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while over against the mosque of Bayazet, rises the stately tower of the Seraskierat. Each building stands out bold and clear against the azure sky, and the myriads of houses, the interminable lines of cypresses, and the great burial grounds with their white faced graves, climb up the sides of the steep declivities, until lost in the far-off distance. This unparalleled view, even at the first glance, charms the mind by its grandeur and variety; and as I gaze in wonder upon the scene, the happy description given of it by Byron is at once recalled to memory
“The European with the Asian shore,
As we round Seraglio Point, we enter the Golden Horn, formed by a wide gulf running inland from the Bosphorus. It was the “Cornucopia” of ancient Byzantium, for through it flowed the wealth of two continents. It runs for about five miles through the heart of the city; and as we proceed along its course, we leave Stamboul on the left, Pera, Galata, Tophane, Kassim Pasha, and St. Demetri, on the right; while at our rear, across the Bosphorus, the houses and minarets of Scutari gleam in the sun. It is now that the whole gorgeous panorama opens before us in all its bewildering loveliness, and a feeling of wonder and admiration takes possession of the mind, for it is only from this point that the beauty and extent of the Moslem city can be fully realised. The magnificent port, swarming with life, is crowded with vessels bearing the flags of all nations; fleets of feluccas, with full white sails, pass to and fro in an endless stream; heavy barges, manned by picturesque-looking crews, float lazily up and down; lighters filled with grain and bales of merchandise line the quays; and myriads of gilded caiques, bearing men, women and childen, clad in all the costumes of the East, skim over the surface of the transparent water. The shores are lined with custom-houses, barracks, store-houses, dockyards, and arsenals; and beyond these again, the city, gorgeous in red and white, spreads itself out on either side over two chains of heights, and more palaces, bazaars, seraglios and mosques, crowned with countless minarets, clothed in an infinite variety of colour, shine forth in wonderful array beneath a flood of light, and dazzle the sight of the beholder.
The site of the Ottoman capital is, without doubt, the finest in the world, and no wonder that Constantine chose this unrivalled spot for the seat of empire. With the Sea of Marmora on the one side, the Black Sea on the other, and the Bosphorus in front, it seems to have been designed by nature as the connecting link between Europe and Asia. To give an idea of the actual position of the city, its ground plan must be described. Stamboul, or the Turkish quarter, is situated on the European shore, and on an undulating slope, which assumes somewhat the form of a triangle, the apex of which shoots sharply down from the hills in its rear to the mouth of the Bosphorus, where the latter enters the Sea of Marmora. On one side, this portion of the city faces the Sea of Marmora, and on the other, the port of the Golden Horn; while on the land side, it is enclosed by a continuous line of ancient fortifications. On the northern shore of the Golden Horn, stand Galata and Pera, the Frankish cities; while opposite, on the Asiatic side, is the suburb of Scutari. Thus, these four grand divisions, although locally known under the respective names of Stamboul, Galata, Pera, and Scutari, are all connected together by water, and form in fact one city, under the general name of Constantinople.
We drop anchor within a short distance of the bridge of boats which connects Stamboul with the opposite shore of the Golden Horn; and getting into a caique, manned by two athletic Moslems naked to the waist, and with scarlet fezes on their close-cropped heads, we pull towards the shore. The caique, which is peculiarly Turkish, is singularly light and admirably built to cut through the water. It is sharp and pointed at both ends, is narrow and shallow, and is capable of carrying two passengers, who have to sit very still,
, as the caique has an awkward knack of turning bottom upwards upon the slighest deviation from its equilibrium. It is profusely gilded and painted, and, when shooting swiftly over the water, has a very graceful appearance. There are said to be no less than eighty thousand of these boats plying upon the Golden Horn, and some of those belonging to private families equal, in costliness of decoration, the famed gondolas of ancient Venice.
At the Custom House, I submit my luggage for examination, but upon intimating politely that I am only an Englishman en voyage, and not a Levantine smuggler, the gold-laced official-a plethoric looking Turk—dismisses me in true Oriental fashion by a graceful wave of his hand, and with the simple remark, “ c'est bien, Monsieur,” which he emphasizes by a tremendous puff from his
cigarette. A hamul, or porter, next throws my portmanteau and half-a-dozen other things, with the ease of an Ajax, across his herculean shoulders, and then glances at me with a look which seems to say, “Would you like a lift too ?” The hamal is the colporteur of Constantinople, and his dress consists of short white linen trousers and a yellow jacket. In stature he is short but keenly knit, and is capable of carrying enormous weights up the most precipitous streets; in fact, like the mule, he seems to enjoy up-hill work. When a hamal seizes hold of your portmanteau, it is highly injudicious to interfere with him against his will; just let him have it all his own way, otherwise he may rip off the handles by a dexterous movement of his little-finger, or turn it inside out by a twist of his wrist. The most prodigious feats of strength are recorded of hamals. My own secret conviction is, that a hamal would undertake to carry Primrose Hill on his back, if he saw the way to make a piastre out of the transaction.
