I looked from my cabin window into the gray morning. Old stone buildings crowded the hillside and far up was the familiar form of lay around us—silent, waiting. In the stern of a boat more presentable than the rest, sat an elderly man, white and attenuated, his hat pulled down over his eyes.
“Are you Mr. Greer? ” he called across the water. ” I have come to meet you, so hurry with your break-fast, please.”
This solitary European, amidst the crowd of Turks, was Mr. de Peruta, born an Italian, but for sixty years a resident of Constantinople. He conducts a travel agency in the rear of the Pera Palace Hotel, and few men know better this ancient city. Going ashore he told us that he lived on the Bosporus, and to meet our boat had been forced to leave home without his breakfast. Thereupon he launched into complaint against the servants. They were too independent. There was no limit to their demands. They would quit rather than do extra work. Discipline no longer existed. His own maid would not rise at five to prepare his coffee. The world was not what it used to be before the war.
The Turkish customs are not formidable when one is well attended, but no English was spoken by our inspectors and except for Mr. de Peruta I suspect I should have presently been in difficulties. All bags were opened and examined perfunctorily, but the men were genial and they shook with laughter when I upset a quart of flax seed among my clothes. Their only inquiry was with regard to cigarettes, and when I said that I had none they marked and closed my bags.
In the motor car a few minutes later I remembered that I had a few Greek cigarettes. Accepting one Mr. de Peruta said: ” It is fortunate I was with you. I know those fellows and they take my word, but if you had been alone they would have found those cigarettes and you would have been detained and fined at least a pound. Because of the tobacco monopoly you are not permitted to bring a single cigarette into the country.”
Changing to the subject of passports, he continued: ” You would better leave this with me now. You re-quire a departure vise before you can leave, and the best time to apply for it is the moment you arrive. If you put it off until the last moment you are likely to find that there is a delay, and it may cause you to miss your boat.”
While the regulations by which a traveler in Turkey is bound are sometimes irksome, there is really nothing that need deter any careful person from going there. Certainly they are no more exacting than in some of the Balkan states, of which Rumania is an outstanding example. Recently a friend became seriously ill in Constanza, and was forced to stand two hours on the dock in a severe blizzard. The experience nearly cost him his life. Still Turkey was the only country that delayed the airmen, Brock and Schlee, in their flight from Detroit to Tokyo. Mr. K. M. Wassif, the well-known Constantinople interpreter, gave me this summary of the regulations, which may prove convenient to others:
“Passport Formalities: Travelers visiting Constantinople, or any town in Turkey, must be provided with their passports, duly vised by the Turkish Consul at the place of their departure, or the place they have last left. In twenty-four hours a proclamation will be given to the police station of the section in which their hotel is located. This proclamation is good for fifteen days. In case of prolonging this period another proclamation is necessary at least two days before the expiration of the fifteen days.
” Vises: Travelers leaving Turkey for any other country must have their passports vised by the Turkish police authority, as well as have their passports vised by the respective Consuls of each country they intend to visit.
“Seyahet Teskerehasi : Travelers can freely visit in any part of Constantinople, including Scutari, Haidar-Pasha, Cadi-Keny, Prince’s Islands and the Bosporus. In case of travel to the, interior a Seyahet Teskerehasi (traveling permit) must be obtained from the Turkish police authority. This permit can easily be secured by the concierge of your hotel and is good for one year; but must be vised on leaving one town to proceed to another.”
This is a fair summary of the vexing red tape of Turkish travel, and omits but one detail that the traveler should know. Before issuing any departure vise the police require for their files duplicate photo-graphs. Delay and some small expense will there-fore be avoided by carrying extra copies of the picture appearing on the passport.
Now that the Prefecture of Constantinople has ambitious plans to make the city a tourist center and is even advertising its attractions, there is the possibility that there be a relaxation of the present restrictions. The manager of the Pera Palace Hotel showed me a letter he had just received f rom Thomas Cook and Son in which that well-known tour company stated that it must decline to establish a Constantinople office until travel was made easier and needless vexations abolished.
