

THE SKULL CARAFE Nevertheless Irene ruled for five years before being replaced by her minister Nicophorus. You remember Nicophorus? Driven insane by incessant warfare in Bulgaria, he wound up beheaded by Krum the Horrible, Khan of the Bulgars, who had a silver-lined beerstein made of his skull, and to the end of his days drank to his own health from the head of the Byzantine Emperor. That’s Nicophorus on the right, being carried in filled with beer.

Medieval drawing of Krum the Horrible with his famous Byzantine beerstein

THE SAINT The Iconoclasts stuck around until the mid-9th Century and finally petered out.  Irene ended life on an island, spinning to support herself, and in Hagia Sophia, the heart of the kingdom she ravaged her soul to protect, there is no image of her. I doubt there’s one in Istanbul. Fourth Crusaders carried them all off to Venice, the city of that Doge thrown out of the window. Yet Irene endures, for she restored image worship in Christianity. Under her rule in 787, the Seventh Ecumenical Council at Nicea refuted the Iconoclasts, declaring that artistic materials merely represent the saints, a belief upheld to this day. The glorious pictorial mosaics of St Savior in Chora, as well as many surviving in Hagia Sophia, are all from after Irene. Throughout Christianity, religious art endures, and it always has a face.

Greek Orthodox Icon of St Irene of Athens

THE EVOLUTION OF AN ICON Santa Claus, called Noel Baba (Father Christmas) is big here in Turkey. St Nicholas himself was Bishop of Myra, down on Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast. A benevolent leader, he gave all his money to the poor, hiding dowries in the shoes of impoverished virgins to save their pride, which comes to us as the tradition of Christmas stockings. St Nicholas is huge all over Europe. Think of all those Greeks named Nick. Here’s one of many Russian icons of him.

Russian Icon-St Nicholas of Myra

Russian Icon-St Nicholas of Myra

At some point, he became mixed with Lapland myths of tall, fur-suited Father Christmas who lived with reindeer in the snow. Vikings were in Istanbul, the Varangian traders invited in the 9th Century, not to mention the Emperor’s special guardsmen. Here’s their graffiti in Hagia Sophia, and even I feel I’m stretching to imagine that’s when the mix began. But worlds DO collide here…could it be?

Viking Graffiti ©2004 Trici Venola. Means "Halvdan was here."

Viking Graffiti ©2004 Trici Venola. Means “Halvdan was here.”

Victorian Clement Clark Moore turned Father Christmas / St Nicholas into “a right jolly old elf” in his iconographic (!) poem The Night Before Christmas. And in 1930, Coca-Cola hired Norwegian-American illustrator Haddon Sundblom to depict St Nick for their ads in the Saturday Evening Post. These became the prototype for Santa Claus as we know him today.

Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola, 193

Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola, 1931

Justinian undoubtedly included icons of St Nicholas in Hagia Sophia. After all, he built the church at Myra in memory of the 3rd-Century saint.

SLEIGH BELLS STILL RINGING As the snow whirls in the darkness outside and the wind howls up over the mouth of the Bosporus, Chinese-manufactured Santas rock their hips down in Kumkapi as tourists eat Bosporus fish. A few years ago, they told us that the Mayan Calendar was about to run out. Projected human history was ending, as the Calendar only runs until 2012. Surely the world was going to end as well!  Since the beginning of recorded history, people have been crying that the world is going to end any minute. We’re  years into After the Mayan Calendar. We may be flying blind, but we’re still flying. The Grinch is still around — Christmas lights are now forbidden in Myra as anti-Islam– but so is Santa Claus. Try and eradicate Santa Claus. The world clearly needs a symbol of cheer in the darkness, of good living, of unity, for Santas appear everywhere in every medium, from cheap synthetic to solid gold. The world looks on, smiles, stuffs its stockings. Once again, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Noel Baba New ©2011 Trici Venola.

Noel Baba New ©2011 Trici Venola.

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All drawings Plein Air, 20″ X 7″ / 18cm X 52cm, drafting pens on rag paper, sketchbook format. All art ©Trici Venola. All drawings from The Drawing On Istanbul Project by Trici Venola, see description on this blog. Thanks for reading. We love your comments!

PEACE IN THE RUINS: Drawing the Hospital of Sampson

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Door in the Topkapi Wall

I sat on a hillside covered with wild mustard, drawing Byzantine bricks through chestnut trees just coming into bloom, and the whole world was yellow and green. A sunny day in April, and I was drawing in dead quiet: a 6th-century Byzantine site between a church of the same vintage and a wall, shown above, from somewhat later. The mustard rioted all over the hill and flooded down into the ruin, celebratory bursts of yellow against the dark pitted  bricks. Nothing indicated that just over the wall hordes of camera-swinging tourists clogged the street. We love tourists here in Istanbul, their money and presence preserves antiquities. But I was grateful for the silence and solitude. The last public hordes to be in the ruin were a thousand years ago, and I could feel those years.

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Day 1: Peace in the Ruins ©2014 Trici Venola

A breeze came up, fresh with approaching storm. As I drew, an image came clear in my mind’s eye, an image of a foot. A woman’s foot in a pointed slipper: beaded pink fabric on top, leather on the bottom, a ribbon around the ankle.

Sampson Courtyard Walk

Sampson Courtyard Walk ©2014 Trici Venola

It stood on pale marble, near a marble fountain with a lion’s head, down in the very courtyard I was drawing, but clear of weeds. I froze. I let the image come. I thought of Theodora, the 6th-century harlot who became the pious and powerful Empress of Justinian.

Theodora Alive 2

Theodora Alive ©2011 Trici Venola

A small woman with dark hair, in a light dress of powder blue and robes the color of red wine. She walked in the courtyard alone on a sunny day. Did Theodora visit this place? Was she ever alone, or did her attendants stand back in the shadows and let her wander in sunny solitude? Just a pipedream, but it would not let me rest. A mere pipedream of Theodora is as powerful as a banshee, the furious life force projecting down through the centuries. All day and night that pointed toe stood on the marble next to the fountain. For some reason it made me happy.

Mosaic at Sampson

Sampson Mosaic ©2014 Trici Venola

These mosaics were set by sixth-century fingers right into the dirt. They’re dark green and pale gray-green. Think how many earthquakes, fires and wars they’ve survived! Think of the feet that have walked on these chips of marble, the shoes they wore. Below the dirt is a cistern: here’s a well from outside the cafe up top. A dropped stone produces a deep satisfying sploosh.

Sampson WellSo our ruin is the bottom of the structure: the Hospital of Sampson, built by a sainted doctor so adept, it is said, that he healed the Emperor Justinian of a hideous illness with the laying-on of his hand. His reward was the construction of this multistoried structure, a haven for the infirm poor, linking Hagia Sophia and Hagia Eirene.  Being built by master architects in the pre-electric 6th century, it was full of sunny courtyards.

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Day 3: Peace in the Ruins ©2014 Trici Venola

I was allowed to draw the site on the condition that I take no photos down in the ruin. Hagia Eirene’s fabulously aged façade runs straight down into it.

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Hagia Eirene, the second Hagia Sophia (built by Theodosius I,) and the Hospital were all burned in the Nika Riots in 532. The Emperor Justinian re-built all of them, and both basilicas stand today. Here’s a section of the ruin at the base of Hagia Eirene. See the slanted bricks running behind the ruined section in front? There must have been a roof of some kind, later incorporated into the new Church and Hospital.

Slant Bricks at Sampson

Slant Bricks at Sampson ©2014 Trici Venola

The Hospital ruin was excavated after WWII. Until four years ago, the structure in front of it was a private home. Its transformation to upscale cafe brought a fresh group of archeologists and students. A catwalk was built down into the site. Weeds were cleared, bits photographed and catalogued and stacked at the edges, large trees cut. Photographs can be seen at the cafe. Then the walkways were removed, and the site allowed to go back to the wild mustard. It’s lovely.

Day 3

Day 5: Peace in the Ruins ©2014 Trici Venola

LAYOUT

What did hospitals look like in the 6th century? We have an idea of the floor plan of this one, created in CGI by Byzantium 1200. Hagia Sophia is at the bottom and Hagia Eirene at the top. The Hospital is in the center, linking the two. Our area is to the far left.

HospSam 2

Sampson Hospital CGI recreation, © Byzantium1200. Used by permission.

See the pillars?

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Sampson Hospital CGI recreation, © Byzantium1200. Used by permission.

The Hospital was built right onto Hagia Eirene. That explains those melted-looking brick lumps in  Hagia Eirene’s façade.

Lumpy Buttress 1

Façade, Hagia Eirene

Here’s a satellite shot of the area from above. The Topkapi wall slants across from top left to bottom right, where the gate is. Hagia Sophia is bottom left, Hagia Eirene is the dome at top right. Karakol Restaurant is next to it at right center. See the Hospital?

Sampson Site Satellite Shot

The Hospital may have fallen into disuse, but I can’t discover when it collapsed or was demolished. It was probably when the Topkapi Wall was built, after 1453.

Peace.Door Detail

Peace in the Ruins.Door Detail.©2014 Trici Venola.

During the Ottoman years, Hagia Eirene was used as an armory, hence the crescent and star emblem over the doorway. Here’s an Ottoman now!

Day 5 wMike

Day 7: Peace in the Ruins ©2014 Trici Venola, with Mike Akbayrak.

SAINT SAMPSON

Did Hospital come from Hospitable?

St Sampson the Hospitable

St Sampson the Hospitable

St Sampson the Hospitable, aka St Sampson the Innkeeper and Unmercenary, was the son of rich important Romans. Already well-educated, he continued to study medicine, and doctored the sick without charge. When his parents died he set his slaves free, passed out alms and prepared himself to go into the wilderness– which was likely anywhere outside of Rome.

Eventually he went East to Constantinople: Eastern Rome. He moved into a small house, took in strays– poor and sick people– and cared for them. Undoubtedly a good doctor, he was credited with healing hands, if not outright miracles. His fame grew and with it his ability to treat more people.

The Patriarch of Constantinople, in recognition of Sampson’s great virtue, ordained him to the holy priesthood. St Sampson the Hospitable kept many alive, but died young, in about CE 530, and was buried at the Church of Holy Martyr Mokios in Constantinople.

SAINT MOKIOS

St Mokios1

St Mokios the Unmercenary

Scratch one saint in this town and you find another.  St Mokios was another great physician, one of the Holy Unmercenary Physicians, twenty doctors in antiquity who refused to accept money for their services. They were all canonized.

Synaxis Holy Unmercenaries

Synaxis (Reunion) of the Holy Unmercenaries

Judging by his beard, St Sampson appears second from right in the front row. The earliest precepts of Christianity include acceptance and treatment of the sick, as evidenced by this painting of Christ visiting the lepers.

Umercenaries visit Lepers

Christ Healing the Ten Lepers, Synaxis of the Holy Unmercenaries

St Mokios was beheaded around 295 for exhorting pagans to convert. His church was built on the site of a Temple of Zeus by Constantine in the next century, collapsed and was re-built by Justinian. Poetically, Sampson was interred there. People came to his tomb to be healed. His ghost continued, it is said, to kindly haunt his Hospital. Twice it upbraided a worker for laziness. Imagine the ashen-faced nurse trying to report that to a superior.

