Constantinople – The Galata Bridge

To see the population of Constantinople, it is well to go upon the floating bridge, about one-quarter of a mile in length, which extends from the most advanced point of Galata to the opposite shore of the Golden Horn, facing the great mosque of the Sultana Valide. Both shores are European territory; but the bridge may be said to connect Asia to Europe because in Stamboul there is nothing European save the ground, and even the Christian suburbs that crown it are of Asiatic character and color. The Golden Horn, which has the look of a river, separates two worlds, like the ocean.

Standing there, one can see all Constantinople go by in an hour. There are two exhaustless currents of human beings that meet and mingle forever from the rising of the sun until his setting, presenting a spectacle before which the market-places of India, the fair of Nijni-Nov gorod, and the festivals of Pekin grow pale. To see anything at all, one must choose a small portion of the bridge and fix his eyes on that alone, otherwise in the attempt to see all, one sees nothing. The crowd passes in great waves, each one of which is of a hundred colors, and every group of persons represent a new type of people. Whatever can be imagined that is most extravagant in type, costume, and social class may there be seen within the space of twenty paces and ten minutes of time. Behind a throng of Turkish porters who pass running, and bending under enormous burdens, advances a sedan-chair, inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl, and bearing an Armenian lady; and at either side of it a Bedouin wrapt in a white mantle and a Turk in muslin turban and sky-blue caftan, beside whom canters a young Greek gentleman followed by his dragoman in embroidered vest, and a dervish with his tall, conical hat and tunic of camel’s-hair, who makes way for the carriage of a European ambassador, preceded by his “running foot-man” in gorgeous livery.

All this is only seen in a glimpse, and the next moment you find yourself in the midst of a crowd of Persians, in pyramidal bonnets of Astrakan fur, who are followed by a Hebrew in a long yellow coat, open at the sides; a frowsy-headed gipsy woman with her child in a bag at her back; a Catholic priest with breviary staff; while in the midst of a con-fused throng of Greeks, Turks, and Armenians comes a big eunuch on horseback, crying out, Larya, (make way!) and preceding a Turkish carriage painted with flowers and birds, and filled with the ladies of a harem, drest in green and violet, and wrapt in large white veils; behind a Sister of Charity from the hospital at Pera, an African slave carrying a monkey, and a professional story-teller in a necromancer’s habit, and what is quite natural, but appears strange to a new comer, all these diverse people pass each other without a look, like a crowd in London; and not one single countenance wears a smile.

The Albanian in his white petticoat and with pistols in his sash, beside the Tartar drest in sheepskins; the Turk, astride of his caparisoned ass, threads pompously two long strings of camels; behind the adjutant of an imperial prince, mounted upon his Arab steed, clatters a cart filled with all the domestic rubbish of a Turkish household; the Mohammedan woman a-foot, the veiled slave woman, the Greek with her red cap, and her hair on her shoulders, the Maltese hooded in her black “faldetta,” the Hebrew woman, drest in the antique costume of India, the negress wrapt in a many-colored shawl from Cairo, the Armenian from Trebizond, all veiled in black like a funeral apparition, are seen in single file, as if placed there on purpose, to be contrasted with each other.

It is a changing mosaic of races and religions that is composed and scattered continually with a rapidity that the eye can scarcely follow. It is amusing to look only at the passing feet and see all the foot-coverings in the world go by, from that of Adam up to the last fashion in Parisian boots—yellow Turkish babouches, red Armenian, blue Greek and black Jewish shoes; sandals, great boots from Turkestan, Albanian gaiters, low-cut slippers, leg-pieces of many colors, belonging to horsemen from Asia Minor, gold-embroidered shoes, Spanish “alporgatos,” shoes of satin, of twine, of rags, of wood, so many, that while you look at one you catch a glimpse of a hundred more. One must be on the alert not to be overthrown at every step.