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.

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?

sampson5

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.

mental disorders

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

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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.

JUST UNDER YOUR FEET: Drawing in the Corridors of Lord

Tunnels under Hagia Sophia? Here’s my experience with one of them.

Just Under Your Feet ©2001 Trici Venola

Just Under Your Feet ©2001 Trici Venola

The bridal processional walks singing along Akbiyik Street, trailing clouds of incense. Between rows of arches and marble columns, through hotels and hostels, bars and cafes and shops, the grand company spirals up through the bad bald renovation of the Stairway of Lord, chanting with every step, and continues on toward the Four Seasons Hotel. Heavy silks and pearled brocades sweep through groups of backpackers drinking beer and smoking nargile, tourists haggling over carpets and ceramics, hotel check-ins and waiters juggling trays, as the Empress and her attendants and priests walk from her marriage, in the Church of Lord, to its consummation in the Imperial Bedchamber of the Magnaura Palace.  Sometimes I spend so much time drawing these antique ruins that the past becomes superimposed on the present.

Rock Crystal Cross ©2002 Trici Venola

Rock Crystal Cross ©2002 Trici Venola

THE PALACE UNDER THE CARPET SHOP

Cartoon Asia MinorI found this place back in 1999.  I’d heard about the Byzantine palace they’d found but couldn’t get in anywhere to draw it. I was out on Kutlugun Street in Sultanahmet across from Four Seasons Hotel, crazy, thinking about them building on the ruin before I could draw it. A guy stepped out of a carpet shop. “Do not cry, Madam,” he said, “we have the Magnaura Palace in our basement.”

What they have is a section of the Corridor of Lord, part of the Magnaura Palace Complex. Every structure on the street is built over a chunk of the Corridor. But the Basdogan family at Asia Minor Carpets spent half a million dollars digging out theirs.  I started drawing it that day, and I’ve been drawing it ever since. It’s a spectacular ruin. You can see it under Asia Minor Carpet Shop and from the back of Albura Kathisma Restaurant. Don’t walk where the floor is wet! I love it so much I wrote a story about it. Here’s an excerpt. For our post, I’ve included my Plein Air drawings of the place and some photos.

Tunnel Door

(Fall 1999) …As lights came on I began to see dim walls of pitted stone blocks. At the bottom of the wall to my left was a low arch. One of the electrical cords traveled along the wall and into this black hole. It lit up suddenly. The wall was so thick it was almost a tunnel. I stuck the sketchbook under my arm, bent double, and went in.

Double Door in Lord ©2005 Trici Venola

Double Door in Lord ©2005 Trici Venola. From the Passageway, looking across the Bath at the first room.

It was a little irregular room with a tall vaulted ceiling. Amid the stones of one wall was a broken terracotta pipe. A bath?Rock CU Across was the entrance to another archway. I crowded through it into a narrow passage, rough stone walls going up into shadows, iron prongs sticking out from the stones above my head, hammered into them in some forgotten necessity a thousand years ago.  

Lord Passage ©1999 Trici Venola

Lord Passage ©1999 Trici Venola.

 I walked down the passage on warped wooden planks. The orange electrical cord looped along ahead of me, buzzing, strung here and there with glowing yellow bulbs. At the end of the passage it disappeared through a tall opening in the stone wall. I followed the cord through this opening. I smelled damp earth and age. The yellow lights made aureoles in the dusk.

Indiana Jones Arch

I was in a big dim space, looking down the wooden catwalk at a brick archway about fifteen feet high, plugged almost to the top with rubble. Between the rubble and the arch was a black hole going back forever. The walls on either side were stone. At the bottom were cement sacks and a shovel. Above was a dome made of small red bricks in a spiral pattern. To the left and right of the arch were more pitted brick archways, at right angles to the one in the center. Each led to another spiral brick dome over another archway, each full of rocks and dirt that went off into the shadows. In the center arch, next to the black hole, was a bright square yellow lamp. The electrical cord swooped along to this and stopped. End of the line. I was in Byzantium.

— From ‘Just Under Your Feet’, Encounters with the Middle East, Solas House, Palo Alto. © 2007 Trici Venola.

Indiana Jones Arch ©1999 Trici Venola.

Indiana Jones Arch ©1999 Trici Venola. Dome Chamber, the drawing from that first day.

In this early attempt at drawing old stone. I just outlined every brick. After so many centuries, each one has a separate personality. The cat clearly said, “What are you doing here?”

Open to the Sky ©1999 Trici Venola

Open to the Sky ©1999 Trici Venola. Dome Chamber entrance before the stairs were put in.

The Basdogan Family finished their excavation, three full rooms and the Passage, plus a small cistern behind that broken pipe.They installed two staircases and a plywood floor and topped parts of the ruin with glass, and put in a cafe with a large sign over it: Palatium.  In 2005, obsessed, I drew a schematic of their excavation. Here it is.

Lord Schematic ©2005 Trici Venola

Corridor of Lord Chunk Schematic ©2005 Trici Venola

In the story above, I went into the first room at the bottom of the drawing, up through the Bath and Passage, and into the Dome Chamber at the top, which is Kutlugun Street. The bottom is Akbiyik. Both run parallel along the Marmara slope of Sultanahmet. The shape of the streets is determined by the shape of the Corridor. See?

Here on Google, that big dome conglomerate at the top is Hagia Sophia. That Four Seasons, now gorgeous, was the actual Midnight Express prison, built on the ruins of the Magnaura Palace. You can still see graffiti from prisoners there. The Magnaura was the Imperial Palace from the 4th to the 8th centuries. The galleries were still around in 1200, as this CGI take from Byzantium 1200 shows:

Corridor of Lord CGI ©2007, Walking Through Byzantium. ©byzantium1200.com. Used by permission.

Behind hotels along Akbiyik street you can still glimpse tall pointed arches and old stone. Here’s what Byzantium 1200 thinks the inside upper gallery looked like.

Corridor of Lord CGI ©2007, Walking Through Byzantium. ©byzantium1200.com. Used by permission.
According to various sources, including one that quotes an 8th-century Book of Ceremonies, the Empress’s procession walked to her marriage, her ceremonial bath, her bedchamber and back again. I wonder if the actual consummation was witnessed as well.
The Passageway Door ©2005 Trici Venola

The Passageway Door ©2005 Trici Venola. From the Dome Chamber, looking into the Passage.

