Friday, May 18, 2018

City of Countless Names- Pera p1

Pera (Beyoglu, Bey Oghlu, Peran en Sykais)

Further up the hill from the dirty dockside streets of Galata, wider paved avenues and a better class of shops and houses spring up from the steep slopes. These streets are the outskirts of Pera, the aristocratic quarter of European life in Constantinople. Most of the buildings of Pera could blend into any small town in Italy without a trace of exoticism, save for the lattices covering their windows in place of glass panes. Pedestrians wear European fashions and the shops sell wares from Paris, London, and Vienna. Only the multitude of languages spoken in the streets and the signs written in five or more alphabets evidence the quarter’s unique position as a cosmopolitan crossroads to the world.
A city fire in 1831 swept Pera clean of its oldest buildings, leaving room for their replacements built in a modern European fashion. Most of Pera’s population comfortably lives in handsome wooden houses with bay windows and balconies. Stone walls close off their small private gardens, invisible to pedestrians in the street. Recently arrived travelers live in the hotels and boarding houses always busy with soldiers, tradesmen, and visiting families. The mansions of ambassadors, men of business, and Levantine financiers near the hill’s summit give their inhabitants a spectacular view of Stambul’s beautiful vista across the Golden Horn.
As the Ottoman Empire’s ability to check the expansions of the Russian and British Empires shrinks, Constantinople’s political importance grows. Every great nation of Europe built consulates and embassies in Pera representing their country’s international interests and their citizens in the Ottoman Empire. Dragomans busily travel from consulate to consulate carrying messages and lead the visitors in their care on excursions to the city’s sights.
In the west, the large cemetery, the Petite Champs de Morts, and a smaller public garden similarly called the Petite Champs mark the border between Pera and the naval facilities of Kassim Pasha. Fragments of ancient walls and modern stonework separate Pera from Galata in the south. The wall’s gates close at sunset, but the guards let anyone through for a small bribe. The streets of Pera are very steep, and few carriages dare the hill’s incline. 
Galata and Pera were known collectively by the Byzantine Greeks as “Peran en Sykais”, “the fig orchard across the way”, for the numerous orchards covering the steep hills on the other side of the Golden Horn. Derived from this Greek phrase, Pera is the quarter’s traditional name, but the Turks have their own name for the quarter, Beyoglu or “Son of a Bey”.  The identity of the titular son of a Bey is unknown but was likely a Venetian diplomat in the 1500s. Although most of Pera’s inhabitants use its traditional name, the Turks exclusive refer to the quarter as Beyoglu.
Since the early 1200s, the quarter has belonged to foreigners capitalizing on the city’s importance as a major trading port. Merchants from Italy gained a foothold in Pera during the reign of the Holy Roman Empire. They gained prestige and power until Pera officially became a Genoese colony. After fleeing the quarter following the invading Ottoman army’s victory in 1453, the Genoese quickly returned and commenced their lucrative trade with the Turks, although they lost their former self-governance. After the King of France and Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent commenced political relations between their governments, Pera gained a French population which now overshadows the quarter’s Italian community in influence if not number. Pera’s French and Italian communities exclusively follow the Roman Aluminat religion. Their patronage ensures the survival of the quarter’s monasteries and churches in the heart of the Ottoman Empire. The wealthiest Levantines, Greeks, French, Italians, Armenians, Austrians and English live in close community. Due to the proximity of Sultan Abdulmejid’s new palace in Beshiktash, a few highly placed officials of the Ottoman government also reside in Pera.

Friday, May 11, 2018

City of Countless Names- A Mosque and a Church

Today we are shaking things up just a little bit. Before we move on to the very important and exciting quarter of Pera, here is a mosque in Orta Keui and a church in Galata worth a closer look.

