Saturday, February 13, 2021

Mongolia | Zaisan Tolgoi | Galleria | Soyolma

The Galleria of my Hovel in Zaisan Tolgoi. The center hanging is by artist Anunaran. (click on photos for enlargements)
Painting in my Galleria by artist Soyolma
Detail of painting in my Galleria by artist Soyolma
Painting of fierce female deity Narkhajid in my Galleria by artist Soyolma
Detail of painting of Narkhajid in my Galleria by artist Soyolma.
Detail of painting of Narkhajid in my Galleria by artist Soyolma.
Painting of Narkhajid in my Galleria by artist Soyolma.
Detail of painting of Narkhajid in my Galleria by artist Soyolma. In her left hand is a cup made from a human skull. The cup is filled with blood. This is one lady you do not want to mess with.
Tara-like painting by Soyolma, apparently a composite of White Tara and Green Tara. Like Green Tara she is bathykolpian, but is holding a lotus in her right hand like White Tara. White Tara also by tradition has a eye in the palm of her outstretched left hand. Here she is holding instead an enigmatic figure of a young woman. Also, White Tara is usually portrayed sitting in a full lotus position; Green Tara usually has one leg hanging down. The figure in this painting seems to be sitting in a rather loose half lotus position halfway between the postures of traditional White and Green Taras. Thus she would seem to be indicative of both. 
Painting by Soyolma
Painting by Soyolma. As can be seen in the two paintings above, small figures dwelling in trees are a staple of Soyolma’s work. 
Detail of painting by Soyolma
Painting by Soyolma
Soyolma also does traditional thangkas. This is her White Tara, also in my Galleria.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Egypt | Cairo | Giza | Pyramids

Wandered down to Cairo from Istanbul. Another milk run on Turkish Air. The Airbus took off from the same remote gate as flights to Tabriz, Iran, and Ulaanbaatar. From the gate they ferry you by bus to the plane parked in the hinterlands of the airport. Just once I would like to fly somewhere that deserves a walk-on ramp. At first I thought I was at the wrong gate. At last three-quarters of the passengers were Chinese. Was I lining up for the Beijing flight? But no, they were all Chinese tourists. In Istanbul itself I would guess that at least half the tourists are Chinese. Many older Chinese couples on the plane, presumably retirees, plus the usual bevy of young Chinese women traveling by themselves. 

It is only a two hour hump across the Mediterranean to Cairo. I spent it reading Amelia Edward’s A Thousand Miles Up The Nile, a classic of Victorian travel literature (the Kindle version is $1.99; a fantastic bargain). I also dipped into Barbara Mertz’s Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs, a light-hearted romp through four or five thousand years of Egyptian history. Mertz, writing under the pen name of Elizabeth Peters, also wrote twenty novels featuring the indomitable Amelia Peabody, wife of Radcliffe Emerson, “the greatest Egyptologist of this or any other age,” at least according to his besotted spouse. Almost all of the Peabody books take place in Egypt and deal with the madcap adventures of Peabody and her husband. I am embarrassed to admit that I have actually read All Twenty Of The Amelia Peabody Books. This may sound ridiculous, but on the other hand I have probably not watched one entire TV program in the last twenty years. Everyone is entitled to one shameful vice. 

The Cairo Airport is very modern and extremely large. It takes probably twenty minutes to walk to Immigration. The guest house I am staying at offered a free pick-up at the airport if you stay more than four nights. I am staying seven, so before I even went through Immigration I was met by Abdullah, the representative of the guesthouse. Apparently in Egypt tourist guides can do this. He shepherded me through Immigration and then Customs. They knew him at Immigration and an official took only a cursory glance at my passport, even though I noticed they were thoroughly checking everyone else’s documents. Although people were lined up to have their baggage checked I was waved through without even a cursory glance at my portmanteau. The free ride to my hotel was also quite a boon, since the airport is on the east side of the Nile, and Giza, where I am staying in on the west side. It can take a hour to get to Giza if traffic is heavy. 