Drawing down under the street I wonder about a lot of things. There’s the dripping of water, great silence and a sense of waiting. Ghost stories seem sensible here. I heard of something in tall boots that told the carpet shop tea lady to move along, and one night watchman tells lurid tales of spooks running up and down the stairs. I myself saw only a black cat-sized shadow detach itself from a black doorway down there, skitter across the floor and evaporate before my very eyes.

In the Corridors of Lord ©2008 Trici Venola

In the Corridors of Lord ©2008 Trici Venola. By 2008, I had learned to draw old stone. You do it slowly.

The best story was from an old lady in the neighborhood. In Kathisma Restaurant, next to the entrance to this excavation, there’s a tunnel tricked out to look like a wishing well. The old lady said that when she was a kid, they used to go in there and come out on the Marmara Sea. An adult tried this in the 1960s, but he got stuck and died, so be warned.

THE DISAPPEARING BISHOP

Gennadios II meets Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453

Gennadios II meets Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453

I remember that Bishop of Constantinople in 1453, coming in full pomp with all his attendants to meet Mehmet the Conqueror. He handed over the keys to the city, and, according to witnesses, walked into the wall of Hagia Sophia and disappeared forever.

Dragon Lamp G2002 Trici Venola

Dragon Lamp ©2002 Trici Venola

There are these small doors in Hagia Sophia, and many, many tunnels. That must have been quite a processional, all those priests quick-stepping down through secret passages to the sea. They would have worn their best to meet the Conqueror, and carried all their jewels and all their prayers to avoid meeting their Maker.

Foot Lamp ©2002 Trici Venola

Foot Lamp ©2002 Trici Venola

Red and blue and gold, furs and plumes, torches, little lamps. The Pilgrim Foot was a common Christian theme.  Fantastical creatures pre-date and permeate Christianity throughout the Middle East, a tradition now echoed only by those gargoyles on Notre Dame.  Perhaps the hurrying processional carried small ivories like this Madonna or the angel at the top of the page.

Ivory Virgin ©2002 Trici Venola

Ivory Virgin ©2002 Trici Venola

Or reliquaries with bas-reliefs similar to these silver ones of Apostles Peter and Paul. After all they were running for their lives.

Peter and Paul ©2002 Trici Venola

Peter and Paul ©2002 Trici Venola. Silver bas-reliefs 7″ high 500-600 CE. NY Met

I drew these little images in museums, most of them in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, a magnificent evolved place that allows me to wander with my sketchbook and my mind, in the wake of the grand processional of history. It continues to wend its way along these streets, sun lancing in the arched windows, reflected flames gleaming in the surfaces of old marble bowed with the collective weight of panoply and prayers.

Two ArchesJust under your feet, steps recede into the earth, domes push up weeds, arches bear up under traffic. Forty fathoms below that the goddesses are pagan, the angels’ wings come out of their hips, the lions have nearly human faces. Down and down and down go the passages, the great processionals in a honeycomb of antiquity. Workmen with iPhones jackhammer away, following the pipedream of progress, but they have never found the bottom of Sultanahmet.

Ivory Angel ©2002 Trici Venola.

Ivory Angel ©2002 Trici Venola.

— All drawings Plein Air by Trici Venola, from the Drawing On Istanbul Series. All full drawings done in sketchbook format: 18 cm X 52 cm, drafting pens on rag paper. We appreciate your comments!

This post originally appeared early in 2012 under the title: THE PALACE UNDER THE CARPET SHOP: Drawing In the Corridors of Lord. I’m closing in on finishing a new book, so instead of the usual week I took a night and upgraded this for you. It’s one of my favorites.

HOT CROSSES: Crusader Graffiti in Hagia Sophia

TWO LEAD CROSSES

Two Lead Crosses ©2012 Trici Venola

They’re only visible from a few inches away. Carved  at eye level into the side of a malachite pillar in Hagia Sophia’s lower North Gallery are two thick little crosses side by side. The lead pressed into them is the same tone as the pillar itself. Leaning there in the dark one day last winter, I saw them between my fingers and thought I was hallucinating.

There are dozens, some say hundreds, of graffiti crosses scattered throughout Ayasofya. Along with the ghost images of bronze or gold crosses wrenched away are these thick little artifacts. I think they’re from the Fourth Crusade.

Hagia Sophia, Constantinople, 1204: Illiterate Christian Soldiers far from home with nothing to do but raise Cain, melt lead, fix chainmail and make arrowheads. Here’s some melted lead among the graffiti up on the balustrade in the Imperial Gallery.

The more I looked, the more crosses I found. Here’s one on a massive malachite column, one of the eight major ones in the nave. Notice how this cross fades out at the top, but still has all that lead pressed into it.

Here it is in situ. Can you see it?

PAGAN COLUMNS  Sources differ as to the origin of these eight giant green columns, each 70 tons of priceless malachite, probably 2400 years old. Tradition claims Justinian brought them from Ephesus, from the Temple of Artemis or the Gymnasium there. Other sources claim that they’re from the Temple of Baalbek in Lebanon. I haven’t been there, but photos show zero malachite. The big purple ones, porphyry, are probably from Rome.  Porphyry must be harder to carve, because I’ve yet to find a cross cut in it. Almost all of the columns here– veined purple-and-white, speckled green, swirled purplish-grey, golden, and the green and purple monoliths– were scavenged from Pagan temples; brought by barge, rolled on logs, hauled by lines of straining oxen, sweating slaves, cushioned in bushels of straw, great wooden wheels groaning over the Roman roadstones.

Clearly, Hagia Sophia’s architects, Isadore of Miletus and Anthemis of Tralles, got the most magnificent columns to be had in matched sets, and the leftovers from this perfect symmetry likely made up the nearby Cistern, also built by Justinian at the same time as Hagia Sophia. The Cistern, never meant to be seen, creates an effect so breathtaking that it takes a few visits to realize that all of its columns are flawed.

Here in the great temple, the columns are all different sizes, and it’s wonderful how the architects worked with these limitations. I’ve always loved Hagia Sophia’s feline, feminine curves. Now I see a practical application: the arches swoop down to meet the shorter columns, up to reach the tall ones. Some columns are mounted on pedestals. Here’s a cross carved in the corner of one.

 See how he had just a little leftover lead to put in it?

