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.

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.

—  

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.

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!

BIG MOTHER HAN 2: Drawing in Buyuk Valide Han

WORKING STIFFS

Sinan in His Workshop ©2012 Trici Venola

My father was a self-proclaimed working stiff. Erick E. Venola– or Lieutenant Colonel Erick E Venola, Retired, according to my mother’s adorable grandiosity– was an unassuming man. After serving in WWII he continued in the Army Engineers Reserves and supported us all–he wanted my mother at home– by working for AT&T, the telephone company. To make more money, he ran the boiler room at the main plant in downtown LA, a demanding job that required he work alone all night. He liked it. My mother said it was because of his solitary Finnish nature. Erick E Venola had started life in Harlem, New York City, in 1918 as Eino Erkki Venalainen, the only son of Finnish immigrants. Finns are very very close to Turks. I see echoes of my hardworking craftsman father all over these hans. I loved my father, and I love working stiffs.

Salt of the Earth ©2012 by Trici Venola.

Han means Workplace, and Buyuk Valide Han is full of these guys who show up and work all day at some anonymous job to support their families. They’ve been doing it here for 500 years. They were all in the Army. Some are in a multigenerational family business, some slave for others. Most would rather do something else, but this is the hand life dealt them. They cobble it together as best they can, and make it work.

Big Mother Han ©2009 by Trici Venola. 35 X 50 cm, Plein Air, pen and ink on paper. Available.

This is the Third Courtyard of Buyuk Valide Han. Can you see that it was once a church? We are looking down the nave at the altar. The arches down the left are openings to a side gallery once topped by domes, and are mirrored (out of the picture) on the right. The very top is later addition.

Big Mother Han.detail ©2012 by Trici Venola

A barrel-vault ceiling joined the two sides, and I’ll bet that’s the original floor down there: varicolored marble and granite chunks polished by centuries of feet, ground into dirt.

Big Mother Han.detail ©2012 by Trici Venola

This was a church clear up through Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453, and continued under the Ottomans. I learned all this during a week in May 2009, while I was drawing this picture. The people in the Han told me. I found zero on this anywhere else.

The guidebooks peg this section of Buyuk Valide Han at 11th century, but the 3rd- and 4th-generation workers here proudly tell me it’s older, a lot older. They and their families have been preserving it for centuries– whitewashed and plastered, sure, but preserved. I believe them. I also believe the Byzantine brickwork I’ve seen under adjacent hans, like this one just down the hill, and gems like these in the Han itself.

Left: Frescoed flowers on plaster. Right: brick detail in an old window.

Big Mother Han.detail ©2012 by Trici Venola

It’s sublime, isn’t it? –with the bones of the church showing through the flesh of the workplace. Rumors abound of possible restoration, and I hope they may die. There are a million kitsch restorations in the world, but nothing like this exists anywhere: a live, irreplaceable, visual and visceral testimony to what has been and what is. Turning it into a fake old church or fake old caravansary would destroy that, besides being an insult to the hundreds of thousands of lives spent here in one vocation or another.

Walking along the passage formed by workshops built into the side galleries, one can look up and see the empty circles of vanished domes. That tower in the background is where Kosem Valide Sultan, the awesome dowager Sultana who built the Han,  is supposed to have hidden her treasure. It’s been dug, plumbed and sifted for centuries, but she must have meant some other tower, for no treasure was ever found that you could spend.  Here’s one I could draw: a surviving dome and window alcove of the church, now high above a workshop built into the space. I’ll have you know that I slogged up to Buyuk Valide Han last Wednesday in that blizzard and stood bolt upright, freezing, drawing, just to share this, and that’s why this post is so late. Wednesday, you say, and now it’s Sunday? You don’t think I did a whole dark drawing in an hour standing up in the cold, do you? I did the minimum I would need and the maximum I could stand, took photos, came home and spent hours rendering. Here’s where we started:

Chapel Workshop Rough ©2012 by Trici Venola

And here’s where we wound up: 

I was in too much of a hurry and blew the bottom of the drawing. Had to paste another piece of paper over it and work from a photo like this one, but I’m happy with what we got.

Like the workmen who have preserved them, my father would love the surviving frescoes. He made exquisite small things with his hands. A Christmas village out of cardboard, glitter, toothpicks and spit. A tiny George Washington town coach, complete with handles and windows, a miniature stagecoach. AT&T recognized this ability and put him in charge of installing PBX switchboards in the new music center downtown. Our low-income family had season tickets to the Music Center because he’d thought up the name for their newsletter, Top o’ The Mall.