The ancient and famous city of Constantinople includes four distinct quarters. The great Turkish city of Stamboul is the Byzantium of ancient times, and it occupies the whole of the long peninsula that separates the Sea of Marmora and the Golden Horn. Two bridges over the Golden Horn connect it with Galata, the commercial district that includes the waterfront and the hills rising above it. On the heights is Pera, the European city and the center of cosmopolitan life. Scutari lies across the Bosporus, on the Asiatic side, about eight minutes distant in a comfortable ferry.
The situation has always been regarded as one of the most beautiful and economically advantageous in the whole world; yet to-day Constantinople is a declining city. When Kemal achieved supreme power his first step was to transfer the capital to distant Angora for greater security against European arms and European intrigue. This was the first great blow to her prosperity and prestige. The long Allied occupation created an artificial boom that made the city very lively while it continued, but was followed by a painful reaction. With the withdrawal of the Allies many Greek and Armenian merchants left the city and the British and French traders found their position increasingly difficult. Numerous establishments closed entirely rather than submit to the hardships and vexations to which they were subjected.
The result of all these things was stagnation and a heavy loss of population. Prior to the war Constantinople was always reckoned a city of 1,200,000 people. During my visit the most optimistic citizen never put it above the million mark, and even this proved far too high.
In the autumn a national census was taken, and the count was made under conditions that would hardly have been possible except under a Dictator. One day was set apart for the census and during the twenty-four hour period no citizen was permitted to stir from his home. Every store and public building was closed. There was not a vehicle in the streets, nor any human except the police and census takers. No ship entered or departed. The stream of life in Constantinople was frozen solid.
In these circumstances it is hardly possible that any considerable number should have been over-looked; but the result proved a great disappointment. Instead of the expected million only 669,602 people were found. So far as the Turkish nation as a whole is concerned the outcome was much more satisfying. The total population reached fourteen millions, whereas it was not expected to exceed nine or ten millions at most.
Constantinople was not the only city that declined. The cities of Thrace fared worse than the metropolis. Adrianople had 1 io,000 citizens before the war, but this count disclosed but 39,000. The Turks apparently are going back to Asia of their own volition and the day may come when the watchmen can bang their daouls on the pavement of Constantinople without awakening a score of the sons of Islam.
The Hotel Londres is conducted by Asiatic Greeks, who had remained in Constantinople, quite free from annoyance, during the whole period when their countrymen were harassed and murdered in the interior. The location is excellent, and from our fourth floor windows we looked on the Petit Champs and across the Golden Horn to the panorama of Stamboul. The domes and minarets of sixteen great mosques were silhouetted against the western sky.
The chamber was large, clean and well furnished, but on one day decidedly too cold for comfortable lounging. There was central heating in the building, but coal is costly and the fires were extinguished for the season. A single elevator served the building, and if it were in the Chrysler Building one trip would be equivalent to a long journey. The operator was a gnome-like Turkish boy, from whom I could win a smile only by timing his ascent. To compass the four floors required one minute and forty seconds; but it is fair to add that the ceilings were high.
The Petit Champs is not so inviting as its pleasing name suggests. It is a playground, rather than a park, and there is an equipment of swings, slides and other devices exactly as we have them at home. Nor were the children who used them one whit less boisterous than American boys and girls. The broad walk on the Avenue side is fashionable as a promenade and was often the resort of nursemaids and of young women exercising their dogs.
In other years the pariah dogs were a great feature of life in Constantinople and it was hardly possible to walk the streets without tramping upon them. The Young Turks exterminated them by banishing them en masse to an island in Marmora, where they were inhumanely left to perish of starvation.
Since deportation has so long been practiced by the Turks I wonder why it has never been applied to the gipsies. These begging women are at present one of the chief annoyances of Constantinople. The type is distinctive. Dressed in shabby black robes they stand in centers frequented by foreigners. Habitually they carry babies on the backs and their sycophantish smile is rendered more repulsive by the absence of a front tooth or two. I never left the hotel or returned to it without being accosted by a woman with outstretched hand and the wailing cry” Baksheesh, Pasha, baksheesh.” One morning I awakened soon after dawn and was gazing out over the empty city. But a gipsy was already at her post and instantly put out her hand.
