Sunday, January 15, 2017

Italy | Venice | St. Mark’s Basilica

The morning after the Full Moon I wandered by St. Mark’s Square again.
 Venice, with St. Mark’s Square in center, near the eastern end of the Grand Canal, which snakes its way through the big island (click on photos for enlargement)
St. Mark’s Square, with the basilica of St. Mark to the right. The big U-shaped building below the basilica is the Doge‘s Palace.
St. Mark’ Square, with the Basilica of St. Mark and the 323-foot high Campanile, or Bell Tower, at the far end. Snow had fallen the night before and was still a stiff damp wind whipping around the plaza.Thus the place was pretty much deserted.
Another view of  St. Mark’ Square
 A 1503 etching of St. Mark’s. Not much has changed.
 St. Mark’s Basicila
The first version of St. Mark’s was completed in 832. It had been built to house the relics of St. Mark, which had been stolen and spirited out of Alexandria, Egypt, in 828 by Venetian traders. This church burned in 976 and was later rebuilt. Not much is known about these early versions of the church. About 1063 a new version was constructed. Although oft-modified and added onto, the basic outline of this version has survived to the present day.
 Detail of St. Mark’s
 St. Mark’s Basilica
Some of the more than 500 hundred columns built into the church. Many were loot from the sack of Constantinople in 1204 and added onto the basic outline of the church. 
Much of the stone plating on the outside of the walls was also looted from Constantinople. After the sack of the city in 1204 all Venetian ships  returning from Constantinople were required by law to carry dressed stone for use as ornamentation in Venice. Many ships used the stone as ballast.
Detail of stone plating
 The Pillars of Acre
The so-called Pillars of Acre are located in front of the southern wall of the Basilica. For a long time it was believed they were loot seized by the Venetians in 1258 during the sack of Acre, a seaport in what is now northern Israel. Later research determined that they were actually stripped from the Church of St Polyeuktos in Constantinople) during or shortly after the sack of the city the Venetians and their Crusader cohorts in 1204. The Church of St. Polyeuktos, built between 524 and 527, was commissioned and presumably paid for by the Byzantine princess Anicia Juliana in honor of St. Polyeuktos. Anicia Juliana was related on her mother’s side to Byzantine emperor Theodosius the Great, who was responsible for building the Theodosian Land Wall in Istanbul. The capitals of the columns here in Venice were found by archeologists when the ruins of the Church of St Polyeuktos were excavated in the 1990s. The columns were supposedly placed in their current location in 1258, which may be why it was long thought they were seized during the sack of Acre in the same year. For more on the provenance of the pillars see The Pillars of Acre: Masterpieces of A Proud Sixth-Century Princess.
 One of the Column of Acre
 Detail of the one of the columns
 Detail of the one of the columns
 At one corner of the church, where it joins the Doge’s  Palace, stand the so-called Tetrarchs. 
Carved from Porphyry, a kind of granite, the statues, according to one theory, represent the four joint rulers of the Roman Empire during the time of Emperor Diocletian (r. 284–305). In 286 Diocletian appointed his fellow army officer Maximian as co-ruler of the empire, and then in 293 he appointed Galerius and Constantius  as junior co-emperors. Thus the Roman Empire was ruled by a 'tetrarchy', or "group of four”. The statues originally stood in the in the Philadelphion (Place of Brotherly Love) in Constantinople, however, which has lead to speculation that the statutes actually represent the four sons of Emperor Constantine, founder of Constantinople, who were famous for cooperating when their father died in 337. In any case, the statues were looted during the 1204 show in Constantinople and brought back here to Venice, where they were embedded in the wall of St. Mark’s.
 The Tetrarchs
 The Tetrarchs
 The Tetrarchs
During the looting of the statues one foot was broken off. When the statues got to Venice the missing foot was replaced by a white stone foot. Amazing the broken-off foot was eventually found and can now be seen in a museum in Istanbul.
 Walking back to my guesthouse I spotted this Chinese couple celebrating their wedding in a gondola.
 Get a room!
My guesthouse is located on this narrow passageway. Actually it is a large apartment that has been separated into four rooms: a bed and breakfast without the breakfast. Very cozy however, and each room has is own espresso maker!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Italy | Venice | Full Moon | Rialto News