Pedestal Cross ©2012 Trici Venola

DRAWING IN THE DARK Next thing I knew, I was sitting for days in the dark behind a pillar with a flashlight stuck in my hair, telling a diverse parade of perfectly fascinating people from all over the world about the Crusader Crosses and the Fourth Crusade. A guide came along and excitedly told us that in 28 years he’s never seen these particular ones, and that I must be lucky. And how! I get to be here and draw this:

Crosses in the Dark ©2012 Trici Venola

I slaved over this drawing and despaired of ever getting it right. There’s so much detail, and it’s all so dim. It took about fifteen hours. The crosses here have no lead and are far down on the wall side of the pillar. I found them by feeling around and using my little flashlight. Notice that there are bits of the dark shiny original surface left on the crosses as decoration, and that the two crosses are linked by a bit of it. Like two names. Are we looking at a Crusader Bromance here? Even a Romance is possible: ancient Romans had the canonized gay soldier couple Ss Sergius and Bacchus as patrons. Why not Crusaders?

We’ll never know.  All that is certain is that someone carved these, and took the time to do it neatly and carefully. Here’s a shot of the entire composition, which I didn’t notice until well into the drawing. There are four: our two linked ones at the bottom, a deeply incised stick cross in the middle, sort of pouring out of a very deep hole, and the top one which is forever just coming into being out of the marble. I find this one magical.

Hot Crosses Four ©2012 Trici Venola

“Politicians, ugly buildings and whores, all become respectable if they last long enough,” said John Huston’s raddled old crook in Chinatown, and so it is with graffiti.

Can worship create an energy? Hagia Sophia, St John’s, the Temple of Artemis, St Savior in Chora, Rumi’s Tomb in Konya, Baalbek in Lebanon– all are palpably holy places, whether ruins, museums or adaptations to another religion. The columns from Pagan temples still reverberate with worship to the ancient gods, although they’ve been holding up Ayasofya for 1500 years. Worship is a powerful force, and although the name of the Deity changes I believe the force remains, singing down through the pillars through the massed energy of millenniums of temples here on this rock sacred from the beginning of time. So what’s the story with Christian crosses carved as graffiti in a Christian church? Why do I think these are from the Fourth Crusade?

Gustave Dore’s engraving: The Crusaders Entering Constantinople

Hagia Sophia was consecrated in 537. Until the rape and sack by Crusaders in 1204, no hostile armies succeeded in getting into the city. It’s unlikely that anyone would have cut crosses during that time. In the late 8th century the Iconoclasts, starting with  Emperor Leo, destroyed much of the pictorial art: mosaics, bas-reliefs, everything. But crosses were allowed to remain. Graffiti ones, though? This one is right out in front of the altar!

Hot Cross Floor ©2012 Trici Venola

You can see in the photo below that another cross was started. Somebody swinging an axe, chopping away…

Carving with a knife into marble is not so easy. One must devise a chisel effect and bash at it with…what? A mallet, a mace? Lean into the edge with all your might, again and again. Noise, fuss, swearing, leaning there on your cutting device and scraping. Not a light undertaking, and nothing furtive about it. Here are three columns in a row, each with a cross in the same place.

From 1453 until 1931, Hagia Sophia was a mosque. Mehmet the Conqueror, in 1453, refused to burn it. Instead, his men built a minaret and amputated the arms of every cross they could find. A Western tourist visiting the Ottoman empire might have succeeded in furtively scratching one cross over in the shadows, but banging away, cutting deep into marble floors and pillars right out in the nave, making all these and more?

Hot Crosses Group Shot ©2012 Trici Venola

Cemented-Over Cross

Could the crosses, similar in size and shape, have been made after the Republic? Hagia Sophia has been a museum since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk declared it one in 1935. It was closed for four years prior to that. It’s barely possible that some Christian fanatic was working there alone at night…but I doubt it. It’s much more likely to have been then that some insect cemented over several crosses, at the front of the nave and on a few of the pillars. These boneheaded attempts have the look of some excised crosses upstairs, in which the axe cuts faithfully echo the cross shape. Someday a method may be found for dissolving cement without dissolving the stone underneath, but until then I can only long for a chisel.

Nope, not likely during the Ottomans, nor after the Republic. Had to be Fourth Crusaders. Here’s why.

THE FOURTH CRUSADE

 

There were two sides to the Christian church: the Catholics in a collection of city-states in Italy, and the Eastern Roman Christians– we call them Byzantines– an empire ruled from Constantinople. Venice, in Italy, looked longingly over at the glorious city of Constantinople, bastion of the Eastern Roman Church and very, very rich.  The two factions did not get along. Eastern Roman Christians favored trade over war, and they bathed, looking down their long narrow Byzantine noses at the unwashed, body-eschewing “Latins,” the Catholics who they considered filthy warmongers, observers of pagan Latin rites.

 

Mural, in Istanbul’s Archeological Museum, of Constantinople before the Fourth Crusade. Huge grey building is Hagia Sophia.

Pope Innocent III tried to muster up a Crusade against the Byzantines but only succeeded in drumming one up to take Egypt from the Muslims.  To get there, the Fourth Crusaders hired Venetians to build ships for them. They couldn’t pay for the ships. Enrico Dandolo, Doge of Venice, old and blind, suggested that they recapture Zara, in Hungary, for the Venetians, and then go sack Constantinople. So the Crusaders, mostly Italian and French out for treasure and glory, became mercenaries for Venice.

Do you know who painted this? Let me know so I can credit them!

Crusade videos abound on YouTube,  In one, the unctuous narrator actually says that the Crusaders didn’t mean to destroy the Christian city of Constantinople. He says they had no choice but to sack it to pay the Venetians. “Um…I maxed out my credit card, so I’m going to kill you and your family and take everything you own to pay it…”

Eugene Delacroix, The Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople.

 

It’s true that the Crusaders scrupulously honored their debts to Venice. Picture a household gutted of its glory and beauty, the husband and wife disemboweled among the bodies of their raped children, screams from the convent nearby, flames belching out of church windows, coffers smashed open, blood and stench everywhere, sky black with oily smoke, silks and satins billowing through splintered shutters– and a bunch of bean counters making piles for the Venetians. “One for you, and one for me…”

This accounts for the glories of San Marco Square in Venice, plundered from Constantinople, among them the four bronze horses taken from the Constantinople Hippodrome.

 

Istanbul Through the Ages, the top floor exhibit of Istanbul’s Archeological Museum, houses broken marble from site after site destroyed by “the Latins,” punctuated by photographs of art treasures now in Venice.

Jacopo Tintoretto, The Second Conquest. A Venetian, the artist painted heroism.