Stamboul is the great center of attraction, for there the Turkish life shows at its best and there are concentrated the important sights and objects of antiquity. A young friend from home, Mr. E. P. Keeler, is connected with the staff of the Embassy, and he accompanied us on our first visit.
The walk down to the bridge is so interesting that we seldom took the tunnel railroad. There are two routes, and this time we went by the Yuksek Kaldirim, or Street of High Steps. It is the main artery of the Ghetto, and for sordid picturesqueness this street makes Hester Street seem rich and common-place. But the people themselves were of the same type, and I believe that a transfer of the population of the Constantinople Ghetto to the East Side of New York would attract small attention. A stately turkey, walking unnoticed in the teeming throng, was the only distinguishing feature of the traffic.
The anti-Semitism of our guide was not concealed. Though but a boy he both hated and distrusted the Jews. I asked him what had become of the old-time ” dragomen.”
“Their business was ruined by the Jews. They pretended to be Turks and they swindled and defrauded the travelers until the whole system was abolished.”
The second and finer road to the bridge leads through more important quarters and is more direct. The Rue des Petit Champs passes the American Embassy, the Y. M. C. A., the Constantinople Club and the Pera Palace Hotel, all closely grouped. It then merges into the Rue Voivoda, the financial center, commonly called the Street of Banks. Here are some great buildings, including the Ottoman Bank and the Credit Lyonnaise. The road is none too wide and carries the burden of a trolley line, so it is a good place to study the driving habits of the motorists. A military car, loaded with officers, came up the hill rapidly, and at the first turning ran onto the sidewalk, scattering the pedestrians. The uniformed driver backed away and completed his turn. A sporting youth, going in the opposite direction, rushed by a trolley car receiving passengers. This aroused the indignation of our guide. ” If a traffic policeman sees that fellow he will get good punishment,” he said.
At the Galata bridgehead, the crowded Place Karakeui, we encountered the first traffic policeman, and I should not have wished to fall into his hands. Probably he was one of the mildest of men, but he looked as formidable as one of the wax janizaries in the museum. He was posted in a box at the intersection. On his head was a gigantic helmet of patent leather and across his breast ran a harness of white straps. He was large and fiercely moustached, but the tools of his trade were not quite in keeping with his mien. In his hand was a wand, painted in red and white stripes, like a long stick of candy, and with it he made constant motions, as obscure and complex as the signals of an orchestra leader. There are only two or three thousand cars in town, mainly public vehicles, but most of them pass over the bridge and there was really considerable traffic to direct.
The new Galata bridge is probably the best known in the world, excepting only London bridge. Tolls are collected from pedestrians as well as vehicles and during business hours it is thronged with a motley crowd. The collectors are very expert and the cabmen hardly pause, as they hand out the few piastres required of them. The custom prevails of carrying an extra man in the driver’s seat. Perhaps he is only an idle friend of the driver, but I sometimes thought he went along to assist in petty extortion, and maybe in more serious crime.
Captain Finlay regarded Constantinople as a dangerous town and the public cabmen as the worst of its criminals. He told me of one of his ship boys who was asked by a friend in Alexandria to carry ten pounds to his parents in Constantinople. On arriving he went into a drinking place and unwisely displayed the money. He then hired a cab to go to the address given by his friend. The cabmen took him into a lonely street, robbed him, shot him and left him for dead in the road. He was taken to a hospital where he recovered consciousness long enough to tell his story, and died the next day. The robbers were captured, but as the Captain had to leave port he never learned their fate.
My only adventure with the Constantinople cab-men was mild enough, but it showed their character. We picked up a small car one day from the stand in the Rue des Petit Champs for the short drive to the Bosporus boat landing at the middle of the bridge. The driver asked two Turkish pounds and I paid him with a five pound note. He came back in a moment with the change, and in it I later found the worthless ends of two separate notes pasted together. Thus I paid the equivalent of about $1.60 for a drive legally worth forty piastres, or less than twenty-five cents.