As soon as the Blizzard in Istanbul subsided I wandered off to Venice. I had four goals in mind:
  1.     See the Full Moon of January 12 over St. Marks Square
  2.     Check the news on the Rialto
  3.     Continue the Investigations into the life of Enrico Dandolo that I began on my last trip to Venice.
  4.  View the loot stolen by Enrico Dandolo and the his Venetian cohorts during the Sack of Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1204
 The Full Moon, partially obscured by clouds, over St. Mark’s Square (click on photos for enlargements).
 Another view of the Full Moon over St. Mark’s Square
 The Rialto Bridge across the Grand Canal. The current version of the 104-foot long stone bridge was built between 1588 andl 1591.
Actually there wasn’t much news on the Rialto. If I hear of anything I will let you know.
 View from the Rialto Bridge
Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge

Friday, January 13, 2017

Mongolia | Bayankhongor | Camel Festival | Shoovoi

I was sitting at an outdoor table at a cafe in Istanbul enjoying the first appearance of the sun after a Huge  Blizzard. Skimming the news on the internet while sipping a demitasse of Turkish coffee I saw this headline: Camel Festival Takes Place In Mongolia. Clicking on the story I read:
“A ten-year-old male camel belonging to herder Shoovoi from the Shinejinst soum (district) has been named ‘Best camel’ of the year. A total of 22 male camels took part in a competition in which they were rated on their appearance.”
It just  so  happens I know Shoovoi and have even ridden one of his camels. I first met him on a camel trip I did in Bayankhongor Aimag back in 1999. He is married to the sister of my old pal Zevgee (now Deceased), with whom I did Twelve Horse And Camel Trips over the years. Zevgee was born in Bayankhongor Aimag but later moved to Töv Aimag, where his wife is from. He told me that he still had five brothers and a sister in  Bayankhongor and that two of his brothers and his brother-in-law were famous for their camels. Eventually we traveled to Bayankhongor by jeep and hired camels from his brothers Davakhüü and Khaidav. Then both Davakhüü and Khaidav accompanied us on a 124 miles camel trip from near the sum center of Shinejinst to the sacred mountain of Segs Tsagaan Bogd Uul the Chinese border.
 Davakhüü
Khaidav
Halfway through the camel trip south to Segs Tsagaan Bogd Uul we made a detour to visit Zevgee’s sister and Shoovoi, who at the time were camped with their sheep, goat, and camel herds at a tiny spring in an extremely remote area northeast of Ekhiin Gol Oasis.
 Shoovoi, camel herder extraordinaire,  and his wife, Zevgee’s sister
 Zevgee’s sister
We stayed the night and Shoovoi killed a goat and his wife made khorkhog for us. To prepare this classic Mongolian dish an entire goat (not including head and innards) is cut up and put into a big milk can along with rocks heated in a campfire. The can is then tightly sealed. The hot rocks and the steam that builds up in the milk can cooks the meat. After an hour or two of cooking the can is  rolled across the desert floor for twenty or thirty minutes. This tenderizes the meat. Then with great care—quite a lot of steam pressure has built up— the can is opened.
Khorkhog in serving dish. According to tradition you should always juggle one of the hot rocks in your left hand while eating with the right hand.  This allows you to absorb the full essence of the goat.
Over the years I visited Shoovoi and his wife twice more and they always offered to cook a goat for us. On one trip we used some of his camels.
 Shoovoi, on the right, behind the camel, helping us pack a load on a later camel trip to Shar Khuls Oasis in Bayankhongor. This guy knows more about camels than you or I will know in one hundred lifetimes. 
 At the start of the trip to Shar Khuls Oasis. The white camel, which I rode, belonged to Shoovoi.
 Zevgee and his wife at Shar Khuls Oasis.  The two magnificent Bayankhongor camels belonged to his brother Davakhüü. Bactrian camels are, of course, the most noble of all four-legged creatures, and more noble than many two-legged creatures  (click on photo for enlargement). 
 Camels. You can’t help but love them (click on photo).
Camels on parade at the 2017 Camel Festival. Shoovoi’s camel won the “Best Camel of the Year” award (not my photo).

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Turkey | Istanbul | Snow Storm

From Antalya I wandered back to Istanbul, where I thought I would stay for a day or two before wandering on. Instead I got caught up in one of the Biggest Snowstorms In Recent Memory. At my hotel there was at least sixteen inches of snow on the ground and reportedly there were 120 centimeters (47 inches) in some parts of the city. All this in a city built on hills (seven of them, like Rome) and not that well equipped for handling snow. Over 800 flights were cancelled in and out of Istanbul’s two airports. This was quite a contrast with Istanbul In January of 2014 when the temperatures reached the low 70s F. and irises were in bloom.
Hagia Sophia in the snow. This was the first morning of the blizzard, when only about six inches of snow had fallen (click on photos for enlargements).
Palm trees taking a beating during the blizzard
Blue Mosque in the distance
For the first time in all my years of coming to Istanbul the famous fish sandwich restaurants near the Galata Bridge were closed.
The fisherman on the Galata Bridge were still out in force. It would take more than a blizzard to drive them off. 
Crampons and iceaxes would have come in handy on the steep streets of Galata, north of the Golden Horn.
View from my hotel
My hotel in Istanbul
 Istanbul’s legendary street dogs were given temporary shelter from the storm at an up-scale mall (not my photo).

