THE COVERED FEAST: Drawing in the Grand Bazaar

 

THE GRAND BAZAAR  I’ll never forget the first time I saw it. I was with a bunch of other tourists, at a dead run, trying to keep up with Mike.

 

Grand Bazaar Fountain ©2003 Trici Venola.

WITH MIKE IN THE GRAND BAZAAR

We charge at breakneck pace through a big arched gate, down a promenade lined with cheap fezzes and fake harem stuff, past all the gaudy scarves and baubles and Vegas gold. We run up through a forest of painted columns on a steep stone incline lined with underwear and carpet shops, Mike’s harem for the day of Americans, eager for exotica and bargains, all staying at Kybele, the hotel he runs with his family in Sultanahmet.

 It’s a rare Turk who loves old stuff. In a country full of antiquities, modernity is prized. But Mike wears antique silver and scarves and jeans. The other merchants stare at him from their suits. The beaded pillbox hat throws them. ‘They don’t know the difference between Fundamentalist and Hippie,’ he snorts. 

Happy Mike ©2001 Trici Venola

We land at tilting tables in the thick aroma of spiced meat and gaze up at the yellow arched ceilings. The Grand Bazaar was started by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1461 and has been evolving ever since. It was the first mall and is still going strong. It has over three thousand shops. As many as 400,000 people pour daily through the dozens of arched entrances, but only four of them can fit in some of these shops where there are things like I’ve only seen in museum cases.  After lunch we trot past many merchants. There are 26,000 people working here and they all want us to buy something. 

Mustafa In the Grand Bazaar ©2011 Trici Venola.

They stare with amazed chagrin at the short bearded Turkish man in his quasi-Fundamentalist gear and his train of great big gorgeous American cows. All that money and they can’t get at it. Galvanized, they shriek, “Nize carpet!  A sell you nize carpet! ”  “Leather, Lady? Good leather! ” “Hey Lady!  Dress! ”  “Lady! Lady!” –holding up a pair of panties, making them dance– as we pant up the steep slope and turn left through an archway into another world of carpets and electrical appliances and high heels–high heels? — up a long staircase, across lumpy tarpaper roofs and up a final, very old stone flight of stairs, worn in the middle and cracked on the edges, past a sort of gatehouse where a young man mends shoes.

Mike In the Grand Bazaar ©2000 Trici Venola

Small boys run up and down with round tin trays loaded with tulip glasses, full and empty. The entire Turkish buying ritual is flavored for me with this strong Turkish chai—made in a samovar and served scalding in a small glass. The little tulip glass is presented in a saucer shaped like a flower, with two or three cubes of sugar and a tiny tin spoon. If you don’t put the sugar into the tea, it melts and makes the bottom of the glass all sticky, so I’ve developed a taste for sweet tea.

The Ringmaker ©2000 Trici Venola

At the top of the stairs is a maze of old hallways, some roofed and some catwalked through the open air. We’re at the top of the bazaar. On a roof overlooking a grapevined courtyard is a tent full of textiles.

Osman’s Rooftop Textiles ©2004 Trici Venola

It’s here that I buy Koran covers for my sketchbooks.  Each cover was made by someone by hand, some caravan housewife or lonely goatherd, pieced together from remnants and embroidered and lined, to cover a precious book.

There’s a shop up here full of brass: bowls and pots, old and new, and the scimitar-like crescents from the tops of mosques. There’s a shop full of dangling jingling jewelry, where they sell old silver ornaments by weight and your knees are jammed against your companion’s. I drink my chai and look out past hanging ceramic tent ornaments through a murky window at the cats slinking through sunbleached grass growing on the wall opposite. There’s a place where I find a pair of soft backless shoes, the kind with toes that point up, in glowing red leather.

Up Top at the Grand Bazaar ©2003 Trici Venola

Dusty Old Shop ©1999 Trici Venola

Then down a narrow dingy hall to the very last shop: a closet with two dusty glass cases and some shelves. First chai, then out come small battered newspaper bundles. They could be anything. Last time it was a blackened bronze bracelet, pitted with age, grooved, with an opening just big enough for my wrist. I slid it on and it was mine. I imagined it on a wrist that turned black along with it. “It will clean itself from your body,” said the man through Mike. “I think maybe a toothbrush and some toothpaste,” I said. Mike was horrified. “You’ll ruin the patina!” he exclaimed, “No toothbrush! Just wash it when you wash your hands and it will turn to gold.” I haven’t taken it off much since I got it in Istanbul so long ago. It’s been in salt water and sun and sleep, sickness, love, heartbreak, and mayhem with me, and like everything else clotted and dark in my life it is slowly but unmistakably beginning to show the glint of gold.

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KAPALICARSI: THE COVERED BAZAAR 

This antique postcard and the new one above coincidentally show the same view.

Grand Bazaar is, in Turkish: Kapalicarsi, literally Covered Bazaar. In oldtime Istanbul, according to classic Islamic tradition, anything or anyone beautiful and precious was covered. Delightful houses were humble on the outside. Gardens hid behind walls. Women were veiled. Those Koran covers I buy for my sketchbooks follow the same priciple. This had everything to do with how the Bazaar evolved.

Gulersoy Collection. Shoe Sale ©1980 Aydin Erkmen

Women shoppers could not be in an enclosed, Western-type shop with a merchant. So the whole bazaar was enclosed. What a concept! All the precious things covered at once! The stalls were built into the walls of the streets, with wooden covers– divans– flipped up to display the goodies for sale, which were heaped and hung there with no glass barrier: a feast of color and texture to dazzle and delight. The women could bargain out in the open, protected from weather and gossip.

Gulersoy Collection. Divan Row c1850

Through pools of light from the high windows, horses, donkeys, carriages and the occasional camel were all ridden through the Bazaar.  Down each avenue was a trough for water and waste. You can see traces of these still, under the modern floor tiles. Westernization brought imitation of Europe, so shops were built out into the streets, turning most of them into narrow labyrinths. Despite modern electrical wiring these have an undersea feel on dark winter days. I’ve been in the Bazaar in a blackout, though, and you can always find your way because of the windows. Here’s Muhammed in front of his shop Ak Gumus on Yesil Direkli Street up by the Post Office, looking down Sari Haci Hasan Street.

Momo Outside His Shop ©2011 Trici Venola

Here is beloved tissue seller Gemici from the same spot looking up.

Everybody Loves Gemici ©2011 Trici Venola

OLD VIRTUES & THE TOUT POLICE

Many visitors today are intimidated by the loud aggressive persistance of the touts, the guys that stand in their doorways and exhort, charm, plead, annoy and wheedle you into looking. But they can’t follow you. The Tout Police will Get Them, and I’m told it’s a hefty fine. The Tout Police are the last vestige of the old ways. In Ottoman days of yore, pushing ones work or goods was anti-Islam, as was advertising. The Bazaar Greeks were the aggressive traders. Turks would sit silently and smoke nargile while you shopped, only showing what you asked to see.

Traders ©1980 Aydin Erkmen

 

 

Freedom from jealousy and indifference to profit were Islamic virtues. A French visitor to Istanbul in 1830 wrote with astonishment that. after he had selected a wallet, the Turkish shop owner advised him to buy a better one for the same price from his neighbor. It wasn’t uncommon for a shopowner who had sold something that day to send business to someone who hadn’t.

Democracy and Westernization brought the present exhortionate hullaballoo. I find that I have come to view it with affection. The touts can tell where you’re from at a glance, and they have stock phrases. We retaliate. They say, “Excuse Me!” And we say, “Okay, you’re excused.” They say, “You dropped something: my heart!” We stomp on the floor and grind it to bits, grinning. They stagger and clutch at their chests, and nobody stops for a minute. On top of this cacophony, down in the bottom of the Bazaar they call out the exchange, fluctuating figures bawled out in Turkish, letting me know I’m not in Kansas anymore.

