Saturday, July 20, 2019

Iran | Sultaniyya | Mausoleum of Ilkhan Ölziit

Wandered by the town of Sultaniyya, site of the mausoleum of Öljeitü (Ölziit in Mongolian), the eighth Ilkhan. Ölziit was the great-grandson Khülegü Khan, founder of the Ilkhanate, and the great-great-great-grandson of Chingis Khan. It was Ölziit (r. 1305–1316) who had moved the capital of the Ilkhanate from Tabriz to Sultaniyya, 175 miles to the southeast. At the insistence of his mother Uruk Khatun, a Nestorian Christian, he had been baptized as a Christian and given the name Nicholas. When he was still in his teens, however, he married a Muslim girl, and apparently under her influence he converted to Islam. At first he was a Sunni Muslim, but he eventually became disillusioned by Nit-Picking Sunni Jurists and switched to Shiism. Perhaps to burnish his credentials as a Shiite he hatched a scheme to move the bodies of the two proto-martyrs of Shiism, Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, and Ali’s son Husain, from their shrines in Iraq to Sultaniyya and house them in an enormous mausoleum of his own making. It is not quite clear if he also intended the building to be a mausoleum for himself.  The mausoleum was built, but the plan to move the remains of Ali and Husain to Sultaniyya came to naught.  The building ended up as the repository for Ölziit’s own remains. 
The structure is 161 feet high, with a dome eighty-four feet in diameter, reportedly the third largest brick dome in the world. Larger are the brick domes of the Cathedral of Florence in Italy (138 feet), and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (103 feet). Apart from brick domes, the largest dome in the world is the steel dome of Cowboys Stadium in Texas, built by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the Khülegü of our age (click on photos for enlargements).
For comparison, here is the dome of Hagia Sophia
Mausoleum of Ölziit
Mausoleum of Ölziit
Mausoleum of Ölziit
Mausoleum of Ölziit
Mausoleum of Ölziit
Mausoleum of Ölziit
The vast interior of the mausoleum is undergoing renovation 
Interior of the mausoleum
The interior of the mausoleum was once covered with decoration. This eight-foot high panel is one of few surviving examples.
Catacomb under the mausoleum. This space may have been built for the remains of Ali and Husain.
The open walkway just below the dome
The open walkway just below the dome
Decoration of walkway
Decoration of walkway
Detail of decoration
View of Sultaniyya from open walkway.  Sultaniyya, once the capital of the Ilkhanate, is now a sleepy little town with a population of just over 5000. The freeway from Tehran to Tabriz passes by three miles away and many people make a side trip to Sultaniyya for its justly famous kebabs. We had lamb kebabs in Sultaniyya and they certainly lived up to their reputation.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Mongolia | Khovd Aimag | Baitag Bogd Mountains

The Baitag Bogd Mountains, located in Khovd Aimag at the southwestern-most corner of the country, are probably one of the least visited places in Mongolia. Which is a shame, since the flanks of the mountains cradle gorgeous little oasis-like valleys which make wonderful places to while away a week or two far from the madding crowd. To get there you have to drive from Khovd City, the capital of Khovd Aimag, over the Mongol-Altai Mountains to the town of Bulgan. 
Hotel in Bulgan. Notice the wolf pelt drying in the window (click on photos for enlargements)
 Streets of Bulgan
Along the Bulgan River west of Bulgan City we were able to hire two camel men and camels for the trip to across the desert to Baitag Bogd.
 Local camel man and camels
 Riding across the desert-steppe to Baitag Bogd
 Riding across the desert to Baitag Bogd
Approaching Baitag Bogd 
 Oasis-like valley in the foothills of Baitag Bogd—wonderful places to camp.
Small stream with superb drinking water running out of the mountains. 
We camped here for several days so I could drink tea made from this water. New Tie Kuan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) Oolong And Eight-Year Old Puerh Tea matched up especially well with Baitag Bogd water. 
Another excellent camping spot. Inveterate star-gazers will find the skies here are incredibly clear at night, the nearest sources of air or light pollution being hundreds of miles away.
The Baitag Bogd Mountains are right on the Mongolian-Chinese border. Here two Mongolian border guards ride along the fence which separates the two countries. Permits are needed to visit this border area. 
 Baitag Bogd Mountains

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Greece | Kavala | Apostle Paul