Big Mother Han.detail ©2012 by Trici Venola

Why didn’t he go for big money in the movie studios? Stability. He referred to AT&T with rueful tolerance his whole life, but he told me once that when you can’t find employer loyalty, you should find another job.

Big Mother Han.detail ©2012 by Trici Venola

Big Mother Han.detail ©2012 by Trici Venola

He had that thing about stability because he’d been shifted around as a child. His father, Peter Venalainen, was a big black-haired Russian Finn who loved opera. He changed our name to Venola so people would think we were Italian, took to drink, and died just after Grandma divorced him. She joined the Women’s Christian Temperence Union and chopped up New York bars with an axe along with Carrie Nation, a movement that led to Prohibition. She and Daddy moved to Los Angeles, where she worked as a cook for movie people on location. He grew up in various friends’ houses and always wanted to stay put. So no career Army for him, it was the Reserves, Command and Staff, weekends off to the plane in uniform to one place or another. My mother loved him in uniform. He would never wear it for show, despised people who did. This grieved her for she enjoyed being seen with him in all his officer regalia. “Your father moves armies around in Vietnam,” she told us while counting out the grocery money.  He came up through the ranks in WWII, trained troops and never went overseas. He felt sorry for those whose lives peaked in that time, because his flowered slowly, with his family life. He read everything, sci-fi and action adventure and history. A champion marksman, he had a passion for guns, but never imposed it on anyone else, although he took a mighty pride in my brother’s gun expertise. He could fix anything. He gave every kid we knew a special pet name. We liked to hang out in his garage, a place of clutter and wonder.

Big Mother Han.detail ©2012 by Trici Venola

Here he is with my mother in 1947 or so, in the backyard of our house in Echo Park, LA. It’s a picture of the American Dream. I like to think of them as they are here, young and unvanquished.

Erick & Loramae Venola in 1947

Both my parents are gone now. They lived good lives and died when they were old. In their souls they would have understood my Turkish epic, chasing a dream on a shoestring at this age, but in parenthood they would have been horrified. So I talk to their souls. I show Mama the Bosporus and the Dolmabache Palace, and I show Daddy Hagia Sophia and these Turkish workshops, so like his own, the men with hands and eyes and values like his. For his birthday, which was 94 years and a week ago. In my mind I walk Daddy all over the Han in his khaki workpants and checked shirt and green Asian eyes, his magnificent workman’s hands.

Big Mother Han.detail ©2012 by Trici Venola

He would fall in with these guys and compare welding techniques, admire tools. He would study how the place was adapted, how it was put together in the first place.  He would be fascinated with the whitewashed Byzantine arches leading from one shop to another, from one holy alcove to another.

Big Mother Han.detail ©2012 by Trici Venola

Where a monk walked and muttered and prayed, a blue-jeanned, blue-jawed guy in a stocking cap is listening to the radio and screwing together nargile pipes. I think Daddy would love this. I find I do. I was raised with a work ethic that has evolved, in my lifetime, to a zen-like devotion to my craft. As dancing is to a Dervish, creating something is prayer to me. So no kitsch church restoration, please, Buyuk Valide Han is perfect and sanctified already.  No matter how you find God, holy is holy.

Daddy & Friend,. Photo by Kurt Wahlner, Christmas 1987. All other photos ©2012 by Trici Venola. All drawings Plein Air 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.


Rolling the Boukoleon Bones

How strange to know exactly where you will be and what will be happening with the weather. This seems an incalculable luxury to me, but that was part of what I signed up for when I moved here. Something in me has always wanted to crouch on the edge of an alien civilization, making art. Just now I’m looking out over dull silver drifts of sea fading into the mist, peppered with minute black birds in an erratic line. The entire bottom of my view is crusty Byzantine brick ruins. It’s all that’s left of the Boukoleon Palace, built in the ninth century as the First Palace in Christiandom, burned by Crusaders in 1204 but spared by Mehmet the Conqueror 250 years later, when he wept to see, as he wrote, the owl flying, the spider spinning a tapestry in the House of the Caesars.

In 1873 the Sultan ran the Orient Express through the remains of the Palace, bisecting it and leaving a considerable chunk of the Palace facade facing the sea. What remains of that is one huge arch, some piles of rubble atop a honeycomb of arcs and mysterious wells going down to Byzantium, and one magnificent double stand of arches surmounted by marble portals on the sea side. The top row was torn off, presumably when the government filled in the area between the harbor and the seawall, and built the highway. I live on the other side, across the tracks, looking out over the arches to the sea.