COMMISSION MAN Sultan Abdulhamid’s reign, in the early 1900s, brought the Translator Guides. These would follow and buttonhole the  visitor, advising him as to what he wanted. Then they’d translate from the shop owner and take a commission on the sale. They were multilingual with amazing memories, remembering the tourist from visit to visit: where they stayed, what they ate, etc, and they drove everyone crazy. People would buy things just to get rid of them. The modern-day equivalent is the Commission Man, the guy who dogs you on the street trying to steer you to a carpet shop. Most are obnoxious jerks, but some are sophisticated and charming.

Inside the Wall ©2003 Trici Venola.

Democracy also brought Advertising. Turkey’s excessive signage is notorious, but it could be worse. This horrifying photo is what the Grand Bazaar looked like in 1979.

Billboards in the Grand Bazaar ©1980 Celik Gulersoy

This abomination vanished with military coup of the early 1980s. Some general must have had good taste. Shortly afterwards the Bazaar interior was covered with cheerful yellow and painted with classic Ottoman tulip designs by art students. I have drawn this tulip painting many times. It’s beautiful, but  I think they must have all gone mad.

ARCHITECTURE

Old Corner in the Bazaar ©2008 Trici Venola

Istanbul’s Old City is Greco-Roman geometry overlaid with Ottoman clusters. The Bazaar is a fine example of an Ottoman cluster. It was not planned or built all at once but evolved over time, built as needed in a meandering fashion by a nomadic culture.

Gulersoy Collection. Bazaar Roof 1976

It started from two giant brick enclosures: the Bedestens. This famous 16th Century miniature shows the Cevahir Bedesten, or Inner Bedesten, at upper center. The smaller Sandal Bedesten, just inside the Norosmaniye Gate, is harder to see. The streets between are not yet roofed. Notice the Hippodrome with obelisks and Snake Column at upper right, and the City Walls and Marmara at lower right.

Gulersoy Collection. Two Bedestens in Istanbul, 16th-century miniature by Nasuh-es-Silahi.

The Sandal Bedesten was named for thread from Bursa the color of sandalwood. Here’s the Sandal Bedesten now. The renovation is boring but the people are not.

The big one in the center, Inner Bedesten,  is now the Old Bazaar. A Byzantine Eagle at the Southern entrance has given rise to a belief that it was originally a Byzantine structure, but the Eagle could as easily been lifted from somewhere else. These two Bedestens were built by Mehmet the Conqueror, and gradually the streets between were roofed over and the sprawling structure organized into trades. Here’s the oldest photo ever found of the Bazaar’s outside, from 1856. That’s the Blue Mosque at the top. The Sandal Bedesten is below it at left, the Great Bedesten at center, and our old friend Buyuk Valide Han down front, outside the Bazaar.

Gulersoy Collection. Grand Bazaar in 1856

The Inner Bedesten was built with stalls for animals, which are now very tony shops. Here’s Nick in his famous Calligraphy Shop, which features a wall of photos of celebrity customers: movie stars, bestselling authors and world leaders, including the Clintons.

Nick’s Calligraphy Shop ©2010 Trici Venola

So the Bazaar continued to evolve. Each section was dedicated to a particular trade. Weapons, shoes, cloth, clothing, brass ornaments, jewelry, gold and silver, perfumes, foodstuffs, and slaves.

Gulersoy Collection. The Shoemakers’ Market

The trades were organized into guilds. Each kept to its own area of the Bazaar. Here’s the Presentation of Artisans to the Sultan, back in the day.

Gulersoy Collection. Artisans Parade for the Sultan at Ay Medani c1550

The present Bazaar is zoned by what is sold where. A store in the silver zone can’t sell you gold.

Mao of Grand Bazaar

Many businesses are passed down from father to son for centuries. Here are several generations of the Sengor family, who have been selling carpets on Takkeciler Street for a very long time. I drew the mother and grandfather from photos.

Sengor Family in the Grand Bazaar ©2003 Trici Venola

Another old photo from the end of the 19th century:

Gulersoy Collection. Grand Bazaar c1880

This has got to be where Shark Cafe is now. Here it is from the other direction.

I went all over the Bazaar with my book of old photos, conferring with groups of fascinated salespeople and taking pictures. The engraving below is likely near the mosque up on Yaglikcilar Street.

Gulersoy Collection. Grand Bazaar (Women in White)

That big dark center arch probably went in an earthquake. Here’s the spot today:

Here’s another place I love:

Gulersoy Collection. Grand Bazaar (High Arch with Cat)

There are 13 hans within in the Grand Bazaar. You go up or down a twisty little alley, your shoulders brushed by lame, beaded fringe, bunches of shoes and so forth, and come out into a courtyard surrounded by fascinating shops. Many pussycats live in these hans, fed and sheltered by generations of shopkeepers.  

Each han has its own personality. This little one, Chukur Han, has a plaque stating it’s 19th Century, but the wall and archway look to be much older. See the carved Roman chunk above the window and the little column shoved in sideways?

Window at Cukur Han ©2010 Trici Venola

I found this when visiting my friends Emin and Nurettin at Nurem in Chukur Han, wholesale traders and manufacturers of suzanis (embroidered tribal hangings), ikat (woven fabric that resembles tie-die), and patchwork.

The Ikat Princes ©2011 Trici Venola

The present bazaar boasts its own post office– the PTT– a police department, and modern plumbing, as well as the mosque and fountains which have been there for centuries.

On Fridays, the Imam’s sermon is broadcast, and half the bazaar gets out in the aisles to pray. Rather than prayer rugs the faithful use pieces of cardboard, rising and falling in salaams to Allah, while people step over them and business goes on as usual.

Gulersoy Collection. At the Mosque ©1980 Aydin Erkmen

In 1894 Istanbul suffered a terrible earthquake. The Bazaar lost much of its architecture, which accounts for wonderful pictures like this:

I always wondered what happened here and now I know. Here’s a photo from 1894:

Gulersoy Collection. After the Earthquake, 1894

SECURITY The Bazaar is not and never has been open at night for any reason. During the reign of Abdulhamid, police had to break in because of a fire. In 1913, poet Pierre Loti was locked inside and had to talk his way out. And in 2006, a friend left my birthday present in his shop and could not for love nor money get in any of the four entrances he tried.

Gulersoy Collection. In the Bazaar, 19th century by Trezio

Nowadays, you’re safer in the Grand Bazaar than most places. Merchants eager for happy tourists brook no thieves. A few years ago, a mob of men, women and children flailed and stomped a purse snatcher before the guards could do anything. The battered thief was lucky to escape with his manhood intact.

The Coca-Cola Kiosk ©2009 Trici Venola

THE AESTHETIC POLICE

The Aesthetic Police: a concept of a group with total power who would enforce charm and good taste on benighted areas worldwide.You could call them in, and the hideous shopping center that’s replacing that fine old tree-hung neighborhood would be stopped in an instant. Hideous restoration would cease. Trees would be trimmed properly and not amputated into bad sculpture. Billboards would be obliterated. There would be a death penalty for littering.  Aesthetic Police: I always thought that this was just an expression. But then I encountered Celik Gulersoy.

Gulersoy Collection. Artisans Parade for the Sultan at Ay Meydani, c1550

President of Turkey’s Auto Club for many years, he was a force in the community. He stood down an Istanbul governor who was armed with bulldozers and a prime minister, saving those 17th-century houses behind Hagia Sophia, now Konuk Hotel. He created the chandelier-hung Istanbul Library there in Sogukçesme Street and found the Byzantine cistern that is now Sarniç Restaurant. He created Green House Hotel and its fountained garden. He longed for a generation of young people who would value and nurture trees, as the Ottomans did. He fought tree-butchers and asphalt-layers and excessive signage and all those who would uglify and kitsch up the Great Mysteries of this ancient place. I never got to meet Mr Gulersoy, but I wish he was King of the World.