From Thessaloniki I took a bus 100 miles up the coast to the city of Kavala. Two thousand years ago Kavala was known as Neopolis (New City). It was one of the main ports in Europe for ships arriving from the Levant. The Apostle Paul, he of Road to Damascus Fame, first set foot in Europe here around A.D. 50. I do not know why, but I seem to keep visiting places where Paul had trod before. First there was Larnaka and Paphos on Cyprus Island, then Athens, Corinth, and Thessaloniki in Greece and now Kavala. This was not intentional, I assure you. I am not a Christian, and certainly not a fan of Pauline Christianity. Indeed, I am perfectly aware that many now consider Paul An Insufferable Douchebag Or Worse. However, I am more than willingly to entertain the idea, posited in the book Jesus and the Lost Goddess, that most if not all the books in the New Testament attributed to Paul are forgeries and that he himself was a secret Gnostic:
Of all early Christians, Paul was the most revered by later Gnostics. He was the primary inspiration for two of the most influential schools of Christian Gnosticism, set up by the early second-century masters Marcion and Valentinus. Christian Gnostics calling themselves 'Paulicians' ran the 'seven churches' in Greece and Asia Minor that were established by Paul, their 'mother Church' being at Corinth. The Paulicians survived until the tenth century and were the inspiration for the later Bogomils and Cathars. Marcion was originally a student of the Simonian Gnostic Cerdo, but when he set up his own highly successful school it was Paul he placed centre-stage as the 'Great Messenger'. 
Even his later Literalist critics acknowledged that Marcion was 'a veritable sage' and that his influence was considerable. Valentinus tells us he received the secret teachings of Christianity from his master Theudas, who had in turn received them from Paul. Based on these teachings, Valentinus founded his own influential school of Christian Gnosticism, which survived as a loose alliance of individual teachers until it was forcibly closed down in the fifth century by the Literalist Roman Church. The number of second and third-century Valentinians that we can still name is testimony to Valentinus' importance: Alexander, Ambrose, Axionicus, Candidus, Flora, Heracleon, Mark, Ptolemy, Secundus, Theodotus and Theotimus. Paul was such an important figure in the Christian community that at the end of the second century the newly emerging school of Christian Literalism could not simply reject him as a misguided heretic but felt compelled to reshape him into a Literalist. They forged in his name the (now thoroughly discredited) 'Pastoral Letters', in which Paul is made to spout anti-Gnostic propaganda. 
Throughout his genuine letters, however, Paul uses characteristically Gnostic language and gives Gnostic teachings, a fact that is deliberately obscured by Literalist translators. Like later Christian Gnostics, Paul addresses his teachings to two levels of Christian initiates, called psychics and pneumatics, describing the latter as 'having Gnosis'. Of himself he writes, 'I may not be much of a speaker, but I have Gnosis.' He sees his mission as awakening in initiates an awareness of 'the Christ within' — the one 'consciousness of God' — by 'instructing all without distinction in the ways of Sophia, so as to make each one an initiated member of Christ's body'. Paul tells us that when he personally experienced Christ it was as a vision of light on the road to Damascus. 'Damascus' was a code word used by the Essenes to refer to their base in Qumran, which suggests that Paul, like Simon, had Essene affiliations. He uses the same language as the Essenes, for example when he describes human beings as being enslaved by the powers of fate, imagined as 'the elemental rulers of the cosmos', the 'archons of this dark cosmos', from which 'Christ has set us free'.
If these assertions about the genuine Gnostic teachings of Paul are true, then what has become known as “Pauline Christianity”—basically mainstream Christianity as it is practiced today—must be regarded as one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated upon the human race.  
City of Kavala (click on photos for enlargements)
Greek Orthodox Church in downtown Kavala. In front is a mosaic commemorating the arrival  of the Apostle Paul in Kavala in A.D. c. 50. 
Mosaic commemorating the arrival  of the Apostle Paul in Kavala in A.D. c.50. 
Detail of mosaic, Note the view must be from north looking south, since Paul  is stepping onto Europe on the right. 

Friday, April 5, 2019

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Bakharzi | Bayan Quli | Sorqaqtani

Wandered out to the Fathabad district, about two miles east of the old historical core of Bukhara, to visit the mausoleum of Saif ed-Din al-Bakharzi. The mausoleum complex is now in a nicely laid out park surrounded by four-lane highways and Soviet-era apartments blocks. Bakharzi was born in Khorasan (now northeastern Iran) and studied religion in Nishapur and Herat before moving to Gurganj (now Konye Urgench in Turkmenistan). Gurganj was the capital of Khwarezm, the land on either side of the lower Amu Darya River, including the broad delta estuary of the river on the southern edge of the Aral Sea. By the beginning of the thirteenth century Khwarezm had become the core province of the Khwarezmian Empire, which under the leadership of Muhammad Khwarezmshah (r. 1200-1220) included a huge swatch of Asia from the Caspian Sea to the Indus River. Bakharzi had early on shown an inclination toward mysticism, and he may have been attracted to Gurganj by the presence of Nadjm ed-Din Kubra, who would eventually be recognized as one of the thirteen century’s great mystics. In any case, he became a disciple of Kubra, apparently while still a teenager. 

Nadjm ed-Din Kubra was born in Gurganj in 1145, the son of fabric merchants who studied religion on the side. As a child he experienced what he called the “loosening of the bonds of the intellect,” apparently mystical experiences during which he was temporary removed from the strictures of consensual reality. Reining in these impulses, he devoted himself to the conventional study of hadith (sayings of the Prophet Mohammad), seeking out teachers in Nishapur in Khorasan, Hamadan and Isfahan in Iraq-i Ajam (northwest Iran), Mecca, and finally Alexandria in Egypt. From Alexandria he drifted on down to Cairo, where he fell under the sway of a Sufi teacher by the name of Ruzhedan. Under Ruzhedan’s supervision Kubra did several forty-day retreats and engaged in other Sufi practices. Ruzhedan was so impressed by Kubra’s progress along the Sufi path that he gave him one of his daughters in marriage. Kubra went on to study with a succession of Sufi teachers in Cairo and in Dezful, in Iraq-i Ajam. While in Dezful one of his teachers, Esmail il-Qaṣri, declared that Kubra was qualified to become a teacher himself. He returned to Cairo to get the blessing of Ruzhedan and then made the long journey back to Khwarezm, arriving in Gurganj in 1184. In Gurganj Kubra eventually gathered around him a group of some sixty students, including an inner circle of twelve particularly gifted devotees. Because of his teaching abilities, his followers gave him the nickname Shayk-e walitaras, the “saint manufacturing saint.” Bakharzi was apparently one of Kubra’s sixty students—whether he was in the inner circle or not is unclear—and it was later said that he was one the saints who Kubra “manufactured.” 