The police organization is divided into five sections. The first is the political secret service; the second deals with theft and crimes of violence; the third is administrative; the fourth handles passports and vises and the last looks after the harbor. As there is a great deal of smuggling, the harbor police really have the most work. The city has long been a rendezvous of international criminals, and during the troublous times in Russia and the Near East the political and social riffraff of many nations passed through its gates.
Murder is fairly prevalent. Apart from the occasional political assassinations there are four or five crimes of violence each week. Jealousy and greed are the principal motives, but sometimes men frenzied from drinking raki or smoking hashish kill wantonly. The percentage of arrests and convictions is high, because everybody is registered with the police and cannot leave the vilayet without a departure vise. The problem of escape is thus made difficult for the criminal, as well as the honest tourist.
The mosques are the finest feature of the Constantinople skyline, and with the exception of the three towers used for spotting fires, they are the only high buildings. After crossing the bridge to the Stamboul side the first one is immediately encountered. It is the Yeni Valideh Jami, the so-called Mother’s Mosque. But like most visitors I passed it by and went directly to Saint Sophia. This vast building was founded by the Emperor Justinian fourteen hundred years ago on the site of an earlier church built by Constantine. It was long a Christian church, but for centuries it has held rank as the premier mosque of the world of Islam.
The sacristan at the door had a large collection of slippers for the use of unbelievers. By slipping them over one’s boots technical compliance was made with the rule that all must enter in bared feet. The smallest were of enormous size, and wearing them I could progress only by sliding my feet like a ski runner.
The vast size of the interior is more impressive than its grandeur, and the historic marbles it contains are interesting, rather than beautiful. There are no chairs and the floor is covered with long strips of carpet. Within the surrounding balconies there are no pillars and over all rises the colossal dome.
Some of the pillars are very old. The serpentine columns of green were taken from the Temple of Diana at Ephesus and those of red porphyry were originally looted from the Temple of the Sun, at Baalbek. It is needless to say that Aya Sophia ranks among the very largest churches of the world, and its respectable standing is attested by one of the brass tablets set in the floor of Saint Peter’s for the rather tactless purpose of showing how far the basilica of the Popes outruns all others in size.
As we rambled about the curator of the National Museum came in, accompanied by a woman archaeologist from Switzerland, and together they made the long ascent to the dome. This old building is now threatened with the same dangers that recently imperiled Saint Paul’s; and the Turkish architect, Fikri Bey, had a large force of workmen engaged in repairs. Grout was being forced into the weakened piers and a mass of scaffolding obscured one side of the interior. Much stone has fallen and at least one of the great arches threatened to collapse. Sections of lead have blown from the roof and grass was growing there. Moisture was damaging parts of the decoration. The reconstruction work is on such a scale that I have no doubt that the integrity of the whole giant fabric will be completely restored.
The impression prevails in Constantinople that religion is losing its influence on the people. The mosques were empty and even the old sacristan had his mind on things less remote than Paradise. As we were leaving he called our boy aside and ‘engaged him in earnest conversation. I feared that we had unconsciously transgressed some rule, but my anxiety was needless. He was merely asking when the next cruise ship was due in port; for these wholesale invasions of tourists yield his richest harvest of gratuities.
This attitude is quite as common in the great churches of Christianity as among the Mohammedans. I remember once to have asked an intelligent guide in Notre Dame to what use the numerous chapels were put.
“They are for funerals, weddings and the like,” he answered. “The main altar is so expensive that only the very rich can afford it. This is a money-making institution, you know.”
Of the other mosques those of Ahmed the First and of Suleiman the Great interested me most. The Mosque of Ahmed is frequently described as the Blue Mosque, and without regard to the critics of Byzantine architecture, I consider it the most brilliantly beautiful building I have ever seen. The blue tile and the blue frescoes combine to create an effect that is quite overwhelming, and I was stupid enough to admire the four enormous pillars that the artists profess to think clumsy. Apart from the Kaaba, in Mecca, this is the only mosque that has six minarets, instead of the usual four.
The Mosque of Suleiman is especially notable for its fine old tiles and glass, but going there directly from the Blue Mosque it seems a little dull. If the general effect is lacking in color the visitor will be repaid by a detailed study of the tiles. Their origin and the process of their manufacture are unknown. They have many of the characteristics of the famous Rhodian plates, but it is generally believed that they were imported from Persia.