Celik Gulersoy loved the Grand Bazaar so much he wrote a book about it: The Story of the Grand Bazaar. A battered, borrowed copy provided much of the material shown here. Thanks to Gazanfer Bey, manager of Konuk Hotel, and the Staff of Istanbul Library, I now own the last copy in Istanbul. Many thanks to them for their help in researching this post. All the time I was writing it, I was hearing that song from Kismet:

Baubles, bangles, hear how they jing jingalinga                                                       Baubles, bangles, bright shiny beads!                                                               Sparkles, spangles, my heart will sing singalinga                                               Wearing baubles, bangles and beads!                                                                  

I’ll glitter and gleam so, make somebody dream so….

–Robert Wright and George Forrest, 1953

Yasmin at Cafe Ist ©2003 Trici Venola

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All Trici Venola’s drawings are Plein Air, drafting pens in sketchbooks 7 X 20″ / 18 X 52 cm. All drawings are part of The Drawing On Istanbul Project by Trici Venola. All modern photographs ©2012 Trici Venola. Thanks for reading this post. We love your comments.

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ST JOHN’S: Drawing in the Wake of the Gospels

Great Artemis ©2012 Trici Venola

Great Artemis ©2012 Trici Venola

Clicking on the pictures will make them bigger.

ST JOHN’S BASILICA

it looks like it has been picked up and dropped.

The vast rambling ruin of St John’s Basilica was demolished by earthquake, ravaged by marauders, scavanged by later builders. Huge jagged chunks of sixth-century masonry rear at improbable angles. Columns  march in all directions, supporting nothing, reassembled and re-erected by the Turkish Government. Hordes of Christian pilgrims stagger in the heat, a babble of guides in all languages, and I crouch in the weeds to draw this:

My Favorite Capital © 2012 Trici Venola.

It’s my favorite capital. Rows of them are set out in a field. Nearby, storks nest in season– this time of year, they’re off to Africa. The tombstone at left is likely a gladiator who converted. Here’s a drawing from years ago showing the same capital, this time with storks.

Weedy St John’s with Storks ©2007 by Trici Venola

SELÇUK

Selçuk is near the Biblical city of Ephesus, about ten minutes by car from the Aegean Sea.  Ephesus was rediscovered in the 19th century and somewhat reconstructed. It’s big tourist business. It seems like every travel agency pushes Ephesus tourists to stay in nearby Kusadasi, which is great if you like rampant development, traffic, clubs and stores, but I’ll put my money on Selçuk–in English: Selchuk. It’s got the Selchuk Museum, full of Ephesus, with its statues and gladiator tombstones. It’s got storks nesting on a Byzantine aqueduct. It’s got great tribal art stores and hotels. It’s  got St John’s Basilica, and above it the Citadel.

The Great Virgin & St John ©2007 Trici Venola.

And it’s got Female Power. At the edge of town is the Great Temple of Artemis, a swamp the size of a football field, filled with broken marble, the ruined seat of power for the great Goddess of Asia Minor: the place where it all began. The Great Temple, a wonder of the ancient world, was burned so long ago that Alexander the Great had it restored. Centuries later it fell in an earthquake.

The Goddess Artemis, the Great Mother Goddess of the Near East, appears to be a previous incarnation of  the Blessed Virgin Mary, having much in common with her: powerful  purity; attributes in Holy Trinities- three griffins, three bulls, three bees, etc; affinity with nature and birth; affinity with the moon, ancient source of female power;  powerful, self-sufficient, life-creating sexuality. Priests of both dedicate their sexuality to the Goddess. And of course, physical proximity. The Blessed Virgin Mary lived a few miles away. I’ve come to see them as a sort of double Goddess, which in no way detracts from the mystic power of either diety, I just find it fascinating. But the overwhelming presence for me on this trip has been St John the Apostle. His huge ruined basilica dominates the town, topped by the Citadel above.

THE CASTLE ON THE HILL

The Citadel and St John’s Longshot ©2012 by Trici Venola.

At the right of the drawing above is Ayasuluk, a  6000-year-old Paleolithic hilltop settlement. 

Subsequent civilizations have left artifacts still being excavated: chapels, baths, tombs. The sixth-century Byzantine castle is built on Hitttite bones. The castle walls and fifteen towers were built from stones taken from buildings in Rome. The Citadel is closed to the public, but there are these aerial photos and old drawings. Here’s a photo of that little central chapel from a sign at St John’s:

There must have been a wooden settlement inside the castle walls since all that’s left is what looks to be a 5th-century Byzantine chapel with an Ottoman minaret next to it, and nearby a mounded ruined hamam. On this hilltop, St John is said to have written his Gospel. Here’s how it looks today, from a stairway at the back of the basilica. A staircase entire, all by itself, with one turn in the stairs, roofless and leading up to nowhere. I spent a few hours in this wedge of deep shadow set in the dead white heat of late summer, sitting on marble steps scalloped by centuries of feet.

The Citadel from St John’s ©2012 Trici Venola.

A guard came upon me, and I showed him my sketchbook. It’s wonderful the way people’s faces crease into smiles, seeing the drawings. Later, he and a colleague invited me to tea. I may dedicate my next book on Turkey to the men and women who guard the ruins here, as they have allowed me perspectives I never would have found on my own. They’ve provided chairs, shade, secret views, restroom privileges, heat, tea, and enthusiasm, while protecting these world treasures so that I can experience them. Here on the right is my nice guard, Arif, and his colleague Ismet posing in front of a passage in St John’s. I did this all from life. Don’t they look fine?

The Guards at St John’s Basilica ©2012 by Trici Venola.

I snapped some shots of them, and as they were cracking up in one, I did another take from the photos, wanting to catch those grins. That’s the Citadel again, this time from their guard station at the back of the Basilica ruin.

Ismet & Arif at St John’s ©2012 by Trici Venola.

THE MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN

The Gospel According to St John seems to some scholars to be the memories of an old man, with the perspective of long life. John outlived all the other Apostles, dying in 98 AD. He must have been about 100 years old.

Christian Bits in Selchuk ©2007 Trici Venola.

He and his brother, future Apostle James, started life as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. They may have been cousins of Jesus. They came to this part of the world after the Crucifixion, when John was entrusted by Jesus with the care of his mother, Mary.

St John Bull 1 © 2102 Trici Venola.

So John took Mary into his household. And sometime between 37 and 48 AD he and Peter took her with them to Ephesus. She is believed to have settled here, in a hilltop community high in the mountains above the city.

This is Meryemana, generally accepted as Mary’s home and last resting place.

In Mary’s House ©2007 Trici Venola.

Meryemana is a huge attraction, especially now since Sister Mary Emmerlach, the stigmatized German nun who dreamed that Mary lived here, is being canonized this year. Excavations based on her 19th-century dreams revealed the foundation of this house, which corroborated various records including a 4th-century  Ecumenical Council, enough to convince the Pope. Whether you believe Sister Emmerlach or not, the collective faith left by millions of pilgrims of all religions is impressive, as attested by these wishes left by the faithful. In dozens of languages, they fill a whole wall. The wishes are left up until they biodegrade, leaving a palpable energy.

Back in the 1st century, John and Peter set about converting the pagans of Ephesus, with such good results that they were kicked out of the city by the Guild of the Silversmiths, which was taking a loss in the sales of little silver Artemis charms. Mary had not yet been recognized as a goddess by sufficient numbers to warrant charms of her own, although now they abound. Here are mine, in local stone.

Domitian in Ephesus. About ten times life-size.

Emperor Domitian exiled John to the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote Revelation, also known as The Apocalypse. There are pieces of a giant statue of Domitian in the Selchuk Museum, a monstrous baby face remniscent of the horrifying giant Pillsbury Doughboy in Ghostbusters.