Upstairs in Hagia Sophia, just behind the Deesus Mosaic, is a grave in the floor. It’s Dandolo’s. He died in 1205 and was buried by his request in Hagia Sophia. But he’s not there. 57 years later, when the Byzantine Christians of Constantinople succeeded in vomiting out the Catholics, they dug up Dandolo and threw him out the window.

Alexius Angelos

There were other factors in this mess. Alexius Angelos, deposed Byzantine Emperor, promised the moon to the Crusaders if they helped him get back his throne. He got it, and died soon after, proving a miserable ruler who bankrupted the Imperial treasury.

Pope Innocent III

 

During the convoluted and bloody track of this Crusade, Pope Innocent III, horrified at the mayhem, excommunicated all the Crusaders. After being presented with the spoils from Constantinople, he accepted them back into the Church.

The Imperial Tombs were all over at Holy Apostles, on the site of what is now Fatih Mosque. Everyone of consequence was entombed there, and there were celebrated relics of the saints. Over the protests of one Latin priest, the Crusaders ripped open the sarcophagi, took all the gold, and threw the bones to the dogs in the street. And that’s what happened to St Luke, to Constantine, St Helen, Justinian and Theodora, the relics of Ss Timothy, Andrew, John Chrysostom, Gregory the Theologian… What remains of their glittering reliquaries can now be seen in the Treasury of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. If St Mark had been buried at Holy Apostles, he would have been chewed by the dogs as well.

Opened Sarcophagus in front of Hagia Sophia

 

There are many sources for all of his, but let’s hear a contemporary account:

How shall I begin to tell of the deeds wrought by these nefarious men! Alas, the images, which ought to have been adored, were trodden under foot! Alas, the relics of the holy martyrs were thrown into unclean places! Then was seen what one shudders to hear, namely, the divine body and blood of Christ was spilled upon the ground or thrown about.

Domenico Tintoretto, Conquest of Constantinople

They snatched the precious reliquaries, thrust into their bosoms the ornaments which these contained, and used the broken remnants for pans and drinking cups… just as… Christ was robbed and insulted and His garments… divided by lot; only one thing was lacking, that His side, pierced by a spear, should pour rivers of divine blood on the ground. Nor can the violation of the Great Church [Hagia Sophia] be listened to with equanimity. For the sacred altar, formed of all kinds of precious materials and admired by the whole world, was broken into bits and distributed among the soldiers, as was all the other sacred wealth of so great and infinite splendor.  —The Historian Nicetas Choniates, 1155-1215/16

 

There is no excuse for the Fourth Crusade, but there are these crosses.

Hole-In-One Cross ©2012 Trici Venola

 

After a couple of weeks hunting and drawing crosses, I can see these guys, these Crusaders. They’d been camped out in Venice, fighting and looting Zara in Hungary, excommunicated, nothing more to lose.

 

Then to  Constantinople, telling each other it was meet and just to behave like beasts in the fabled streets. Now in the dusky church the massive  pillars rising up into glory, mayhem below, fires here and there reflected on the marble floor, glittering off the gold ceiling mosaics high above. Whores singing, one lolling in the Patriarch’s Seat, drunken carousing, the altar hacked to pieces, puddles of sacrificial wine. Bedding and loot spilling out of sacks, chainmail in stinking heaps, exhaustion, hilarity. Illiterate treasure-hunters, murderers and thieves by our standards, but with the same desire to make a mark that Justinian had, and only a knife, an axe, a sword to make it with. All of them played by Ray Stevenson of Rome. Hack, crunch. “You call that a cross? Hang on, let me at it.” They might wrench away every gold crucifix, but still carve one as well. “I was here,” it says, “I lived.”  Just guys. We can almost forgive them for St Luke.

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All drawings Plein Air, done with drafting pens on rag sketchbook paper 18X52cm / 7X20 “. All drawings and most photos ©2012 by Trici Venola. All drawings from the series Drawing On Istanbul by Trici Venola. I know you’re out there, so feel free to comment. We love comments, and Followers get a special place in Art Heaven.

GREEN MAGIC: A Summer Day in PLOVDIV

GREEN MAGIC

Boris (Nicolay) and the Empty Plate © Trici Venola 2007

The trees in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, are huge green thunderheads. The parks are magnificent, with paths running among lush grassy hillocks dotted with flowering bushes and amusing statues. There is no litter. The Roman ruins are immaculately preserved and the churches have icons. Their unique Old Town, picturesque without being kitsch, is full of tall old wooden houses with high angles and sweeping curves.

In Old Town Plovdiv © Trici Venola 2008

I discovered all this when on a visa run from Turkey in 2007. For years I’d done the one-day visa trot via bus, a marathon ordeal involving two border crossings in the same 15-hour period, always at the worst possible time and when I was most broke. But as long as you left every three months– that was on a US Tourist Visa– and got that visa stamp, you were legal. This is changing: soon tourists will have to leave for 90 out of each 180 days. Happily I have residence status now, but in 2007 I was grateful simply to take the train instead of the bus. You can lie down on the train. They wake you up at the border and you go through the usual bureaucratic checks. Then a little sleep until 8 AM, and the delights of Plovdiv. I’d walk around all day, get on the train back to Istanbul  at 11PM, and do the whole thing in reverse. I couldn’t afford to stay away a week, or even a few days, but I sure liked Plovdiv. I went there 13 times, in sickness and health and all weathers, one day every three months for three years.  Here I go again, and this time, I’m taking you with me.

Japan in Plovdiv © Trici Venola 2008

The first time was in May 2007, after a grisly forced move to a fixer-upper in a strange Istanbul neighborhood. I stumbled off the train, and everything was in Cyrillic. I knew nothing about the town. But I saw a double line of huge plane trees leading away from the station. They had commenced radically “pruning” all the trees in Istanbul the year before. Imagine cutting off both arms at the elbow to trim a cuticle. I’d nearly lost my mind over it. Now, bemused and scratchy-eyed with sleepiness, I stumbled along in the amazing shade between two stately rows of plane trees marching down the middle of a divided street. I had forgotten that green smell of big trees, how the air is fresher near them. Stoned on oxygen, I stopped right there and drew the building on the left below. Kept going and found this interesting juxtaposition: a beautiful girl in her first flush of attention from the world, and a woman who had looked like her, or so it seemed.