The five museums of the city offer a great variety of appeal. The Museum of Antiquities, or National Museum, is first in importance, and it contains one specimen that I believe to be the finest single object of art that has come down to us from the ancient world.
The Sarcophagus of the Kings of Sidon is commonly called the Sarcophagus of Alexander the Great. For a time it was believed to have once en-closed his body. This marvelous casket was unearthed at Sidon in the year 1887 by the Turkish expedition directed by Hamdy Bey, long the curator of this museum. Fortunately for Turkey it was not carried away to Berlin, as was the Great Altar of Pergamum. In the early days of archaeological re-search in Asia Minor the German scholars were in full control. The Turks eventually discovered that all the really significant things that were discovered were finding their way to Germany, and finally can-celled the concession. By good fortune they reached this decision just a little before the great finds were made at Sidon.
The association of this sarcophagus with the name of Alexander was occasioned by the fact that the sculpture portrays the Battle of the Granicus, and the portrait of the young Emperor appears twice in the composition. The beauty of the marble, the delicate perfection of the carving and its perfect state of preservation combine to make this tomb the most satisfying work of human hands that I expect ever to behold.
There is close beside it another famous piece, called The Tomb of the Mourning Women. It is obviously of the best Greek period and critics have associated it with Praxiteles. Magnificent though it is, the Alexander tomb far exceeds it in beauty.
The memory of the Turkish janizaries, who were exterminated in a savage massacre more than one hundred years ago, is preserved by many groups of wax mannikins in the balcony of the Museum of Arms and Costumes. They are shown in every posture and situationin the field, around their camp-fires and in their homes. I wonder whether men of such savage appearance ever existed. The mildest figure amongst them would by comparison cause the foulest of Madame Tussaud’s murderers to look angelic. The collection of arms and costumes below runs back to the crusades and includes such modern items as a motor car in which a traitorous general was shot in 1910.
The Seraglio Palace, more than any other, enables the traveler to envisage the mystery, the profligacy and the horror of the vanished Sultanate. This vast establishment gives to the tip of the Stamboul peninsula the name of Seraglio Point. At the entrance to the mazes of the harem is a palatial chamberthe quarters of the Chief Eunuch, under whose eyes all who entered must pass. As keeper and guardian of the harem this barbarous functionary often acquired an influence superior to that of ministers of the cabinet or generals of the army. Very different was the lot of his underlings. The quarters of the common eunuchs were but a series of stone cells, rising three tiers high. The only heat was supplied by a small fireplace and the most conspicuous equipment was the cruel bastinado, with which infractions of discipline were punished. The unhappy victim was shackled and beaten on the soles of the feet with clubs. Permanent maiming and even death were not uncommon results. I doubt whether its use has entirely disappeared. As lately as ten years ago thou-sands of Greeks and Armenians are reported to have been so tortured. The lovely glass pavilion overlooking the sea, the kitchens that employed one thousand cooks and the stables that would quarter the horses of a regiment are suggestive of the luxury and extravagance of the old regime.
Even after all these wonders it is the treasury that confounds the visitor. It has but recently been opened to the public. Until I saw it I did not realize that precious stones had ever been used with such abandon. What shall I select for special notice in a collection so overpowering? The throne looted f rom Baghdad probably impressed me most. It stands under glass in the center of a room, and is encrusted throughout with pearls, diamonds, emeralds and sapphires. In size it is hardly less than a piano. The number of gems it contains must exceed ten thousand, perhaps twice or thrice ten thousand. I believe a bushel basket would hardly contain the jewels in this room. Some of them are of the first order. One dagger has for its handle three enormous emeralds, each larger than the Koh-i-noor.
Leaving this wonderland we encountered again our ship acquaintance, the Rajah of Mandi. Accompanied by the British Ambassador, with whom he had been lunching, he was seeing the sights of Constantinople. On this day he wore the scarlet ceremonial turban of Rajputana, but he was otherwise in European dress. Major Toulman invited us to join their party that night and told of their experiences at Yildiz the evening before. The young Indian lost a substantial sum at roulette, but that was part of the routine of his travels.
