Time travel does not require a time machine, a good book will suffice. One such read is Istanbul by Thomas F Madden. This engrossing saga spans the conquest of this port city by the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Arabs, all the way to the making of the modern Turkey, weaving a tapestry of history, myth and legend. The sub-plots in the book remind us of the storylines of major historic movies and TV series.
Istanbul has been renamed several times over the course of history by her conquerors as a mark of their claim over this commercially and strategically important city. While school textbooks taught us that Istanbul was formerly known as Constantinople ; the city was first christened Byzantion after it’s founder Byzas the son of god Poseidon and the nymph Ceroessa. The book recalls the many battles between the Greeks and the Persians leading to the historic Battle of Salamis and the final victory for the Greeks. Alexander though is said to have bypassed Byzantion as he marched his armies into Asia.
Next was the time of the Roman empire and the book details that the Romans greatly admired and often imitated Greek ways. From the Greeks, the city was taken over by the Romans and emperor Constantine renamed the city Constantinople. Constantine set about the task of building a magnificent city rivalling the landmarks in Rome. While Rome was considered the empire’s western capital, Constantinople became the eastern capital.
Fascinated by the new discoveries, I prattle on to hubs my new found knowledge about Constantinople. I was regaling about Helena, Constantine’s mother who went to Jerusalem and found the True Cross and she sent small pieces of the Cross to churches across the Roman empire.
“You really think she discovered the True Cross almost three centuries after the crucifixion. You believe that the wooden cross survived for 30 decades and that she was able to identify the cross among the many crosses that must have been there; crucifixion was very common during the Roman times ⁉️” asks hubs
I became skeptical but persisted saying “As per the book the Roman emperor Constantine was a Christian.”
“Not really, he was tolerant of both the religions – the pagan gods and Christianity and that too for strategic reasons. He didn’t want to risk a divided empire. He allowed himself to be baptised only before his death.” says hubs
“Yes, that’s because he wanted to be baptised in Jerusalem in river Jordan as per the book.” I say… The book has all the fascinating details, you can keep debating. But this just a peek into the controversies that are weaved into the city’s history. The commissioning of Hagia Sophia, the smuggling of the silkworms from the Far East, the onset of the bubonic plague – the saga continues..
Next phase that changed the course of the city’s history is marked by the rise of Islam and the Ottoman empire. Mehmed II converted Hagia Sophia to the imperial mosque for the Ottoman state. The famous landmarks still standing like the Topkapi Palace, Suleymaniye Mosque, Sultanahmet Mosque were built. The book details the politics of the harem at the palace and the so called “Sultanate of Women” of the Ottoman empire.
In the last chapters, the book traverses through the struggles resulting in the the formation of modern Turkey with the capital at Ankara while the erstwhile capital Constantinople was renamed Istanbul. So much history spanning across centuries are condensed into this book without leaving out the interesting facts.
A good read for the history buffs !!
Till next post, take care !!