I'm waiting for the ride to the airport. So here I am, restless, and I started thinking about the circumstances that led me to desire to travel to Istanbul.
I was in Rome in 2002 and it was a moving experience. It is a modern city, with beautiful Italian men and women, and the best of them work as waiters. We flirted furiously with a waiter who looked like Vin Diesel and who spoke perfect English. I love walking down their cobbled streets during the rain, where there are inscriptions still written in Latin, legacy of their Roman past. This is the birthplace of the greatest western empire that ever was. Culture and history as we know it would be different if not for the Romans. Rome was a city where old and new time overlapped, and you are at risk of losing your sense of chronology if you are not careful. Walking downtown, we would find ourselves walking into an ancient temple dedicated to Athena; the city was excavating for a new subway when they unearthed the temple. Now it is cornered off as an archeological site, forbidden to all but the cats. Nothing else was mentioned of the subway that was supposed to be built.
This is the miracle that is Rome. Dig at random and you may find something at your peril.
I had decided back then that I wanted to see Turkey, especially the city that was Byzantium.
Byzantium was just a semi-barbaric Greek city-state on the Bosphorus when Emperor Constantine founded the city as a new imperial capital, and named NOVA ROMA CONSTANTINOPOLITANA, 'New Rome, the City of Constantine.' (not very humble, these emperors). The city was meant to serve as the new Rome, from which the Emperor would survey the Danube and the Euphrates.
But the glories of the Roman Empire waned, and as the rest of the empire fell to the barbarians, the influence of the Greco-Roman would almost be extinguished. The long nights of the Dark Ages had begun.
Through the centuries the city faced civil wars and external invaders – including the Crusaders (who conquered it for a while.) It finally fell to the Ottoman army, led by Sultan Mehmet II.
The Sultan made his triumphant entry into the city on Tuesday 29 May, 1453. He was proclaimed Fatih, the Conqueror – a name by which he would hereforth be known. He had captured the fabled city of Istanbul.
That day, Sultan Mehmet II rode straight to Haghia Sophia. When he was there he dismounted and fell to his knees. He sprinkled a handful of earth over his turban as a sign of humility, then he ordered the church be converted to Islamic worship, under the name of Aya Sofya Camii Kabir, the Great Mosque of Haghia Sophia.
And so yet another narrative of history is laid upon the city. Until now.