Passing out of the grounds we heard the cry of the muezzin from one of the lofty minarets of Saint Sophia. My guide-wrote for me thusand probably inaccurately, the faint musical call:
Allah ekbar Allah ekbar Allah ekbar
Allah ekbar Haya-lel-fellah.
Allah ekbar Allah ekbar
La illahe il-lel-lah
Disregarding the repetitions he translated the prayer:
God is almighty. Pray to Him. Bow before Him.
In the streets, at least, the passing crowd took no notice of the summons, but the Turkish newspapers publish each day the exact schedule of the five calls to prayer, which vary slightly from day to day. It seemed very curious alongside the advertisements of two popular American automobiles.
In the ancient Hippodrome excavations were in progress. A narrow trench was cut across the plaza between the Burnt Column and the Serpent Column from Delphi. The work is under the direction of the British Museum, and it had already disclosed important remains of the spina, or central wall of the race course. What changes have come to this ancient place! The scene of the Roman festivals and of the butcheries of Belisarius is now overhung by the sign of a Turkish business college.
We visited the extraordinary basilica cisterns, constructed by Justinian to insure water supply in the event of siege. They were lost for ages and rediscovered only during the late war, when a colony of Russian refugees occupied the squalid old houses above them. They drew water from holes in the floors of their houses, long believing that the supply came from wells. One of the more curious investigated and found the stone stairway leading down to a cistern two acres in area, its roof supported by three hundred and forty-six columns, each forty feet high. It is now illuminated with electric lamps and boats ply on its surface. But for all this modernism it is an eerie and forbidding place.
The street fountains are no longer quite so important a factor in the life of the citizens as they were a generation ago. The water they afford is now usually unsafe and is used in the main for washing. Although these fountains are famous I saw but few that I thought beautiful, and that volume of water they carry is contemptible as compared with the great papal fountains of Rome.
Many of the picturesque sights of the city’s streets are disappearing. The greatest change, of course, followed the abolition of the fez and the veil, by decree of the Ghazi. It is a curious experience to travel west through Europe by rail and to find that in Jugoslavia there are still two millions of people wearing the old Turkish costume, while in Turkey herself, all is modern. The street porters are still sufficiently numerous to add interest to a walk, but even they are slowly giving way to the motor truck. They frequent their own cafe and anyone who wants their services sends for them there. The loads these men carry are beyond belief. Bent double under their pack saddles they bear on their shoulders large cases and pieces of furniture. Mr. de Peruta told me that he had often seen one of these men carry a piano a half mile and then take it upstairs.
The Grand Rue de Pera is the smart street, both by day and night, and my most convenient way of walking to it was through a street of butchers. The night crowd is cosmopolitan and with it mingled the demi-monde, many of whose members have now been deported. Some of the shop windows were luxurious, but business is not so good as in the flush days of the occupation. One establishment contained a large photograph of Kemal and many copies. The dictator is undoubtedly a handsome man, and in dress he is as immaculate as Mr. Chamberlain. The Turks are a good-looking race, distinctly Caucasian in appearance. The only feature I dislike is the characteristic curving nose. Their women of the better class are decidedly modern in appearance. If they have discarded the veil they still affect a certain uniformity in head-dress. A kind of chic turban is formed by twisting a scarf around the head into the form of a small Paris hat. Their tendency to obesity is not so marked as I had expected.
It is a long step from the shops of the Grand Rue to the Grand Bazar of Stamboul. We visited it on Saturday morning, and as Friday is the Mohammedan Sunday, the business of the week was just be-ginning. I had pictured the bazar as a kind of glorified department store, but it is in-fact only a great congeries of independent booths in roofed streets. It is a huge and confusing mercantile rabbit warren, covering the area of several city blocks. The persistence of the merchants is remarkable, and many times we were pursued several hundred feet. Eventually I succumbed to the pressure and returned with a man who had followed us a long way expatiating on the beauty and cheapness of his silks. For twelve dollars he offered an embroidered kimono, which I finally bought for eight. Had I wished to haggle further I might have had it for even less. Many of the merchants spoke English and commonly saluted me with this appeal:
“Please come into my shop, Pasha. I have made no sale this week. Buy something and bring me luck.”