The Face She Deserves © Trici Venola 2007

I found a money-changer and a cafe with trees growing up through the roof. I sat there drinking coffee and coming awake. In Paradise. The coffee cost what it had in Istanbul in 1999. The Cyrillic menu had pictures on it. I realized I could get ham and eggs. Real. Ham. And. Eggs. Lazzarin, said the napkin. I was to spend thirteen mornings there over the next three years.

Lazzarin Cafe Day & Night © Trici Venola 2007

Some hours and half this drawing later, I staggered out of the cafe back to the line of plane trees, followed it to a park, lay down on a lush grassy hill surrounded by birdsong, and fell asleep.

Lovely Tree in Plovdiv © Trici Venola 2009

Hours later I woke, hungry again, and walked to a restaurant in the trees. I stayed there for hours, eating pork ribs, drinking coffee and drawing into the dusk, until it was time to take the train home. I had fallen in love with Plovdiv.

Summer & Fall at Lazzarin Cafe © Trici Venola 2009

I could hardly wait to go back. The following August, it was time again. My life in Istanbul was largely a matter of survival, and going away for even one day was so freeing…all I had to do was draw and catch the train. I hadn’t felt like that in years. The second trip, I walked a different way after the cafe and found a giant walk street lined with shops, casinos, restaurants, and this bronze clown.

Bronze Clown in Plovdiv © Trici Venola 2007

At the very end of that day, exhausted, I found the Plovdiv Old Town and I was a goner. I knew I’d come back again and again.

Angel Spot © Trici Venola 2007

The city is on a flat plain near a river. Jutting abruptly up from this plain are several steep rocky areas. One is a park entire, topped with radio towers. Another is Old Town. One side features the famed Roman Theater, a working theater with frequent productions. Three local women about my age told me in English about them.

Plovdiv’s Roman Theater © Trici Venola 2009

This drawing took most of a hot August day in 2009, and I learned a lot from onlookers. Plovdiv locals all seem to know the history of the town, which the Romans called Trimontium: Three Hills. And they’re proud of it. Coming out of Old Town is a pedestrian underpass which has table-sized stone blocks as the sidewalk. I was so tired it didn’t register, but coming up the steps I ran into two local guys who sent me back to see it, and was I glad. It’s a Roman street, and on it is the mosaiced lobby of a Roman apartment house, now an art and theater center with catwalks over the mosaics and a lively art scene. They will always have one of my books.

High Angles in Plovdiv © Trici Venola 2007

The steep stone streets of Old Town are flanked by the angles, gables, windows and gates of Plovdiv’s historic wooden houses. I’ve never seen woodwork like this, with long stately curves inside and fantastic detail everywhere, the most draw-able stuff imaginable.

Ottoman Wooden Interior © Trici Venola 2007

The centuries-old fanciful woodwork is a legacy of wealthy Ottomans, and here are some now, as Coney Island cut-outs.

Ottoman Cutouts © Trici Venola 2010

Right in the center of Old Town is a Byzantine gate in a Roman wall, flanked by tall angled wooden houses.

Hissar Kapiya, Byzantine Gate in Plovdiv © Trici Venola 2008

It took me a few tries to draw Hissar Kapiya, but I got to meet Krasi, now a friend for years, who worked nearby:

Happy Krasi © Trici Venola 2010

Philip of Macedon

At the very top of Old Town’s hill is the ancient stone fortification over the river. Yes, ancient. Little old Plovdiv, Bulgaria, is over 8000 years old, in fact the oldest continuously occupied city in Europe. Another of its former names is Philippopolis, since in the 4th century BCE it fell to Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great.

Shriveled Stone Wall © Trici Venola 2007

Wooden Krum the Horrible

The land that is now Bulgaria and the land that is now Turkey have had their differences. Early in the 9th century CE, Krum the Horrible, the Great Khan of the Bulgars, went to war with  Byzantine Emperor Nicophorus of Constantinople, who went insane in the struggle. Khan Krum won. He found Nicophorus dead on a dung pile and made of his skull a silver-lined beerstein, with which he drank his own health to the end of his days. You can read all about Krum the Horrible in this History blog by Bruce Ware Allen.

Krum the Horrible

That second trip, I lingered in Old Town until dusk. Afraid I’d miss the train. I gave up all thought of trying to find my park restaurant in the trees. I walked back to Lazzarin Cafe and ran into a group of artists and poets. They made a big fuss over my sketchbook, which almost made me cry, I was so tired and they were so nice. Here’s a drawing of Sugar, and a first take on Hissar Kapiya.

Sugar and the Gate © Trici Venola 2007

After that the trips blended one into the other, a continuous flood of happy images always in May, August, November and February. I was stunned to discover, in pulling art for this post, that there are over forty drawings. So we’re dividing them up into Summer and Winter, large so you can read the comments on them. Something about Plovdiv loosed poetic feelings in me. Blame it on the trees!

Old Men in Plovdiv © Trici Venola 2008

Guys playing chess under the trees asked me to join, but I begged off to draw them:

The Chess Players © Trici Venola 2008

These guys remember the Iron Curtain. I wonder what it feels like for them to hear church bells again?

And Kissed My Hand © Trici Venola 2008

Two years ago, I got my Residence visa, and my trips to Plovdiv ceased. Right now in Istanbul the air outside is so hot and thick you can chew it. There’s a heat haze between my balcony and the one next door. The city seethes unceasingly, dozens of millions exhaling in the heat. Up in the bazaars, cats lie exhausted, ironed flat into the shade. Heat shimmers up off the vast cement of the new improved Hippodrome. All over Istanbul, people struggle for shade, but Istanbul’s wonderful trees are mostly pruned down small, these days, some into lollipop shapes and some just dead, amputated trunks jutting leafless into the sky. This ruthless pruning makes no sense to me, but it’s the way they do it here, and much as I love Istanbul, I can do nothing about it. Thank God I have a coping secret. I close my eyes and think of Plovdiv. Somewhere in the world is a town where they love trees as much as I do.

Church Spot © Trici Venola 2008

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All drawings Plein Air. All drawings pen and ink on sketchbook paper, full size 18 X 52 cm / 7 X 20 inches. All drawings © Trici Venola. We love your comments. Thanks for reading.