After Domitian’s demise John was pardoned and returned to Ephesus, where he lived out the rest of his days. Now the town of Selchuck is modern, built since the late nineteenth century around the aqueduct at the Ephesus railway stop. Its main attractions in old days were the Temple of Artemis and the Citadel. John must have lived there, in house or hut, writing his Gospel up there, howling out the Word in the wind and rain, the searing sun.

He wanted to be buried near the Citadel, and he was. Every other Apostle was martyred, but John was said to have “gone into the cave of his church”  and vanished. Of all the saints, John is the one with no relics anywhere. When Constantine, in the 4th century, opened his Tomb, there was nothing but air.

St John’s Tomb, from behind the site of the altar. The small stone is a sixth-century tombstone. ©2012 Trici Venola.

THE MONUMENT

The original church fell to pieces, and in 536 our old friend Byzantine Emperor Justinian started this new one. He built a magnificent six-domed cruciform church echoing the Church of Holy Apostles, now lost, in Constantinople-now-Istanbul.

The love story of Justinian and his Empress Theodora is legendary. The basilica has Theodora’s name all over it, in monograms of capitals on the columns, in the very walls. I find this poignant, as Theodora died in 548 and was buried in Holy Apostles long before St John’s was finished: in 565, the year Justinian died. It was built by Ephesians under Justinian’s edict. Emperor of the greatest High Byzantine monuments, he was a bloody, tax-levying, hubris-ridden autocrat, but it is not farfetched to imagine him lost in contemplation of a reunion with the most compelling of Empresses.

THE MIRACULOUS SHIFTING SANDS

John was said to be sleeping beneath his tomb, and his breath caused the dust on it to stir. This dust was said to perform miracles, especially every year on May 8, the all-night Feast of St John. The church called the dust Manna, and sold it to the faithful. For a thousand years, pilgrims came, even St Augustine, leaving with flasks of Manna. It is surely dusty there now, dust blowing into the cracks of the few surviving mosaics and around the shiny modern marble of the monument now over the supposed Tomb.

My own personal non-scholarly feeling on this is that St John was actually buried up on the ancient Ayasuluk mound, but who am I to argue with St Augustine?

EARTHQUAKE

St John is credited with an earthquake while imprisoned on Patmos which got him sprung, but the one that demolished St John’s happened in the 1300s. It must have been a lulu. Just look at this!

The earthquake-wrecked temple was further ravaged by Tamerlane’s  Mongol army in 1402. In one of the poetic ironies that keep me living in Turkey, the marble of the ruined Temple of Artemis had been pillaged by Justinian’s builders to create St John’s Basilica in the first place, which was in turn pillaged to create Isa Bey Mosque. This is what’s left.

The only one of these not yet to fall to an earthquake is the mosque, which stands squarely among palm trees on a hillside below the two ruined temples.

MANY FACES OF LOVE

The Sweethearts’ Tomb © 2012 Trici Venola.

Battered but miraculously whole amid the wreckage, this is supposed to be a tomb that was turned into a fountain. I sat on a rock in dwindling black shadow and drew it for about two hours. Had to finish the wall behind it from a photo, as the sun was killing me. This has all the earmarks of a lovers’ landmark for generations of Selchuk teen-agers. The graffiti is all about love, and from the number of postings, I’d say Deniz and Ozon must have had one hell of a romance.

Eros & Priapus in Selchuk Museum © 2012 Trici Venola.

The Selchuk Museum has all kinds of imagery: lions, dolphins, emperors, warriors and saints, and love in all its forms. Right in the middle of the drawing above is this juxtapositon: Augustus with a cross in his forehead and an Early Christian-like Roman, flanked by Dionysius and a headless angel. Now where else are you going to see that?

Eros & Priapus in the Selchuk Museum © 2012 Trici Venola.

It’s all here: Storks, aqueduct, ruined temples, ancient and modern Goddesses, the Tomb with its shifting dust, the memories of vanished romances. The people of Selchuk keep it all alive. In this place of sainthood and miracles amid reverberating female power I drew this lady, Karim Hanim, who lives just around the corner from that longshot of the CItadel and St John’s. I met her through my lovely friend Frances, who has lived here for years and speaks fluent Turkish. Karim Hanim worked her whole life. She posed for me in her home, surrounded by children and grandchildren, on the Bayram, the holy day following Ramazan. Of course I drew the patterns later from photos, to save our precious time for her hands and feet and presence, her face. For some reason, drawing her made me cry.

She Was A Pretty Girl ©2012 by Trici Venola.

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All drawings Plein Air. All drawings from the series Drawing On Istanbul by Trici Venola. All art © Trici Venola except for the two drawings from Google Maps. All drawings created in sketchbook format, using drafting pens on 18 X 52 cm rag paper.

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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.

A BREATH OF AIR: Drawing In Sirkeci

DRAWING MYSELF OUT OF THE DARK

Grizabella in Sirkeci.Cat Detail©2011 Trici Venola

2010 was a year of peril and hassle. Relentless hotelization forced me to move, a hideous enterprise involving months of searching and expense. A good deal turned sour. A good friend left town. Then to top it off I got hacked, lost 400 addresses, 7 years of networking, entire short stories. I tried to reach everyone, but failed, and an old friend sent the hackers an amount which, had I won it as a grant, could have paid an assistant, put all 2500 drawings on a database, bought a new Mac and put this project in the black. Google never did respond. So long, Cloud. I bootstrapped out of the subsequent depression by drawing. In the teeth of complete financial desolation, rent due, no prospects, I took the sketchbook out into the icy winter days and began to draw this:

Very quickly, I felt good. Here’s an email to a newly jobless Stateside friend from January 2011:

Ha ha ha, welcome to the wonderful world of Freelancing. You’ll get used to the footless feeling, like a good hunter. You’re an artist. Make art. 

For Anxious Dread, try fish oil. The super-Omega kind, a natural antidepressant. My dread goes right to my feet and I get horrible vertigo, and this rug-ripped-out-from-under feeling. I suspect it is really Fear of Mortality… Skint this month and last, but for some reason I’m sanguine. I had a real epiphany last month, realizing how many precious days I’ve lost to Worrying About the Landlord. And here I still am, and I’d like those days back.

In the middle of all this Winter Angst, ferocious bouts of creativity… Now, I’m happy to say, my mania for drawing in the sketchbook has returned after ONE SOLID YEAR of halfhearted portraiture and false starts. I’m drawing out in the crystalline cold days, office buildings in our old seaside Finance District of Sirkeci.

THE WAKE OF MONEY

On Legacy Ottoman Street ©2011 Trici Venola

In English, Sirkeci rhymes with Stage E. A departure from my usual hoary old Byzantine haunts, Sirkeci is all brisk business. A generation ago, this was the Financial Center of all Istanbul, as its many banks attest. Now they are hotels, offices, notary publics. Brisk breezes whoosh down alleys, calls to prayer interlace with the blast of horns from boats in the harbor nearby, blue or copper or silver sea glimpsed down the narrow streets, everyone rushing along the sidewalks overhung with architectural grandeur from the swan song of the Ottoman Empire. Everywhere are exciting vertical compositions just begging to be drawn. Here’s the one we call The Bat Building:

The Bat Building ©2011 Trici Venola

This beloved landmark, which could have served as a model for Gringott’s Goblin Bank in Harry Potter, is one block from the Spice Bazaar.  Its name is actually Deutsche Orientbank, and it dates from 1890. I’m told it burned, and closed, around 1911. I’ve been all through it, clear up to the adorable round tower office, full of pigeonshit and feathers and possibility. Its main doorway served as the entrance to the Bond film Skyfall, although it does not lead to a tunnel but up to fantastic round rooms full of feathers and pigeonshit. Word is it will be a hotel.