1123 hospital

A Hospital in 1123

A huge fire in Constantinople burned so fiercely that the lead sheets on the top of Hagia Sophia melted, it was said, and poured like rain. Fervent prayers to St Sampson preceded a deluge of real rain that put out the fire and saved the hospital. Think of the staff and patients alike shouting in prayer, nurses helping cripples to kneel, others lying muttering, flat on their backs clutching crucifixes, flickering light on the medical treatises rolled in the pigeonholes, doctors frozen with their instruments, eyes squeezed shut or white all the way around in terror, the air charged, the tension pulled to the snapping point, and the final, overwhelming crash of thunder, the release of rain, the screams of relief and joy, of renewed faith.

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Day 10: Peace in the Ruins ©2014 Trici Venola. Not anywhere near finished.

Here’s a splendid cathedral in St Petersburg, Russia, in honor of the Saint.

Cathedral

The Cathedral of St Sampson the Hospitable in St Petersburg, Russia

Azure and white, with its own reflection pool, it houses this spectacular iconostasis.

iconostasis-in-st-sampson-cathedral-in-st-petersburg

Iconostasis in St Sampson’s Cathedral, St Petersburg, Russia

I think of the actual Saint and his austerity, his love for the poor.

BYZANTINE MEDICINE

Justinian

Emperor Justinian’s famous mosaic portrait in Ravenna, Italy

If you were going to get sick in the Dark Ages, best to do it in Constantinople. It remained a beacon of light and learning in a world increasingly darkened by ignorance and superstition. Byzantine medicine was full of discovery, as well as preserving medical practices from the golden age of ancient culture, all of which influenced Islamic medicine. When the Western world began to wake up in the Renaissance, the information was there, waiting to make the world well.

Angels and Demons in a 13th-century Medieval Hospital

Angels and Demons in a 13th-century Medieval Hospital

By Medieval times, medical treatment in Europe  was largely a matter of prayer, with angels or demons responding to carry off the patient. But 6th-century Constantinople was still lit by the glow of ancient Greek and Roman enlightenment. Byzantine society was educated. Primary school was easily available for both boys and girls, even in the villages. Women played a large part in Byzantine culture. The Augusta Pulcheria, sister to Emperor Theodosius II, had established women on a par with the Holy Virgin Mary and set them on a course of, if not equality, respect.

tournai nurses

Medieval Nurses in Tournai

The legend of Justinian’s healing  by St Sampson, resulting in our Hospital, is likely true. Justinian subsidized private physicians to work publicly six months of the year, a breakthrough in medicine. Our Hospital would have had a Chief Physician: Archiatroi, professional nurses: Hypourgoi, and orderlies: Hyperetai.

MEDICAL STUDIES THROUGH THE AGES

Eudocia

Empress Eudocia in the Byzantine Museum in Istanbul.  Saints and Angels.detail © 1999 Trici Venola.

A hundred years before Justinian, in 425, Theodosius the Second’s beautiful Empress Eudocia, a highly educated Greek, established the first University at Constantinople: The Pandidakterion. It was in the Magnaura Palace, now being excavated  behind the Four Seasons, next to Hagia Sophia, in Sultanahmet. Along with law, philosophy, geometry, astronomy and music, it taught medicine. A hundred years later, the new Hospital of Sampson opened almost next door. It’s likely that its fledgling doctors, then as now, interned at the hospital for the poor.

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Birds, from the Vienna Dioscorides Folio, 515 CE

Here’s a gallery of birds from the Vienna Dioscorides, an illuminated manuscript in Greek, created in 515 in Western Rome. Over the following centuries it became a hospital textbook, containing treatments for snakebite and other calamities. It certainly was used in Constantinople, for it was discovered here in the 1560s and identified as the famous textbook.

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Examination of a Leper, Dark Ages manuscript

By the late seventh century, doctors at the Hospital would have had access to The Medical Compendium in Seven Books, a distillation of information by one Paul of Aegina, a respected physician. He appears to have deserved respect, as the Compendium was in use as a standard medical textbook for the next 800 years.

12th century St Bartholemews hosp

St Bartholemew’s Hospital, 12th-century

By the 12th century, Constantinople had well-organized hospitals, medical specialists, wards segregated to treat specific diseases, and systematic treatments. They even had women doctors, those Byzantines. Faith was important. After the groundbreaking Hospital of Sampson, hospitals were built next to churches, and later, under the Ottomans, next to mosques. When medicine failed, Byzantine patients prayed with icons of Cosmas and Damien, patron saints of medicine and doctors. Continued emphasis on charity resulted in medicine being available to all.

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Treatment of Mental Disorders, Medieval treatise

Many other great physicians practiced in Constantinople, but the atrocity of the Fourth Crusade slowed medical development in the 13th century. Still the Hospital of Sampson survived. When the infamous Italian Crusaders captured Constantinople in 1204, they converted the Hospital into a Western Roman hospital– a hostel for poor and sick pilgrims.

Monks in Hospital

Medieval Monks in a Hostel

This soon organized into a military order and became quite rich, spawning a daughter institution in Flanders. When the Byzantines recaptured Constantinople in 1261, the Brothers of St Sampson fled to Corinth and built a hospital there, a multipurpose unit that, among many commercial ventures, actually served the poor.

Medieval Hospital in Spain

A Medieval Hospital in Spain

ROLLING SAINT LUKE’S BONES

Like those nesting Russian dolls, one fitting inside the other, we come at last to the core Saint Physician. Were St Sampson and St Mokios influenced by St Luke? He was buried just up the hill at Holy Apostles. Both saints had similar stories. Both came from wealthy families, were highly educated, practiced medicine, and gave everything to the poor. A contemporary of Jesus, St Luke healed the sick, painted his pictures, wrote his gospels, grew old and died in Bithynia, now in Western Turkey.

St Luke Andrea_Mantegna 1454

St Luke in a painting by Andrea Mantegna, 1454

Relics of St Luke  were interred, with Byzantine splendor, by Constantine in 357 at the Church of Holy Apostles in Constantinople, now the site of Fatih Camii (Mosque) in Istanbul’s Old City. Many saints and emperors were eventually buried there, including Justinian and Constantine.

Church-of-the-Holy-Apostles

Church of the Holy Apostles

A fire that destroyed the church left the coffins of the saints untouched. Justinian rebuilt Holy Apostles in 527, just up the hill from the Hospital.  The holy and imperial tombs were eviscerated in 1204 by Italian Crusaders, who grabbed the gold and threw the bones to the dogs in the street. According to an aghast contemporary account, this is what happened to St Luke.

1204 Siege Constantinople Jacopo Tintoretto

Siege of Constantinople in 1204 by Jacopo Tintoretto

Another account has a grim 8th-century priest stealing St Luke’s bones, as well as a painting of the Virgin by the saint, to save them from the Iconoclasts. Still another says St Thomas the Apostle spirited St Luke’s painting to India around 50 CE. The legend of St Luke’s artistic endeavors includes as many True Paintings as there are True Relics, but it did result in his being Patron Saint of Artists, and for that I salute him with this post.

St Luke Painting Byz Mus Athens

One of many depictions of St Luke painting the Virgin, from the Byzantine Museum in Athens

An excited recent post from Padua, Italy, reports the saint’s entire skeleton found in a lead coffin there, including the skull which spent a time with Charlemagne.  Did some abject Crusader, fired with remorse or venality, pick up the relics and pack them off? Charlemagne pre-dated the Fourth Crusade by four centuries, so what about those stories of the Skull being at Holy Apostles? While the bones continue to cause fuss, the spirit of the great physician and evangelist of the New Testament has never left us. It undoubtedly inspired Sampson.

Peace In the Ruins

Peace in the Ruins.final. ©2014 Trici Venola.

So much for corporeal splendor! St Sampson the Hospitable, Justinian, Theodora, Pulcheria, Eudocia, St Mokios, Constantine, St Luke. Glorious physicians, empresses and emperors lying together in the street, ignominious piles of greened bones stomped by blood-crazed Italians raging under a smoke-blackened sky, devolving into the rumor of divinity.

Peace.Cat Detail

Peace in the Ruins.Cat Detail. ©2014 Trici Venola.

Their works fared better. All over the Middle East is the visual history of Constantinople, of Justinian and Theodora, in churches standing and savaged, in the foundations of the mosques, hospitals ruined and rumored as well. The study of medicine continues in universities worldwide, continuing the work of one gorgeous dedicated Greek girl. And worldwide is the legacy of the Unmercenaries: medical care for the poor. Despite the railroading of medicine by the rich in so many countries, free clinics keep springing up. The marriage of medicine and faith continues in Islam and Christianity and Quantum Physics, in the study of psychosomatic medicine, in the emphasis on mood as it affects the immune system. As always, the light that burned in Constantinople still flares and flickers like a torch in the winds of ignorance, but has yet to be put out. Down in the courtyard the cats play in the ruined fountain, but under the weeds the lion still roars.

Lion Head Sampson

The Lion Fountain at Sampson ©2014 Trici Venola

—-

All drawings Plein Air by Trici Venola. All drawings © Trici Venola, 1999, 2014.  Peace in the Ruins was created with drafting pens on rag paper and measures 50 X 70 cm. Other drawings were done with drafting pens in sketchbooks measuring 18  X 26 or 18 X 52 cm. Special thanks to the excellent and cordial staff (and cats Hatem and Duman) of Karakol Restaurant next to Hagia Eirene, Topkapi Complex, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, and to Theo, for showing me, on a dank cold January day, this site. We are none of us much without the others.

GHOST CHURCH: Drawing Theotokos in Chalkoprateia

Workshop

5th century AD: Furious clamor as police descend on Constantinople’s Chalkoprateia, the Bronze District, where Jewish artisans live, creating and selling bronze items. Screaming in outrage, bearded Jews in caps are dragged from their shops, beaten, banished. An earlocked apprentice frantically holds up an unfinished bronze shield in futile defense as Imperial soldiers burst into the workshop. The synagogue is emptied, soldiers posted at the door, sacred items hurled into the street. The Augusta has finally bullied her brother the Emperor into turning the Chalkoprateia Synagogue into a church.

Berkin Elvan Riots 2

Last week, Berkin Elvan Riots, Istanbul

There’s a civic earthquake going on in Istanbul right now, over authority and religion and the way people want to live: rioting and explosions, horrific images in the news, chanting in the distance, yelling in the night. This is nothing new in this city. The same things have been going on here for centuries of political heave and surge: angry crowds jostling; people pummeled by Imperial police, falling in the streets; banners flying over faces ragged with rage; smoke and screams filling the air, all over authority, religion and the way people want to live. A lot of this happened right here in Sultanahmet. Now it’s kept peaceful for Tourism, but blink your eyes and it’s the fifth century: rage and fire; clash of swords on bronze; a dropped loaf of bread; a toy wagon trampled into the dust.

Nika Riot

532, Nika Riots, Constantinople

Fish Lamp

Fish Lamp ©2002 Trici Venola.

THE IMPERIAL VIRGIN Her name was Pulcheria. She lorded over her brother Theodosius II and the people with an iron fist clothed in the sanctification of consecrated virginity. She built churches and cared for the poor, but she hated Jews. She forced them out of one area after another, suspended all construction on synagogues within the city walls. The Chalkoprateia Synagogue, built in 318, was closed and its congregation banished. With fatal irony the confiscated synagogue was consecrated as Theotokos, the God-Bearer, in the name of Holy Mary, that Jewish Virgin that Pulcheria so identified with herself. It would be her only child. WIth successive reigns, Theotokos in Chalkoprateia rose in glory, at one time Constantinople’s greatest church. It survived centuries of triumph and disaster, eventually becoming a mosque. Today there is only a broken pillar, a buried chapel and two weedy walls to mark it.

