« VorigeDoorgaan »
A finer harbor could not be conceived. The Bosphorus flows between two promontories, separating the Stamboul from Para, Galata, and Tophane. The largest man-of-war can here float; while around, over a space which can accommodate 1,200 sail of the line, eighty thousand little boats, called caïques, and resem bling the canoe somewhat in its sharp point and feathery levity, dart with graceful facility. These are the hackney coaches and cabs which play over the silver limpid streets of this wondrous city of cities. These boats are called by the natives kerlongist, or swallow-boats, and are formed of the thin planks of beech wood. They are always dry and neat, and carved within and without. It is dainty work to ride in them, as they are as liable as a canoe to upset. Cushions upon the bottom, in Eastern style, is the mode. It is a delicious, cool ride, after threading the mazes of the dirty streets of the city, as we have had abundant cause to remember. You may fancy what these cities are, in one grand view; which requires 80,000 boats around the quays.
It would be unjust to expect a description of this city. Our stay in it must be limited to a few days; and these will be filled with laborious sight-seeing. I must leave much to your imagination, and use the suggestive style. No place can have more attractions just now for the traveller, than this half-way point between two extremes of civilization. Society is in the transition state. The old prejudices of the Moslem are giving way slowly before the progress of the age. Here, where Mahomet holds imperious sway, and where the Sovereign revels like a Sardanapalus in the most gorgeous palaces, and rejoices in his wives by the hundred; here, where the intolerant Mussulman prays five times daily, and holds his Ramazan with more than Puritan rigidity-here there is a leaven working which is destined to leaven the whole lump of that strange mixture of heaven and earth, goodness and bådness, which emanates from the Koran and fills all Moslemdom.
No city has had wilder vicissitudes of fortune than this; and
withstood them all. The sieges it has undergone triumphantly number twenty-four! It has been taken six times! Alcibiades, Severus, Constantine, Dandolo, Paleologos and Mahomet II., severally succeeded in entering its harbors and gates. These clear waters and swelling hills; those lofty heights of snow, and yon "golden horn" of plenty-have they not looked alike, more tolerant than its several tenants, upon the Grecian Commander and the Roman Emperor; the Persian Chosroes and Arabian Califs; Venetian Doges and French Counts; Bulgarian Krales and Avarian Chakars, Sclavonian Despots, and last and longest, Ottoman Sultans. And when Bonaparte's prophecy shall find fulfilment, and Europe shall become Cossack, may not Saint Sophia again rejoice in its old Greek worship, and that glittering Seraglio, with its golden towers, echo the iron tread of the Czar!
But this is a little too fast. Europe must play "teeter-tawter" over the balance of power for many a year yet, until some new Napoleon shall arise to upset all balances, or the people, the true Napoleons of the Empire, can assert their popular sovereignties, and bring government to its proper sphere, as the protector of the mass, and not the pamperer of the pride of a few.
The romance of Constantinople dies as soon as you begin to thread its dirty, splashy, bad paved, narrow, doggy, donkeyfied, carriageless, up-and-down streets. There is not a back alley in New York, which is not better than the best street here; and the comparison is an insult to the city. In going along, you cannot look at any thing, for fear of having your head cracked against the burden of some donkey, or the load of some broadshouldered carrier; or for fear of treading upon one of the many thousand brindle dogs, who act the part of scavengers by day, and play that of howling dervishes by night. If dodging these and the innumerous criers with heads full of dainties and fruits; if missing the red-capped and brown-robed Jew; the long curly black-hatted Persian; the wily Armenian, and the turbaned Turk; if you are not run over by that mounted Pasha, attended
by his slave on foot; if you do not run over those clumsy looking women in yellow boots and blue mantles, with head enveloped (save eyes) in white crape-being both black and white,— Turkish ladies and their Nubian slaves; if perchance you avoid that solitary gold-figured vehicle drawn by one horse, and called a carriage, which comes thundering along, attracting as much attention as a menagerie in High-street, Columbus; if unsplashed and with sane mind, amidst the heathenish howls and cries, and with sane body, amidst the opposing currents of the barbarous thoroughfares, you reach your hotel, you may draw a breath as long and free as mine at the end of this longitudinous sentence.