OUR FABULOUS POST OFFICE

This ornate architecture is murder to draw. Rows of the same elaborate shape with different perspective and lighting, and there are so many of them. Ancient masonry has some give: if you’re off by a bit, you can round a corner and stay true to the spirit of the piece. But this fancy stuff isn’t even two centuries old, the corners are still sharp, the shapes really clear. Get one thing a fraction off and it’s ruined. I use the mental grid and unit method described in the Drawing the Boukoleon posts on this blog. It’s imperative to draw what I see, not what I think I see. I may know it’s a square window, but if perspective makes it look like a slanted slot, I have to draw a slanted slot. The rest of the drawing has to help us know it’s a window: placement on the page, some rendering of bricks so we know it’s a wall, and so forth.  Figuring out how to do this causes a trancelike state that makes it impossible to think about anything else. I go right into the paper.

Designed by architect Vedat Tek under Sultan Abdul Hamit II in 1909, the Art Nouveau facade of our magnificent Main Post Office runs across three New York blocks, a testimony to the extravagant finale of the Ottoman Empire. Hotel sharks are circling, but this is still a functioning post office; this is where your prints come from. It’s too huge; for a first take, I drew this glimpse from a little side street, and it took more time than you’d believe, on several frigid white days.

A Glimpse of the Post Office ©2011 Trici Venola

Everyone from the shops on the street came and watched awhile. I left it unfinished, looking as it did lost in the deadening white. Inside, several wooden Agatha Christie-era group writing desks under glowing state-of-the-art computer screens, a lot of people waiting to pay bills, and the walls go up forever, dominated by a giant painting of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, father of the Turkish Republic.

Waiting at the PO ©2011 Trici Venola

Behind the Post Office, Hobyar Camii looks old, but it too was designed by Vedat Tek and built in 1909, replacing the 15th-century original. Those ant-like shapes in the background are Istanbul Porters, professional schleppers who move unbelievably huge and heavy items which are balanced on saddles. There are now kitsch faux-bronze statues in Sirkeci of Ottoman porters; I find the modern genuine article much more interesting. These guys are fourth-and fifth-generation porters; in old jeans and wash shirts they carry the whole city on their shoulders.

The Fanciful Mosque ©2011 Trici Venola

GRIZABELLA

Another jocular drawing experience, with many free teas from this cafe. People in Sirkeci were flabbergasted to see an artist there. It’s not a huge tourist spot, but the amount of buildings turning into hotels indicate that it will be. We’re all rooting for another beloved old landmark, across the street from the Post Office. This grizzled survivor, covered with age-blackened trendy splendor of yesteryear, has loomed here for over 140 years. The Art Nouveau window trim and roses were added for modernization around 1900. Notice the two cat faces at the top. The Art Deco musical notes look to have been added in the 1930s. The wooden awnings are there to keep loose old stone roses from falling on your head on your way to the notary public.

Grizabella in Sirkeci ©2011 Trici Venola

Yahya came upon me while I was drawing this. He danced all around me yelling in amazement, so I drew him to shut him up. I told him the usual “Hold still for ten minutes,” while I got the stuff you can’t fake, then I went home and rendered his shoes and coat and blackened his hat. Next day I was out there putting in the background when he came back, saw the portrait, and began to dance and bellow again– louder.

UNUTULMUS SARNICI And what do you know, a little chunk of hoary haunted Byzantium after all:  a forgotten cistern behind an ancient wall, where I got to clamber up on a pile of cartons and draw by one bulb strung on a bamboo pole in the cold clammy dark. Here’s the first shot.

The Hidden Cistern Straight Up ©2011 Trici Venola

Nice and straightforward, eh? They tell me it’s got 5 huge columns, more marching off into the dark behind a storage depot. I can wade in and draw, but they also tell me that there are dangerous vapors in there, and it’s too darned cold now anyway. Nice guys working  there, and here’s the youngest, perched on a stool under the whitewashed Byzantine bricks. Which are herringbone pattern–you can just see that at the top, making me suspect this is older than Hagia Sophia. Two streets above the Post Office in Eminönü-Sirkeci, the water-storage facility is shut now, but you can still peer in through the windows in the crumbling wall and see the columns. I really hope that it survives all this change.

Umut At Work ©2011 Trici Venola

Oh, the mystery of this place! In Los Angeles, a storage depot has a closet in its back room: warped linoleum and a couple of cockroaches. In Istanbul, there’s a Byzantine cistern full of 1600-year-old carved marble. I wondered if I’d fully captured that quality of unconscious magnificence here in our workaday world, so I went back next day and did this:

The Forgotten Cistern ©2011 Trici Venola

And so to the end of that email: …Out drawing, faces light up when they see me drawing, people buy books and send over hot tea and stop and chat. Many, many new Facebook Friends. Frozen out there, double socks, wool coat over sweaters, perched on my little campstool, but do I care? I am SO HAPPY… it attracts all good things to me. And to you.

Trici Drawing Grizabella, taken by an admirer whose name I’ve lost. If this is you, please send me your name and I’ll credit you!

THE OBJECT OF THE EXCERCISE One good feeling led to another and I had a great year, continuing to now. No matter what the dilemma, drawing makes it right. The object of this Turkish adventure is not to live in Istanbul, the object is to draw Istanbul. I’d forgotten that. How I live and where, what I have, who I know and am I cool– that’s all fine, but it’s window dressing. It’s personality. The drawing is the principle. Art is what I’m about. If I get that right, everything else falls into place. All my life, I’ve been trying to remember to put principles before personalities.

Porters ©2011 Trici Venola

All drawings pen and ink on paper, Plein Air.

All art ©2011, 2012 by Trici Venola.

HAGIA SOPHIA AGAPE: Drawing the Basilica Entire

In response to requests, we are republishing this fine post from the archives. You just can’t get too much of Hagia Sophia. And if you’re in Istanbul now, go to the back corner of the basilica, on SogukCesme Street, and look in on the new antique carpet museum.

HAGIA SOPHIA

Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας, 

Church of the Holy Wisdom of God

Hagia Sophia Agape.detail © 2011 by Trici Venola

STEEPLES AND MINARETS

Sultan Mehmet. Ottoman miniature, 15th century.

When Mehmet the Conqueror took Constantinople in 1453, he was twenty-one years old. He said: Give me your city and I’ll not let my soldiers loot. Gutted by the Fourth Crusade, shrunken to villages inside the walls, Constantinople had nevertheless held him off for a year, and still they fought him. They believed Rome would come to their rescue. A big mistake, and the city fell. The sky black with smoke, ships burning in the harbor, streets running with blood; screams and explosions; devastation and horror everywhere, and Constantine XI the Last Byzantine Emperor died on the walls, sword in hand. Afterwards, many witnesses claimed that a beam of light shot out of the top of Hagia Sophia, and the Archangel Michael soared out of the church and away, abandoning the city to the new Conqueror.

Enraged by unexpected losses, true to his word and the custom of the time, Mehmet let his soldiers run amok for three days. Afterwards, he says in his diary, he rode through the streets weeping at the devastation. Young Mehmet admired Alexander the Great, who burned Persepolis, but he refused to mind his own ministers, who advised him to burn Hagia Sophia. “It’s the most sublime building in the world,” he said, and converted it to a mosque. The Pope visited it in 2006. It was a huge event. The entire area was blocked off to all traffic, and the few trams running were jammed to the ceilings, steam on the windows. As I plodded up the hill from the ferry along with thousands of other displaced commuters, I thought of the Pope. Six hundred years too late, Your Eminence.

The Fall of Constantinople, from an old manuscript. Notice clerics at right in front of Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia Agape.detail © 2011 by Trici Venola

All the surviving Byzantine basilicas in Istanbul are now mosques. It’s why, traditionally, mosques are round. And common sense tells me that the Crusaders, despite wreaking havoc all over the Middle East, had by 1453 noticed the lovely minarets, gone home and invented Gothic Architecture. I’ve not found any scholarly backup on this, but I’d say minarets are why we have steeples on churches.