Altar looking down

Peter Paul and Peacock 2002 Trici Venola

Peter, Paul, and Peacock © 2002 Trici Venola

GHOST CHURCH Little mysteries: the stub of a pillar, its break rounded with age, sticking up through the sidewalk next to a parking lot. Across the narrow street, another pillar-sized lump, mortared all over with stones. Nearby, two arches stacked in front of a staircase going into a hill, with a brick barrel-vault ceiling, leading up to a  bright pink-stuccoed wall behind a mosque. From the harsh recent restoration, you’d never dream how old it is. A block away, another pillar stub sticking out of the sidewalk. This one is a different kind of marble.

Clues Shots

L to R: pillar stub, double arch, barrel-vault, second pillar stub.

Across the street, a haphazard pile of rubble, mortared here and there to lumps of Byzantine brick.

Pile O Rubble 4

Through a chink in the mortar, a flashlight glimpse of a Byzantine brick arch down below the street.

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A door-shaped area on a plaster wall showing the antiquity beneath.

Old wall thru plaster A sealed iron door in an old wall under a row of hotels. A hoary wall rearing up between a parking lot and a restaurant terrace. A ragged ruin over the Basilica Cistern, its windows Ottoman, its foundation Byzantine. Just hints, clues in a puzzle.

Ivory Angel ©2002 Trici Venola

Ivory Angel ©2002 Trici Venola

Once consecrated as holy, a place cannot be de-consecrated. So says a dear friend. Since he is a Canon in his church, with a lifetime spent studying such things, I listen to him. If so, then there is a certain parking lot in my old Sultanahmet neighborhood that is holy as all get-out, and on three theological pillars to boot: Muslim, Christian and Judaic. Before that, there was most likely some Pagan altar with flute and drum, an ancient withered seer behind the statue of the god, angels with wings coming out of their hips…

Foot Lamp ©2002 Trici Venola

Foot Lamp ©2002 Trici Venola

Walking around here for years, mentally lining up all these clues; speculating on some great temple all across the hill, its perfect Greek geometry leveling the lumpy streets. We must create our picture from minute fragments. Like sex in the movies under the old moralistic American Production Code, we have to make our guesses from the architectural equivalent of a hairpin on a pillow: that lone pillar stub sticking up out of the cobblestones. Our hairpin, so to speak, led to St Jacob’s Chapel, hidden under a building near the foot of the hill. Going down!

Going Down

ST JACOB’S

Once lush with fresco, most of it is bare dirt-encrusted brick, an octagon chapel around a massive solid brick octagon pier, lime-mortared, indestructible. God knows what it held up. A baptistry? An obelisk? A statue?

Arch Pier

Its owners have taken excellent care of St Jacob’s since they acquired the property in the 1930s, and many scholars have studied it. Traces of frescoes remain, still lovely.

St Jacobs Garland ©2014 Trici Venola

St Jacobs Garland ©2014 Trici Venola

Jesus ArmeniaFifth-century frescoes are rare in Istanbul. They may have looked like this Jesus, from an early-Christian Armenian church.

Here’s a first take on St Jacob’s done back in 2007, a crumbling frescoed halo catching the light, a kindly cowled face imagined for no reason, in the shadows where once there was a doorway leading… where?

In St Jacob's Chapel ©2014 Trici Venola

In St Jacob’s Chapel ©2014 Trici Venola

Friends opened a hotel next door. They found Byzantium in their basement, too.

Flashlight glimpse

Just down the street is Zeynep Sultan Camii (Mosque), its wavy roof echoing that of Kalendarhane Camii up the hill. While drawing it back in 2004, I learned that the neighborhood was called in Byzantine times Chalkoprateia, and that it was the Bronze District, where Jewish craftsmen created and sold bronze items. Kalendarhane was restored in the 18th century… Zeynep Sultan was built in 1769. Was it built on the site of a vanished church? Or was the church over St Jacob’s Chapel?

Zeynep Sultan ©2004 Trici Venola

Zeynep Sultan ©2004 Trici Venola

As usual, sources differ as to whether the octagon chapel is St Jacob’s or St James. Was there, perhaps, another chapel? Same size, nearby? A little digging produced this schematic from the 1960s, based, say St Jacob’s owners, on one from the 1920s.

Panagia floorplan

It’s astonishing how accurate this is, considering that the authors did not have access to Google Maps. Some merged screen dumps produced this overview of the area:

TheoChalk Comp 3a

See the parking lot at center? The tramline runs down the right, and Hagia Sophia, not shown, is just beyond it. The Basilica Cistern is under that large rough pale area bottom center. That tiny circle top right is Zeynep Sultan’s dome.

Here it is with those little clues. Hm.

TheoChalk Comp 3b

Hours of manipulating images produced this superimposition. And cold chills.

TheoChalk Comp 3

Holy Mother of God.

THE IMPERIAL VIRGIN

Fifteen years of walking about this neighborhood, tea in carpet shops, coffee and gossip, friends, errands, parties, informal tours, drawing, and all the while this great slumbering ghost sprawled across the hill. These shabby old bits I call clues were part of an edifice so important by the 8th century that it held an alleged Girdle of the Virgin. This is hotly contested by at least one Byzantine scholar, but I like to think about St Mary’s robe floating in the ether of a Byzantine collective memory, down under the tourist eateries, travel agencies, and Ottoman plaster.

The Cambrai Madonna from the Met.

The Cambrai Madonna from the Met.

The mid-5th century was early days for the great Christian empire. Constantine the Great, who declared Christianity the official religion, had only been gone a hundred years. The city had been Constantinople for only a century, full of Pagan echoes, in the sacred fantastical animals, in the worship of the saints. The great Theodosian Walls, those hulking savaged monuments still standing, were new, built by Anthemius, Regent of the Eastern Roman Empire, named after the crowned child, Theodosius II.

Dragon Lamp ©2002 Trici Venola

Dragon Lamp ©2002 Trici Venola

The weak young Emperor Arcadius was dead, and his hated sensuous Empress Eudoxia was dead as well. Their son Theodosius II was crowned at age seven, but it was his sister who ruled: Aelia Pulcheria, granddaughter to Theodosius the Great, the Emperor who set up the Egyptian Obelisk in the Hippodrome in 390, who built the second Hagia Sophia that was burned in the Nika Rebellion of 532. All three generations had the same cold pale eyes.

Pulcheria and Theodosius II

Pulcheria and her brother, Theodosius II

Pulcheria was nine when she began to train her little brother to be Emperor. In stark contrast to her scandalous mother, who wore bangs like a courtesan and flaunted her infidelities, she took a Vow of Chastity, consecrating her virginity to God. Her piety was undeniable, but she was also menaced by Anthemius the Wall-Builder who was determined to marry into the royal family. The Vow protected her. She blocked all his avenues and made her sisters swear virginity, too. It must have been grim: three dour princesses stitching altar cloths in a palace forbidden to men and levity of any kind.  Anthemius might have been a better ruler, but at 15 Pulcheria sacked him and proclaimed herself Regent, declaring herself Augusta, Empress of the Eastern Roman Empire.

THE CULT OF THE VIRGIN

Nestorius

Patriarch Nestorius

Easter Sunday, 428, a church by the Theodosian Walls, filled with the elite. Heading in a grand processional toward the Sanctuary, Pulcheria ran smack into Nestorius, the new Patriarch of Constantinople. He barred her from entering the holiest place. Her womanhood made her unfit, he said, only men were pure enough. “I have kept myself pure as gold,” said the Consecrated Virgin, “as clean as fleece. Haven’t I given birth to God?” “You are a sinner,” he said, “you have given birth to Satan.”

This was the beginning of a hammer-and-tongs feud that lasted years and shaped Christianity forever. Nestorius accused Pulcheria of adultery, of cheating on Christ with men, dogs, infidel. Pulcheria retaliated by declaring that she was as Mary, Mother of Jesus, and that Mary was divine, the Mother of God, giving rise to the Cult of the Virgin.

Bleeding Mary ©2000 Trici Venola

Bleeding Mary ©2000 Trici Venola

The dignity and power of women in Christianity took shape under the blue cowl of Mary’s robe. By the time she was done, an insult to Pulcheria was an insult to the Theotokos, to the Great Holy Virgin Mother herself.

11th-century Mary in Hagia Sophia

11th-century Mary in Hagia Sophia

Pulcheria was a powerful force in shaping the future of rule of kings, investing awe and holiness surrounding kingship. In taking on Nestorius she gave women a powerful new status in the new religion, ensuring that Mary was right up there with her son. The Cult of the Virgin has been at loggerheads with Christianity ever since, but here in Byzantium, through their identification with Mary, women gained power.

Ivory Virgin ©2002 Trici Venola

Ivory Virgin ©2002 Trici Venola

Theotokos means God-Bearer.

Nestorius, in addition to quashing women, tried to quash theater, circus, games, mimes, and exotic halftime dancers at the Chariot Races, not a good idea if one wants to stay popular. His attempt to micromanage the monasteries pissed off the monks. At one memorable sermon, the monk Basil loudly derided Nestorius and was roundly cheered by the congregation. At last Nestorious was declared a heretic and exiled, leaving Pulcheria ensconced on her chaste throne. He railed at Constantinople from the Holy Land, becoming one prong of a fork in the faith: Jesus Human and Christ Divine, two natures in one person: Nestorianism, was on one side. Jesus Christ Entirely Divine, which became Monophyism, was on the other. This argument was still going strong a hundred years later in Justinian’s time and after. Many, many riots in the streets.

A COLLISION OF EMPRESSES

Augusta Eudocia ©1999 Trici Venola

Augusta Eudocia ©1999 Trici Venola

Theodosius II, more interested in manuscript illumination than politics, let his sister lead the Empire. At 19, he told her that he didn’t care what they made him marry so long as it was beautiful. Athenais, a gorgeous Greek girl beggared by the death of her father, flung herself on the mercy of philanthropic Pulcheria, probably to avoid becoming a whore. Pulcheria took a look, heard the exquisite Greek, and married her to Theodosius II. He fell passionately in love. They re-named her Eudocia.

The beautiful Eudocia soon gained popularity over thin-lipped ascetic Pulcheria, who began to loathe her. Eudocia and the chief minister, Eunuch Chrysaphius,  convinced the affable Theodosius II to give his relentless sister less credence, causing Pulcheria to move out of the palace, but her tentacles continued to creep toward her enemies. Eudocia wasn’t just a pretty face: she sponsored education, founded a university. But eventually Theodosius was persuaded away from her. She proclaimed herself a supporter of Nestorianism and left for the Holy Land, to die in sad obscurity. But oh, she had been loved, by her husband and by the people. Portraits abound. There are several in Istanbul’s Archeological Museum. She’s still beautiful.

Pulcheria 1

Augusta Pulcheria

After her brother’s death, Pulcheria returned to the palace and fought the Eunuch. The Senate refused to grant her sole rule, so she found a weakling who wouldn’t try to sleep with her, Marcias, and married him. Then she executed Chrysaphius. Pulcheria continued to build churches, feed the poor, import relics, persecute Jews, and proclaim the divine nature of Christ and her own implied divinity. For her pains she was canonized. For her elevation of women throughout the Empire and down through the ages, she deserves it. This aescetic, grandiose, furious, passionate, selective philanthropist is now a Greek Orthodox saint. There’s a school named after her right here in my neighborhood, Sainte Pulcherie.