In 1219 Chingis Khan invaded the land of the Khwarezmshahs. Otrar, Bukhara, Samarkand, Termez, and other cities in Mawarannahr (Transoxiania) quickly fell to the Mongols. In the fall of 1220 Chingis ordered his two sons Chagaadai and Ögödei to invade Khwarezm and take the capital of Gurganj. Word of the holy man in Gurganj had Chingis Khan himself. According to one near contemporary account, Chingis Khan:
had heard of the Shaykh of Shaykhs and the Polestar of Saints [Kubra], and knew somewhat of his character [and] he sent him a message that he intended to sack Khwarazm [Gurganj] and massacre its inhabitant, and that one who was the greatest man of his age should come out from it and join him, now that the moment had arrived for the incidence of the catastrophe. “That I should come forth from amongst them,” replied the Shayk, “would be an action remote from the way of virtue and magnanimity.” 
The historian Nur ad-Din Abd ar-Rahman Jamī (1414 –1492) tells what happened next:
When the Tartar heathen [Mongols] reached Khwarazm, the Shaykh (Kubra] assembled his disciples, whose number exceeded sixty . . . The Shaykh summoned certain of his disciples . . . and said, “Arise quickly and depart to your own countries, for a fire is kindled from the East which consumes nearly to the West. This is a grievous mischief, the like of which hath never heretofore happened to this people (the Muslims)”. Some of his disciples said, “How would it be if your Holiness were to pray, that perhaps this [catastrophe] may be averted from the lands of Islam?' “Nay,” replied the Shaykh, “this is a thing irrevocably predetermined which prayer cannot avert.” Then his disciples besought him, saying, “The beasts are ready prepared for the journey: if your Holiness also would join us and depart into Khunlsan, it would not be amiss.” “Nay,” replied the Shaykh; “’here shall I die a martyr, for it is not permitted to me to go forth.“ So his disciples departed into Khurasan . . . When the heathen entered the city, the Shaykh called such of his disciples as remained, and said, “Arise in God's Name and let us fight in God's Cause.” Then he entered his house, put on his Khirga (dervish robe), girded up his loins, filled the upper part of his Khirga, which was open in front, with stones on both sides, took a spear in his hand, and came forth. And when he came face to face with the heathen, he continued to cast stones at them till he had no stones left. The heathen fired volleys of arrows at him, and an arrow pierced his breast. He. plucked it out and cast it away, therewith passed away his spirit. They say that at the moment of his martyrdom he had grasped the pigtail of one of the heathen, which after his death could not be removed from his hand, until at last they were obliged to cut it off.
Later a mausoleum in his name was built on the outskirts of Gurganj. It can still be seen there today, but whether or not his body is actually in it remains a matter of conjecture. 

Bakharzi was one of the students of Kubra who escaped from Gurganj before the Mongols sacked the city. He settled in the outskirts of Bukhara, which itself had been sacked by the Mongols a year earlier and quickly attracted students of his own. They became the Bukhara core of the Sufi sect known as the Kubrawiya—followers of the teachings of Kubra. Eventually a complex of dwellings, meeting places, and schools for members of the Kubrawiya grew up the Fathabad district. Word of the illustrious Sufi teacher in Bukhara eventually spread far and wide. Berke Khan, the son of Jochi, Chingis Khan’s oldest son, and the Khan of the Golden Horde from 1257 to 1266, heard of Bakharzi and travelled to Bukhara to met him. The record is unclear, but Bakharzi may have been instrumental in the conversion to Islam of Berke Khan, the first important Mongol to do so.

Word of Bakharzi also reached Sorqaqtani, arguably the most influential woman in the Mongol Empire in the mid-thirteenth century. Sorqaqtani was daughter of Jakha Gambhu, the younger of brother Tooril (a.k.a. Tughrul, Wang Khan, Ong Khan, etc), ruler of the Keraits, a powerful tribe in Mongolia around the time of Chingis’s Khan’s rise to power. Tooril was the blood brother of Chingis Khan’s father Yesükhei and later Chingis’s own patron and ally. Tooril’s headquarters were in the Tuul River valley, near the site of current-day Ulaanbaatar. Later Marco Polo would retail the story that Tooril was the legendary Prester John, the Christian king who would come to the aid of European Crusaders in the Mideast by attacked Muslims from the rear, as it were. Tooril in all likelihood had never heard of the Crusaders and its doubtful if he had any interest in politics outside of the Mongolian Plateau. HIs name may have became connected with the Prester John legend because many of the Keraits, and possible Tooril himself, were Nestorian Christians. This branch of Christianity, declared heretical by the Council of Ephesus in 431 a.d., migrated eastward to escape persecution and eventually become known as the Church of the East. Following the great trade routes east, Nestorian Christianity reached Xian, the main eastern terminus of Silk Road, no later than the 780s. It eventually spread northward across the Gobi Desert and onto the Mongolian Plateau, where it found adherents among the Keraits and other tribes. It was not clear if Jakha Gambhu was a Nestorian Christian, but his daughter Sorqaqtani most definitely was. 

Around 1203 Tooril, afraid of Chingis Khan’s rising power among the tribes of the Mongolian Plateau, plotted to have him assassinated. The plot failed, and in retaliation Chingis Khan annihilated the Kerait nation. Jakha Gambhu attempted, however, to stay on Chingis’s good side, and to cement their relationship he offered up three of his daughters as peace offerings. The oldest of them was married to Chingis himself (he later gave her away to one of his favorite generals); the middle daughter was married to Jochi, Chingis’s oldest son; and the youngest, Sorqaqtani, was wed to Tolui, Chingis’s youngest son, while she was still a teenager. 