Below my balcony in the weeds of the railroad bed is a huge ziggurat-cut chunk of marble, carved around the sides and scored across the surface with holes for fixing a bas-relief, or perhaps a sheet of marble in contrasting colors. There’s also one pillar and its capital, and some smaller chunks of the ziggurat-cut piece, all decorated with spray-paint graffiti. Computer-generated concepts of the Palace show it as a vast bald grey expanse rising out of the sea, but I have seen dozens of chunks of multicolored marble from all over the Palace site. They’re grey until it rains, and then they are a rainbow: wine-purple porphyry, speckled green malachite, white flecked with carnelian, saffron, deep emerald green veined with black, glittering white, translucent pale amber. I think the Palace looked like a painting of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s, now in the Getty, entitled Spring. Brilliant colors juxtaposed with statues and frescoes, a painting in polished marble, and a porphyry birth chamber, giving rise to the expression born to the purple. Sir Lawrence painted this in 1901, and I will bet a Byzantine brick that he visited Istanbul first and saw what was left of the Palace. The layout is the same, and so are the colors of the marble.

Whatever we have most of, humans seem to take for granted. When I first moved here I was horrified to see three guys hauling a wheelbarrow of marble fragments out of the Palace to decorate their cafe. I called the Tourist Police and got an embarrassed reaction, but despite all those stories about dire consequences for removal of souvenirs from ancient ruins, there simply was no provision made to keep such things from happening here at the Boukoleon. The Palace has been left to rack and ruin for decades.The good part was that, for years, we could walk up into it, but the bad part was that homeless people, some of them drug addicts, lived in the ruins and made it risky to go in there. I used to get along with most of them, but never sat and drew in the ruins as I longed to do because one never knew when some glue-sniffing idiot would show up dangerous.

But many a time I went in there, alone or with friends, to marvel at the rising walls of brickwork, the piles of marble rubble all around. One massive malachite pillar lies in there, its thickness up to my hips. Weed-fringed holes go down into the area below, peopled by denizens of the dark amongst the trash. The one remaining sea gate, the sides of a marble keyhole shape rising from vast marble pediments carved with egg-and-dart borders, was choked with trash, dumped furniture, garbage and dead things. There had been a fig tree, but the Belidiye- the local government- lopped it down, the dead branches rotting on the edge of the track leading up over the marble pediments up into the ruin.

We would clamber from the gate over the pediment and up through the weeds along the ridge of masonry, and suddenly be looking down into exposed rooms and arched portals and mystery.Up top was a toothed ridge over the big arch, one lone standing pillar marking the airspace of an entire colonnade. We’d jump down past more shoots of fig saplings and over a massive pile of potsherds and into what had been a sort of hall, open to the sky, with the remnants of walls and arched doors and windows all around. The ground surface was rubble and weeds, punctuated with the remains of campfires. Once I saw a carved piece of alabaster, burned on top and littered with mussel shells. Once we found an empty purse, still where it was tossed long after the thief had run into the ruins. Once we walked in to see somebody huffing fumes out of a sack, and left in a hurry. More often, friendly bums would show up to watch out for us. Then

last spring, one guy, Mehmet, set up his mattress on the marble fragments right under the huge arch, keeping dogs in the ruins and stringing his laundry up on the top, a fine sight for tourists. “I may be poor,” he said, “but I live in a palace.”Mehmet was friendly but his dogs were not. They prevented my forays into the Palace, and interfered with my walking through it to climb through a hole in the wall to the railroad bed. I would go down there with my friend CJ and huge plastic bags and pick up the trash, something the railroad only did about every three months, despite the fact that every housewife in the houses overlooking the railroad would throw plastic bags of trash down into the train bed every single day. We had a fine time cleaning it up. People thought we were crazy. Having braved Mehmet’s dogs to climb into the railroad, we would not be able to alert Mehmet before getting bitten on the way back through the wall, so we had to leave our huge bags of collected trash under the bridge– where the railroad could find it– and walk the rails until we came to an exit and boost and pull each other out. After CJ went home, I did it alone but couldn’t get myself out. I walked forever past bewildered scarved housewives and screaming children, under the arc of a hurled garbage bag flying out of a window, at last coming to a low railroad bridge over one of the innumerable streets through the city wall. There I was able to hail some local guys who produced a ladder and a cup of tea. I pantomimed trash pick-up and we went through my sketchbook and several more cups of tea and that was a good Saturday. One reason I live here is that you never know what’s waiting outside the door. It’s also the reason I think about leaving here every so often, when the thing outside is a butchered tree or some other atrocity rather than a pleasant adventure with friendly working stiffs remind me of my dad, only in Turkish.