Abdullah it turns out is a history aficionado and while driving to Giza we had quite an interesting chat about the Mamluk period of Egyptian history. Unfortunately he was wrong in his assertion that Chingis Khan invaded Egypt. Chingis Khan died several decades before the Mongols reached Syria, where on September 3, 1260 they were soundly defeated by the Mamluks of Egypt at the Battle of Ain Jalut. He also insisted that the Mamluks were descendants of Mongol slave-soldiers. They are  descended from slave-soldiers, but mostly of Turk and Turcoman descent, according to what I have read. I am unaware of any Mongol Mamluks. Happily the discussion soon veered to Fourth Dynasty Egypt, during which time the three big pyramids of Giza were built. Indeed, soon after we crossed the Nile they could be seen looming above the Giza skyline.

My guest house is just fifty feet from the entrance to the Pyramids complex. It is a rather modest establishment actually, although my room is quite large and features a huge double bed. More importantly, the windows provide stunning views of the three Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx. There is also a roof top viewing area with even better views. After stashing my portmanteau I headed across the street to the entrance of the Pyramid complex and bought a ticket for eighty Egyptian pounds ($10.52)
View from my room at the guest house. In front of the middle pyramid can be seen the Sphinx (click on photo for enlargement).
The next morning I hired a camel and rode up to a ridge overlooking the pyramids.
Sunrise on the ridge
Camel wrangler
The pyramids from the ridge

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Tibet | Mount Kailash

Wandered by 21,778' Mount Kailash, the sacred mountain in Tibet worshipped by Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Bönpos (followers of the Bön religion), and shamans and also a favorite destination of adventure tourists. No one is allow to climb to the summit of Mount Kailash, but thousands of people a year circumambulate the mountain via a thirty-two mile-long path. A pilgrimage circuit of a sacred place like Kailash is known as a khora. Khoras are always done clockwise around the sacred place or object, unless of course you are a contrarian Bönpo, who do khoras counter-clockwise. The Kailash Khora, the high point of which is the 18,200' Drölma Pass, is quite a strenuous endeavor. The week I was in the Kailash area at least ten people died while circumambulating the mountain. Most, reportedly, were elderly Hindus from India who may have come here, consciously or unconsciously, to die at this sacred place. Hardy Tibetans, however, do the khora in one day. Most people take two or three days (I made it in two and a half days).
Mount Kailash (click on photos for enlargements)
Mount Kailash
Pilgrims at Mount Kailash
Pilgrims at 18,200' Drölma Pass. At this altitude the sun is intense; hence the headgear.
Tibetan monks doing their thing at Mount Kailash
Pilgrim at Mount Kailash

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Italy | Venice | 1177 Treaty of Venice

In 1177 Doge Sebastiano Ziani (r. 1172–1178) would find himself mediating between the Papacy in the person of Pope Alexander III,  the  alliance of city-states of northern Italy known as the Lombard League, and the Holy Roman Empire led by Frederick I, also known as Barbarossa (Red Beard). The negotiations, which resulted in the so-called 1177 Treaty of Venice, put Venice in the limelight as one of the major players in European affairs. The Dandolos, most especially Uncle Enrico,  whose nephew Enrico Dandolo would later become doge and lead the Fourth Crusade, were active participants in the congress that led to the Treaty of Venice and the family shared in the limelight.
Pope Alexander III (click on photos for enlargements)
Frederick I (1122 –1190) was a member of the Hohenstaufen Dynasty, based in what is now Germany, who thought of themselves as the successors of ancient Romans who ruled the Roman Empire and thus entitled to rule Europe, including Italy. With this in mind Frederick I launched a series of invasions into the Italian Peninsula and in 1158 claimed direct imperial control over most of what is now northern Italy. To counteract this takeover by the Holy Roman Empire (about which Voltaire famously quipped, “It was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.”) the city-states of northern Italy, including Milan, Bologna, Verona, Padua, Venice, and many others organized themselves in 1167 into the Lombard League. The Normans, who from their base in Sicily ruled much of the southern Italian Peninsula, also aligned themselves against the Holy Roman Emperor. 