The street Tarakd-jilar Han is mean and narrow and the exterior of the buildings gives no clue to the luxury often found within. Had a friend not accompanied me I should have passed the establishment of Sadullah, Levy and Mandil without suspecting that one of the finest carpet stores of the world was near-by. The shop contains a museum of art objects and old embroideries in addition to its wonderful collection of rugs; and the courtesy and hospitality with which even the casual visitor is received can hardly be duplicated in America. The process of rug making is illustrated, and one rug then under production for a New York customer contained 664 knots to the square inch.
The water excursions are many and varied, and one may have choice on any day of the Bosporus, the islands of Marmora, Eyoub or the Sweet Waters of Europe. This small river, on either the Turkish or Christian Sunday is reminiscent of the Thames, with its crowds of idlers lolling in punts listening to the music of gramophones.
A comfortable boat runs each two hours from Galata bridge to Anatoli Kavak, stopping at all villages on the European side as it goes out and on the Asian shore returning. The palaces, the summer homes of the diplomatic corps, the medieval fortresses of Rumeli Hissar and Anatoli Hissar and the modern buildings of Robert College are a few of the things to be seen. Except for the neglected and ruinous appearance of many of the houses the Bosporus, would afford one of the loveliest excursions possible. The Turks excuse the absence of paint by saying that it increases the hazard of fire; but on this point I have opinions of my own.
In the fishing village of Anatoli Kavak, which is within sight of the Black Sea, I went ashore. The old houses on the waterfront were built over the water and the boats were kept under them. The tenants of these poor abodes rushed to their balconies when I appeared with a camera. No sooner had I landed than the gates were closed and padlocked. Presently I wished to return and so indicated, but the gateman responded with an uncomprehending stare. I appealed to the booking agent, with no more success and finally to a policeman. He tried to ex-plain, but neither before nor since have I expressed myself so badly in the universal language of signs. Finally I had the helpless feeling of one about to be marooned in a Turkish fishing hamlet and I was little pleased with my own ineptitude. While I was trying to reconcile myself to the situation the ticket seller emerged and unlocking the gate permitted me to go aboard.
In the boat we made acquaintance with two old Turkish pilots, going down to the city to start work. They were jolly old men, who had spent their lives piloting the ships of all nations between Chanak and the Black Sea. I stood treat to coffee, cigarettes and pistachio nuts and was rewarded by friendly guidance along the whole Asia shore. These men spoke a little of all languages and they drew upon their store of English to point out the Egyptian palace changed into an orphan asylum and the pavilion of a Turkish grandee that is now a studio for the making of motion pictures.
At the bridge we parted with expressions of mutual regard. The street signs in this vicinity are of interest. Those of the dentists are quite ghastly. The fronts of their offices are covered with pictures of human heads, with the lips cut away. There was a touch of irony in another. It read ” American prosperity,” which on further investigation I found to mean pressing clothes.
Scutari, on the Asia side, has associations dating back to ancient times. It was one of the stops made by the returning army of Xenophon, and later the starting point for caravans into the far interior. The Baghdad Railway station is on the waterfront, its top still burned out. The British held it during the occupation and just before their departure a great fire took place. The Turks charge that it was plain arson, but since the days of the late British overlord-ship it is hard for them to see good in anything an Englishman does. They especially complain of the British military police, whom they regarded as tyrants. ” Why, they would arrest a man if he walked down the street carrying a chicken by the feet,” a Turk told me with indignation.
There are in Scutari many reminders of the Crimean War. It was in the great military hospital there that Florence Nightingale made her name, and her monument still overlooks the waters. The English cemetery is filled with soldiers of that period and its well-kept appearance is in striking contrast to the neglect so manifest in the great Mohammedan Cemetery, which is reputed to be the largest in the world. In this cemetery we encountered a squad of Turkish recruits from the near-by barrack. Some were under training as musicians. In a lonely spot we encountered a youth in uniform lying by the road. He held a sheet of music between his toes and was diligently rehearsing bugle calls.