I dreaded renovation since the prevalent attitude is to sandblast everything into looking like bad CGI, destroying the integrity of the antiquity in the process. Well-intentioned idiots, mostly liberal Americans married to Turks and living far from the Old City, contribute to this by calling for trash cleanup, little dreaming what the powers that be consider “cleaning:” sandblasting the entire surface, replacing the third-to-twelfth-century surface bricks, sharpening every corner and re-grouting with a hideous pink compound probably made by grinding the original bricks into dust and mixing it with cement. Experts are available from all over the world and financed by UNESCO, yet things continue to be badly restored. Kucuk Ayasofya Camii (Mosque), built onto the remnants of the Church of Sergio & Bacchus 1500 years ago, was stripped and re-surfaced. The carved capitals on the interior columns, which were so old as to appear melted, were actually re-cut and sharpened by workmen far less talented than the original craftsmen. The Byzantine Christian mosaics were covered with cement, impossible to remove, which infuriated educated Turks powerless to stop it. The magnificent Triple Gate of Constantinople, out at the city walls leading to the rest of Europe, was one of the most important sites here, and the restoration destroyed it to the point where, I am told, UNESCO threatened to revoke Istanbul’s World Heritage Site status if it wasn’t stopped. Too late to save the Gate or the mosque, but perhaps they listened with the Palace.

Surface age can be removed in a day, but only God, in the form of time and all its effects, can make something old. New-looking antiquities are all over Europe. Fake antiquities are the province of Disneyland and the movies, but no amount of money can create something old that looks old. That’s why people like me cross oceans and continents to see it. When they fence off your favorite ruin, it’s an emotional challenge, a real crapshoot, because while it might get wrecked, there is hope. There is intelligent restoration going on in Turkey. There’s the massive ongoing dig at Aphrodisias, arguably the best in the world. There’s the work being done at Çatal Hoyuk and cities even older. There are individuals and financial institutions funding digs and beautiful restorations all over the country, there are magazines and preservation societies and museums fighting to preserve without destroying. So I watch, and I pray.

Last week men in yellow hardhats swarmed all over the Palace and hauled out the burned mattresses, the mounds of trash and garbage choking the ruins. They fenced it off, presumably after re-locating Mehmet and the denizens of all those dark doorways leading under the railroad. Last year I tried to get the History Channel interested in exploring the Palace, but one of their people is Turkish, and he flatly refused to go anywhere near it. Addicts and murderers, ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties, he said, or so I gathered. I admit that looking into the blackened, trash-strewn foundations of Western Civilization can be pretty damned daunting, but I was dying to explore. Now I think that the mysteries in the dark should stay there. They give a resonance to what’s happening on the surface.

Back to my view: the top of the stand of arches was covered in bushes, grasses and vines raining down over the portals, the colors marking the seasons. Very romantic, but the growth does tend to turn the bricks into dirt. Now the top is exposed, a bony, crusted ridge of brickwork like a dragon spine lying below the expanse of the Marmara. It’s absolutely magnificent, and just for the moment it is too wet for the restoration to proceed. Meanwhile, my rent is going up, so I may leave this place. I don’t care to watch what they may do to this precious irreplaceable thing in the name of improvement. I ask for guidance and tend to my drawing. I look out at the sea and the lovely lorn bones of the Boukoleon and love it as much as I can, while I can. I look out at the sea and try to see my ship coming in.

Last night I was so scared with all this change, I said to an old friend, a writer, Please tell me it will all be all right. “You’re living on the heroic plane,” he said, “God looks after heroes.” I’ll say: God sent me a hero like that.

Trici Venola, Istanbul, Christmastime 2009

Art from top: Sea Haven Morning, The Inheritors, Boukoleon Arcade, Brokedown Palace, The Sea Gate, Ahmet Dal: Eager Student, Boukoleon Window, The Little Door, Boukoleon Manzara OneShot, Dog In the Ruins ©2008, 2005, 2009 by Trici Venola.