Attempting to also control Rome and the Papacy, Frederick I installed his own candidates on the throne of St. Peter, resulting in three anti-popes, Victor IV (r.1159-1164), Paschal III (r. 1164-1168) and Calixtus III (r. 1168-1178). Anti-Pope Victor IV’s quite literal seizure of the throne of St. Peter has to be one of the more farcical episodes in the entire history of the Papacy. John Julius Norwich:
On September 5, 1159, the day after the body of Pope Hadrian had been laid to rest in St. Peter’s, about thirty cardinals assembled in conclave behind the high altar of the basilica. Two days later, all but three of them had cast their votes for the former chancellor, Cardinal Roland of Siena, who was therefore declared to have been elected [as Pope Alexander III]. One of the three, however, was the violently pro-imperialist Cardinal Octavian of Santa Cecilia, and just as the scarlet mantle of the Papacy was brought forward and Roland, after the customary display of reluctance, bent his head to receive it, Octavian dived at him, snatched the mantle, and tried to don it himself. A scuffle followed, during which he lost it again; but his chaplain instantly produced another—presumably brought along for just such an eventuality—which Octavian this time managed to put on, unfortunately back to front, before anyone could stop him. There followed a scene of scarcely believable confusion. Wrenching himself free from the furious supporters of Roland, who were trying to tear the mantle forcibly from his back, Octavian—whose frantic efforts to turn it the right way around had resulted only in getting the fringes tangled around his neck—made a dash for the papal throne, sat on it, and proclaimed himself Pope Victor IV.
After riots and street-fighting in which the allies of Frederick I and the Anti-Pope prevailed, Roland of Sienna—Pope Alexander III—was forced to flee Rome. Two more Anti-Popes, both creatures of Frederick I, would claim to lead the Papacy before Alexander himself would reclaim the throne of St. Peter.

Frederick’s dream of adding Italy to the Holy Roman Empire ended on May 29, 1176, when the Lombard League, with Pope Alexander III as its symbolic leader, trounced the imperial army at the Battle of Legnano, fought near the town of Legnano in what is now the Lombardy region of Italy. With no alternative but to sue for peace, Frederick sent envoys to Pope Alexander III, who at the time was encamped at Anagni, in the hills southeast of Rome. An agreement was reached to hold a peace conference in the summer of 1177, but the site of the proposed congress soon became a contentious issue. Frederick I was understandable loath to venture into one of the cities of the Lombard League and the Pope was leery of areas which still harbored imperial support. At this juncture the Pope decided to visit Venice. 

After a circuitous trip through the Adriatic, during which he stopped at Zara (now Zadara in Croatia), soon to play a role in the Fourth Crusade, the Pope arrived at the Monastery of San Nicolò al Lido, on the north side of the Lido, the barrier island south of Venice proper, on March 24, 1177. He was met by a welcoming party made of the sons of Doge Ziani and other prominent Venetians, probably including Enrico Dandolo. The next day he was ferried by a sumptuously appointed state galley to near the Ducal Palace, where he was transferred to the doge’s own ceremonial galley. On board he took a seat between Doge Ziana and Patriarch (Uncle) Dandolo. After landing at the piazzetta, he made his way through a throng of thousands who had gathered to witness the first visit of a pope to Venice and entered the Church of San Marco, where a mass was said. After the mass the Pope was taken in the doge’s galley along the  Grand Canal to the palace of Patriarch Dandolo, near the Rialto, where he would stay as the Patriarch‘s guest for the next two weeks.“ The Patriarch probably met and perhaps dined with the Pope on a daily basis and it entirely likely that at some point his nephew Enrico had further interactions with the Pope. These would have given the future doge valuable insights into the mind of a pope and the working of the papacy, information which would come in valuable when as a leader of the Fourth Crusade Enrico Dandolo would clash with a later pope. In any case, as one historian points out, “It is striking that when Alexander III met with the secular and ecclesiastical leaders of Venice, prominent among both groups were elderly men named Enrico Dandolo.”

On April 9, after two full weeks in Venice, the Alexander III departed for the city of Ferrara, fifty-five miles southeast of Venice, where he met with representatives of  Frederick I and the Lombard League and began negotiations on where to actually hold the peace conference. After various Lombard League cities were rejected as too partisan, Venice was proposed as the meeting place, one reason being that Venice, because of various ongoing disagreements with the Lombard League, had not participated in the Battle of Legnano and was thus seen as more-or-less neutral ground. Frederick favored Venice because it was, as he put it, ““subject to God alone.’” According to one historian: 
Both Emperor and Pope were too suspicious of each other to risk themselves in any city which they believed to be decidedly a partisan of either. The accidental neutrality of Venice during this war, and the fact that she was essentially different from other Italian cities, being in many respects not an Italian town at all, indicated the capital of the lagoons as the city best suited for the meeting of the spiritual and temporal sovereigns.
To allay the fears of the Lombard League that Frederick would exert undue influence  on the proceedings if he were personally present in Venice Doge Ziani was compelled to take a solemn oath that the Emperor would not be allowed in the city  until a peace agreement had been finalized and then only with the permission of Pope Alexander III.