Our time, while here, has been occupied in driving about the city and environs in the carriage of our kind vice-consul, Mr. Dainese, an Italian by birth, and a noble-hearted liberal. Mr. Marsh is absent. Every possible attention, however, that we could require has been shown us. We were furnished by him with a firman and government officer, wherewith to visit the mosques, and in company with Jews, French and English, started out boldly. It was a little doubtful whether we could obtain admission or not, as it is now what is called Ramazan time with the Mahometans. This is a sacred time, which lasts for thirty days, during which all good Mussulmen are not allowed to eat, drink, smoke or snuff all day. They sleep mostly during the day, and at night begin the work of smoking and feasting. The mosques are filled day and night. It is Lent, and wretchedly do they look who keep it. It is a little doubtful whether it is kept strictly. Were it kept, you would see more miserable sights upon the Bosphorus, where the poor Moslems row all day, earning their bread by the sweat of their brow. At night the coffee-houses are crowded with Turks, who wait not to eat, before they take the chibouque, and puff away clouds of incense to the prophet.
Well, as I said, we started for the mosques. But first we were taken across the stream to the famous Seraglio. There we had to draw boots, or put on sacred sheep-skin slippers over
them. A ridiculous plight we figured, slipping along the marble floors, wending our way through apartment after apartment, under roofs of fretted gold and many-shaped glass. Fountains, with golden fishes gliding in their basins, cooled the rooms. Elegant tracery and ornaments; ottomans of rarest richness; places for coffee, for smoking, for repose; a view of the Bosphorus and of verdurous gardens full of fragrance and flowers-everywhere told us of the dreamy Orient, and that here was the very select home of indolence, ease, luxury and-Eunuchs! We went into the harem; but the birds had flown across into Asia, where they were caged in one of the other (he has dozens) palaces of the Sultan. The wicker was there still; and the long gallery was hung with landscapes of every scene and clime-a gift to the harem by Reschid Pasha.-Here the Sultanas took their airings and peeped out into the free world. Poor prisoners in golden chains! Flowers bloom at your very windows, but ye cannot pluck them. Heaven arches how lovingly above you; but ye are the thoughtless slaves of the grossest sensuality, cribbed and cabined in these walls-no longer children of nature as God made ye!
Finally we came into splendid flower and fruit gardens→ tastefully arbored and arched with the green architecture, in multiform beauty, on every side. The walls were tapestried and festooned with flowers and running shrubs. The Turks, more kind than the Italians, freely permitted us to carry away bouquets. We learned that the associations connected with the Seraglio, have not rendered it a favorite resort of the present Sultan; for it was here in the time of his father, that the Janizaries committed their acts of cruelty, which the lofty walls of the Seraglio were not strong enough to check. But no such associations disturbed our enjoyment. The fragrance of the mind will ever arise as each impression of these scenes of oriental and regal enchantment is renewed by memory.
After visiting the armory, we went to the Mosque of St. Sophia-the most splendid fabric (except St. Peter's) in the
world. While we stood in expectancy of admission, with our slippers in hand, we were astonished at the appearance of a Nubian slave, with a whip or cane, and possessed with a devil, a shade or so blacker than himself. He was in an agony of inspiration-sent by the priests to drive the infidels away, and well he performed the office—the black rascal! As our guide translated it freely to me, he told the firman and the prime minister's officer, that it was Ramazan; that he should go to h-1; that he brought the Giaours here (meaning us well-behaved Christians), and if he did not leave, some terrible imprecation would fall on his head. He accompanied his words with blows from the cane over the firman's shoulders, who bowed and scraped, saying his "salaam effendi" (thanks, gentleman !); and not daring to drop the Nubian, for fear of the priests, five hundred of whom would have rushed out to help their slave. Quite a mob of Moslems had collected. We left rather incontinently. morrow, early, we try it again, I trust with better success.
It is our national birthday. Although we are now at the extremest point of our journey, and nearly 7,500 miles from our beloved land, yet the memory of its glad patriotism, bursting from millions of hearts in unison with our own, brings us closely home again. I will not devote my chapter to any raptures or gratulations over my native land. These would, however, come deeper and fuller from the heart of the pilgrim, than from the home-citizen. Our nation has so much to thank God for, that none but a traveller can feelingly and fully raise the orison.
We kept the 4th of July, by looking at the Sultan. We rowed across the Bosphorus, and were rejoiced to find ourselves in time to see him returning out of the mosque. He is obliged to show himself to the people every Friday, and always at fires, if the alarm does not cease within a certain time. To-day he was mounted on a splendid white charger, caparisoned in gold, and rode very languidly, yet not without the grace which betrays the Saracenic origin, between his files of soldiers and subjects. We were permitted by the officers to stand even before some