ROMAN MORTAR: Drawing the Sphendone

VISUAL HISTORY 

During difficult times I seek solace in history. It’s the only thing quiets my mind. The world has ended so many times, and yet here we still are. I love living in Istanbul because a lot of the old stuff still looks old. I can actually see the evidence of centuries on these monumental witnesses to cataclysm and triumph. I draw them before the restorers arrive and eradicate all that. I draw a portrait of a place at a particular moment in its history, warts and all: scarred, worn, magnificent. And so to the Sphendone, bulwark of Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district, brickwork so old it looks like lumpy striped stone, now as dear and familiar to me as the bamboo patches on our old hill in Los Angeles. The more I learn about  it, the more I love it. It’s been holding up the whole neighborhood for almost two thousand years.

The Sphendone in 2007.

BUILT TO LAST Leviathan bulkhead of Istanbul’s Hippodrome, the Sphendone looks like the prow of a giant ship powering out into the Marmara. The first time I saw it, in 1999, I did not at first realize that it was made of brick. I didn’t know that brick and mortar could become one rock. During the Middle Ages, the formula for Roman mortar was lost, to be re-discovered as hydraulic cement, which hardens under water. Does the durability of the Sphendone have to do with its being full of water? Because when the History Channel opened up a little door in it a few years ago and went in, they had to do it by canoe.

The Fountain Arch in 2005

EXPLORING WITH LINE Back in May of 1999, rendering a whole stone wall was beyond me. I’d been drawing with a Wacom pen on a computer for too long. I was good at portraits, but I had to sneak up on this architectural stuff, drawing corners and windows, small bits of the whole I longed to capture.  I tried to draw the cavelike arch openings, filled with dirt and old shoes, as you can see to the right of the houri in this walkaround drawing from that first trip. I remember that the little lady in the upper right corner lived across from the cave arches, had a blue tattoo on her chin, and was delighted with her portrait when I held it up.

Around Town One ©2004 Trici Venola

By November of that year, after constant drawing in the sketchbooks, I was able to render a longshot of the South Face of the wall, along with this little girl who lived behind the doorstep I sat on for three sessions. I remember that my eyes had gotten infected, and I had to trade my contact lenses for glasses that weren’t strong enough. Later I came back with lenses and increased the level of detail– and by then, I could.

Sphendone ’99 ©1999 Trici Venola

EVOLUTION OF AN ARENA Byzantium’s great  Arena, the Hippodrome, was created in the late 2nd Century by Roman Emperor Septimus “The Libyan” Severus, the boy who brought us the Circus Maximus and other points of interest in Rome of that same era. The size of our Istanbul Hippodrome is only eclipsed by the one in Rome.

severus

The Hippodrome was enlarged early in the 4th Century by Constantine the Great.

ConstantineBy the early 6th Century, the huge arena held 100,000 people, all gaping at Future Empress Theodora in her salad days, writhing naked and beset by swans in a parody of Leda.

Theodora Alive Crop

Theodora Alive.detail ©2012 Trici Venola

Chariots tore around the track, now roughly followed by the current road. Down the center ran the Spina– the Spine– a flat stone ledge that stuck up a couple of meters above the floor. Its many ornamental sculptures blocked sections of the action, heightening the suspense. The central ornament, still standing, is the Egyptian Obelisk, erected in 390 by Theodosius, lauded here in previous posts Standing the Obelisk and Chariot Parade. You can see the Spina at right in this painting.

Alexander-von-Wagner-The-Chariot-Race

The Chariot Race by Alexander von Wagner

The absolute best way to imagine the Istanbul Hippodrome in its heyday is to watch the famous chariot race from MGM’s 1959 blockbuster Ben-Hur. It’s all over YouTube, knock yourself out. See the Spina in this film grab below?

BenHurChariotRaceMGMChariot racing took on political aspects with the emergence of the Patrician Blues and the Plebian Greens. Sports riots are not a new thing: after Theodora grew up and became Empress, one almost destroyed the city.

THE NIKA REBELLION

Nika-Schnorr_von_Carolsfel

Empress Theodora

532: Smoke-sabled skies, a copper sun, the palace burning, blood and noise, mobs of people slaughtering each other in what has come to be called the Nika Rebellion. Emperor Justinian quelled the riot at the behest of Theodora, who refused to leave the city. “Purple makes a fine shroud,” she famously said, fingering her royal garments, “leave if you like.” Justinian bought off the leaders of the Blues, and his ferocious general Belisarius laid waste to the remaining rioters, executing thirty thousand rebels out on the edge of the Sphendone. Buried where they died, their bones are said to sleep behind its arches to this day.

Sphendone. Fountain Arch ©2004 Trici Venola

AFTER JUSTINIAN By Fall of 2004 I was able to render an entire arch. I’ve always loved this antique Ottoman fountain and modern brick terrace juxtaposed with the looming savage East Face of the Sphendone. That lump of brick in the middle remains from the bricking-up of the arches after an earthquake of 551. Behind them is a series of concentric chambers opening into a main corridor. Bear in mind that the present ground level of the Hippodrome, up top, is several meters above the original floor, which was filled in over the centuries. Here’s our Fountain Arch in 1982, behind the clothesline to the right:

Sphendone 1982. Anonymous

And here it is in February of 2005.

Chariot racing was never the same after the Nika Rebellion. But Byzantines and Ottomans alike loved spectacle as much as we do today. Lions, gladiators, elephants, dancers, actors wearing huge masks, fire-eaters, and acrobats capered through the regimes, held up by these massive Sphendone arches. Here’s a CGI recreation of what the place looked like in 1200, reproduced with permission from the fabulous Byzantium 1200 website.

Sphendone ©byzantium1200.com. Used by permission.

The arches at the bottom are the ones that are still here. By the 16th century,  the Hippodrome was reduced to this:

These surviving pillars are scattered all over Istanbul, chopped into paving, in Ottoman ruins of baths and bakehouses. Some possibly survive intact, in the Islamic Arts Museum and in the Blue Mosque. The Spina is buried under the present surface, still ornamented by the Egyptian Obelisk, the remains of the Serpent Column of Delphi, and the 11th Century Obelisk. Over the Sphendone is the Sultanahmet Technical and Industrial High School, built around the turn of the 20th Century. Here’s a satellite view of the Hippodrome today, with my outline in white indicating the original size. The Sphendone is at the bottom, below the red roofs of the school.

Hippodrome ©2012 Digital Globe

WALKING AROUND THE SPHENDONE On the West Face is a small metal door in a stone lintel. It looks like something out of The Hobbit, and so does this drawing I did of it in 2004.

Sphendone.The Hobbit Door ©2004 Trici Venola

This is where the History Channel went in. Here’s a long shot of the street. See the tops of the arches?