Tolui and Sorqaqtani went on to have four sons: Möngke, Khubilai, Khülegü and Ariq Böke, Tolui died relatively young, at the age of 40, in 1232. According to the Persian historian Ata Malik Juvaini, he became a victim of his own successes: “the world his thrall and the heavens subservient to his wishes, he became excessively addicted to the circulating of cups of wine from morn till eve, and a malady over took him such that two or three days did not pass before he died.” Juvaini was the hired pen of Khülegü, Tolui’s son, so it seems unlikely he would so relate such an unflattering story if there was not some truth to it. Chingis’s third son, Ögödei, offered to marry the newly widowed Sorqaqtani, but she refused. She also turned down an offer to marry his son, Güyûk, explaining that she needed all of her energies to raise and educate her sons. Thus began two decades of maneuvering which eventually made at least three of her sons rulers of immense khanates. According to Juvaini, 
. . . in the management and education of all her sons, in the administration of affairs of state, in the maintenance of dignity and prestige and in the execution of business, Beki [Sorqaqtani], by the nicety of her judgement and discrimination, constructed such a basis and for the strengthening of these edifices laid such a foundation that no turban-wearer [men, in general] would have been capable of the like or could have dealt with these matters with the like brilliance. 
Even the spurned Ögödei listened to her counsel and bowed to her wisdom in matters of state: 
In any business which [Ögödei] undertook, whether with regard to the weal of the Empire or the disposal of the army, he used first to consult and confer with her and would suffer no change or alteration of whatever she recommended. The ambassadors . . . too held her in great honour and respect; and the dependents and subjects of her Court in nearest and farthest East and West were distinguished from those of all the other princes by the dignity and protection they enjoyed, and because of her zealous concern for each of them individually their lives were contented and carefree.
Ögödei’s eldest son Güyük had been named Great Khan of the Mongols in 1246. He transmigrated in 1248, and for three years his widow Oghul Qaimish ruled as regent. Sorqaqtani had been busy behind the scenes, however. According to Juvaini, after her husband Tolui had died,
. . . she had won favor on all sides by the bestowing of gifts and presents upon her family and kindred and dispensing largesse to troops and strangers and so rendered all subject to her will and planted love and affection in everyone's heart and soul, so that when the death of Güyük Khan occurred most men were agreed and of one mind as to the entrusting of the keys of the Khanate to her son Möngke Khan. For the report of her wisdom and prudence and the fame of her counsel and sagacity had spread to all parts, and none would gainsay her word. Furthermore, in the management of her household and in the ceremonial of her court she laid for kinsmen and stranger such a foundation as the khans of the world had not been capable of.
 Sorqaqtani’s politicking succeeded, and she lived to see her first son Möngke Khan named Great Khan in 1251. Her second son Khülegü would overthrew the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad in 1256 and found the Ilkhanate in what is now Iran, Iraq, and parts of Armenia, Georgia, and Turkey. Her third son Khubilai ruled as Great Khan of the Mongols from 1260 to 1294 and founded of the Yuan Dynasty in China. For a brief time in the early 1260s Ariq Böke, her fourth son, claimed the title of Great Khan, but he was eventually overthrown by his brother Khubilai. Such was Sorqaqtani’s legacy to world history. 

Although she remained a Nestorian Christian to the end of her life, Sorqaqtani, like many of the Mongolian ruling class, was remarkably ecumenical when it came to religious matters. According to Juvaini: 
 . . . her hand was ever open in munificence and benefaction, and although she was a follower and devotee of the religion of Jesus she would bestow alms and presents upon imams and shaikhs and strove also to revive the sacred observances of the faith of Mohammed (may God bless him and give him peace!). And the token and proof of this statement is that she gave 1000 silver balish that a college (madrasa) might be built in Bukhara, of which pious foundation the Shaik-al-Islam Saif-ad-Din of Bakharz should be administrator and superintendent; and she commanded that villages should be bought, an endowment made and teachers and students accommodated [in the college]. And always she would send alms to all parts to be distributed among the poor and needy of the Moslems; and so she continued until . . . the year 649 [February-March, 1252], when the Destroyer of Delights sounded the note of departure.
Bakharzi became the mudabbir (principal) of the madras and mutavalli (administrator) of the endowment set up by Sorqaqtani, and under his leadership the Sufi complex continued to grow until he transmigrated in 1261. HIs son Abu al-Muzaffar Ahmad succeeded him as leader of the Kubrawiya in Bukhara. Around this time the region was thrown into upheaval by the internecine wars between various feuding Mongol factions and as a result very little is known about the fate of the Kubrawiya in Bukhara for the next forty or so years. 

Abu al-Muzaffar Ahmad died in 1312 or 1313 and was replaced by Barkhazi’s grandson Abu al- Mafakhir Shaykh Yahya. Under his leadership the Kubrawiya again flourished. He had over the years managed to became quite wealthy, and he used his money to purchase eleven agricultural villages. A portion of the income from these villages he placed in an endowment which was to provide for the upkeep of the Kubrawiya complex, including a mausoleum for the remains of his grandfather Barkharzi. Three copies for the deed of endowment, signed on August 1, 1326, can still be found in Uzbeg archives. Presumably Sorqaqtani’s endowment was also still contributing to the upkeep of the complex. 

Seven years later, in 1333, legendary Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta (1304–1368-69), who spent almost thirty years traveling around the Islamic world, arrived in Bukhara. At the time, according to Ibn Battuta, the city was still feeling the effects of the Mongol irruption: “This city had once been the capital of the cities lying across the Jaihun River [Amu Darya], but the cursed Tatar Tinghiz [Chingis Khan] . . . destroyed it so that all of its mosques, madrassahs and market-places lay in ruins, with a few exceptions.” Ibn Battuta was wrong to blame Chingis Khan himself for the desolation he saw. Chingis had sacked the city 113 years earlier, and according to most sources, including Juvaini, Bukhara had rebounded in the aftermath. The desolation which Ibn Battuta claims to have seen was the result of the vicious infighting between the various contestants for control of the Chagaadai Khanate. 

The one exception to the gloomy picture of Bukhara painted by Ibn Battuta was the Kubrawiya complex. According to Ibn Battuta:
We alighted in a suburb (rabat) of Bukhara known as Fathabad, where there is the tomb (qahr) of the learned, devout, ascetic shavkh Sayf al-Din Bakharzi, one of the great saints . . . This lodge is connected with the shaykh; it is immense, and has vast endowments from which travellers are fed. Its superior, Yahya al-Bakharzi, is one of his descendants. He entertained me in his home, and invited the prominent men of the city [Bukhara] for the occasion. The Koran-readers recited with beautiful modulations, the preacher delivered a sermon, and they sang melodiously in Turki and Persian . . . We passed there a wonderful night.
In 1358 the mausoleum of the Mongol ruler Bayan Quli was added to the complex. He had reigned as the nominal khan of the Chagaadai Khanate, to which Bukhara belonged, from 1348 to 1258, when he was assassinated by a rival. It is not clear if he himself belonged to the Kubrawiya sect, but he apparently was inspired by the spiritual legacy of Barkhazi and wanted to be entombed near Barkhazi’s own mausoleum. The mausoleum of Bayan Quli still stands, heavily restored, next to the mausoleum of Barkhazi.