VANTAGE POINT  June 2011, when Michael Constantinou asked me for the umpteenth time to draw him a picture of Hagia Sophia entire, I saw a two-week project. “Aç Ayi Ornamaz,” means in Turkish “The hungry bear doesn’t dance.” A commission was agreed upon. “The whole structure,” said Michael, “no tricky perspective, no slants, no seagulls!”

Aw shoot, no seagulls?

 

Ayasofya & A Gull ©2007 by Trici Venola

So I had to move closer.  I roamed around Hagia Sophia, checking out various views, and settled on the terrace at Seven Hills Restaurant, site of many fine dinners, drunk on the view. Here’s what they think Hagia Sophia looked like back in the day, when Emperor Justinian was still alive.

Justinian’s Constantinople. A print of this painting is in the outer transept at Hagia Sophia. If you know who painted it and where I can find a copy, please let me know in the comments section.

This vantage point is similar to the one I used. Here’s what it looks like today:

The scene is so spectacular, the 21st-century June light so white and intense, the sea right there, no way to even begin to get it all down, but trying is what makes art. The waiters were so nice to me that I drew them in gratitude. I sat at the same table every day for ten days, drawing for five hours, in that intense sun. They brought me coffee and water and made a big fuss, but never more than when I came back the last day and did this drawing.

Swell Fellows All: The Waiters at Seven Hills ©2011 by Trici Venola

These guys are from all over Turkey: Istanbul, Ardahan, Siirt, Diyarbakir and Nemrut Dag. All posed in the same spot for five minutes each, and everybody got a copy.

Me up top. Hagia Sophia is to the immediate left of this photo. Think what the mosaic artists saw, working up in the dome!

THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS  I blew the first two tries. The second one, I had gotten all the way across the east face at the right before I noticed that the proportions were off.

Hagia Sophia Agape.detail ©2011 by Trici Venola

Started again right here, with the frontal projection to the right. I do not know the proper architectural term for these. Have you ever seen them anywhere else? I sure haven’t.  That plaster floral medallion on each one covers a Greek cross.

This is drawn with drafting pens on 35 X 70 cm rag paper with no preliminary pencil, so it had to start right. Then I measured everything off of this one, as explained back in the summer of 2011 with the Drawing the Boukoleon posts.

Hagia Sophia Agape.detail ©2011 by Trici Venola

June 9: Trying to get my mind around the implacable testament of this building’s age, and not as a ruin, either, but a continously-occupied temple of worship coming up on 1480 years. Thinking about the 10,000 workmen in two teams: 50 foremen with100 men to each, and they raced, and they met at the dome. Five years.

Ayasofya Beautiful ©1999 by Trici Venola.

June 12: Today got badly sunburned on left side but didn’t stop. I’m noticing on the east face, which is toward the Marmara, what 15 centuries of storms have done to the shape– the wear, rain tracks and moss and such are very interesting. The sea is deep turquoise.

Hagia Sophia Agape.detail ©2011 by Trici Venola.

RIght in the middle of this section, see how the rain has sluiced diagonally across the brickwork, carving a trough? And you can see how it has hit that point of connection of the roof below, bounded over and fountained up, leaving a rounded mark on the wall above before flowing down into the shadow to the left. That shadow is very dark green: moss.

Hagia Sophia Agape.detail ©2011 by Trici Venola

Here’s an angular spot I like, although the original brickwork has been obscured by new plaster. Hagia Sophia has been standing, despite earthquake and catastrophe and supported only by columns, for almost 1500 years. Much credit for this goes to Mimar Sinan, the great architect of the Renaissance. In the natural course of things, the walls under the huge central dome move apart, causing collapse. In a masterful and politic stroke, Sinan buttressed them and anchored the buttresses with minarets, pleasing the gods of structure and his Sultan, Selim II, as well. You can see the buttresses right here: those massive piers to the right, one of them under a minaret base. How massive are they? Look at those tiny people on the ground!

Hagia Sophia Agape.detail ©2011 by Trici Venola.

Emperor Justinian gold coin. Big wide-set eyes, full face, wide mouth. Justinian!

To design Hagia Sophia, the Emperor Justininan hired a mathemetician and a physicist: Anthemius of Thrales, and Isidoros of Miletus. Religion, Mathematics, Science and Art: they say that at the peak of understanding, all of these converge. Justinian’s rule, and his life, reached a crescendo with his partnership with his Empress, Theodora.

Justinian and Theodora, from their respective mosaics in Ravenna.

Ah, Theodora. There’s a lot on her in a previous blog, Standing the Obelisk: the notorious nude Hippodrome performer who got religion, became Empress, quashed child prostitution, invented tiaras and pointed shoes, and quelled riots with equal aplomb. Justinian had the laws changed so he could marry her. By every report they were passionately devoted to each other, to their faith, and to their Empire. Here’s Theodora painted into life from an ancient bronze statue now in Milan, using information from the Ravenna mosaic and contemporary descriptions.

Theodora Comes Alive ©2012 by Trici Venola.

Look at that eyebrow: now she could quell a rebellion. Justinian and Theodora: where art, religion, science and mathematics converge, add great love and get High Byzantine. Eros: the love of another, and Agape: the love of God. Here is the final drawing of Hagia Sophia Agape: the convergence of all the great mysteries: an answer so great that the questions don’t matter anymore.

Hagia Sophia Agape ©2011 by Trici Venola.

Hagia Sophia Agape ©2011 by Trici Venola.

“Even had its Empire never existed, Byzantium would surely have impressed itself upon our minds and memories by the music of its name alone, conjuring up those same visions that it evokes today: visions of gold and malachite and porphyry, of stately and solemn ceremonial, or brocades heavy with rubies and emeralds, or sumptuous mosaics dimly glowing through halls cloudy with incense. — John Julius Norwich

Mosaic Detail Imperial Gallery

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Alll drawings Plein Air, ©1999-2011 by Trici Venola. All drawings created with drafting pens on paper. Hagia Sophia Agape and Waiters at Seven Hills measure 50 X 70 CM. Other drawings measure 18 X 52 CM. Theodora Comes Alive was created onscreen with digital tools. Thank you for reading. We love your comments.


SAINTS AND ANGELS 1: Drawing Mosaics in Hagia Sophia

I feel across the centuries kinship with these patient mosaic artists, and all who maintain the passion to create vital images in a tedious medium.

Ayasofya Rising ©2004 by Trici Venola

Ayasofya Rising ©2004 by Trici Venola

AN AMBER SKY 537 AD, the sky was amber. That’s the thing to remember when you’re standing in line looking up at the sprawling mass of towers, arches, brickwork and minarets, waiting to get into Hagia Sophia. The greatest church in Christianity for a thousand years, sacked by Crusaders in 1204, but still a building so sublime that Mehmet the Conqueror refused to burn it in 1453. He converted it into a mosque until Kemal Ataturk made it a museum in the white-sky 20th Century. But in 537 when it was consecrated, the sky was amber. In 535, something happened that darkened all Europe. Tree rings in Ireland show zero growth for ten years after 535. The people whose business it is to look into such things think it was Krakatoa erupting that caused the cataclysmic darkness. Krakatoa is a volcano in the Java Straits near Indonesia, and the last time it went off, in 1883, it killed thousands, changed the geography of the area and altered weather conditions for years. Years of darkness due to a globe-encircling belt of ash would have been nothing to such a force. So the Dark Age really was dark, gradually lightening into the yellow sunlight of Medieval references, those paintings we thought were because of yellowed varnish. Suchl darkness would have meant no photo-synthesis and no rain: Drought, famine, horror. Accounts of such have been found from Germany to Syria. The people must have thought it was the end of the world, and for many of them, it was. The sun would have been a red disk in a sable sky when it began to show up. In Constantinople, still recovering from the Nika Riots of 532, there was hunger and plague. Yet the great basilica continued to rise. By 537, the light may have lightened to Byzantine gold.