When I drew the door, I did it on a Sunday for fewer cars. Construction workers on the building opposite yelled at anyone who tried to park there. I don’t speak Turkish, but those guys loved the sketchbook.

Later I came back and took pictures, and just look at all the artifacts here.  This little window has a Star of David to its right, most likely in its previous incarnation as an Islamic symbol.

This next thing was probably inside a house. But before that? I’ve been told there was a mosque in here, and government offices. The top of this Roman arch has been cut to resemble Ottoman architecture and the inscription cemented on.

Here’s another bony old arch showing through modern brickwork.

Not so long ago, this entire wall was covered with houses. The government ripped them down, but left the skin behind.

DRAWING THE ARCHES Now here’s a refresher on where we started, back in Constantine’s time, when all the arches looked the same.

Sphendone, Walking Through Byzantium, ©2007 by byzantium1200.com. Used by permission.

Then earthquake, mayhem, cultural upheaval, fire and conquest. And now, like people in a family, simple survival has given each arch individual characteristics. I thought two drawings would set me at ease, but my fascination with the visible history of the Sphendone continues. I wish they would light it at night and leave it alone. Now that I’ve learned how to draw those first arches I saw, I can’t. A cafe known in the neighborhood as Ugly Mushroom has been allowed to build a plastic-shrouded, television-blaring structure that blocks the magnificent cavelike arches along the East Face, where you used to be able to smoke nargile while contemplating the 1700-year-old brick and mortar. So I moved south, and drew this Parking Lot Arch. On Wednesdays, there’s a Farmers’ Market here.

Sphendone.Parking Lot Arch ©2006 Trici Venola

Delicious produce below, and the shouts of sports players in the school yard above. Here’s the South Face with the Parking Lot Arch over to the right in 1935, hidden behind a house:

Farther along in the South Face is an even more evocative Ghost House Arch.

Sphendone. Ghost House Arch ©2006 Trici Venola

Gladiators and rebel martyrs long gone, that’s a piece of a commode up there just below center. The two arched windows up top belong to the high school. This antique structure– festival bones, water and brick and blood– functions as its foundation. They just drilled right into the solid old Roman ruin. See here, on the right?

If this structure wasn’t serviceable, it would never have survived so long. But survive it does. I sat in a playground full of shrieking children to draw Ghost House Arch. And as the South Face rounds over into the West Face, there’s this Wooden House Arch.

Sphendone.Wooden House Arch 72 ©2006 Trici Venola

Sublime, isn’t it? Just look at the runnels in that brickwork from centuries of storms. This house survived because it’s several meters in front of the wall, although from a distance it blends right in. The building up top belongs to the high school. I drew this one in 2006 to great acclaim by the neighbors. Immediately to the right of the house was a group of vociferous scarved women who refused to be drawn, but who ran over cackling from time to time with cups of tea and yells of delight at the progress. How I miss them! I used to live two blocks from here. These wooden houses are about two hundred years old. There was one across the street, but one night in a storm it collapsed. The next day it was almost gone, carried away for firewood by these indomitable scarved duennas of the neighborhood.

Witness to so many lives lived and passed out of recollection, this brickwork gives me peace. My terrifying problems seem as ephemeral as storms on old brick. They may erode the shape into something unforeseen, but the Sphendone still stands. Roman mortar– it hardens under water.

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All drawings © Trici Venola. All drawings done on site. Standard size is 18 X 52 cm / 7 X 20 in, drafting pens on rag paper. We love your comments.

THE PALACE UNDER THE CARPET SHOP: Drawing In the Corridors of Lord

Ivory Angel NY Met ©2002 Trici Venola.Bas-relief4 X 4″ 500-700 CE

The bridal processional walks singing along Akbiyik Street, trailing clouds of incense. Between rows of arches and marble columns, through hotels and hostels, bars and cafes and shops, the grand company spirals up through the bad bald renovation of the Stairway of Lord, chanting with every step, and continues on toward the Four Seasons Hotel. Heavy silks and pearled brocades sweep through groups of backpackers drinking beer and smoking nargile, tourists haggling over carpets and ceramics, hotel check-ins and waiters juggling trays, as the Empress and her attendants and priests walk from her marriage, in the Church of Lord, to its consummation in the Imperial Bedchamber of the Magnaura Palace.  Sometimes I spend so much time drawing these antique ruins that the past becomes superimposed on the present.

Just Under Your Feet ©2003 by Trici Venola. The main entrance below the carpet shop, looking down into the Dome Chamber. That’s the Four Seasons at the top.

Cartoon Asia Minor ©2008 by Trici Venola

THE PALACE UNDER THE CARPET SHOP

I found this place back in 1999.  I’d heard about the Byzantine palace they’d found but couldn’t get in anywhere to draw it. I was out on Kutlugun Street in Sultanahmet across from Four Seasons Hotel, crazy, thinking about them building on the ruin before I could draw it. A guy stepped out of a carpet shop. “Do not cry, Madam,” he said, “we have the Magnaura Palace in our basement.”

In the Dome Chamber. ©2005 by Trici Venola

What they have is a section of the Corridor of Lord, part of the Magnaura Palace Complex. Every structure on the street is built over a chunk of the Corridor. But the Basdogan family at Asia Minor Carpets spent half a million dollars digging out theirs.  I started drawing it that day, and I’ve been drawing it ever since. It’s a spectacular ruin. You can see it under Asia Minor Carpet Shop and from the back of Albura Kathisma Restaurant. Don’t walk where the floor is wet! I love it so much I wrote a story about it. Here’s an excerpt. For our post, I’ve included my Plein Air drawings of the place.

JUST UNDER YOUR FEET

(Fall 1999) …As lights came on I began to see dim walls of pitted stone blocks. At the bottom of the wall to my left was a low arch. One of the electrical cords traveled along the wall and into this black hole. It lit up suddenly. The wall was so thick it was almost a tunnel. I stuck the sketchbook under my arm, bent double, and went in.

Double Door in Lord ©2005 by Trici Venola. From the Passageway, looking across the Bath at the first room.

It was a little irregular room with a tall vaulted ceiling. Amid the stones of one wall was a broken terracotta pipe. A bath? Across was the entrance to another archway. I crowded through it into a narrow passage, rough stone walls going up into shadows, iron prongs sticking out from the stones above my head, hammered into them in some forgotten necessity a thousand years ago.  

Lord Passageway ©1999 by Trici Venola. Looking back to the cement wall.