The original mausoleum of Barkhazi seen by Ibn Battuta was later replaced with the mausoleum which now stands on the site. Historical data on the current mausoleum is lacking. The caretaker of the mausoleum and various ephemeral sources—tourist guides to the city, brochures, etc.—indicate only that it was built in the latter part of the fourteenth century. The generally accepted date for the end of Chagaadayid rule in the region and the beginning of the reign of Amir Timur—Tamerlane—is 1370. Thus it is not clear if the mausoleum was built during  the Chagaadayid or Timurid eras. If it was built in Timurid times then the mausoleum of Bayan Quli, built in 1358, may be the only remaining Chagaadayid—Mongol—monument in the city of Bukhara. It is indicative of those turbulent times that the mausoleum contains the body of a Mongol killed by another Mongol.
The Mausoleum of Bakharzi, dating to the latter part of the fourteenth century. The mausoleum of Bayan Quli can be seen in the background to the right (click on photos for enlargements).
The tomb of Bakharzi. According to the caretaker the skull of Bakharzi was removed from the tomb, in 1940 he believes, and taken to Moscow for study. It was later returned and is now in the tomb with the rest of the body.
The Mausoleum of the Mongol khan Bayan Quli. This may be the only Mongol-era monument remaining in Bukhara.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Greece | Thessaloniki | Alexander the Great

The train left Athens on time at 7:18 a.m. and arrived at the train station on the western outskirts of Thessaloniki forty-six minutes late at 1:27 p.m. According to my GPS my hotel near the center of the city was nine-tenths of a mile away. I had planned to walk, but that morning in Athens I had checked the weather forecast and discovered that temperatures were expected to reach 100º F. by mid-afternoon. The forecast for the next day was 105º F., which would tie the highest temperature on record for the date. There was a long line of taxis at the train station,  and after being staggered by the heat when I stepped off the train I was sorely tempted to take one, but I finally decided to stick to my original plan and walk. I had this fantasy of entering the city on foot through one of gates in the fourth-century walls around the city, as if I was a humble pilgrim wandering through the domains of Byzantium. Of course if I started feeling queasy from the heat I could always hail a taxi.

Following the arrow on my GPS through several side streets and alleys I finally arrived at the Letalia Gate, which was one of the four major entrances to the ancient city. The monumental tower that housed the gate is long gone, although the ruins of the old fourth century walls can be seen to the north and south. 
Fourth Century walls to the south of the old Letalia Gate (click on photos for enlargements)
Fourth Century walls to the north of the old Letalia Gate
Busy Agiou Demetrioui, one of the main east-west trending streets through the city, now runs  through the gap in the city walls. Just inside the walls, to the south, can be seen the domes of the 14th century Church of the Apostles, one of the fifteen or so Byzantine-era churches in Thessaloniki that have survived to the present day. Had I been a fourteen century pilgrim I probably would have headed straight to the church to give thanks for my safe arrival in the city, but now I was more concerned with getting to my air-conditioned hotel. I will return however. I am visiting Thessaloniki not on business nor because, as one web site claims, it is the “hippest city” in Greece, chock full of boutique hotels, chi-chi cafes, trendy restaurants, and overflowing bars and discos, but instead to wander at random and daydream among the city’s Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman-era monuments and ruins. In short, I am an unapologetic antiquarian and an unrepentant flâneur.

I proceed east along Agiou Demetrioui until the arrow on my GPS veered sharply to the right, then turn south on Ionos Dragoumi. After a few blocks I arrive at the Pella Hotel, named, presumably, after the town of Pella, the birthplace of Alexander the Great, located twenty miles west-northwest of Thessaloniki. Reviews on the internet damn this place with faint praise; it is “adequate”, “acceptable”, “simple but clean”, “good for an overnight stay”, etc. Back in the 1950s it may have been a pretty ritzy joint. Now it appears to be the haunt of lower-tier traveling salesmen, down-market tourists, and grubby backpackers splurging on a bed, shower, and air-conditioning. The receptionist was certainly cordial. I was a bit taken back by her effusiveness; for a second I had the strange sensation that I had been here before and that she were welcoming me back. Unusual for a hotel in the Eurozone, she did not ask for any ID. Despite the warm welcome I am exiled to the seventh floor, but I heave a sigh of relief when I see the perfectly adequate desk and chair and the nearby electric outlets. At least I can work comfortably on my computer. The narrow single bed is, in a word, acceptable, and the pillow is firm and chunky and can do double duty as a meditation cushion. The air-conditioning works and there is even a small balcony. After storing my portmanteau in my room I walk down Ionos Dragoumi to the harbor area and then turn left on the esplanade along the sea.
Aristotelous Square, which extends north from the Esplanade
The Esplanade
Finally I reach the statue of Alexander the Great (356 b.c–323 b.c.) One of Alexander the Great’s generals, Cassandros, founded  this city in 316 b.c. and named it after his wife Thessalonica, who was the daughter of Philip II of Macedonia and Alexander’s half-sister. Alexander was the son of Philip and the notoriously snake-loving Olympias (so memorably played by Angelina Jolie in the 2004 epic Alexander), while Thessalonica was the daughter of one of Philip’s other wives. Alexander the Great had, of course, died seven years earlier in Babylon, so he never got to see the city named after his half-sister Thessalonica.
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Italy | Venice | Early Life of Enrico Dandolo

In the first decade of the twelfth century, probably in 1107, although this date is disputed, a son was born to Vitali Dandolo, brother of Pietro, Bono, and Enrico.  The boy was named Enrico, like his uncle. This was the future Doge Enrico Dandolo, the purported mastermind behind the sack of Constantinople in 1204. At the time the entire clan, including Vitale and his four sons and grandchildren were living in the family compounds clustered around the parish church of San Luca. Given that Enrico Dandolo would eventually become a doge, would play a leading role in the Fourth Crusade and the overthrow of the Byzantine Empire, would eventually become the most famous of the Dandolos, and, with the possible exception of Marco Polo, the best-known Venetian of the Middle Ages, it is surprising that almost nothing is known about his life prior to 1172, when he was sixty-five years old. In June of 1164 his signature turns up on a loan agreement but other than that his name is entirely absent from the historical record until 1172. We do know he was married to a woman named Contessa and had children, one of whom, Ranieri,  would serve as vice-doge while his father was accompanying the Fourth Crusade. A second wife named Felicita, daughter of Pietro Bembo, a procurator of San Marco in 1143, is mentioned, but only in a dubious genealogy which most modern historians have discounted. 