The Orta Keui Mosque
Just west of where the stream dividing Orta Keui flows into the Bopserous, the most notable Turks of the village gather for worship at the newly rebuilt Orta Keui Mosque. Much like the yalis up stream, the mosque sits close to the water on a patch of land jutting into the Bosporus. Close to the piers, it’s the first glimpse of Constantinople's beauty seen by many travelers from the north.
In 1853, the Sultan ordered the mosque’s construction and tasked the same architects responsible for his waterside palace in Beshiktash to design a stately and modern mosque. They created a mosque in the baroque style, with a single wide dome, and two towering minarets. Carvings and reliefs cover its beautiful white-stone walls. Beneath the dome, the main chamber’s interior is equally beautiful with brightly colored mosaics and light reflecting from the Bosporus shining through the large, high windows. The Sultan himself, made the calligraphic panels hanging inside. North of the chamber two smaller two-story buildings hold the mosques other facilities giving the mosque complex a “U” shape. These buildings also posses living accommodations for the sultan.
This is not the first mosque to grace that spot on the shore. The previously occupying mosque was destroyed in 1730 during an uprising of Albanian Jannisaries which dethroned Sultan Ahmed III.
The mosque’s current Imam is rumored to heal the gravest of injuries with a wave of his hands.

The Church of Saint Benoit
West of Galata Tower, just outside of Tophane, the oldest Roman Aluminat church in Constantinople serves as the cultural and religious center of the city’s French inhabitants. In 1427, Benedictine friars founded a monastery over the ruins of an ancient church. They dedicated their work to St. Benedict (or in French Benoit), the patron saint of cave exploration, protection from witchcraft, and Europe.
After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople twenty-six years later, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent desired to convert the church into a mosque, but the King of France interceded and made Saint Benoit the official chapel for the French Embassy in Constantinople. Although Turkish law bars burials in churches, Saint Benoit’s vault has special permission from the Grand Mufti to allow internments. Over the years, the most important French aristocrats in Constantinople have been entombed within the church.
Besides its venerable age, the Church of Saint Benoit carries a great deal of political significance because of its mention in the declaration used by Russia as an excuse to invade the Crimean peninsula. When the Sultan declared France the legal protector of all Aluminat subjects in the Ottoman Empire, the proclamation named France as “Protectress of the Catholic Church of St. Benedict at Galata, and of all Christian establishments in the Sultan's dominions.”  Because of its mention by name, the Church of Saint Benoit is a symbol of French influence in the Ottoman government.  The church also serves as a hostpial, a well respected boy’s school, and the center for all Roman Aluminat mission work in Asia.
Saint Benoit is a medieval complex of brick and stone buildings tightly confined the surrounding city. The church suffered destruction from fires in 1610, 1660 (not burned but plundered in the chaos), 1686, 1696, and 1731. This damage, along with the poor stewardship of its custodians over the centuries, made the church a patchwork of rebuilt Gothic masonry and modern plaster. Some of the repairs and additions incorporate rubble from the Byzantine ruin that once occupied the land. The church’s foundation is terraced (meaning one side is lower than the other), possibly because of the ancient disused Byzantine cistern somewhere below.
Because the Roman Aluminat faithful of Pera-Galata gather weekly at the Church of Saint Benoit, the French intelligence services often use the church for covert meetings and exchanges.

Friday, May 4, 2018

City of Countless Names- Orta Keui p2

Before the late 1600s, only fishing villages and distant monasteries existed on the beautiful shores of the Bosporus.  Once the Ottomans noticed the natural beauty, every minister of state, pasha, and dignitary coveted a luxurious home at the water’s edge.  In Orta Keui and along the shore further upstream, the extended Imperial Family and other Ottoman elite built stately waterside mansions called Yalis, from the greek “yialí” meaning beach.
The style of each yali varies by the time it was built and the luxury its owner could afford, but all remain excellent examples of Ottoman architecture. Most yalis are made of wood with wings flowing out of the main hall on either side, often a seraglio wing for the women and selamlik wing for the men of the household. Large windows open up every external wall to magnificent views of the Bosporus. Elaborate molding and intricate arabesques painted on the ceiling ensure a yali’s luxurious appointment inside matches its exterior. Rooms extend outward from upper floors over the water, allowing their natural cooling by sea breezes. Small outlying buildings, such as boathouses, kitchens, and laundries take care of the household's practical concerns.
The color of paint on a yali’s exterior declares it’s owners place in Ottoman society. A yali painted in white, yellow, or other bright colors belongs to a devoted Nithamiyeen.  Members of the Turkish government were privileged by law to paint their yalis red-hued colors, such as rose or burgundy. Foreigners, such as Aluminates or Jews, must paint their yalis grey.
As the Ottoman economy rises and falls,  the ownership of these mansions change. A yali might remain the property of one great family for centuries, only to be bought by a newly enriched pasha or a foreign diplomat.
Notable Yalis along the Bopserous include:

-Esme Sultan, the Aunt of Sultan Abdulmejid lived in a beautiful Yali just northwest of Orta Keui. until her death in 1848. Her home was brightly decored with great brass doors and painted yellow.  While she lived, musicians played all hours of the day in her yali, their sound carried across the water. Boats filled with passengers from all nations and levels of society clogged up the Bosperous for the nightly concerts. Faint music can still be heard on quiet evenings from the water.
Her widowed brother-in-law the Kapitan-I Derya in charge of the Ottoman navy, Damat Gürcü Halil Rifat Pasha, still lives in the yali next door.

-Much further up the Bosporus, on the Asian shore, lives the influential diplomat and recently dismissed Grand Vizier, Mustafa Resid Pasha.  His yali overshadows most others with its size and stately neoclassical grace. The pasha bought the yali from Kani Bey, the sultans coffee supplier, and furnished his home with every possible amenity. A boathouse on the bank holds the pasha’s caiques to take him quickly into Constantinople. Inside, floral decor mixes with gold leaf and gilded ornamentation interspersed with the blue light of the Bopserous pouring through windows. The Turkish women are not allowed to swim in public, so the women of the Pasha’s seraglio swim in a large indoor swimming pool built of marble.
A holy spring flows in the garden, a remainder of the ruins from a Byzantine monastery under the yali’s foundation.

- Four miles from Orta Keui, Yilanli Yali rises up from the steeply sloping banks of Bebek.  It’s construction dates back to the late 1700s, but it’s beautiful reddish-brown wood and stone exterior and lush sloped gardens still catches the eye.
Its unusual name means “snake yali” from a humorous anecdote about Sultan Abdulmejid’s father, Sultan Mahmud II. While boating up the Bosporus, Sultan Mahmud noticed the beautiful yali and told a nearby adviser he wished to buy it, but the advisor to which he spoke desired the yali as well. Knowing his sultan’s fear of snakes, the advisor claimed the rocks of the cliff under the beautiful yali was infested with the reptiles and they frequently entered the mansion. Thus discouraged, the sultan lost interest in the property and his advisor bought the yali.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Something Completely Different- Gameable Samurai Jack 2

The second half of Gameable Saturday Morning's discussion of Samurai Jack is out now! Our conversation continues with a thorough examination of what characters we would want to play in a roleplaying game, the tonal extremities of the show, and how best to emulate Samurai Jack stories at the table. 
I loved being a guest, and I strongly encourage you to listen through the Gamable Podcast's previous shows. They've gone through every Disney and Pixar movie with the same thoughtful probing.

Episode 44: Samurai Jack

Friday, April 27, 2018

City of Countless Names- Orta Keui p1

Orta Keui (Orta Kui, Ortaköy ,Orta-kioy, Ortakoi, St. Phocas, Messochori)


West of the palaces and gardens of Beshiktash, the pastoral and elegant waterside village of Orta Keui marks Constantinople’s north-easternmost extremity. Its name means “middle village” in Turkish, perhaps because much of the Orta Keui sits in a valley between two great hills north of the shore. A stream runs through the valley right down the center of the village, into the quickening current of the Bosporus. Due to the constriction of the strait, the current runs stronger as it passes Orta Keui than further downstream when it widens toward Stambul and Scutari. Because of this narrow point in the Bosporus, Sultan Abdulmejid and a team of Turkish engineers plan to soon build a bridge in Orta Keui terminating in the village of Beyler Bey to connect the strait’s northern bank to its southern.

Nearly seven miles away, Stambul’s dirty streets are only a memory on Orta Keui’s halcyon shore. The finest flowers in Constantinople grow in the village’s gardens watered by the stream.  Orta Keui’s orchards grow beautiful fruit and its strawberries are in particular demand all over the city.

Back when it was an outpost of the Byzantine capital, the village’s name was St. Phocas for the eponymous monastery and church dedicated to the martyred St. Phocas. These buildings once housed many relics associated with the saint, but only the Church of St. Phocas remains. It’s oddly appropriate that a monastery dedicated to the patron saint of gardeners and sailors once existed in Orta Keui where plentiful flowers and fruits grow and ships passing  to the Black sea get a last glimpse of Constantinople.