 I walked down the passage on warped wooden planks. The orange electrical cord looped along ahead of me, buzzing, strung here and there with glowing yellow bulbs. At the end of the passage it disappeared through a tall opening in the stone wall. I followed the cord through this opening. I smelled damp earth and age. The yellow lights made aureoles in the dusk.

I was in a big dim space, looking down the wooden catwalk at a brick archway about fifteen feet high, plugged almost to the top with rubble. Between the rubble and the arch was a black hole going back forever. The walls on either side were stone. At the bottom were cement sacks and a shovel. Above was a dome made of small red bricks in a spiral pattern. To the left and right of the arch were more pitted brick archways, at right angles to the one in the center. Each led to another spiral brick dome over another archway, each full of rocks and dirt that went off into the shadows. In the center arch, next to the black hole, was a bright square yellow lamp. The electrical cord swooped along to this and stopped. End of the line. I was in Byzantium.

— From ‘Just Under Your Feet’, Encounters with the Middle East, Solas House, Palo Alto. © 2007 Trici Venola.

The Indiana Jones Arch ©1999 by Trici Venola. Dome Chamber,  the drawing I did that first day.

In this early attempt at drawing old stone. I just outlined every brick. After so many centuries, each one has a separate personality. The cat clearly said, “What are you doing here?”

Open To the Sky ©1999 by Trici Venola. Dome Chamber entrance before the stairs were put in.

The Basdogan Family finished their excavation, three full rooms and the Passage, plus a small cistern behind that broken pipe. They installed two staircases and a plywood floor and topped parts of the ruin with glass, and put in a cafe with a large sign over it: Palatium.  In 2005, obsessed, I drew a schematic of their excavation. Here it is.

Magnaura Chunk Schematic ©2005 by Trici Venola.

In the story above, I went into the first room at the bottom of the drawing, up through the Bath and Passage, and into the Dome Chamber at the top, which is Kutlugun Street. The bottom is Akbiyik. Both run parallel along the Marmara slope of Sultanahmet. The shape of the streets is determined by the shape of the Corridor. See?

Google Maps Istanbul ©2012. My additions.

Here on Google, that big dome conglomerate at the top is Hagia Sophia. That Four Seasons, now gorgeous, was the actual Midnight Express prison, built on the ruins of the Magnaura Palace. You can still see graffiti from prisoners there. The Magnaura was the Imperial Palace from the 4th to the 8th centuries. The galleries were still around in 1200, as this CGI take from Byzantium 1200 shows:

Corridor of Lord CGI © 2007, Walking Through Byzantium. ©byzantium1200.com. Used by permission.

In places along Akbiyik street you can still glimpse tall pointed arches and old stone. Here’s what Byzantium 1200 thinks the inside upper gallery looked like.

Corridor of Lord CGI ©2007, Walking Through Byzantium. ©byzantium1200.com. Used by permission.

According to various sources, including one that quotes an 8th-century Book of Ceremonies, the Empress’s procession walked to her marriage, her ceremonial bath, her bedchamber and back again. I wonder if the actual consummation was witnessed as well.

The Passageway Door ©2006 by Trici Venola. From the Dome Chamber, looking into the Passage.

Drawing down under the street I wonder about a lot of things. There’s the dripping of water, great silence and a sense of waiting. Ghost stories seem sensible here. I heard of something in tall boots that told the carpet shop tea lady to move along, and one night watchman tells lurid tales of spooks running up and down the stairs. I myself saw only a black cat-sized shadow detach itself from a black doorway down there, skitter across the floor and evaporate before my very eyes.

In the Corridors of Lord ©2008 by Trici Venola. A double window next to the Indiana Jones Arch. By now I had learned to draw old stone. You do it slowly.

The best story was from an old lady in the neighborhood. In Kathisma Restaurant, next to the entrance to this excavation, there’s a tunnel tricked out to look like a wishing well. The old lady said that when she was a kid, they used to go in there and come out on the Marmara Sea. An adult tried this in the 1960s, but he got stuck and died, so be warned.

Bronze Foot Lamp NY Met ©2002 Trici Venola.400-500 CE

Copper Alloy Dragon Lamp NY Met ©2002 Trici Venola. c300 CE

Tiny Ivory Madonna NY Met ©2002 Trici Venola c550 CE Constantinople.

Rock Crystal & Silver Cross NY Met ©2002 Trici Venola c500-700 CE

I remember that Bishop of Constantinople in 1453, coming in full pomp with all his attendants to meet Mehmet the Conqueror. He handed over the keys to the city, and, according to witnesses, walked into the wall of Hagia Sophia and disappeared forever. There are these small doors in Hagia Sophia, and many, many tunnels. That must have been quite a processional, all those priests quick-stepping down through secret passages to the sea. They would have worn their best to meet the Conqueror, and carried all their jewels and all their prayers to avoid meeting their Maker. Red and blue and gold, furs and plumes, torches, little lamps. The Pilgrim Foot was a common Christian theme.  Fantastical creatures pre-date and permeate Christianity throughout the Middle East, a tradition now echoed only by those gargoyles on Notre Dame.  Perhaps the hurrying processional carried small ivories like this Madonna or the angel above. Or reliquaries with bas-reliefs similar to these silver ones of Apostles Peter and Paul. After all they were running for their lives.

Peter & Paul NY Met ©2002 Trici Venola.Silver bas-reliefs c 7″ high 500-600 CE

I drew these little images in museums, most of them in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, a magnificent evolved place that allows me to wander with my sketchbook and my mind, in the wake of the grand processional of history. It continues to wend its way along these streets, sun lancing in the arched windows, reflected flames gleaming in the surfaces of old marble bowed with the collective weight of panoply and prayers. Just under your feet, steps recede into the earth, domes push up weeds, arches bear up under traffic. Forty fathoms below that the goddesses are pagan, the angels’ wings come out of their hips, the lions have nearly human faces. Down and down and down go the passages, the great processionals in a honeycomb of antiquity. Workmen with iPhones jackhammer away, following the pipedream of progress, but they have never found the bottom of Sultanahmet.

All of Them Angels ©2005 by Trici Venola. Stone angels from the Archeological Museum, Istanbul 400-1400 CE, Ataturk, Van Cat and the Marmara Sea.

— All drawings Plein Air by Trici Venola, from the Drawing On Istanbul Series. All full drawings done in sketchbook format: 18 cm X 52 cm, drafting pens on rag paper. We appreciate your comments!