Pope Alexander III then returned to Venice and along with his considerable suite again took up in the Patriarchal Palace of Uncle Enrico Dandolo. Other dignitaries and their retinues from the League, the Holy Roman Empire, the Kingdom of Sicily, and western Europe, including France and England,  swarmed into Venice to witness the proceedings, turning the area around the Rialto into a beehive of activity. The Archbishop of Cologne was accompanied by 400 priests, secretaries, and hangers-on. Count Roger of Andria, the envoy of the King of Sicily, had a retinue of 330. The Patriarch of Aquileia and the archbishops of Mainz and Magdeburg each had 300 attendants.  Duke Leopold V of Austria, apparently one of the lesser lights of the conference, had only 160. All subsequent negotiations took place in the Patriarchal Palace at San Silvestro, where the delegates met twice a day, every day, until the terms of the treaty had been hammered out. Uncle Enrico Dandolo at the very nexus of these crucial proceedings which would decide the future of Italy and the Papacy. We are not told what if any role Enrico Dandolo, the future doge, played these events but we can assume he was at his uncle‘s elbow and was a witness to the statecraft that went into the treaty being decided upon in the Patriarchal Palace. 

The Campo San Silvestro, where the Patriarchal Palace was located, is 700 feet west-southwest of the current-day Rialto Bridge and directly across the Grand Canal from what was the location of the Dandolo family compounds. The current-day Rialto Bridge, built at the Grand Canal’s narrowest point, was completed in 1591. At the time of the 1177 peace conference there may not have been any bridge across the Grand Canal in the Rialto area. The first recorded Rialto bridge, which consisted of pontoons, was built four years later in 1181 by Nicolo Barattieri (presumably the same Nicolo Barattieri who erected around this time the two huge columns at the southern end of the Piazzetta, one topped by St. Theodore and the other by the Lion of St. Mark. which stand there to this day). 

The nearby Campo San Silvestro is now lined with impressive three and four-story buildings, but if any of them once served as the Patriarchal Palace of Uncle Enrico the city of Venice has not seen fit to indicate it with an historical marker, nor do any readily available guidebooks or histories allude to the palace at this location. Until evidence emerges to the contrary we must assume that it no longer exists. The Church of San Silvestro that stood at the time of the conference is also long gone. The original church was rebuilt and reconsecrated in 1422, but in 1820 it partially collapsed and was completely rebuilt in 1837. A new facade was added in 1909. However, sometime in the sixteenth century a guild of wine merchants built a two-story building hard up along the right hand side of the old church. This building survived the demolition of the previous church in the 1820s and can still be seen there today. In the first floor of the building is a chapel said to contain the altar of the original Church of San Silvestro, the one that existed in Uncle Enrico’s day. If this is indeed the original altar then it is quite possible that Patriarch Dandolo, Pope Alexander III, and other dignitaries worshipped in front of it. This may be the only surviving memorial to the events that took place in the Campo San Silvestro during the peace conference of 1177. 

The Guild of Wine Merchants Building in the foreground with the Church of San Salvador behind

None of the stately buildings lining the campo appear to be the Palace of Patriarch Enrico Dandolo.
By the beginning of July, 1171, a final draft of a peace treaty had been pounded out by the delegates working in the Patriarchal Palace and sent to Frederick I, who had been cooling his heels on the mainland, for his approval. By June 22 all parties had agreed to the treaty and the Pope gave his permission to Frederick to proceed to Venice and finalize the agreement. Six lavishly appointed galleys were sent to Chioggia, a city fifteen miles south of Venice itself, at the very southern end of Venetian Lagoon to bring the Holy Roman Emperor to the Monastery of Monastery of San Nicolo, on the Lido, where Pope Alexander had stayed before him. Here he formally recognized Alexander III as the true pope, if had not done so before, putting an end to the line of three Anti-Popes he had earlier initiated. In return the Pope lifted the excommunication that had been placed upon him seventeen years earlier when he had installed the first Anti-Pope in the person of the odious Victor IV on the throne of St. Peter. These conditions having been met, he was transported to the Molo in front of San Marco in the doge’s own galley, seated between Doge Ziani and Patriarch Enrico Dandolo.