Lacking any real evidence about Enrico’s life prior to 1172, the assumption has been made that he spent the early decades of his life engaged in commercial ventures overseas, perhaps in Constantinople and Alexandria, and thus is absent from the historical record in Venice. Trade, however, produces a prodigious paper trail, and no documentary evidence of Enrico’s early commercial activities—if there were any—has survived. Enrico’s absent from the historical record prior to 1172 may be attributed to the fact that his formidable father Vital did not die until 1174, when Enrico was sixty-seven years old. According the Venetian law a father could emancipate his children by giving them their share of the patrimonial inheritance before he died. This severed the legal relationship between father and son, leaving the son free to act entirely on his own, as a separate legal entity as it were. Vitale Dandolo emancipated none of his sons, meaning that they lived very much in his shadow until he died. It is only after the death of his father that Enrico Dandolo’s own life comes more clearly into focus. Yet while Enrico spent the first six decades of his life in obscurity his family continued to play a leading role in the business and civic life of Venice. His uncle Enrico also became ensnared in a religious dispute which spilled over into the political realm and almost led to the permanent downfall of the entire Dandolo family.  
In 1134 Doge Pietro Polani nominated Uncle Enrico as Patriarch of Grado, the highest ecclesiastic office in the Veneto region. Formerly located in Aquileia, the Patriarchate was moved by the Patriarch Paulinus to the island of Grado, located just off the coastline, six miles to the south of Aquileia and fifty miles east of the Venetian Lagoon, after the Lombards invaded the mainland in 568. The Grado patriarchate had under its control six dioceses, including Torcello, Venice’s own diocese of Castello, and others. Uncle Enrico was only in his thirties at the time, young for such a prestigious church position, and he was not even an ordained priest before named Patriarch of Grado. Apparently he had spend the previous decade working as a lawyer. His main qualification may have been that he was a member of the influential Dandolo family. The Polani and Dandolo families were neighbors in the parish of San Luca and Uncle Enrico and Pietro Polani had known each other since childhood. Doge Polani no doubt assumed that Uncle Enrico would do his bidding as Patriarch of Grado. This was especially important since one of Doge Polani’s kinsman, Giovanni Polani, was the Bishop of Castello, the most important church position in Venice, although technically subordinate to the Patriarch of Grado. Doge Polani may have assumed that his childhood friend would do nothing to impinge on the power of his kinsman Giovanni Polani. 

Uncle Enrico did not prove to the docile placeholder of the Grado Patriarchate that Doge Polani may have hoped for. In June of 1135 he attended the Council of Pisa, which was also attended by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153), one of the early adherents of Cisterian Order founded by Robert of Molesme and others in 1198. St. Bernard along with twelve other monks went on to found the celebrated Abbey of Clairvaux, famous for its monastic discipline.  It is not clear if Uncle Enrico personally met with Bernard, but he does seem to have fallen under the spell of the charismatic preacher. According to one historian Bernard “was the standard-bearer of reform in twelfth-century Europe, preaching a message of purification of every element of Christian society. It appears that Uncle Enrico learned from Bernard the importance of ecclesiastical liberty and the duty of a shepherd of souls to instruct even the most powerful.” 

Uncle Enrico launched his advocacy of St. Bernard’s ideals by establishing the first Cistercian monastery in the Venetian Lagoon soon after his return to Venice from the Council of Pisa. He also set about reforming the clergy in Venice, in particular the clergy of the Church of San Salvatore, in the heart of Venice, not far from the Dandolo family compounds. His goal was to create canons regular, associations of clergy who agreed to live under the Rule of St. Augustine, established around 400 a.d. by Augustine of Hippo (354–430). This, Uncle Dandolo believed, would allow them to lead lives less concerned with worldliness and more devoted to the traditional Christian virtues of humility, chastity, poverty, fasting, care of the sick and needy, and others advocated by St. Augustine. In 1139 the clergy of San Salvatore, with Uncle Enrico’s blessing, announced that they were embracing the Rule of St. Augustine, a radical departure from their previous, less-demanding  practices. The Church of San Salvatore, however, fell under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Castello, Giovanni Polani, the kinsman of Doge Polani. The Bishop had not been consulted about the reforms and he felt that Uncle Enrico had gone behind his back and abrogated his authority within the Castello bishopric. He thereupon placed the Church of San Salvatore under interdict, which meant that members of the congregation could not participate in various Catholic rites, including presumably baptism, communion, and confession. 

A relief in the portal tympanum of the former Augustinian convent of San Stefano in Venice portrays St. Augustine surrounded by Augustinian monks. In St. Augustine’s left hand is a open book inscribed with the opening words of the Rule of Augustine: "First of all, most beloved brothers, God shall be loved, thereafter the neighbor, for these instructions have been given to us” (translated from the Latin).(click on photos for enlargements)