As I enter the streets of Constantinople, the sun, now at meridian height, is gilding the domes and lofty minarets of the mosques, darting across the fantastic gables of the houses, shining upon the marble palaces, and upon the huge white-faced barracks, and lighting up the port, and the sea beyond, in a golden glow of light. There is noise and animation everywhere, and the whole city presents a perfect kaleidoscope of Eastern life. Every street, every public place, and gay bazaar, is crowded with people of all nations, for, since the palmy days of Byzantium, this ancient Moslem city has been one of the principal ports of Eastern commerce, and continues so to be even to the present day—for still the wealth of two continents pours into it; still the Frank of the West, and the countless tribes of the Orient, crowd its streets and bazaars; still the traders of the Levant make it their chief mart; still the caravans from Bokhara, Persia, and Arabia bring their rich produce here; still the disciples of Christ, the followers of Mahomet, and the worshippers of Buddha, fill its narrow lanes and tortuous alleys; and still the fleets of a thousand ports line its quays. The ever-changing aspects of Oriental life to be met with at every turn, the combination of light and shade which enlivens the quaint streets; the curious groups of dark-skinned beings, clad in variegated attire, that flit constantly past you, charm the eye, whilst they bewilder the imagination, and you are puzzled before you out who they are, or to what nation they belong. Turks, Persians,
Arabs, Egyptians, Kurds, Armenians, Tartars, Greeks, Jews, and others, go on their way in costumes, sometimes splendid, sometimes shabby, but always picturesque; while the cool-looking dresses worn by many, their flowing robes and silk or coloured-linen trousers, make you quite envy them, and you long to cast off your tight uncomfortable European dress for theirs. In fact, the city itself is as bewildering as the sights you see around you. It is an incomprehensible maze of interminable ins and outs, a labyrinthine wilderness, which seems to have no beginning and no end—houses, gardens, bazaars, markets, and burial places being mixed up together in the most inextricable confusion, as if the whole place had been overturned by an earthquake, and then built up in a hurry without any regard to symmetry or design. You behold Turkish houses, European palaces, seraglios, barracks and hospitals, mosques and theatres, minarets, kiosks, and towers, trellised balconies, arabesque lattices, a wondrous variety of architecture amidst a confusion of smoky huts, miserable hovels, crumbling ruins, creeping vines, waving palms, tall cypress groves, terraces covered with verdure, deep ditches, open sewers, heaps of rubbish, and mountains of filth. Look up one street, and you see a mosque; look down another, and you see a palace, look up a third, and you may see a theatre, a cemetery, a Roman aqueduct, or the Golden Horn, with the Bosphorus and coast of Asia beyond. Step into one street, and the houses will appear to crush you in on every side, and you will see nothing but an interminable vista of dingy buildings, and a narrow streak of blue sky above; step into the next, and the streak of blue sky will have diminished to the dimensions of a thread, and you will have to grope your way about like a cat in a dark cellar. There is a certain charm about all this bewildering variety, because you never know where you may be landed next. In these thoroughfares, sinuous and crowded, you constantly labour under the belief that you are about to make some new discovery, to enter some new place that has never been found out by any one before; but this never arrives. In this expectation, you go wandering from place to place, jostled by the crowd, and tripped up at every step by mangy dogs; and if you are not knocked down by a camel, or trampled out of all form by a troop of donkeys, you may have a very enjoyable time of it. Moreover, the streets have no names, and if you happen to lose your way, you have to act the part of a nautical explorer, and trust to the points of the compass or to dead reckoning, both of which expedients invariably land you miles away
from where you wish to be. The majority of the houses are built in the style peculiar to this part of the East; the doors are narrow, there are no glass windows, but their place are supplied by lattices and outside shutters. They are lightly built, of stone, wood, and plaster; the walls are covered with stucco, and as one story projects considerably over the other, they nearly meet at the top, so that the occupants of the upper flats might take back somersaults into the opposite windows without much fear of falling into the street beneath. They are painted, on the outside, mostly red and white, and some of the buildings give an idea of great antiquity, and are very curious in architecture. Many of the better class of houses have spacious projecting balconies, roofed over, and enclosed with lattice work and elaborately-carved arabesques; while the ends of many of the supporting timbers, that project out from the walls, are ornamented with grotesque figures and fantastic devices. The rooms are generally small, low, and badly ventilated, and are redolent of smoke and sickly smells. I pass along an infinity of little streets lined with shops, where turbaned Orientals sit, smoking their narghilis, and fanning themselves. The customers stand outside, and the purchases are concluded on the counter, which projects into the street. The native shopkeepers make no show of their goods; they sit cross-legged on their prayer-carpets, and pray to Allah to send them customers. If you are in want of an article, they merely show you
in the first place the worst specimen of it in their possession, asking you, as a matter of course, double its value; and not until they see that you are about to leave, will they produce what you really want, and even then it frequently happens that, just as you imagine the article is yours, the wily “true believer" will take a whiff at his narghili, go off into a brown study, and affect to forget all about the transaction. The English axiom that “time is money” would be utterly incomprehensible in this luxurious Oriental city, where every one busies himself in doing nothing with a conscientiousness truly marvellous.