Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Turkey | Istanbul | Hagia Sophia | Enrico Dandolo

From the Obelisk of Theodosius I wandered east through Sultanahmet Square, soon passing by the the Kaiser Wilhelm Fountain, an octagonal domed structure built by the German government in 1900 to mark the German Emperor Wilhelm II's visit to Istanbul in 1898. Near here would have stood the starting gates used for horse and chariot races in the old Byzantine Hippodrome which occupied the area now taken up by Sultanahmet Square. 

Mounted above the starting gates were larger-than-life size copper statues of four horses. Their provenance is unclear (an Entire Book has been written on this issue and the horses in general) but they were probably made in what is now Greece and used to ornament some monumental structure there. Greece having been subsumed by the Byzantines, Theodosius II, the same Theodosius who built the Land Walls, expropriated the horses and had them moved to Constantinople, where they were used to ornament the Hippodrome. When the Crusaders and Venetians sacked Constantinople in 1204 the horses were claimed as war booty by the Venetians and taken to Venice, where they can still be found today.
 An artist’s rendering of the Hippodrome starting gates. The horses can be seen on top of the gate in the middle. The dome of Hagia Sophia is behind, to the right  (click on photos for enlargements).
Leaving Sultanahmet Square I arrive at the entrance to Hagia Sophia, the immense church built in the  a.d. 530s by Justinian I. It is now a museum. One of the architectural wonders of the world, it is visited by millions of people a year—3,574,043 visitors in 2014. Usually around opening time there is a line of several hundred people waiting to get in. Today, three days after the suicide bombing at the nearby Column of Theodosius, there is no one in line. I have been inside Hagia Sophia several times, but each time it was crowded with hundreds, of not thousands of people. I thought today, when it would not be so crowded,  might be a good day to visit again. Inside I was surprised to find several hundred people, almost all of them members of tour groups. They had apparently arrived right at opening time and used a special entrance reserved for guided groups. I spent an hour or so wandering around the ground floor, studying the many stone pillars ransacked from various lands conquered by the Byzantines, and then climb the broad stone staircase to the South Gallery. 
Hagia Sophia
On the east wall of the western buttress in the South Gallery can be seen the mosaic known as the Deesis. It probably dates to the fourteenth century. John Freely, author of Strolling through Istanbul, considers it “one of the very greatest works of art produced in Byzantium.” Only part of the mosaic has survived, but we can see Christ in the middle flanked by Mary and St. John the Baptist.
The Deesis: Christ in the middle, Mary on the left; St. John the Baptist on the right
Detail of the Deesis
Everyone who visits the South Gallery stops and gazes at the Deesis, most taking photos with their smart phones or iPads. Almost no one notices a small tombstone set level with the floor at the base of the buttress facing the Deesis. Most walk by it without a glance. Few realize that it is a memorial to the man who instigated what may well be the greatest crime ever perpetrated in the name of Christianity. I am speaking of Venetian Doge Enrico Dandolo and Sack of Constantinople in 1204. John Freely:
Set into the pavement just opposite to the Deesis is the tomb of the man who ruined Byzantium. Carved in Latin letters on the broken lid of a sarcophagus there, we see the illustrious name, HENRICUS DANDALO. Dandalo, Doge of Venice, was one of the leaders of the Fourth Crusade and was the one chiefly responsible for persuading the Latins to attack Constantinople in the years 1203–4. After the final capture of Constantinople on 13 April 1204, Baldwin of Flanders was crowned in Haghia Sophia as Emperor of Rumania, as the Latins called the portion of the Byzantine Empire which they had conquered. But the Latin Emperor did not reign supreme even in his capital city, for three-eighths of Constantinople, including the church of Haghia Sophia, was awarded to the Venetians and ruled by Dandalo. The old Doge now added the title of Despot to his name and thereafter styled himself “Lord of the fourth and a half of all the Roman Empire.” But proud Dandalo had little time to lord it over his fractional kingdom, for he died the following year, 16 June 1205, and was buried in the gallery of Haghia Sophia. After the Conquest, according to tradition, Dandalo’s tomb was broken open and his bones thrown to the dogs.
 Memorial to Enrico Dandolo
Detail of Enrico Dandolo
 We might assume that whatever marker covered his tomb was also destroyed. The current tombstone was installed later, when and by whom is it not clear (if anyone has any information about this please let me know). Thus the marker here in the South Gallery is not actually the grave of Enrico Dandolo (or Dandalo; both spelling occur in the literature) but rather a memorial to him. From the memorial I walk over to the balcony and gaze down on the hundreds of people milling around the floor of Hagia Sophia. The scene on April 13, 1204, would have been quite different. We have the account of the Byzantine historian Niketas or Nicetas Choniates (1155–1217), who was an eye-witness to the Sack of Constantinople:
What then should I recount first and what last of those things dared at that time by these murderous men? O, the shameful dashing to earth of the venerable icons and the flinging of the relics of the saints, who had suffered for Christ's sake, into defiled places! How horrible it was to see the Divine Body and Blood of Christ poured out and thrown to the ground! These forerunners of Antichrist, chief agents and harbingers of his anticipated ungodly deeds, seized as plunder the precious chalices and patens; some they smashed, taking possession of the ornaments embellishing them, and they set the remaining vessels on their tables to serve as bread dishes and wine goblets. Just as happened long ago, Christ was now disrobed and mocked, his garments were parted, and lots were cast for them by this race; and although his side was not pierced by the lance, yet once more streams of Divine Blood poured to the earth.
The report of the impious acts perpetrated in the Great Church are unwelcome to the ears. The table of sacrifice, fashioned from every kind of precious material and fused by fire into one whole-blended together into a perfection of one multicolored thing of beauty, truly extraordinary and admired by all nations-was broken into pieces and divided among the despoilers, as was the lot of all the sacred church treasures, countless in number and unsurpassed in beauty. They found it fitting to bring out as so much booty the all-hallowed vessels and furnishings which had been wrought with incomparable elegance and craftsmanship from rare materials. In addition, in order to remove the pure silver which overlay the railing of the bema, the wondrous pulpit and the gates, as well as that which covered a great many other adornments, all of which were plated with gold, they led to the very sanctuary of the temple itself mules and asses with packsaddles; some of these, unable to keep their feet on the smoothly polished marble floors, slipped and were pierced by knives so that the excrement from the bowels and the spilled blood defiled the sacred floor. Moreover, a certain silly woman laden with sins, an attendant of the Erinyes, the handmaid of demons, the workshop of unspeakable spells and reprehensible charms, waxing wanton against Christ, sat upon the synthronon and intoned a song, and then whirled about and kicked up her heels in dance.
It was not that these crimes were committed in this fashion while others were not, or that some acts were more heinous than others, but that the most wicked and impious deeds were perpetrated by all with one accord. Did these madmen, raging thus against the sacred, spare pious matrons and girls of marriageable age or those maidens who, having chosen a life of chastity, were consecrated to God? Above all, it was a difficult and arduous task to mollify the barbarians with entreaties and to dispose them kindly towards us, as they were highly irascible and bilious and unwilling to listen to anything. Everything incited their anger, and they were thought fools and became a laughingstock. He who spoke freely and openly was rebuked, and often the dagger would be drawn against him who expressed a small difference of opinion or who hesitated to carry out their wishes.
The whole head was in pain. There were lamentations and cries of woe and weeping in the narrow ways, wailing at the crossroads, moaning in the temples, outcries of men, screams of women, the taking of captives, and the dragging about, tearing in pieces, and raping of bodies heretofore sound and whole. They who were bashful of their sex were led about naked, they who were venerable in their old age uttered plaintive cries, and the wealthy were despoiled of their riches. Thus it was in the squares, thus it was on the corners, thus it was in the temples, thus it was in the hiding places; for there was no place that could escape detection or that could offer asylum to those who came streaming in.
O Christ our Emperor, what tribulation and distress of men at that time! The roaring of the sea, the darkening and dimming of the sun, the turning of the moon into blood, the displacement of the stars—did they not foretell in this way the last evils? Indeed, we have seen the abomination of desolation stand in the holy place, rounding off meretricious and petty speeches and other things which were moving definitely, if not altogether, contrariwise to those things deemed by Christians as holy and ennobling the word of faith.
Such then, to make a long story short, were the outrageous crimes committed by the Western armies against the inheritance of Christ.
The Crusader State established in 1204 by Enrico Dandolo and his co-conspirators lasted until 1261, when Constantinople was retaken by the Byzantines. But a candle always flickers most brightly one last time just before it goes out, and Byzantium soon proved itself to be a spent force. On May 29, 1453 Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror entered Constantinople and claimed it for Islam. He himself rode into Hagia Sophia and ordered that it be turned into a mosque. After 1123 years Byzantium was gone forever, and what is now Turkey became part of the Muslim geosphere.

As John Julius Norwich put it in Byzantium: The Decline and Fall, volume three of his magisterial history of the Byzantine Empire:
There are few greater ironies in History than the fact that the fate of Eastern Christendom should have been sealed—and half of Europe condemned to some five hundred years of Muslim rule—by men who fought under the banner of the Cross. Those men were transported, inspired, encouraged, and ultimately led by Enrico Dandolo in the name of the Venetian Republic; and, just as Venice derived the major advantage from the tragedy, so she and her magnificent old doge must accept the responsibility for the havoc that they have wrought on the world.
Among the vast amount of loot claimed by Enrico Dandolo were the four copper statues of horses that graced the Hippodrome. As mentioned above, they are now in Venice. While standing there overlooking the floor of Hagia Sophia I decide I must go to Venice to see the horses and the birthplace of Enrico Dandolo, the man who has had such an incalculable effect on world history.

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