After attempts at reconciling the dispute locally failed, Uncle Enrico took the dispute to Rome where he appealed directly to Pope Innocent II. The Pope was an advocate of the Augustinian rule favored by Uncle Dandolo and the clergy of San Salvatore and decided in their favor. Not only was the interdict of the Bishop of Castello annulled, the Pope also put the Church of San Salvatore under his personal protection and sent two clergyman to Venice teach the new Augustinian rule. Bishop Giovanni Polani had suffered a humiliating defeat the hands of Uncle Enrico. It not perfectly clear how his kinsman the Doge Polani thought about these developments but it might be assumed he was not happy. It was he who had put Uncle Enrico in a position of power in the first place. 
The San Salvatore Affair was the wedge that opened the divide between the Dandolo and Polani families. A number of smaller controversies added fuel to what soon became a full-blown feud. Matters came to a head with the death of Nella Michiel, the abbess of the convent of San Zaccaria. Doge Polani, as was the custom at the time, nominated a successor, apparently one of his kinswomen. This in itself was not unusual. By tradition abbesses of San Zaccaria came from the family of the doge. The nuns of San Zaccaria voted on Doge Polani’s nominee and elected her as the new abbess. At this point Uncle Enrico interjected himself into the affair. Perhaps San Zaccaria was of special interest to him, since the Dandolo family, as we have seen, had contributed the relics of Tarasius to the church back in the early eleventh century. In any case, he pronounced that the Doge, as a lay official, had no right to nominate an abbess for San Zaccaria and that the nuns could only vote on someone they themselves had nominated. Doge Polani’s stance in the San Salvatore Affair was ambiguous, but now he was utterly infuriated. San Zaccaria was the wealthiest and most influential convent in Venice, and nominating a new abbess had traditionally been one of the perks of the doge.  Uncle Enrico, Doge Polani felt, had clearly overstepped the bounds of his authority. 

Once again Uncle Enrico took a dispute between himself and Polani family to a higher authority. In January of 1146 he met with two cardinals in the city of Verona and presented his case. The ruling of the cardinals was not clear, but it remains a fact that the office of abbess remained vacant until September 26, 1151, when a named named Giseldrude was named as the new abbess. She was not a Polani or a member of any of the other leading families of Venice. Given her unusual name, it has been suggested that she was not even a Venetian. Whether or not this was the outcome Uncle Enrico favored is unclear. He had managed to keep a Polani kinswomen from the post, however. This was not something Doge Polani would forget. 

The feud between Uncle Enrico and Doge Polani reached its culmination in the events surrounding the Norman capture of the island of Corfu in 1147. Corfu was just south of Strait of Otranto, which connects the Adriatic Sea with the Ionian Sea. Just as they had back in 1081, the Normans were threatening to blockade the Adriatic Sea, thus cutting off Venice’s access to Constantinople and other trade centers in the eastern Mediterranean. They also plundered  Byzantine cities on the western coastline of Greece, including Corinth and Thebes, and were threatening the rest of Greece. If they succeeded in dominating Greece the next target would be Constantinople itself. Just as they had back in 1081 the Byzantines turned to Venice for aid in expelling the Normans from their territories. In late 1147 Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus (1143–80) issued a chrysobull reaffirming all the rights Venice enjoyed in the Byzantine Empire as a result the chrysobull of 1082 and allowing the Venetians to expand their Quarter in Constantinople. In return, Doge Pietro Polani prepared a Venetian fleet and sent it to attack the Normans in the Spring of 1148. 

The Patriarch of Grado, Uncle Enrico, objected to this alliance between the Venetians and Byzantines. He pointed out that the Byzantines were Eastern Orthodox in religion and thus were, in his eyes at least, dangerous schismatics outside the fold of the true Catholic Church headquartered in Rome and led by the Pope. He denounced Doge Pietro Polani for coming to the aid of these enemies of the True Church and further asserted that he had the right to overrule secular leaders whose actions threatened the well-being of Christianity in general.

Uncle Enrico was going out on a limb here. Most of the Dandolo family, along with many other prominent Venetians, were heavily involved in trade with the Byzantine Empire and had every reason to throw their support behind Doge Pietro Polani and Emperor Manuel I Comnenus in the struggle against the Normans. The Papacy itself had earlier declared war on the Normans for their activities on the Italian Peninsula, and it supported the Byzantines in part because Emperor Manuel I Comnenus had come to the aid of the Second Crusade, which the popes themselves had advocated. Also, the Patriarchate of Grado, which Uncle Enrico headed, had extensive property holdings in Constantinople and derived much of its income from the city. Thus Uncle Enrico stood opposed to the interests of his family, the interests of Doge Pietro Polani and the city-state of Venice, the policies of the Pope, and the financial well-being of the Patriarchate that he headed. 

Doge Pietro Polani, who had appointed his childhood friend to the office of Patriarch of Grado in the first place, was incensed by Uncle Enrico’s stance. He was still the secular leader of the city-state of Venice and using his considerable powers he now ordered that Uncle Enrico be sent into exile, effectively if not officially removing him from his post. He also exiled Uncle Enrico’s supporters among the clergy, several members of prominent families who had backed the Patriarch, and most if not all members of the Dandolo clan, even though there was little indication that they had actually backed the policies of Uncle Enrico. In a final blow, he ordered that all the Dandolos compounds around the Church of St.Luca be leveled to the ground. The Dandolos, once one of the most prominent families in Venice, had apparently come to an ignominious end. 

Uncle Enrico was down, but certainly not out. A practiced counter-puncher, he traveling to Rome where he presented his case to the recently elected Pope Eugenius III (r. 1145–53), who was clearly cut from different cloth than his immediate predecessors. Sided with Uncle Enrico, the Pope promptly excommunicated Doge Pietro Polani and put the entire city-state of Venice under interdict. The Doge, who had more important matters on his mind, was not particularly impressed by the Pope’ actions. He himself took command of the fleet that set sail for Corfu in the summer of 1148. He died of indeterminate causes not long afterwards. The fleet, now under the command of his brother and son, joined with the Byzantines and besieged Corfu. After a year the Normans were finally ejected from the island. In return for their aid, Emperor Manuel Comnenus granted the Venetians still more trading privileges in the Byzantine Empire. 