Meanwhile, preparations had been made for the actual meeting between Frederick Barbarossa and Pope Alexander III. According to one eye-witness account:
“At daybreak, the attendants of the Lord Pope hastened to the church of St. Mark the Evangelist and closed the central doors … and thither they brought much timber and deal planks and ladders, and so raised up a lofty and splendid throne.… Thither the pope arrived before the first hour of the day [6 A.M.] and having heard Mass soon afterward ascended to the higher part of his throne to await the arrival of the emperor. There he sat, with his patriarchs, cardinals, archbishops, and bishops innumerable; on his right was the Patriarch of Venice [Uncle Enrico Dandolo], and on his left that of Aquileia . . . Then about the third hour there arrived the doge’s barge, in which was the emperor, with the doge and cardinals who had been sent to him on the previous day, and he was led by seven archbishops and canons of the Church in solemn procession to the papal throne. And when he reached it, he threw off the red cloak he was wearing and prostrated himself before the pope and kissed first his feet and then his knees. But the pope rose and, taking the head of the emperor in both his hands, he embraced him and kissed him and made him sit at this right hand and at last spoke the words, ‘Son of the Church, be welcome.’ Then he took him by the hand and led him into the Basilica. And the bells rang, and the Te Deum laudamus was sung. When the ceremony was done, they both left the church together. The Pope mounted his horse, and the emperor held his stirrup and then retired to the Doge’s palace . . . And on the same day the pope sent the emperor many gold and silver jar jars filled with food of various kinds. And he also sent a fatted calf, with the words ‘It is meet that we should make merry and be glad, for my son was dead and is alive again; and was lost and is found.’”
On August 1 the 1177 Treaty of Venice was officially ratified. Alexander III was recognized in writing as the legitimate pope of the Catholic Church and temporal rights of the Papacy over the city of Rome, which Frederick had earlier claimed for himself, confirmed. A fifteen year peace was concluded between Frederick and the Normans of Sicily and a six-year truce between Frederick and the Lombard League agreed to.  The schism within the Catholic Church had been ended and peace on the Italian Peninsula assured, at least for the time being. The apparent success of the Treaty had put Venice in the limelight, solidifying its place as a major player in European affairs. As one historian notes:

The eyes of Western Europe were directed to the city of the lagoons as the meeting-place of the two great powers, spiritual and temporal; the Doge of Venice appeared as the friend and host of both Pope and Emperor; he had borne himself well in that exalted company. The Venetians saw every reason to be satisfied. The presence of the Congress in their city had caused a great influx of strangers—a circumstance which Venice, for obvious considerations, has always extremely enjoyed. Their national vanity had been flattered, and they had not let their guests depart without leaving something behind them.

The peace conference had also highlighted the importance of the Dandolo family. Patriarch Enrico Dandolo, uncle of the future doge, had not only hosted Alexander III at his palace but had also been present at the major turning points in the proceedings; indeed, he had literally been at Alexander’s right hand when the Pope first met with Frederick Barbarossa in front of St. Mark’s Church. We can only assume that his nephew Enrico, the putative head of the Dandolo family and future doge, was figuratively, if not literally, at the right hand of his uncle while the conference was taking place.

Both the Pope and Frederick Barbarossa, basking in the afterglow of the peace conference, hung around Venice for some time after the negotiations were formally concluded on August 14, the Emperor not leaving Venice until September 18; the Pope until October 16. While the Venetians had Frederick at hand they managed to wrangle from him some concessions for themselves; namely, they were granted free passage and safe conduct throughout the Holy Roman Empire. In return, “the subjects of the Empire were to enjoy similar privileges ‘as far as Venice and no farther’—words which Venetian historians are disposed to interpret as recognising Venetian supremacy in the Adriatic,” according to one scholar. Whether or not Frederick felt the same is unclear. 

Uncle Enrico, the Patriarch of Grado also managed to wrangle some favors from Pope Alexander III. It will remembered that Uncle Enrico had earlier been involved in a dispute with the Bishop of Castello, a relative of Doge Pisani, over the introduction of canons regular at the Church of San Salvatore, not far from the Dandolo family compounds. This was the contretemps which had led to the temporary exile from Venice of the entire Dandolo family. The church had burned down ten years earlier and recently had been rebuilt. Uncle Enrico now asked the Pope to bless the high altar and celebrate the first mass in the new church. The Pope was only too glad to oblige. The presence of Alexander was an enormous honor for the church, one which would be remembered for generations to come, and part of the honor could not help but redound to Uncle Enrico and his family.