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Turkey | Turkish Riviera | Antalya | Kaleiçi

The 2016 Winter Solstice occurred in Mongolia on December 21 at 6:44 pm. It was of course the shortest day of the year. There were eight hours, twenty-two minutes, and fifty-four seconds of daylight, five seconds less than on December 20. On December 22 there would be two seconds more daylight. So the days would be getting longer. I climbed to the top of Zaisan Tolgoi just north of my hovel before sunset on the 21st and at the moment of the Solstice made  appropriate offerings and orisons. The next morning I absquatulated to Istanbul, where I caught another flight to the city of Antalya on the Turkish Riviera, about 300 miles south-southeast of Istanbul.
Antalya, on the Mediterranean Sea
Turkey’s fifth largest city, with a population of over a million, Antalya is the second biggest tourist destination in the country. Over 12.5 million visitors passed through Antalya in 2014, with most of them staying at beach resorts to the east and west of the city. Antalya was especially popular with Germans and Russians. Of course since 2014 there have been a Spate Of Terrorist Attacks in Turkey,  including one in Sultahmet Square which killed thirteen people, eight of them Germans. Then  relations with Russia soured after Turkey shot down a Russian jet fighter which had allegedly strayed into Turkish airspace. Tourism Tanked in the backwash:
One of Europe's largest travel companies reports that bookings to Turkey are down 40 percent. Turkey's largest resort, Antalya, is popular with Russian tourists and has already been badly hit, according to Atilla Yesilada, an Istanbul-based consultant with Global Source Partners. "A lot of companies are in serious difficulty,” Yesilada said. “Up to 1,300 hotels are up for sale. In Antalya, tourist arrivals by air are down by 21 percent. There is really a lot of hardship."
Of course now is off-season for the beach resorts. Those visitors that stay in the city congregate in Kaleiçi, the Old Quarter, which was surrounded by walls during Roman times. The price of hotel rooms has been slashed to one-half or one-third of the regular rate at most hotels. Kaleiçi is where I am holed up. I appear to be the only guest in the “butik” hotel where I am staying.  The streets of Kaleiçi, lined with upscale hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and gift shops, are eerily deserted. In the early mornings I  sometimes walk around for half an hour before I see another human being. Only in the afternoons do a few Russians, Chinese tour groups, and Turks from other parts of Turkey make an appearance. So it is a good place to avoid the end of the year (according to the Gregorian calendar) hullabaloo.
Downtown Antalya with Kaleiçi, the Old Quarter, to the right of center
 City of Antalya with the Taurus Mountains behind (click on photos for enlargements)
Antalya Bay, with the city on the right
Antalya Harbor
Another view of Antalya Harbor
The original settlement of Kaleiçi was founded by Attalos II, king of Permagon, between BC 159–138. King Attalus II eventually bequeathed his entire kingdom, including the city of Antalya, to the Romans and it became part of the Roman Empire.
 Kaleiçi, the Old Quarter, outlined in red

Hadrian’s Gate, the ceremonial entrance to Kaleiçi. It was built to honor the Roman emperor Hadrian’s visit to the city in 130 AD. This is of course the same Hadrian who built Hadrian’s Wall in what is now northern England.
Another view of Hadrian’s Gate
Ruins of the Korkut Mosque
A pagan temple was built on this site in the 2nd century AD. In the 6th AD the temple was knocked down and replaced with a Christian church. The church was heavily damaged by the Arab invasions of the 7th century, and it was finally rebuilt in the 9th century. In the 13th century is was converted into a mosque by the Seljuqs Of Rum. Then Antalya was captured the Christian king Peter I of Cyprus, who converted back into a church. The city was later seized by the Ottomans and Sultan Beyazit II’s  son Korkut (1470–1509) turned it into a mosque again. The mosque was largely destroyed by a fire in 1896 and is now in ruins.
Ruins of the Korkut Mosque
Ruins of the Korkut Mosque
Ruins of the Korkut Mosque
Ruins of the Korkut Mosque
Ruins of the Korkut Mosque
Minaret of the Korkut Mosque. The top was destroyed in the fire of 1896.
The Yivli Minare (Fluted Minaret) built by the Seljuqs of Rum in the thirteenth century
Another view of the Fluted Minaret
Iconic view of Antalya