Deesus Mosaic “The Last Judgement”, Hagia Sophia.

REAL LIFE SEEM SLOW I’m standing in line a lot these days, staring at the marauder-scarred marble in the courtyard waiting to get in, because I’m drawing from a mosaic in one of those upper galleries from 9 AM until it closes at 4:45. It’s that real famous Jesus, in The Last Judgement, a Deesus Mosaic– Jesus flanked by Mary and John the Baptist. The Jesus is a masterpiece. From a few feet away you can’t tell that the face is mosaic at all.

Ace photographer Ken Brown sent me this photo of some graffiti in New York. It says:

SCREEN HISS SCREEN GLOW

REAL LIFE SEEM SLOW

Hm.

So what do these moldy old Real Life Byzantines have to do with anything, anyway? Computer graphics, for one, you little Fast Life graffiti refugee. The first time I saw these mosaics, back in ’99 after fifteen years in computer graphics, I thought, My God, they can bend the pixels. 

Byzantine Griffin ©2006 by Trici Venola

Here’s a 6th-century Byzantine Griffin I drew in the Mosaic Museum back in 2006. Here’s a closeup of the head. Mosaics are 3D crosshatch. They ran the lines to match the contour of the shape they were creating. You can see those lines. But in setting in the tiny mosaic squares, they created lines going crossways:

Byzantine Griffin.Detail ©2006 by Trici Venola

DIGITAL MOSAIC Would computer graphics have developed as they did without the collective consciousness of mosaic? The most durable art form in existence: tiny bits of colored stone, pottery, glass and metal making up the shape of the world as we know it. Now computers do it with light. In the early days of the Macintosh, we had very few colors of light to work with. Here’s a vintage piece, built in Studio 8 in 1989. The center figures are vector graphics I created in 1988, using MacDraw II.

A Chorus Line in 8 ©1989 by Trici Venola

Look closer!

A Chorus Line.Detail @ 400% ©1988 by Trici Venola

Like all computer graphics, this is made of light. And it appears on a grid. At that time we had only 8 colors to work with, since there weren’t any color paint programs. We used ’em in various combinations, like black and red checkerboard to make dark red. Here’s Krishna’s mouth on the grid.

A Chorus Line ©1988 by Trici Venola. Krishna’s Mouth @ 800%

Seurat woud’ve loved it, but I would have killed for a blur. A blur makes up for a limited palette. It’s also a way to help the pixels appear to tilt and bend. The colors in the very earliest version of this, above and at left below, were WHITE, YELLOW, RED, MAGENTA, BLUE, TURQUOISE, GREEN and BLACK. By 1989 we had Studio 8 from Electronic Arts, with 256 colors and all the paint tools. I dropped this image into Studio 8 and blurred  it. See the difference?

Chorus Line CloseUps: Left: 8, Right 256.

Studio 8 was divine. You could actually paint with it, if you knew how to build a 256-color palette. Here’s my 2-month “learning” image. Since it says Studio 8, EA used it as a demo poster. And for what it’s worth, the fire used to actually cycle.

Dancing Fool ©1989 by Trici Venola

Close up, you can see the hard edges of limited palette, but like all mosaic  it reads from a distance. See the blur on the left of his neck? It’s actually gradating shades of several colors.

Dancing Fool.Detail @ 400% ©1989 by Trici Venola

In 1990 came the dawn, with millions of colors and Adobe Photoshop, casting long Jesus rays over the world of Art Creation. Photoshop, the Universal Solvent of computer graphics, elegantly and consistently programmed, intuitive, kind to artists. Came Wacom Tablets, no more mouse! Sections of this piece were built in 8 colors, then in 256, dropped into ‘Shop with Millions of colors and tweaked there, more created directly in ‘Shop. It’s my last mouse piece. No more painstaking placement of pixels with a mouse.

Earth Angel ©1990 by Trici Venola.

But close up, it’s still a mosaic made of light on a grid. As is everything, on every computer, everywhere.

Earth Angel.Detail @400% ©1990 by Trici Venola.

And that brings us to today.

Main Entrance Ayasofya

STARTING JESUS Hagia Sophia’s basilica is 6th-century but the pictorial mosaics are all after the 9th. The reason is that the Iconoclasts, discussed in the From Pillar to Post blogs, destroyed all the icons and pictures in the 8th and 9th centuries. The transept was undoubtedly lined with fabulous mosaics but now it’s bare brick save for one over the mighty main door. So our Jesus was created in the 13th century. He’s on the cover of all the guidebooks. He’s studied in Art History courses worldwide.

Looks pretty simple, huh? Deceptive, this face. It’s wider than it seems. The eye on the right is much larger, and the pupil is toward the right, wihich makes him appear to see everywhere. The mouth is a rosebud, but not prissy at all. The features are delicate but very masculine and strong. Look at that neck! The hand is graceful but the general impression is one of power.

The first drawing started out okay, but I don’t like his nose and he looks too soft.

JC 1 WIP ©2006 by Trici Venola

So the next day, I did another. This Jesus I can live with.

Mosaic is pottery or stone dipped in gold and then used, or dipped in gold and then dipped in enamel. The colors never fade. It’s the most durable art form on earth. The Crusaders in 1204 thought the gold mosaic tile was solid, and they stole a lot before someone thought to melt it down. The gold of theJesus Mosaic, called the Deesus Mosaic, was  not pilfered by Crusaders but by Muslims bent on obliterating all trace of Christianity. Before plastering over the images, they spared the faces. It must have been Mehmet’s Muslims, for the Deesus mosaic was created after the expulsion of the Western Romans from Constantinople in 1261, almost six decades after their entry in the hideous Fourth Crusade of 1204. Just behind me as I work is the former tomb of Dandolo, the fellow who let them into the city. After they left 60 years later, the residents exhumed Dandolo and threw him out the window.

JC 2 WIP 1 ©2011 by Trici Venola

Notice that I’m not drawing individual mosaic tiles on the face yet. That’s because this needs to read first as Jesus and then as a mosaic. What I’m doing is following the contours of the face and folds and hair, keeping it light, and paying a lot of attention to the proportions. Also, I can’t really see, from this distance, where the lines of mosaic divide one color from another. That’s how good it is. Now across the way from the actual mosaic is a huge color photo blowup of Jesus. MOSAIC TILES The next day, I camped out there where I could see closely, to draw the mosaic construction of the face. If I drew exactly what’s on the wall, I’d get a person in a mosaic suit. Drawing, I met Maria and Ioanna. They’re Cypriot Greeks, like Michael Constantinou who commissioned this piece. Gorgeous, aren’t they? Thrilled that someone knows the Greek part of Hagia Sophia’s history, and now we are all Facebook Friends. I’d jumped up to show them something. One thing I had noticed from the original location is how the artist took into account the light coming in from  the left. Here’s the Jesus as I left him on the last session.

JC 2 WIP 2 ©2011 by Trici Venola

Notice the shadow to the left under his chin? That was built in mosaic and gives a damned good impression that he is three-dimensional. Now that’s a Master. Imagine, the sun pouring in the window, and Jesus standing right there next to it surrounded by gold, so real he casts shadows in the yellow light, high up on the wall at the Last Judgement, his eyes filled with something beyond compassion: the complete and painful understanding of just what there is in each person, in the whole world, how much power, how much evil and confusion, how much joy.

All drawings Plein Air by Trici Venola. All art ©2012 by Trici Venola. Thanks for reading. We love your comments.

THE BIG ARCH

Summer just past: The heat simmered up from the bricks like a radiator you didn’t know was on. The first thing I realized was that I’d have to work looking directly into the sun.