THEOTOKOS IN CHALKOPRATEIA was heavily mosaiced and lavishly frescoed. It was tall and imposing, but has vanished utterly.

Martyrdom St Lawrence Ravenna

Church of Galla Placida, Ravenna.

Here’s the north aisle, heading toward Hagia Sophia. While this Hagia Sophia was being built, from 532 to 537, our church was the Seat of the Patriarchate of the Eastern Roman Empire.

North Aisle

The famous mosaics, covering the Life of the Virgin, were destroyed in the 8th century by Iconoclasts, but the Relics of the Virgin remained in its walls.

SanMarcosCeiling

St Mark’s in Venice

Here’s  a wall along the south aisle.

South Aisle

The gilded coffered ceiling and the doors of silver, electrum and gold were sold off by Emperor Alexios Komnenos in the 11th century to finance a defense against a Norman threat. Before Alexios, Theotokos’ interior likely resembled this:

SantaMariaMaggiore

Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome: 5th century interior, 18th century neoByzantine ceiling.

This parking lot is the nave, and we’re walking toward the altar, which faced east and Hagia Sophia.

NaveUnder Latin rule from 1204 to 1261, our church became a cathedral occupied by priests: Sancta Maria de Cinctur, or St Mary of the Shingles. Workshops probably made shingles in the area by then, or perhaps the priests had them. Considering what the Latin Crusaders did to Constantinople, we can only hope. Here’s the surviving 4th or 5th century Byzantine wall.

Original Wall Ground

Mehmetpasha It’s still standing because in 1484, 31 years after the Ottoman Conquest, the ruined church, nee synagogue, was converted to a mosque by order of one Lala Hayruddin. In 1755, by order of Vizier Mehmet Said Pasha, the mosque was restored and re-consecrated as Acem Aga Mescidi. Down the street, in 1769, Zeynep Sultan Mosque was built and consecrated. In 1814 this fountain in the street was built. See that Byzantine wall next to it? And the tribal carpet for sale next to that? These juxtapositions are why I live here. And, of course, tripping over the occasional Ghost Church.

Fountain and wallBy 1936, Turkey’s zeitgeist was not religious, and the mosque was abandoned, slowly falling into weedy disrepair. It’s been derelict since 1936, subsumed by the city. If you go up to the terrace at Alemdar Restaurant to watch the Dervishes whirl in front of Hagia Sophia, you can see this from the stairs: the last relic of the altar of Theotokos in Chalkoprateia.

Original walls 3

The street running from one pillar stub to the double arches has always been spooky at night, in a high, cool, grey, waiting kind of way.

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It’s probably just imagination.

Copper Cross, Mosaic ©2002 Trici Venola

Copper Cross, Mosaic ©2002 Trici Venola

SO HOW OLD IS IT, ANYWAY?

This post was a real bitch to research. Each successive layer of information contradicts the last. As near as I can figure, here’s a rough timeline for our busted pillar.

318- Synagogue begun.

379-Rebuilt Synagogue unfinished but open.

Emperor Theodosius criticized by the Bishop of Milan, St Ambrosius, for allowing “A synagogue in the heart of the Queen of Cites”

395 Synagogue burned. Repaired, but when?

Bronze Eudocia ©2013 Trici Venola

Bronze Eudocia ©2013 Trici Venola

450 457 Synagogue converted into Church by Theodosius II at insistence of Pulcheria. Consecrated: Theotokos in Chalkoprateia

476 Theotokos damaged in great fire.

484 Theotokos repaired by Empress Verina. Emperor Zeno took some credit.

532 Nika Rebellion burned Hagia Sophia. Theotokos seat of Patriarch until Hagia Sophia opened in 537.

c570 Theotokos damaged in an earthquake and repaired by Justin II.

867-886 after the Iconoclasts were gone, the dome was redone. Lavish redecoration including gold doors.

11th century: Gold doors, etc sold to finance resistance to Norman invasion.

1204-1261 Theotokos converted to a cathedral known as Sancta Maria de Cinctur or Holy Mary of the Shingles.

1484 By order of Lala Hayrudin, the church was converted into a mosque, but what was it called?

1755 Vizier Mehmet Said Pasha placed the pulpit in Zeynep Sultan.

1814 The Basilica was called either Sayyid Umar Agha Mosque OR Acem Aga Mescidi Mosque, described as being built next to a fountain.

1936 Derelict and abandoned.

Pillar Stub

The only piece that doesn’t fit is that ragged old ruin above the CIstern. I found out what it is, but that’s another post.

Rock Crystal Cross ©2002 Trici Venola

Rock Crystal Cross ©2002 Trici Venola

So why, why is this important? It isn’t even my history. I haven’t a drop of Jewish, Greek, or Turkish blood. So what. The history of this place is beyond any one people: it’s the history of the whole world. As a friend says, it’s a matter of respect. Hell, it’s a matter of awe. Seventeen hundred years of toil and care, smoke and love and holy water, men and women in anguish and triumph– it matters. It matters so much that there was a temple here, that there was art here, that there was worship here. Blood of sacrilege, blood of sacrifice, Blood of the Lamb…That high, stone-cool waiting feeling of the streets in the dead quiet of night is from layers and layers of living that all happened here, a concentration of experience. If you say Constantinople over and over, faster and faster, slurring the sounds, it becomes Istanbul. To paraphrase Casablanca, it’s like any other place, only more so. Our parking lots are really cathedrals.

Eudocia on a Weight, Byzantine Museum, Istanbul

Eudocia on a Weight, Byzantine Museum, Istanbul

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All drawings Plein Air by Trici Venola, ©2000-2014. Early Christian artifacts drawn at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Archeological Museum in Istanbul, the Archeological Museum in Antalya. For purchase of sketchbooks and other original art, write care of this blog.

Special thanks to Suleyman, custodian of the Last Wall of Theotokos in Chalkoprateia, next to his terrace at Alemdar Restaurant. Their Dervish show is aces. Special thanks to the custodians of St Jacob’s Chapel, who wish to remain anonymous. And thanks to all the Byzantine scholars who have generously made their work readily available, on the Internet, to someone not affiliated with any university. We are none of us much without the others.

KAPADOKYA / CAPPADOCIA 2: Drawing in the Echoes of Faith

Holy Ghost ©2003 Trici Venola

Holy Ghost ©2003 Trici Venola

THE HEART CHURCH  It was chill near-darkness at the bottom of a natural stone formation shaped like a fat rocket ship about to take off. Perfect peace, and the silence sang. I felt veins of power surging around me from a point directly below, down in the bones of the earth, throbbing up to converge again at the point in the sky. I thought of those ‘Sixties pyramid people, claiming that a pyramid shape brings together mystic geological forces. I  believed them for the first time.

CIMG0155 copy

I was down in the bottom chapel, below ground, in a rock formation that has been a church since early Christianity, and likely a Pagan temple before that.  Someone long ago painted the darkness white with little red hearts on it. It was almost too dark to draw at all but I tried. There were  graves cut in the floor, their occupants long gone to dust. I could lie here in the dark, I thought, in this singing silence, feel my bones become one with the earth, content for all eternity. But  –like that line in Gladiator— NOT YET!!

The Heart Church ©2006 Trici Venola

The Heart Church ©2006 Trici Venola

Can’t die yet, there’s too much to draw. Much of it here in Kapadokya, the central steppes region of Turkey, a spiritual refuge. Everyone else in the world spells it Cappadocia and pronounces it with a soft final “c,” but since the original name– Katpatuka in Old Persian– means Land of Beautiful Horses, and Kapadokya sounds like a galloping horse, and that’s what the people who live there call it, we’re using Kapadokya.

Cold Hill Caves ©2006 Trici Venola

Cold Hill Caves ©2006 Trici Venola

Those hearts, by the way, look like a natural abstraction of apricot leaves. There are a lot of apricot trees here.

CIMG0139

First-time readers might enjoy the previous post, which is an overview of Kapadokya’s history and my first trip to the place in 1999. I loved it on first glance and have continued to come back for close-ups, like this one of a kid with a Biblical name become Turkish, in a ruined rock church with a vanishing saint.

Zekeriya and A Saint ©2003 Trici Venola

Zekeriya and A Vanished Saint ©2003 Trici Venola

Spring: High Season is upon us here in Istanbul: hotels filling up, all the monuments jammed, monstrous cruise ships blocking the views, throngs trooping through the bazaars. Some friends, in shops and hotels, don’t sleep again until winter. There are all kinds of projects to finish immediately, and only me to do them. And all I can think about is that just about now, in Kapadokya, beneath the sheer rock walls punctuated with caves, the high grass in the bottoms of the canyons is shooting up green, and the drifts of cottonwood blossoms on the ground can be combed with your eyes. So fooey on all these Istanbul distractions. I’m back to Kapadokya, and I’ve got you with me.

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While Kapadokya is full of former tourists who fall in love with the place and buy up all the caves, the locals mostly want to move into cheesy apartment buildings just out of town. Some families still live in caves.

I climbed up the mountain above Urgup one morning and was struck with an obviously occupied cave complex. A seamed dark woman, shaped like a pillow tied in the middle, came out to hang up her laundry. Awhile later, a young beautiful echo of her stumbled out sleepy into the morning and found me drawing her house and her mother.

Gunik in the Morning ©1999 Trici Venola

Gunik in the Morning ©1999 Trici Venola

Nine AM, and the sun full in my face. The air sharp and glittering, little flies everywhere. Only the drawing kept me from going nuts with them. I squinted into the white under a giant scarf rolled like a turban, and drew and drew.CIMG0126

After the two-hour drawing session they invited me into the house for tea. Inside it was big and clean, with plastered walls, electricity and plumbing, lace curtains at the little square windows cut in the hill. I imagined all the empty caves I’ve seen, filled with lively people. Friends who grew up in caves describe scooting up and down the ladders between, calling between the caves, the cosy enclosed feeling of a cave with a fire pit, the way every little thing has its own alcove. I know I sleep better in a cave than any other place, deep perfect sleep all the night long.

The View from Uchisar ©2007 Trici Venola

The View from Uchisar ©2007 Trici Venola

GREEKS AND TURKS This land is beyond ancient. A thousand armies have trekked through here:. Hittites, Romans, Armenians, Seljuks, Greeks. Arab raiders in the 7th and 8th centuries drove the Christians into underground Hittite cities, converting chapels to pigeon coops and painting designs all round the pigeonholes.

CIMG0047

Christians came up from underground and repainted frescoes in the cave chapels before decamping a few centuries later. Some Greek Christians stuck it out until the population exchange in the 20th century, building square houses of embossed brick like this one in Mustafapasa.

Kid in Mustafa Pasa ©1999 Trici Venola

Kid in Mustafa Pasa ©1999 Trici Venola

The Christian monasteries here were Greek, and the Byzantine Christians were the genesis of what we now know as Greek Orthodox. All across Anatolia the Greeks left their buildings, temples and myths; a few of their descendents are still here as Turks.

CIMG0019The 20th century brought about a great dissolution of the centuries-old relationship of Greeks and Turks in both countries, scars which are still healing. Reading Louis de Bernieres’ Birds Without Wings broke my heart but fed my understanding. Two governments, two faiths, but one people. It’s everywhere: in the music, the food, the way the people look and the way they dance. I hope that this century brings about greater harmony than the last.

Old Couple in Ayvali ©1999 Trici Venola

Old Couple in Ayvali ©1999 Trici Venola

THE BIG CHURCH Are you ready for this place? It was March 2006 and cold enough to numb your hands in gloves, but there wasn’t any question of missing these drawings. Now called  Durmus Kadir after its owner, this great stone basilica is a premier example of Goreme’s legendary 1001 cave churches.

