Sunday, 3 November 2013

Minas Tirith is a Real Place, as is Alicante of the Shadowhunters: 5 Reasons this is a Great Vacation

I've got a new completely amazing place for you to visit.

This city was New York, Rome and London combined. It was the richest, biggest, most modern place in the world. When many people lived in huts of dirt and sticks, and a big town had a hundred families, this was a city of palaces and cathedrals, and millions of inhabitants, from every corner of the known world.

Many of the hut dwellers wouldn't have even known it existed, of course, or where it was, but for those that made it there it must have been an astonishing place. Now you can do better. You know it exists, and if you really, really want to, you can go there.

Constantinople, later known as Istanbul, simply 'The City.' When King Arthur was alive, this place was the centre of the Western World.

 These are the great walls, stretching completely across a peninsula, built one-and-a-half thousand years ago and still standing. They were the greatest fortifications in the world, and behind them they kept safe the riches and palaces of an empire. One happy afternoon I walked their length, from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn. In places they are tumble down, and incorporated into the structure of raggle-taggle houses. In others they are restored, and grand, and you can walk along their tops. In a thousand years they were breached only three times, by the Crusaders, the Ottomans, and an outcast emperor, returning to take back what was his.
 The walls and the city were built by emperors in their lives. In their deaths they were housed in great black coffins, made from ton-heavy cubes of stone. The Archaeological Museum has them lined up, bigger than parked cars and much more menacing. The statuary of the Byzantines that has survived the centuries stands in a beautiful little garden.
 The palace of the Byzantines, once the most luxurious and magnificent in the world, has disappeared, but the amazing mosaics of its floors have been rediscovered. They stretch the size of basketball courts, works of art composed of millions of fragments of stone.
 The coolest place in Constantinople, though, is here:
 An enormous water cistern in the form of a gigantic cave, its roof held up by lines of slender, stone columns. Small lights sit at the base of each pillar, and the light glimmers on the two foot deep water that fills the floor. The light is feeble, though, and dies before it reaches the last line of pillars. The columns and dark water stretch beyond sight.

As cool as the cisterns (there are a couple of them) are, they aren't the best bit of old Constantinople. This is it. Hagia Sophia. The holy wisdom. For 1000 years it was the biggest building in the world. If you aren't convinced check out the size of the people standing on the balconies, then see how high the ceiling arches above them, and remember it has arched like that for 1500 years. When Columbus sailed the Atlantic, this was one of the oldest buildings in the world.

Read that again, and think about it for a second. It was the cathedral of Christianity. When Rome was being trashed by savages, this church was where the great emperors of Byzantium celebrated mass. A thousand years ago Vladimir the Great of Ukraine visited. "We no long knew if we were in heaven or earth," he said of the moment he looked up at the vast dome, that seemed to float above dozens of windows.

Of course I've missed out the whole Ottoman Istanbul bit, the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace, etc. Maybe I'll save that for another post. Maybe you'd like to go and see it yourself. I recommend it.

There are places on the earth that outreach the greatest dreams of authors and artists. This is one of them. A tumbled stone from a Byzantine wall has forgotten more stories than I shall ever write.

1 comment:

  1. That's incredible. The scope of what they built compared to the means they had to build it . . .