 These days I’m down at the Boukoleon in the horrible ant-infested boiling sunlight, I wrote, drawing the arch from the only accessible side, the one where the only time it’s lit from the front is early in the morning. The rest of the time the light is behind it. So I’m staring into bright sunlight trying to get the gist of the shape, the whole mind-boggling panoply of brickwork, ribs and chunks and shards of brick all fanning out in radiant lines around the arch, and up top, turrets of masonry desiccated into shapes resembling griffins and tombstones, all dark against the white blare of the sky.

I remember the helpless feeling of that first day, thinking I’d taken on more than I could handle. But I’d been on the phone with Donna Perkins in Canada, who I’d taken around the Boukoleon back in 2008. She calls occasionally to hear about our parallel universe here in Sultanahmet. I was sharing the glad news that Michael Constantinou had commissioned a big drawing of Hagia Sophia. Donna said, “You mean I could pay you to draw something?”

!!!

Then she said, “So, what would you draw?” I immediately said, “The big arch at the Boukoleon. It’s about to collapse.” But when I got down there and really looked at it, it was one of those times when your soul is dragging the rest of you along by the ear, saying “You know this is what you want.”

The structure of a brick arch requires that the sides of the bricks fan out above the arch. But the Byzantines, never missing a religious beat,  reinforced that imagery with double and triple window arches, left bare to symbolize the Light of the Lord from within. And those double narrow marble columns? Those are Peter and Paul, holding up the church. Are you ready for that? Of course, the Boukoleon is a palace, not a church, and the brick arches show up as radiance by default, having been stripped of their former magnificence by Crusaders, Ottomans, weather and the Republic. I’d sure love to know how that place was finished off. We’ve discussed in earlier blogs how the only CGI recreation shows grey marble because there’s no record of what the finish was. The heap of broken stuff under the arch has marble every color of the rainbow, and I’ll bet that a lot of that was on the outside walls. There were huge lions on the sea balconies. There were probably other statues as well, although the Emperor Theophilos, who built the Boukoleon in the mid-9th century, appears to have been an Iconoclast: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8pbLPVZWko

After two days in the heat I didn’t like the first piece enough to continue. So I started again. And again. Four or five times. The top of the arch has a toothed ridge of masonry. The one closest the center of the arch looks like a standing lion. I could not get this right. Nobody would ever know but me, since the piles of stone are crumbling so fast you can see it happen. It is possible to preserve a ruin without destroying its surface integrity, but what will happen to this one is anyone’s guess. Around here they’re repairing 10th-century stonework with brand new stone blocks. So God help the Boukoleon, and I’m drawing as fast as I can.

This and all small photos taken by Carmen, and thank you.

This lion has to be correct because one day it may be all that exists of this relic of the high ambition of Theophilos, the keening horror of the Fourth Crusade, the famous pophyry birth chamber, the murder of ascetic despot Nikophorus Phokas, the sorrow of Mehmet the Conqueror when he beheld the burned grandeur over the sea, the many generations who made homes there anyway, the madness of the Sultan who ran the Orient Express through it, which put an end to this vista, drawn in 1853 by Orientalist Eugene Flandin. Do you recognize the Portals? See the big square stones below them where Hulusi wrote his name, right at ground level today. Old people in the neighborhood remember diving into the water from the top of the ruined Palace.

Boukoleon 1853, engraving by Eugene Flandin.

That’s the Blue Mosque behind, but it’s nowhere near as close as this slightly-fanciful rendering shows.  Here’s a picture of the Palace Portals in 1950, warts and all. Notice how the harbor was silting up. See our big square stones now, just to the left of that little shack bottom center.

Two actual Boukoleon Lions survive, a half-mile away in the Archeological Museum. They sat roaring on the balconies toward the sea, and a tall man standing next to them could reach their manes. Their noses and jaws were lost to time but still they roar in the dimness of the museum.

This present lion is more appropriate. Chipped from the bones of the Palace, it has appeared bit by bit over the years as the wall rots from exposure. It’s one of a row of crenellations, those square chunks interspersed with slots for archers, along the tops of old walls. But these crenellations were created by circumstance. As we can see in all these illustrations, the wall was once much taller. Here’s our old friend Tayfun Oner’s CGI of the Palace, showing the big arch and the arrow slots above it, below the topmost windows. Those arrow slots are the spaces around our Crenellation Lion.

Boukoleon Palace CGI Reconstruction © byzantium1200.com. Used by permission

Two years ago a bum moved in and strung his laundry across the Lion and the other crenellations. After that the government moved in, stripping all the fig trees and sandblasting some of the interior walls of the ruin, but the trash quickly came back. Despite the fence, which went up in 2010, people have found a way to dump furniture in there.

As I draw, the traffic roars by on the highway with a sound of crashing waves. A water-hawker bellows his wares out there near the cars. I sit in full pounding sunlight under a huge black hat, my feet wrapped against the sun, slimed with sweat, staring at the arch dark against the glare. Ants swarm in the heat all around me. Occasionally one climbs up into my clothes. Passersby stop and watch the work. Most are decent enough, but yesterday two boys stopped and would not leave. They kept saying “Excuse me,” and continuing in Turkish. Eventually they asked for sex. I got to use some Turkish terms I learned from Nizam, and they took off running. At the end of the day, after four false starts of hours each, I had drawn the lion. Now my concern is that it’s too big for the composition I had in mind.

With this project I hadn’t yet come up with the idea of scanning and blogging every day. So just for fun, for our blog here I color-coded part of a scan of the finished drawing, according to the notes in this letter to patron Donna Perkins:

…Spent last few days working on our drawing. It seems I must draw every brick. Since the arch shows dark against a blank white sky, I don’t want to make a lot of sketchy lines where I think the actual edges are. Instead I’ve been working my way to them, starting with the top lion-like crenellation, measuring off that, and working first down and then over. Everyone always asks “How long did this take?” So while I can, here’s a reconstruction of the schedule:

July 5, 2-5 PM: First drawing started, stopped. Met friends at Kalyon Hotel, talked about project.

July 8: 1-5 PM: RED

July 9: Too hot to go out. Worked portrait in evening for Constantinou family.

July 10, 2-5 PM: GREEN

July 11, 3:30-5 PM: TURQUOISE

July 13, 3-6 PM: BLUE

July 14, 2-5 PM: PURPLE

July 15, 1-5 PM: GOLD

So we are at about 17 hours. Pretty much what I expected. This coming Thursday, I’m renewing my Residence Visa for the next five years, thank you very much, since this commission is helping to make it possible! Big deep breaths quite often now, feeling secure. It’s hot as blazes and my left arm now has to be covered as the sun is painful. But everybody is flipping out over the piece. I don’t think I’ll do another one like this…but I’m really glad I’m doing this one.

The final Plein Air drawing, like the others drafting pen on rag paper, measures 35 X 70 cm and took 30 hours. The last day was a day so humid that walking was like swimming. I got down there very late, but at least the shadows had spread. I was finishing up a section that’s blocked by a tree. I did not want to include the tree, so I was standing up filling in the shapes of the stones. Then I sat down on the wall in my usual place and the ants went crazy. Normally they just run across my feet, but for some reason they were just all OVER…ghah…anyway, I got the last of the hardcore information, packed up and walked down the highway to the cafe in the walls. The sea looked like thick mercury in mist. I could not make myself leave until around 9 PM. Thinking about why they built that palace there. The weather was the same, the views of the sea were the ones I love so much now. How I love it over there, and how I loved the opportunity to do this drawing I wanted to do for so long. I could never, EVER have dedicated this much time to one drawing if Donna hadn’t commissioned it. But now there’s this, with every brick and stone.

Big Boukoleon Arch ©2011 by Trici Venola

There’s a point at which you must stop. After I leave the site, I always spend some time making sure that the drawing makes sense without the site in front of it. So I spent a couple of hours at a table out in front of Kybele Hotel in Sultanahmet, putting in some final touches, and everybody walking up and down the street just gasped. It’s those gasps that let me know I’ve got it right.