Big Church in Goreme ©2006 Trici Venola

Big Church in Goreme ©2006 Trici Venola

Like all cave chapels Durmush Kadir’s interior is carved out of the rock all of a piece: a sculpture of a church to emulate the diverse columns, alcoves, domes, altars and pulpits in a conventionally constructed church elsewhere.

The Podium ©2006 Trici Venola

The Podium ©2006 Trici Venola

This one gets a lot of action. Months later in Istanbul, a woman looking through my sketchbook suddenly let out a yelp and pulled out a photo of herself getting married on this very podium. Today the area in front of Durmush Kadir is much spiffed-up, presumably to make it attractive for events. Across the valley is this apartment, replete with carvings.

The Guest Room ©2006 Trici Venola

The Guest Room ©2006 Trici Venola

Spacious inside, It looks like a VIP suite to me. During the Middle Ages, Goreme was the seat of enormous ecclesiastical power. Ecumenical councils were held here. Pilgrims journeyed from all over to convene here.

CIMG0051 copy

Thousands of monks tilled these fields, tending the huge flocks of pigeons. Valued for their dung, which still fertilizes all the food grown here, and for their messenger abilities, pigeons are treasured here still. Below Durmush Kadir’s church is a refectory, where hundreds of cowled monks sat for their supper. The drawing below was done through a chain-link fence. That modern wall marks the present property line.

Refectory ©2006 Venola

Refectory ©2006 Trici Venola

IN TOWN Pat Yale, justly famed for her wonderful travel books about Turkey, lives in Goreme with about nine cats, and in 2006 I was lucky enough to house sit. Not only did I get all these swell drawings, but two of the cats kittened while I was there, giving us a grand total of fourteen. The cats midwifed for each other, too.

CIMG0142Something about the details in the monochromatic landscape makes Kapadokya perfect for the kind of work in this series, and I can’t stop drawing. So I sat in the street and drew this:

Two Hats in Goreme ©2006 Trici Venola

Two Hats in Goreme ©2006 Trici Venola

I had company in the street. For two hours she watched me draw those two hats, and then she posed unblinking, glinting up at me, until I had her, including that fabulous shadow of the oya scarf trim on her face. “Gotcha,” I said, and showed her. She nodded violently and vanished. On one of Pat’s walls is an antique pink cotton quilted jacket, very worn. It’s a classic Kapadokya jacket worn by a woman who lived and died here long since. I picture it on someone like this.

Mischief ©2006 Trici Venola

Mischief ©2006 Trici Venola

PAINTING IN THE DARK: THE GENESIS OF MONASTIC LIFE Kapadokya has been protected since the advent of Tourism in the 1980s. Preserved from destruction-by-development, the land here can be observed shedding itself, sloughing off and renewing. Caves last a long time, and then one day they collapse, or erosion finally eats them away. It’s the nature of this rock to shed. Dust is a part of life here. If you move into a cave, stabilizing the walls (with the help of a local expert) is a good idea. Some of these chimney chapels are so old they’re almost gone, with only the keyhole-shaped alcove or window as a clue that here is a witness to so many prayers.

Eroded Monument ©2011 Trici Venola

Eroded Monument ©2011 Trici Venola

The monolith above was once a chapel at the intersection of the main road with the path leading down to the river. Below, Laura Prusoff and her partner Nurettin look across Pigeon Valley from their Palace in Ortahisar. Over the years I’ve drawn their view quite a few times. My reward is that I can close my eyes and see it in all its grandeur. The shadows paint a new shape every few minutes, making a drawing of several hours a very different thing from a photograph.

Lions in the Valley ©2003 Trici Venola

Lions in the Valley ©2003 Trici Venola

I didn’t realize that the whole of Pigeon Valley was a monastery. It took a long time of looking, and then I could see it.

CIMG0025

The Christians were here from the beginning of Christianity. St Paul came through Kayseri– once Caesarea– on his way to Ankyra, now Ankara, carrying Christianity with him. It found fertile ground in Kapadokya, now full of ecclesiastical ruins, abandoned by the Christians around the 15th century in the teeth of Islam. This bas-relief figure is the only one in Kapadokya. “It’s a devil,” said my friend. “But it looks like an angel,” I said. “No, it’s always my whole life been called a devil,” he said.

Now It's Called A Devil ©2011 Trici Venola

Now It’s Called A Devil ©2011 Trici Venola

Goreme sits between two valleys full of natural stone formations, many with Early Christian cave churches, part of a vast monastery complex with influences reaching across oceans and continents. By the 4th century, the Cappadocian Fathers were an ecclesiastical force to be reckoned with, forming much early Christian philosophy.

015 GV Cave copyThe very template for monastic life was cut in these rocks by St Basil, a highly educated 4th century cleric who renounced a promising career in Constantinople and Athens to become a monk. As such he became a hermit in Kapadokya, where he was joined by Future Saint Gregory of Nazianzas. I like to think of these two wearing down the stones under their knees, sallying forth in cold and snow and scorching sun, tending the fields, the flocks and the Word. They were joined by many others.

A FIeld of Sunflowers ©2011 Trici Venola

A FIeld of Sunflowers ©2011 Trici Venola

In 370 Basil became Bishop. A charismatic leader and great organizer, he reformed the Liturgy, established hospitals, and fostered monasticism as a way of life: chastity, dedication, seclusion, submersion of the single in the whole. These ecclesiastical troglodytes made the land their church. Cells, offices, stables, kitchens, cafeterias, dormitories, chapels, churches, wineries, hospitals: all were caves.

The Hospital Monastery 2011 Trici Venola

The Hospital Monastery 2011 Trici Venola

THREE MORE CHURCHES Yusuf Koc is in a cluster of chimneys out in Goreme Valley, just outside the town. A local family lives in them and tends the churches  as they always have.

Goreme Valley Longshot ©2006 Trici Venola

Goreme Valley Longshot ©2006 Trici Venola

Before the advent of Tourism, folks just sumped out their own caves. Now they police them as well, with assistance from the State.

Another Freezing Jesus ©2006 Trici Venola

Another Freezing Jesus ©2006 Trici Venola

Boy, was it cold in there. I wonder if the monks had braziers or if they depended on crowds for warmth. This chapel had columns, but was pressed into service as a pigeon-house in pre-tourism. The columns were broken off, but the frescoes preserved with only a little graffiti. See the pigeonholes built into the window?

079YusufKoc Int copy

This was painted after the 9th century. The monochromatic and geometric painting in many caves is Iconoclastic art. The Iconoclasts, like the Muslims, proscribed pictorial art. They were around for about 100 years, in the latter 8th and early 9th centuries. But this is pictorial and multicolored. and the state of preservation tells us it’s post-Iconoclast. Here are two archangels on horseback. See the wings?

Painting in the Dark ©2006 Trici Venola

Painting in the Dark ©2006 Trici Venola

I love this Naive Byzantine painting. Anatomically it’s more symbolic than realistic. Artistic anatomy peaked with the late Roman period, when the body was a still a temple. Medieval Christians were suspicious of the body, seeing it as a fount of temptation. The monastic life was about eschewing physical pleasures in favor of devotion to the divine. This is reflected in the art of the time: bodies lost under cloth or armor, an insouciant attitude towards proportion and gravity. Then again, considering that these caves are pretty darn dim inside, I wonder they could see to paint at all.

079YKInt copy

Up top in Pigeon Valley is a Black Church: fire has blackened the inside. Notice the bas-relief cross on the sooted ceiling to the right, revealed by the erosion at the window.

The Black Church ©2006 Trici Venola

The Black Church ©2006 Trici Venola

I crawled up through this opening and crouched on a big old earth spill up under the domes to get this next drawing. We know that this chapel was carved after the 6th century because of these domes. Hagia Sophia’s great dome, so big it was considered proof of the existence of God, was completed in 537 and influenced the entire Christian world. Henceforth we see domes everywhere in Christianity, including here.

Inside the Black Church ©2006 Trici Venola

Inside the Black Church ©2006 Trici Venola

This next one isn’t the last church in the valley, it’s just the last one I could get to before dark.

The Last Church ©2006 Trici Venola

The Last Church ©2006 Trici Venola

There are hundreds of hidden chapels in the rocks. Locals know and don’t tell, and this makes me happy. I like to think there’s some mystery left in the world. Here’s the inside. I had twenty minutes until dusk, did what I could, took a photo and finished from that.

Inside the Last Church ©2006 Trici Venola

Inside the Last Church ©2006 Trici Venola

This geometric Iconoclastic painting was done in cochineal –insect– blood. It’s still red, And is that an Egyptian-type Eye of God there above the doorway?

Sweeper in Goreme © 1999 Trici Venola

Sweeper in Goreme © 1999 Trici Venola

FAITH IN HUMANITY It was Nurettin who got me to put my sketchbooks in Koran covers, clear back on my first visit in 1999. “You should do something,” he said through Laura, “to let people know how important, how precious, this work is.” This was after the wife of a local politico grabbed my sketchbook and left it open and forgotten in her lap while she drank tea and chattered and I sat angry and anxious and afraid of offending her until mercifully they left and I took back the sketchbook. “Why didn’t you say something? People are ignorant,” said Nurettin, “They don’t understand original art.” 

15Sketchbook 8 On returning to Istanbul I took his advice. In the Grand Bazaar I found a pile of Koran covers in all sizes and colors, each pieced together by some shepherd or caravan housewife to keep a Koran covered, as all precious things are in Islam. I still buy as many of the right size as I can find, and they hold the original sketchbooks to this day.

07My Bookcase wSketchbooks

Faith is a powerful force. If enough people believe in a certain way, it can change things. St Basil saw this, encouraging young men to subvert their individuality and become monks: cells in a great working mechanism of faith. The land he chose was already hallowed. It’s been holy land since the beginning of time, and I swear you can feel it. It likes us. The air is good. The water keeps you healthy. The caves offer comfortable shelter, staying around 72 degrees Fahrenheit winter and summer. The rock is easy to carve. The land yields, providing soil, fertilizer, minerals, and an absence of earthquakes. Something about the place focuses faith, whatever that faith may be.

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There’s a sense of humor. The ancient gods are still here, laughing at us.  In this region that was filled for centuries with young men trying mightily to ignore the blandishments of the physical, the land looks like nothing so much as the bared and hairy hillocks, planes, rolling curves and startling appendages of a great body, a constant reminder that we are humans on earth, our home. Kapadokya seems to conspire to strengthen this sense of belonging and inclusion, for this is the one thing we all have in common regardless of belief: our humanity.

Balloon Over the Valley ©2007 Trici Venola

Balloon Over the Valley ©2007 Trici Venola

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All drawings Plein air. All art from the Drawing On Istanbul™  Project by Trici Venola. All photos © Trici Venola. All art sketchbook format, mostly 7″ X 20″ / 18 cm X 52 cm, done with drafting pens on rag paper. The Drawing On Istanbul Project is independent of any institution.  Regular readers of this blog will feel vindicated on learning that InterNations is including us in their recommended expat blog section in Istanbul. What an honor! Thanks for reading. We love your comments.