An evening in the Garden Bar is one of the few excitements offered by down-town Constantinople. It stands, an unpainted shack, in the Petit Champs, but the interior is luxurious and it is now the only prosperous cabaret. The entertainers are usually Parisian and there is no such thing as a cover charge. Entrance is free, but refreshment is costly, and a bottle of French champagne sold for twelve dollars. Still it was possible to have an inexpensive evening here, as one German at an adjoining table demonstrated. With a single glass of lemonade he enjoyed the entire show.
Our longest evening out was spent with young Mr. Keeler, who took us for dinner to Maxime’s. This resort was owned by an American negro, who had made a great deal of money during the occupation and was now engaged in the painful process of losing all his profits. It was a much more ornate establishment than the successful Garden Bar. The disheartening feature was that the dance floor stood empty and the number of diners was never as great as the personnel of the orchestra that entertained them.
I have not heard from Constantinople recently, but unless things changed for the better Maxime’s is certainly but a memory. Still we had an excellent Russian dinner, with a peculiar spinach soup that did honor to the plebeian vegetable that formed its base.
Later we drove out to the Yildiz Casino, the show place among the resorts of the East, if not of the entire world. This palace, or group of palaces, stands in a park of thirty thousand acres, extending to the Bosporus and far back into the highlands. It is known the world over as the scene of the seclusion and tyranny of Abdul Hamid, the Second, last but one of the long line of the Sultans.
For thirty-three years he reigned here, hated at home and distrusted abroadthe ” sick man of Europe,” a thorn in the side of civilization. In that long period Yildiz was a place of mystery. Haunted by the fear of assassination the Sultan buried himself in his great estate, surrounded by spies, informers, slaves and odalisques. His household included nearly a thousand cooks, seven hundred domestics, two thousand slaves, and courtesans and women of the harem of uncounted number. But once, or at the most twice, in the year did he leave his gates. On these occasions all roads that he traveled were closed to the public and lined with soldiers and spies. Even the street railways were forced to suspend.
It was to this obsession that we owe the great palace now converted into a gaming center. The Merassim Kiosque had long stood empty when the German Emperor, having dreamed of the ” drang nach Osten,” decided to visit the Sultan. That he might receive his guest without abandoning the security of his estate, the Sultan renewed and furnished the whole palace. The expenditures ran into millions of dollars and the Kaiser occupied it for ten days. The German Emperor returned in 1905 and again lived in this great house. Apart from its use on these occasions, covering in all not more than three weeks, the palace has had no tenant.
We passed through an arched entrance and were met by a number of guards, who inquired whether any Turkish citizens were with us. In granting the concession to the Italian syndicate, of which Signor Mario Serra is the managing director, the Turks made the usual proviso that their own people should not be permitted to lose their money there.
We were ushered into a magnificence truly oriental, and our coats were taken by a venerable, white-bearded negro, who looked like a character in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He was the last of the Eunuchs of Abdul Hamid’s court remaining in Constantinople.
The gaming room causes any casino in the French Riviera to appear by comparison commonplace. The single rug that covers the floor is one hundred and sixty-five feet long and eighty-five feet wide. Its value is fabulous, yet there is no restriction on smoking. The play is the same as elsewhere, and we found on this occasion some three hundred players assembled.
It is the hope of the Italians that they can build up here the greatest pleasure center of the world, and they have already provided restaurants, tea rooms, dancing floors and bedchambers. In the park are facilities for riding, shooting and tennis, and golf is proposed. The marble palace on the water-front is to be restored and converted into a de luxe hotel. The whole enterprise is conceived on a vast scale and I wonder whether it can be made profitable.
In Turkey the undertaking is regarded in the light of a great social and moral advance, though most of its attractions have been made criminal in the United States. To the American puritan this paragraph from the Casino prospectus may sound ironical:
” Great changes have come to Turkey. Gone are the hosts of slaves, agahs, eunuchs and odalisques. All are expelled. The fires of the Imperial kitchen, over which a thousand cooks constantly bent, were permitted to go out. The Turkey of to-day, renewing her European civilization, has substituted for this center of waste and extravagance the Municipal Casino of Yildiz, which will satisfy the tastes of the most difficult visitor.”