At the encouragement of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the mid-1500s, Turks from Constantinople moved to Orti Keui, which had been primarily a Greek village until their arrival. As Constantinople’s metropolis expanded into the hills of the surrounding countryside, the wealthiest denizens of all nations built summer mansions in Orta Keu for relaxing holidays away from noises and smells of city life. The grandest are the waterside mansions built on the Bosporus’s bank called yali’s belonging to Ottoman officials.

The Jews of Orti Keui live gathered together around the Bosporus’s bank, Greeks and Armenians live on the valley slopes further north, and the Turks live through the whole village. Recently, the village gained an influx of Greeks wanting to leave behind Turkish repression in Stambul.  Orta Keui’s heterogeneous population is evidenced by its collection of cemeteries devoted to the departed of each religion, and the close proximity of the Church of St. Phocas, Etz Ahayim Synagogue, and the Orta Keui Mosque near the stream’s outlet into the Bosporus.

In 1854, a devastating city fire incinerated most the buildings in Orta Keui along the Bosporus.  A year later, streets full of half burnt homes and shops still deface Orta Keui’s landscape of mansions and gardens. Merchants sell and conduct business from tents until they can afford to rebuild. Feral dogs scavenge from the ruins. The streets smell of smoke and ash.

Friday, April 20, 2018

City of Countless Names- Kassim Pasha p4

Today, we finish in Kassim Pasha, and next week we move into the center of European life in Constantinople, the neighbohood of Pera.

The Bagnio
Northwest of the Admiralty, behind a second low stone wall, the prison known as the Bagnio securely incarcerates the northern shores population of debtors, thieves and prisoners of war. Inside the cramped enclosure, the prison is a cluster of connected wood and stone dormitories with a windowless central hall running through the buildings. The dark hall as serves a sort of prison bazaar, unscrupulous merchants sell incarcerated a few of the comforts and vices of the outside world, such as wine or raki, by lamp light.
A ball and chain secured around the ankle impedes the movement of most prisoners, but the more notorious criminals, such as the few surviving Janissaries or Greek revolutionaries, live connected by leg chains to a fellow prisoner. The Bagnio’s prisoners come from all nations, but the Russian prisoners of war get the worst treatment. Most of the guards are burly Greeks armed with clubs. They choose which prisoners are chained with which walk freely across the yard. The families of the Bagnio’s inmates often bribe the guard to look favorably on their loved ones and free them of their chains.
The Bagnio used to house three to four-thousand galley slaves (many taken from captured European ships). Roman Aluminat priests from the Genoese settlement in Galata used to visit the slaves to serve however they could.
 In the 1590s, one priest, later canonized as St. Joseph of Leonissa, served the slaves so charitably the Sultan had him arrested and ordered his execution. The guards hung St. Joseph from hooks piercing his right hand and thigh over a smoky fire to slowly suffocate. Before he died, an angel freed Joseph and returned him to Italy.

The Admiralty
At the eastern end of Kassim Pasha’s shore, near the cemetery in Pera known as the Petite Champs De Morts, a small peninsula cuts into the Golden Horn, upon which stands the Admiralty. The Admiralty serves as the headquarters for the Ottoman Ministry of Marine, which administrates the Ottoman Navy, the construction in the Arsenal, and the traffic in its docks. The Kapitan-I Derya or Minister of Marine, Damat Gürcü Halil Rifat Pasha, leads the ministry with the experience earned from his three previous terms serving the Sultan in this position.
This handsome building sits so close to the shoreline that it seems to float in the water when seen from far away. Its bright paint and graceful neoclassical style further distinguish the Admiralty from the industrial maze of Tersane west along the shore. The porticoes on its exterior bear decorations unusual among the Ottomans. Halil Rifat Pasha ordered small gilded eagles and lions to be added as decorations to the exterior’s wooden columns, but Nithamiyeen tradition forbids sculpted images. Some sailors mock the decorations claiming they are dogs and seabirds sent by the Russians.
The upper floor contains naval offices and the residence of the Capitan Pasha. Another richly decorated suite of apartments on the upper floor remain ready at all times for the Sultan’s frequent visits to observe the progress of his navy’s construction.