With Doge Pietro Polani dead and gone the feud between his family and the Dandolos began to cool down. The new doge, Domenico Morosini (1148–55), rescinded the exile of clergy who had supported Uncle Enrico, but the Dandolos were not yet able to return to Venice. Some apparently gathered around Uncle Enrico in Rome while others took up residence in Constantinople. In late 1149 discussions finally began between the Pope, Uncle Enrico, and the new doge, Domenico Morosini. The doge immediately conceded to one of Uncle Enrico’s main concerns and agreed that henceforth he and other lay powers in Venice would not attempt to exert any influence on ecclesiastical matters in Venice nor would they interfere with elections to religious posts. Uncle’s Enrico’s objections to the role of the doge in the election of the Abbess of St. Zaccaria was, it will be remembered, one of the factors that had ignited the whole controversy to begin with. Now Doge Morosini actually agreed that he and subsequent doges would take an oath vowing to stay out of church affairs altogether. Surprisingly enough, even though Uncle Enrico had brought his own family to the very brink of total ruin in the process, he had in the end achieved one of his most cherished goals. There was a concomitant price to pay, however. Just as lay officials no longer had any power over ecclesiastical matters church prelates henceforth could not take part in the business of government. This was to have consequences in the run-up to the Fourth Crusade, when some churchmen might well have had objections to the actions of some of the key players. Ironically enough, it was Uncle Enrico who set the stage for his nephew Enrico Dandolo to play his part as the undisputed leader of the Venetian continence and arguably the mastermind behind the Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople. No religious figure, not even the Pope himself, would have any real influence on him.
The Dandolos remained in exile, however and city of Venice remained under interdict until the fate of the Dandolo family could be decided. The Polani-Dandolo feud was still smoldering and threatened to flare up again if the Dandolos returned to Venice. Hoping to reconcile the two families, Doge Morosini resorted to the time-honored practice of uniting them in marriage; he proposed a union between Andrea Dandolo, the nephew of Uncle Enrico and brother of future doge Enrico Dandolo, and Primera Polani, the niece of now-deceased Doge Pietro Polani. Once the marriage proposal was accepted Doge Morosini agreed that the Dandolos could return to Venice and that the state would pay to rebuilt their houses, which had been destroyed by order of Doge Polani. These concessions having been made, Pope Eugenius II lifted the interdict against Venice, and in the 1151 or 1152 the Dandolos returned to Venice and set about rebuilding their compounds around the Church of St. Luca. 

Uncle Enrico had prevailed and the Dandolos were back in town. He scored a further triumph in 1156 when he built a patriarchal palace at St. Silvestro, directly across the Grand Canal from the family compounds around St. Luca. Hitherto the Patriarchate of Grado had been officially headquartered in Grado, fifty miles to the east of the Venetian Lagoon. Now Uncle Enrico had effectively moved the Patriarchate to Venice.  Giovanni Polani, the kinsman of Doge Pietro Polani, was still the Bishop of Castello and nominally the head of the Church in Venice, but the Church law against one prelate residing full-time within the jurisdiction of another was simply ignored.  The Bishop of Castello was now overshadowed by Uncle Enrico, the Patriarch of Grado, ensconced just a few hundred feet from commercial heart of the city, not far from the future site of the Rialto Bridge. Giovanni Polani could not have been happy about this development but there was not much he could do about it.

Assuming that Enrico Dandolo, the future Doge, was born in 1107, he would have been forty-four or forty-five when the Dandolos returned from exile and began rebuilding their family compounds in the parish of St. Luca. As we have seen, Domenico Dandolo, the grandfather of Enrico Dandolo, had four sons: Bono, Pietro, Enrico (Uncle Enrico, the Patriarch of Grado) and Vitale, Enrico’s father. Bono, who had managed the family business on Constantinople, had died relatively young, apparently sometime in the 1130s, and had no children. Uncle Enrico, as a churchman, was not entitled to any of his father’s property. Thus Pietro and Vitale had inherited the family compounds when Domenico Dandolo died, also sometime the 1130s. After the family returned to the city Pietro built a new compound fronting on the canal known as the Rio di San Luca and just to the north of the Church of St. Luca.
Rio di San Luca. Pietro Dandolo’s compound would have occupied the site of the buildings on the left.
Bridge over the Rio di San Luca
Between the rear of the church and the compound was a small square, now known as Campiello de la Chiesa (often identified, incorrectly, in guidebooks and even scholarly literature as the Campiello di San Luca). Vitale, Enrico’s father built his family compound on lots to the north of the Church of St. Luca, fronting on the Grand Canal. It was here that Enrico, the future doge grew up and presumably spent most of his life before being elected as the forty-first doge of Venice in 1192, at the age of eighty-five. 
Campiello de la Chiesa
Church of St. Luca from across the Rio di San Luca. This is the latest reiteration, but it stands on the same place as the parish church founded by the Dandolo family.
This Gothic arch was reportedly part of Pietro Dandolo’s compound; it was eventually incorporated into later buildings. 
The three palazzos in the middle now occupy the site of  Vitale Dandolo’s compound.
Vitale soon became the acknowledged leader of the clan. Within a year or two after returning from exile he was appointed as a judge, instantly catapulting him back into the highest levels of Venetian society. He was also named as the advocate of St. Zaccaria Convent, making him in effect the order’s legal council. This position did not, however, actually require legal training. One only had only to be an outstanding and well-respected member of the community. That Vitale was chosen as advocate of St. Zaccaria, one of the wealthiest and most prestigious convents in Venice, was just another indication of just how quickly the Dandolos had recovered from their apparent downfall at the hands of Doge Polani. His brother, Uncle Enrico, now the most powerful religious figure in the city, no doubt helped Vitale climb the rungs of Venetian society, but it is clear that Vitale was a formidable figure on his own. 

Vitale had been born c. 1187. By 1164, when he was in his late 70s, he apparently retired from active pubic life. Yet such was his standing in the community that he was often called upon to mediate disputes. He also retained his position as advocate of St. Zaccaria Convent and served as an unofficial counselor to the Doge. Eventually, however, he began to cede control of family affairs to his sons, Andrea, Giovanni, and Enrico (daughters, if he had any, are absent from the historical record). Andrea, who married the niece of Doge Polani, thus burying the hatchet in the Polani-Dandolo feud, apparently managed the family’s business affairs in Venice, although little else is known about his life. Giovanni apparently took over the role of his uncle Bono, overseeing the family’s interests in Constantinople, Acre, and other foreign ports. 

As we have seen, what Enrico was doing at this time remains somewhat of a mystery. His first significant entry into the historical record occurs in 1172, when he was sixty-five years old.