ROCKING THE CRADLE OF CIVILIZATION: Drawing On The Hasankeyf Train

The Face of HasankeyfPRECEDENT

Around 1830, beloved literary giant Victor Hugo learned that the old Gothic pile in the middle of Paris was to be pulled down. A crooked filthy church like a brokeback dragon, built piecemeal over centuries, it had been badly damaged in the French Revolution and blackened in great fires. The government planned a big new development there on the Seine once the eyesore was gone. The eyesore was Notre Dame. Horrified, Hugo set about creating something that would make everyone love the place as much as he did, enough to let it live. He wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and saved the cathedral. He told it as a story, and afterwards there was no question of its being destroyed, for all the world had come to love it.  Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, is one of the most visited places in the most visited country on earth. Oh would to the gods that I could be as Victor Hugo, as influential in his time as Steven Spielberg is in ours. There are so many things I would save. I would start with Hasankeyf.

Hasankeyf 3

THE CRADLE Imagine a place in the land of beginning. A place shaped like a cradle, in the Cradle of Civilization. All civilization, not just Middle Eastern. This is the Fertile Crescent; Sumeria, Mesopotamia: the birthplace of writing, cultivation of food, domestication of animals and other cornerstones of life as we know it. Earliest examples of writing are from the third millennium BCE, in nearby Ur, just across the border in Iraq. Cities then looked like this.

CGI of Ur

But people were much the same. Writing was invented to keep track of temple contributions, and there was undoubtedly some poor schmo accountant working overtime in some ziggurat, as shown here in Mac clip-art as comparatively ancient in computerdom as the scene it shows.

Overtime in Sumeria

Overtime: A Palace in Sumeria c2600 BCE ©1989 Trici Venola. Mouse-built Mac clip-art.

Thinking in these terms, it’s only yesterday: In a vast golden valley the road winds through gentle hillocks, many pierced with ancient caves.

Houses on Way

Sumerian Village

Sumerian Village ©2007 by Trici Venola.

Soft swells blend upward into one horizon. The other horizon is a fantasy landscape of canyons and cliffs carved by the Tigris over hundreds of thousands of years. At its most spectacular point sits Hasankeyf.

Hasankeyf 1Ur was a great trade center of the plain, buried for centuries. Hasankeyf is  a small lively hill town of caves and artifacts that have accumulated over time through many civilizations. Nothing prepared me for the jaw-dropping sight of the massive monolithic ruins rising out of the green water, caves and arches and one enormous rounded tower next to sheer cliffs soaring up from the edge of the river, everything ruddy gold in the  late afternoon sun.

Hasankeyf 2

I first saw Hasankeyf in 2007. I was the only foreigner on the Hasankeyf Train, a four-day excursion to protest the drowning of this cherished spot by the Ilisu Dam Project.

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Do you know who took this photo? Tell me so I can credit them!

Hasankeyf’s execution has been stayed many times, yet the dam has begun and progresses. People must have their electricity, and dams are the mode of the day in Turkey. This dam will last about forty years. Hasankeyf has likely been around for about 9,500 years, according to testing of artifacts found last summer in a Neolithic mound at the end of the ancient bridge.

Houses on Way 2This means that Hasankeyf, an ancient town on the Tigris River in the southeastern corner of Turkey, has been around, and likely occupied, through the various reigns of Sumerians, Assyrians, Hittites,  Mesopotamians, Arabs, Byzantines, Romans, and everyone before and after and in-between. At present, it’s of particular significance to the Kurds, and most of the present inhabitants are Kurdish.

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That jaw-dropping initial sight of the town has been mitigated in recent years. New highway and bridge constructions mar the pristine setting, with a huge dirt pile dumped in front of an ancient tomb. This zigzag staircase I so loved has, I am told, fallen off the cliff.

Zigzag Stairs Across the valley they’ve begun the new town. Everyone in Hasankeyf is to move into it. I’m told it looks like a college campus or new projects; in short: generic group housing. It’s probably okay. It just doesn’t look like this:

Doors on a Street

ArtifactDusk on the Town

Pier from the Castle

Pier from the Castle ©2007 Trici Venola.

A Street in Town Rocks in TownYes, despite all the upheaval the old town remains a place of immense charm. Three elements: green trees, carved golden stone, and the reflections in tranquil water.

Ancient Bridge PierPeople have left part of a  castle, piers of a bridge, a giant cave, a zigzag staircase, a huge Muslim minaret, carved writing, tombs and many, many caves. Most important, the place is still alive. This isn’t Aphrodisias or Ephesus, resurrected from the sands of time. Human beings live and work here.

In Town Kids CUIt’s a functioning town, which ebbs and flows around visitors in a jocular manner. Children cavort at the waters’ edge, near the two great piers of the ancient bridge. There’s archeology going on at that 9,500-year-old site. Young pine trees shoot up to the sky. Below a rock face like a giant griffin, topped with a ruined Byzantine castle, shops are full of business, and excavations prove they always have been.

TV Drawing Platform

Excavated Street

The Tigris, snaking along the edge of the valley as it has from time immemorial, has carved the rocks into fantastic sculpture. Streams run down through it from the mountains to the river. So Hasankeyf is naturally protected and watered.

River Photo Op

A  place of topographical geological magic, inherently attractive and inviting to human beings, to quote my friend John Crofoot. A longtime fellow-advocate of saving Hasankeyf via Cultural Tourism, he came over today to update me on Hasankeyf. He was there all last week. We are hoping, all of us, that the Powers That Be can find a way to have their dam and preserve Hasankeyf. I believe they can do this. I have faith in their ability.

THE HASANKEYF TRAIN

Getting Ready Yes ©2007 Trici Venola.

Getting Ready Yes ©2007 Trici Venola.

Last week there was a court order to save Hasankeyf. There have been many stays of execution, followed by more development, so people are wary. Atlas Magazine and Doga Dernegi organized a protest train in 2007, the one pictured here. Hasankeyf continues to quiver on the edge of destruction, absolutely unique, a monument to the past, a hope of the future. But Turkey is about right now, and dams are the order of the day. Dams are sexy. Lots of water, lots of electricity, lots of jobs, and fast. Detractors say solar power is sexier, that dams dry out the country. There’s a lot of pro-dam noise right now. Articles sing the praises of the many dams and say they’re creating all kinds of great sites. I dunno. I sure saw a lot of dead rivers.

Another Dead River ©2007 Trici Venola.

Another Dead River ©2007-2013 Trici Venola.

A Real Trouper ©2007 Trici Venola.

A Real Trouper ©2007 Trici Venola.

Dam detractors argue that river valleys would, if cultivated, provide more money than the dams, prevent more overcrowding in the cities,  and the most fertile and beautiful country in the Middle East would continue to provide plentifully for its people. In Mesopotamia, the origins of civilization would endure as they always have. This dam will cost over a billion dollars. It was the approval of the loan of this sum by European banks that inspired the 2007 train trip, one of several. Three hundred and seventy-four Turks and one American traveled with little sleep and no showers to celebrate this diehard ancient town.

The people on the train were educated hip Turks who love antiquities and nature enough to give up a four-day beach weekend for a rackety train with smelly bathrooms, intermittent air-conditioning  and only a brief overnight in antiquity before the return. But did we care?

On the Hasankeyf Train ©2007 Trici Venola.

On the Hasankeyf Train ©2007 Trici Venola.

Not a harsh word, and on the next-to-last night, a raucous party stretching through both dining  cars with loud singing  and people dancing  in the aisle and everyone screaming with laughter.

Party On the Train

Party On the Train ©2007 Trici Venola.

I never met nicer people.

Three On the Train ©2007 Trici Venola.

Three On the Train ©2007 Trici Venola.

Sun Face

Sun Face ©2007 Trici Venola.

Spoon-Dancing

Spoon-Dancing ©2007 Trici Venola.

You might think that being the only person who couldn’t speak Turkish, I’d feel left out, but no. Drawing On Istanbul had just come out, and people made me feel swell. Several had seen articles in the papers, They stood around and watched me draw, and I only wish I had taken fifty copies with me because I sold every one that I had.

Dark and Light: Ahmet and Cihan with Tower ©2007 Trici Venola.

Dark and Light: Ahmet and Cihan with Tower ©2007 Trici Venola.

Kalamar Tall

Kalamar in Kumkapi ©2004 Trici Venola.

I was there thanks to Celal Ogmen at Kalamar Restaurant in Kumkapi. My first year in Turkey, I designed Kalamar’s logo and drew pictures of the place while eating fish dinners. Never did I pay for one. The art has variously decorated the tablecloths, napkins, walls, brochures, ads, menus, business cards, waiters’ T-Shirts and the packet holding the refreshing towelette.

Celal  ©2004 Trici Venola

Celal ©2004 Trici Venola

Celal and his horde of relative-employees are from Van, to the north of Hasankeyf. He originally wanted me to go and draw his birthplace, but found the trip to Hasankeyf instead and coughed up my fare. It can be easier to get a pubic hair off of a gorilla in a wetsuit than to get cash out of a Sultanahmet entrepreneur. I told the organizers of the trip that if this guy was on the bandwagon to save Hasankeyf from the dam there was a lot of hope. Right, they said, Hasankeyf is one of the most beloved places in Turkey. Covering it with water is considered sacrilege.

Distant Brown Mountains

So I drew and I drew. First out the window, dozens of tiny thumbnails.

Old Woman Pulling A SheepHillock DoorA woman tugging at a sheep, a door in a hillock, a long mud-brick barn, olive trees and grassy knolls and forlorn dusty riverbeds, sad bridges unused, in the distance the bright hard blue of the huge dams. Toward Malatya, known as Turkey’s breadbasket, the land began to look like the Garden of Eden.
Only Bushes Goddess in the RockHillside OrchardI drew sheaves of poplar trees, tiny houses, orchards everywhere. The very air was full of essence of apricots. Here, the rivers have water.

Before MalatyaCinderblock Power LinesRiver Drying UpSunflower HarvestThere was a conference on the train with the two prime movers of this demonstration: Guven Eken of Doga Dernegi and Ozcan Yüksek, the editor of Atlas Magazine. I couldn’t follow the conference but I drew the passion on the faces as the train roared into the gathering dark. In the middle of Apple Tree Offeringthe night, indigestion kept me up to see a full moon on the loneliest train station in the world. Was it called Sapak?

The Loneliest Station

The Loneliest Station ©2007 Trici Venola.

Potato PickersNext day: a row of people standing next to sacks full of potatoes in a field, a flock of turkeys, a flat-topped mound Goat Trainwith a rectangular cut in it and trucks drawn up: an archeological site. A long line of goats walking along the bottom of a cliff, and in the dawn, the full moon showing a different face.

Moon

Tractor

Near Mt. Aegeis, the highest point in Turkey, we racketed past  mesas and ramparts of stone jutting out of the dry grassy hills. A giant, many-pointed black rock loomed near a green hilltop community. Its citizens in antiquity must have believed that the gods lived there.

Mt Aegeis

Goat BarnRed Rock Ramparts

Rock of the Gods

Spike HillsThe mountains grew higher and sharper as we started into tunnels. Spectacular vistas shot past: jagged peaks soaring into the clouds and dizzying glimpses down bottomless canyons covered with cedar trees.

Ahmet Gets a Shot

Stunned, I stopped drawing and just gaped along with everyone else on the train. None of this can be seen from the road, only the rails. A sudden thatched roof on a terraced hodgepodge of brick and wood near some olive trees, and the whole family out taking the sunset air, a little boy and girl up on a cistern, waving.

Family Waving on Roof

Mountain VillageNear Diyarbakir, the copper in the hills shadows blue into the rust of the mountain towns. We had been warned that malcontents might attack our train in this area, and they did: several windows were hit with rocks, the shatterproof glass spiderwebbed behind the posters that said THE HASANKEYF TRAIN.

Malcontents Hurling Rocks

My new friend Buket (pronounced Boo-Cat) saw the malcontents: three little kids. In the dining cars everyone drank coffee and tea and ate kebap and grinned at the waiters and charged their telephones at the outlets. By now many of us women had bright scarves over our flat sweaty hair. By the end of the trip these had bloomed into fantastical headdresses.

Boo-Cat (Buket)

Boo-Cat ©2007 Trici Venola.

Flock of Sheep

LITTLE GIRL DRUM

Little Girl Drum

Little Girl Drum ©2007 – 2013 Trici Venola.

Although the very Minister of Transportation had been involved with this journey, the train was all-day late. The railroad town of Batman, adjacent to Hasankeyf, waited seven hours in the thick heat to welcome us with brass bands, banners, crowds of shouting children, and the mayor himself passing out red carnations to every woman on the train.

Bright Face in BatmanIn the fierce heat I wore a small black shirt, a huge black hat and shades. Where are you from? The little boys screamed in Turkish. I was never so glad to be from Los Angeles, because it is so far away. And because of the movies everyone knows what it is. So I screamed back, Merhaba from Los Angeles, Hollywood, California, USA!! The head of the brass band put down his trumpet, stuck out his hand and said ON BEHALF OF THE CITY OF BATMAN WELCOME, and gave me two red carnations.

Arrival in Batman

The kids made us cry, singing and wringing our hands. Little boys pressed sweaty wads of salted watermelon seeds into our hands and kissed them.  Little girls in tribal dress banged huge tambourines. I thought of them out there in the searing sun all day, dressed up and waiting. We were hustled into buses and half an hour later we were winding through Mesopotamia when the bus slammed to a stop and there it was, Hasankeyf, the fantasy in the late afternoon sun.

Buket at Hasankeyf

Buket Sahin, sleeping in the next seat on the train, translated everything and has been a friend ever since.

Buket and I wandered as much as possible in the time before sunset.

IN THE TOWN

Hope and Hasankeyf

Hope and Hasankeyf ©2007 Trici Venola.

Three young men, students from Izmir, held still on the edge of the castle for portraits, staring down into the vista of caves and lantern light. “We read Atlas,” they said, “and so we travel Turkey this summer and learn our history.” Buket and I climbed down the slippery stones from the top of the Byzantine clifftop castle to dinner on the beach below.

Protest Tower Composite

Dinner was river trout barbecued and served at tables set up in the shallows. A jolly crowd sat at a tilting table with our feet in the Tigris, eating the fish caught in the river and throwing the bones back in to repay the river. Girls in trailing headresses waded out into the rushing water, legs glowing in the gloom.

Dinner in the Tigris

Dinner in the Tigris ©2007 Trici Venola.

We were going to sleep on railed platforms set up in the river. I hiked across the rocky beach toward the vast sheer cliff with the zigzag staircase and the castle on top, to use the pay restroom set up in a cave and manned all night by two hardy kids.

Griffin Rock

The cliff shone pale in the moonlight, impossibly high and huge, like something from another planet, like something glimpsed near sleep. Near the bottom of the zigzag staircase was a huge natural arched entrance all lit up and hung with tapestries. I peeked in: a vast multistoried cavern fitted out for lounging. Reaching all up inside the cliff, natural stone passageways and staircases and wooden platforms covered with cushions and little tables, halogen lamps hanging here and there showing the top of the cave high above and the water sluicing down the far wall from the natural cistern. They called it Transpassers’ Cave. Hmph. It’s Ali Baba’s cave from Arabian Nights– Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

Ali Baba's Cave

In Ali Baba’s Cave ©2007 Trici Venola.

TV Tower I don’t know if the cave is still accessible, so I’m very glad that I ran and got Buket and that we slept there, along with a litter of flea-free month-old kittens, up on the second platform high above a slumbering company from the train. I expected to dream of Ali Baba or to channel the ancients, but all I heard was Celine Dion on the sound system until they shut it off around dawn. No matter! Stiff from sleeping doubled up on the train, I sprawled in bliss on the cushions. A night to cherish, and in the morning they only let us pay for our breakfast.

Iz TV and Demonstrators

Iz TV and Demonstrators ©2007 Trici Venola.

These kids interviewed Buket and me for a show on Hasankeyf to run on Iz TV. In the background, three young guys and their grandmother held a sit-in.

From the Castle

Most of the people  of Hasankeyf aren’t happy about losing the cave homes they’ve occupied for generations.

Houses in TownThere’s a fatalism about most of the town. Still, there were townsfolk protesting with us. Ozcan Yuksek, editor of Atlas, climbed up a radio tower and got a photo of all 374 of us cohorts standing around a huge sign: HANDS OFF HASANKEYF.

Hands Off HasankeyfTwo guys sitting under a protest sign said in Turkish We will live under water if we have to. There are now scuba tours of the fabulous mosaics at Zeugma, the ancient trading port now covered by Turkey’s damming of the Euphrates years ago.

Faces Like the Rocks

Faces Like the Rocks ©2007 Trici Venola. Ozcan Yuksek, Guven Eken and the Mayor of Batman.

IMAGINE

Turkey wants to be one of the most visited places on earth. Right now it’s Number 7. The most visited place is France. Hm, I wonder why. Perhaps it’s the presence of exquisitely preserved cultural treasures–  Notre Dame!– and the absence of billboards, trash and Walmarts. People don’t cross oceans and continents to see what they can see at home. Sure, people shop. But cultural tourism combined with shopping is huge money, and it doesn’t destroy your cultural heritage, it preserves it. Turkey has absolutely unique places, important to the whole world, for Turkey is geographically and historically in the center.

Tree-Shaded House

Imagine six years later. Buket and I are still great friends.  Iz TV interviewed us both back in Hasankeyf,  and the show has been aired about a hundred times on public TV in Turkey. I know because delighted strangers stop me in the street and tell me. Hasankeyf seems to bring out the best in people.

Lon Chaney Sr 10

Lon Chaney as Quasimodo, 1923.

Trying not to think about Hasankeyf being flooded or ruined with bad promotion, I imagine Victor Hugo’s vexation about Notre Dame. It created Quasidmodo, gibbering in hideous rage on the tower as he pours molten lead on the mob hammering at Notre Dame’s doors, trying to get in and destroy the unique and exquisite Esmeralda. Snatching her from the moronic maw of the ravening mob, bearing her into the church, screaming Sanctuary! Sanctuary! That’s just how I feel: Lon Chaney as the fearsome Hunchback, and how I wish I was strong enough to ring his bell. Rage can make Quasimodos of us all, but he did save the church.

A Street in Town
Hay Piled Behind BarnsNow imagine Hasankeyf as the center of a cultural tourism Renaissance in the troubled Southeast of Turkey. Chronic upheaval makes for fascinating history, which can mean great tourism. Imagine a fine life for the poverty-flattened people of Hasankeyf, with government sanctioning of their town as a regular tourist destination, with UNESCO backing and with the kind of money that educated tourists are willing to spend to see something unique and irreplaceable.

Hasankeyf BlueThere’s that great big highway they’re building, there’s that great big bridge. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it led to a  better life for all. In situ. Just imagine! As they say in Hasankeyf, the rose is most beautiful on the branch.

Waving Kids

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All road drawings, spot illustrations and portraits Plein Air. All other drawings Plein Air with some augmentation from photos in places due to time constraints. All art, including most photos © Trici Venola. These drawings are part of the Drawing On Istanbul™ Series by Trici Venola, produced  with drafting pens on rag paper in sketchbook format. Large drawings are 18 cm X 52 cm.  Special thanks to John Crofoot, Buket Sahin. and to Celal Ogmen and the staff at Kalamar Restaurant in Kumkapi. We love their fish, and we love your comments. Thanks for reading.

THE GORDION KNOT OF HISTORY: Drawing in Museums

I love drawing in museums. The stuff in those cases is laughing at you.

In honor of the recently desecrated Guardians of Nimrud, we repost this classic piece on the importance, not to mention the fun, of museums. Thanks to them, the Guardians are still with us. Read on, and keep reading, to go with them through the Gates and down the garden path, in unexpected company.

ALEXANDER RIDES TO MIDAS

Alexander Rides to Midas

Alexander Rides to Midas (Archeological Museum, Istanbul) ©2012 Trici Venola.

Alexander the Great died in 323 BC. He was 33.  Alexander died of a bone infection from an old arrow wound.  It’s possible that his immune system was compromised by his grief, bordering on dementia, over the death of Hephaestion, his closest friend, greatest general, second in command and, some say, the love of his life.

Hephaestion Straight Up

Hephaestion

Like the god he believed himself to be, the Golden Conqueror would never age. He won the respect and admiration of his own time and successive generations. In awe and affection they continue to laud him, creating imagery in all media from marble to film.

His actual body was mummified in Alexandria, Egypt, by Egyptian necromancers, and was still in a good state of preservation three centuries after his death, when Caesar Augustus leaned into its glass sarcophagus to kiss the Conqueror and, slipping, broke off the mummy’s nose. But Alexander’s tomb and body disappeared. The Alexander Sarcophagus in Istanbul’s Archeological Museum is the nearest thing we have.

Alexander Sarcophagus Detail

Alexander is still fighting and hunting lions on this museum centerpiece  from the great Necropolis at Sidon.  The stunning bas-relief was created by unknown talent during Alexander’s lifetime. It’s possible that the artist actually set eyes on him.

Alexander SarcophagusThe art commemorates victory over the Persians at the Battle of Issus in what is now Turkey, and Hephaestion is there fighting as well. Scholars argue over who was buried in the tomb, but he may have commissioned the work before his death with an eye toward Alexandrian help in future battles. The Alexander Sarcophagus was discovered, in what is now Lebanon, in 1887 and brought to Istanbul by Osman Hamdi Bey, the great Ottoman statesman, archeologist and artist who built Istanbul’s Archeological Museum.

Alex In Better Shape

Alexander Is In Better Shape (Archeological Museum. Istanbul) ©1999 Trici Venola.

Alexander in MuseumAnd here is the rock star himself, Alexander. This still has traces of yellow paint in the marble hair, rose on the lips. It’s one of several done in the second century BC, when the artist might have had Alexander’s mummy to work from. I find this plausible because the forehead wrinkles are realistic for Alexander but idealized out of many statues.

THE GORDION KNOT

 In the drawing up top, Alexander rubs shoulders with an ancient Cypriot statue of Bes, the God of Plenty, a Hittite lion 5500 years old, and King Midas. A skeletal cohort of Midas– nobody knows who- rests upstairs among swanky grave goods built of boxwood from 740 BC. Midas was  King of the Phrygians, whose capitol of Gordion is near Turkey’s capitol, Ankara. The Phrygians invented a smelting technique that made bronze shine like gold, so yes, everything Midas touched turned to gold. And I thought it was just a fairy tale. Here’s some Midas Gold in the Archeological Museum in Antalya. It actually looks like titanium. There’s also a Madonna whose breasts weep blood, three jolly bronze creatures and a festive phallic bronze pin. I love drawing in museums. The stuff in those cases is laughing at you.

Midas Gold

Midas Gold (Archeological Museum, Antalya) ©2000 Trici Venola.

Gordion is the Home of the Gordion Knot. More fairy tales: Nobody could untie the Gordion Knot. Alexander famously solved this dilemma. He pulled out his sword and cut it.

Alexander Cuts the Gordion Knot

Alexander Cuts the Gordion Knot by Jean-Simon Barthelemy (1743-1811)

The Gordion Knot

A rendition of the Gordion Knot.

Turkey is a veritable Gordion Knot of history. The threads keep weaving in and out, disappearing and reappearing, and I will never ever live long enough to unravel it. In a beloved tale, King MIdas judged Pan the winner in a music contest with Apollo, and a furiously un-godlike Apollo gave him donkey’s ears. The little figures below are Midas Gold and smaller than my hand. I haven’t yet been to the museum in Ankara, now in restoration, but look forward to its re-opening, when I can see Midas’s magnificent wooden furniture preserved and reassembled over years by dedicated archeologists.

Antalya Museum Intro

Antalya Museum Intro (Archeological Museum, Antalya) ©2000 Trici Venola.

LIONS CAN LIVE THOUSANDS OF YEARS That Hittite lion back in Istanbul has fellows all over what is now Turkey. Aslantepe (Lion Hill) Huge dig near Malatya features a jocular fountain lion and many real pussycats.

Aslantepe Huge Intro

Aslantepe Huge Intro (Aslantepe Huge Excavation, Malatya) ©2004 Trici Venola.

The museum at the University in Elazig was full of artifacts from Paleolithic to Ottoman. It’s the only place I’ve ever been offered a chair, not to mention tea and conversation.

Reyhan in Elazig Muse ©2004 by Trici Venola.

Reyhan in Elazig Muse ©2004 by Trici Venola.

I love the combination of tribal art and ancient artifacts found all over rural Turkey. Here’s a collection from Aslantepe Huge:

Malatya Artifacts

Malatya Artifacts (Aslantepe Huge Excavation, Malatya) ©2004 Trici Venola.

Here’s a Hittite courtroom, drawn in situ in Turkey in 2004. The culprit sat in the hot seat, surrounded by devils– those paintings on the walls– and was judged by a group. Not much has changed in 5500 years, if you consider the paparazzi.

Hittite Hot Seat

Hittite Hot Seat (Aslantepe Huge Excavation, Malatya) ©2004 Trici Venola.

NIMRUD IN HOLLYWOOD The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is one of the more civilized museums in the world, allowing artists to carry in sketchbooks and work at any time. But they go farther still. I drew this Assyrian Guardian and mapped his beard curls to render when I wasn’t standing up– on feet that felt like two hot anvils pounding upward. But I neglected to render one curl to go by. I went back next day, but the exhibit was closed. At the guard station I explained the problem while flipping pages in the sketchbook. “All I need is five minutes,” I said, and those enlightened people called the actual curator who personally came downstairs, escorted me up to the exhibit, unlocked it and stood there while I drew the beard curl. Now THAT’s a museum!!

Assyrian King at the Met

Assyrian Guardian at the Met (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art) ©2002 Trici Venola.

Nimrud Bird Djinn

Nimrud, Bird Djinn

To the right of the bearded Guardian is a piece from a personal puzzle: that male figure with a bird head, wings and a sideways Egyptian stance, symbol of exotica and ancient mystery. This image strides through my earliest memories, associated with Echo Park, with klieg lights across the sky and the smell of eucalyptus, an enduring symbol of Old Hollywood, of Los Angeles, of home. What a shock to discover this dear and familiar figure to be a djinn– a genie, relic of Nimrud, in Mesopotamia, oceans and continents and millennia away from my childhood in California. I was totally immersed in the Middle East, obsessed with moving to Turkey, drawing to learn more. Echo Park had been the furthest thing from my mind. I stood there in the Met with my mouth open while images strobed through my memory. DW Griffith’s silent epic Intolerance, shot in Hollywood in 1916, stunned viewers with its exotic representation of Babylon. See the figures on the gate?

Griffith Intolerance Set

Set of Babylon, DW Griffith’s Intolerance, Hollywood 1916.

Antiquities in the Middle East were being discovered at the same time as the medium of film. DW Griffith’s Babylon featured this same djinn, still parading in Hollywood shopping malls to this day.

Hollywood Highland Center

Hollywood Highland Center, 2004.

One Ramadan, drawing from memory Eastern Turkish women I’d seen on the tram, I was compelled by a certain strength in their features to intersperse them with Mesopotamian deities. After all, these faces are all from the same region.

Ramadan Women

Ramadan Women ©2011 Trici Venola.

Nimrud is on the Tigris, just southeast of the eastern Turkish border. It was originally excavated in the 1850s. One example of our bird-djinn was surely found between then and Intolerance. DW Griffith employed artists from all over the world. One of them knew the image, which was used precisely because of that sense of ancient mystery it conveys. Many more were found at Nimrud in 1931 by archeologist Max Mallowan. The one above, which I used as reference for my djinn drawing, was photographed by his wife, Agatha Christie.

Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie at Nimrud, c1937.

AGATHA CHRISTIE? That Gordion Knot again! The most prolific and well-known mystery writer of all time was no stranger to Hollywood, since so many movies have been made of her novels, including Murder on the Orient Express which begins in Istanbul, where she often stayed on her way to and from her husband’s digs in Mesopotamia. I had always associated Agatha Christie with floral dresses, trains, lorgnettes, a detective with patent-leather hair. But here she is in the dusty winds of the Middle East. She funded many digs, used up her face-cream cleaning ancient sculpture, and was an inveterate shutter-bug. She photographed many of the considerable Mallowan finds and wound up on many a museum plaque, along with all those best-seller lists.

Big Faces Agape

Big Faces Agape (Archeological Museum, Istanbul) ©2012 Trici Venola.

Turkey is a mystery I will never solve, but it sure is fun trying. One way is to travel, and another way is to go into the museums and draw. When I get fascinated by a piece of art and draw it, I learn more and more about this place. Everyone was here, many at the same time. Check out these strange bedfellows from the 2nd century AD, at the Archeological Museum in Antalya.

Unholy Trio

Strange Bedfellows.detail (Archeological Museum, Antalya) ©2000 Trici Venola.

Priapus, God of Sexual Enthusiasm, was as popular with the ancients as he is with us. The one on all those postcards is in Selchuk, along with many other aspects of love.

Eros & Priapus

Aspects of Love (Selchuk Museum) ©2012 Trici Venola.

There’s Priapus actual size– fist-sized–  at right center. He’s in a glass case with a light you press for two minutes of illumination. I kept pushing the button so I could see to draw, and when I looked up a large crowd was standing behind me, staring into the case and giggling.

THE BYZANTINE FANTASY ZOO

Dragon Lamp at the Met

Dragon Lamp at the Met (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art) ©2002 Trici Venola.

It turns out that a dragon was a symbol of Christianity. So was a foot, which represented pilgrimage. Drawing in the Met, I realized that Christianity had spread all over the Middle East long before Islam. It incorporated all the fantastic animals of the Shamanistic religions that preceded it.

Peter Paul and Mary at the Met

Peter, Paul and Mary at the Met (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art) ©2002 Trici Venola.

Thanks to the movies, the co-mingled Egyptian animal-human gods are old friends. But who ever heard of a Senmurv, a rocking-horse-like winged creature with a peacock tail?

Byzantine Trappings

Byzantine Trappings (Archeological Museum, Istanbul) ©1999 Trici Venola.

Bosch Delights.Detail

Hieronymus Bosch, Hell.detail, 16th century.

All the early Christian exhibits are full of these strange co-mingled creatures: bird-headed lions, griffins, dragons,  hippogriffs, pigs with wings. By the Middle Ages, artists were using them to populate Hell, most famously Hieronymus Bosch. The ancients combined lions and eagles and bulls. Bosch used animals he saw in Holland: frogs, birds, cats, mice, rabbits. Gradually these disappeared from Christian art, and all that is left of them now are those gargoyles on Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Gargoyles

Gargoyles, Notre Dame, Paris 2000.

Heaven got the winged deities. The visual depictions of angels evolved from those Shamanistic figures, from fiery six-winged Seraphim to Cupid-inspired cherubs. And this powerful winged male figure: our dear and familiar djinn with a human head: the Archangel.

The Archangel Michael, by Guido Reni, 16th Century.

The Archangel Michael, by Guido Reni, 16th Century.

A PRIDE OF LIONS

On the Steps of the Met

On the Steps of the Met (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art) ©2002 Trici Venola.

Not every fabulous museum denizen is in a glass case. Derek here posed on the steps of the Met with all the insouciance of one of the stone lions within, while I was able to delight nine-year-old Faisal by drawing his incipient mustache.

Assyrian Lions

Assyrian Lions (The British Museum, London) ©2006 Trici Venola.

Lord Elgin was the British ambassador to Ottoman Istanbul. Distressed at the rural peoples’ indifference to antiquities, he bought as many as he could afford, bullying an old friend into building an entire wing at The British Museum to house them, and bankrupting himself in the process. This is now a cause of discord between Turkey and England, but in the end the glories are preserved.

The Lion from Xanthos

The Lion from Xanthos (The British Museum, London) ©2006 Trici Venola.

In The British Museum, while drawing these lions from Xanthos, I was surrounded by schoolchildren. In uniforms, with sketchbooks, little Harry Potters all, saying in those lovely accents, “Are you actually drawing those lions? Truly?”  Yes, I said, these lions are from Xanthos, a city in Turkey. They were astonished, they were entranced. They had not known that Turkey is the Asia Minor referred to in the museum. My sketchbook at that time had pictures of the British Ambassador to Turkey, our Anglican Canon, the chandeliers in the British Consulate, and Cappadocia.

Big Church in Goreme

Big Church in Goreme (Goreme, Cappadocia) ©2006 Trici Venola.

What these kids loved was the open air museum in Cappadocia. They would not let me turn the pages. They wanted to know the story of every single pigeon cave in the cliffs, every window, every cave church. “These are pigeonholes? Real ones?”

Cave Church Door

Cave Church Door (Ortahisar, Cappadocia) ©2006 Trici Venola.

“Look at this, it’s old Father Theodosias’s church, look here, where he prayed, the stone is worn there, that’s Arab painting up top, you can see-” When I looked up, there were a hundred kids there, parents, teachers, docents… now THAT’s a museum!

Turkish Flashback

Turkish Flashback ©2000 Trici Venola.

THE GORDION KNOT There are plenty of Hittite lions in Cappadocia, too. All of Turkey is one breathing, palpating, interwoven fist of historical threads, pulling in the whole world. We live at the center, then and now. And what’s all this history for? Well, for starters history gives me hope. In these perilous times it’s reassuring to realize that the ancients, too, often thought– with good reason!–that the world was ending. It’s relaxing, when distressed by the antics of some fruitcake potentate or crackpot group of terrorist thugs, to read of the same a thousand years ago and know that these lethal fools too shall pass. History is humbling: no matter how unique I feel, I learn of legions of others. Wandering through the museums, looking at familiar expressions in ancient bronze and marble and clay, I feel at one with the great tide of humanity: following that Gordion thread, seeing it disappear into the knot, wondering if I will ever see it re-emerge, or if I must wait for another incarnation. One day I may have all the answers, but by then the questions probably won’t matter anymore.

Syrian Bronze Sphinx

Bronze Sphinx from Syria (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art)©2002 Trici Venola.

All drawings Plein Air. All drawings © Trici Venola, created with drafting pens on rag paper in sketchbook format, standard size 18 X 52 cm / 7 X 20 inches. All drawings part of The Drawing On Istanbul Project. Original drawings are for sale. If you see one here and love it, contact  Trici Venola. We love your comments.