This was not the end of Uncle Enrico’s interactions with the Pope, however. Two year later, in 1179, Pope Alexander III convened the Third Lateran Council in Rome and Uncle Enrico was chosen as the main delegate from Venice. One of the main goals of the conference was to lay down strict rules regarding the election of future popes and thus avoid the fiasco that had led to the anti-popes foisted upon the church by Frederick Barbarossa. Alexander proposed that only the College of Cardinals could vote on a new pope and that a two-third majority of the College was needed to elect one. This procedure has been in effect down to the present day, the only major change being that in 1970 Paul VI (r. 1963–1978) ruled that only cardinals under the age of eighty could vote. Thus Uncle Enrico has present during one of the turning points in the history of the Papacy. (The Third Lateran Council also declared for the first time that priests who engaged in sodomy should be removed from clerical office; laymen who indulged in such behavior should be excommunicated.

The thousands of sightseers who exit the Church of San Marco each day via the tall middle door may be excused if they do not look down and see, embedded in the floor of the narthex, a medallion of red-and-white marble about one foot square. This medallion marks the location of the throne on which Pope Alexander, flanked by Doge Ziani and Uncle Enrico Dandolo, first greeted Frederick Barbarossa. 

Medallion of red-and-white marble in the narthex of St. Mark’s marking the spot where Doge Ziani met with Pope Alexander III
Like many churches in Venice the Church of San Salvatore, where Pope Alexander, at the prodding of Uncle Enrico, blessed the altar and conducted the first mass, has undergone many metamorphoses. It was rebuilt in the early sixteenth century and a Baroque façade added in 1663. Little if anything remains of the church graced by Pope Alexander. Most visitors today probably come to see the paintings of the Venetian master Titian, most notably the Annunciation on the south wall and Transfiguration, on the high altar, or to venerate the relics of Saint Theodore, Venice's original patron saint, which were moved here in 1256 from the Church of San Marco and are now found in the chapel to the right of the apse. They are probably unaware of the canons regular controversy that convulsed the church during the time of the Dandolos, uncle and nephew, or that Pope Alexander III once said a mass here. 
Church of San Salvatore
Titians’s Annunciation
Sebastiano Ziani, the doge who oversaw the 1177 Treaty of Venice is honored by a sarcophagus and bust on the facade of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore (right). On the left is a statue of St. George (Giorgio), the church’s namesake.


Monday, February 1, 2021

Tibet | Great Stupa of Jonang | Dölpopa

I recently added The Buddha from Dölpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen to the Scriptorium and have just finished reading it. The book was of special interest to me because Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen was one of the most famous residents of Jonang Monastery in Tibet, which I had the pleasure of visiting when I was doing research on Zanabazar, the First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia. Taranatha (1575–1634), the Previous Incarnation of Zanabazar, founded the monastery of Takten Damchö Ling not from Dölpopa’s Jonang Monastery and Zanabazar almost certainly visited both sites during his Visits to Tibet

Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (དོལ་པོ་པ་ཤེས་རབ་རྒྱལ་མཚན་; Döl-po-pa Shes-rab Rgyal-mtshan) was born in 1292 in the Dölpo region of what is now Nepal. He is more commonly known simply as Dölpopa, the “Man from Dölpo”. He was the founder of the Jonang Sect, later suppressed by the more politically powerful Gelug Sect to which the Dalai Lamas have belonged. He was also the first major proponent of the so-called Shentong View, an important stream of Tibetan philosophical thought which continues to have staunch adherents down to the Present Day:
"Zhentong," (gzhan stong, "shentong") "extrinsic emptiness" or "other-emptiness" is a view of how the ultimate nature of reality is free from or empty of everything "other" than its absolute nature. In other words, a zhentong view understands how one's own enlightened essence is empty of everything false in superficial relative reality. Zhentong as a view for meditation practice regards relative reality as empty of its own intrinsic existence. This emptiness of inherent substance or "rangtong" is considered to be solely the nature of relative reality while ultimate reality is understood to be empty of everything other than itself. Accordingly, transient tangible experiences remain devoid of inherent substance as the boundless luminous nucleus of Buddhahood within all beings remains intangible and invariant.
The meditation caves in the cliffs above Jonang Monastery were reportedly used by Padmasambhava, the 8th century Nyingma master who introduced tantric Buddhism from India into Tibet. A monastery was flourishing on the site by the time Dölpopa arrived there for the first time in 1321. In 1326 he was officially installed as the head of the monastery, taking the place of Yönton Gyatso, who had also been Dölpopa’s teacher. A year later Yönton Gyatso transmigrated. In his honor Dölpopa decided to built an enormous stupa. The first attempt in 1329 failed when the entire structure collapsed during construction. Undaunted, he began construction of an even bigger stupa on a different site. As word of the project spread artisans and laborers from all parts of Tibet flocked to the site and soon donations of gold, silver, copper, tea, silk, and much else poured in from all over the Tibetan Buddhist world. More on the Great Stupa

The design of the stupa was based on descriptions of the Glorious Stupa of the Planets given in the Stainless Light, a commentary on the Kalachakra Tantra, which according to legend had first been expounded by the Buddha himself. (As you may know the current Dalai Lama is giving a Kalachakra Initiation in Washington, DC, July 6–16, 2011.) According to tradition, the Stainless Light had been written by Pundarika, the Second Kalkin King of Shambhala. Dölpopa apparently believed that he was a reincarnation of Pundarika and claimed to have visited Shambhala by visionary means.
The Jonang Stupa today
The fourth floor of the stupa reportedly once held statues of the 25 Kalkin Kings of Shambhala. I could find no trace of them when I was there. 
Another view of the Jonang Stupa
On the hillside above the stupa can be seen Dölpopa’s personal residence, known as Dewachen. Above Dewachen can be seen meditation huts and openings to caves, perhaps the meditation caves used by Padmasambhava.
Dewachen, red building, lower center
When Tsarchen Losel Gyatso, one of the great Sakya sect tantric masters of the sixteenth century and also a follower of various Jonang tenets, visited Jonang in 1539, he noted:
The next morning we visited the great Stupa That Liberates on Sight, the temple of the lineage of the Six-branch Yoga, and so forth. When I gazed from afar at the hermitages, my mind went out to them and I was enthralled. A distinctly vivid pure vision dawned in the center of my heart and I thought, “The early excellent masters established a continuous meditation center on a site such as this. Placing many people on the path of liberation, their way of life was so amazing and incredible. When will we also practice for enlightenment in an isolated site such as this?” 
Also see a transcript of a talk, The Legacy of the Jonangpa by Michael Sheehy at the Great Stupa of Jonang in Tibet on July 17, 2009.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Italy | Venice | Family of Enrico Dandolo

Despite of the claims of Joseph Farrell, the Dandolos do not appear to have been descended from Mesopotamian slaves. Later, when they were one of the most prominent families in Venice, the Dandolos would promote the notion that their ancestors were among the leaders of the the refugees who had fled the depredations of the Goths and the Huns in the fifth century and that thus they were one of the founding families of Venice. This was a common claim among the families of Venice who wanted to assert that they did indeed belong to the aristocracy, much like Americans who place great stock in the claim that their ancestors come to the New World on the Mayflower and landed at Plymouth Rock. According to the legend favored by the Dandolos themselves, they were prominent citizens of Padua before moving to the islands in the Venetian Lagoon, where they took their rightful place among the Rialto elite. The truth is less clear. There is no mention of them at all in the earliest histories of Venice, written in the first half of the eleventh century. A history known as the  Venetiarum Historia, dating to the 1360s, does aver that the Dandolos were among a latter wave of refugees who in 630 had fled the town of Altino, about ten miles inland from the Venice Lagoon. According to this account they settled first on the island of Torcello, north of the Rialto islands. The historicity of the Venetiarum Historia has been questioned, however, making it a less than authoritative source for Dandolo family history.

The first mention of the Dandolo family name on a contemporary document dates to December 20, 982. On this date Doge Tribuno Menio (r. 979–91), three church officials,  and 131 prominent citizens of Venice signed an agreement to donate land for the foundation of a Benedictine monastery on a small island south of main Rialto islands, now known as the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. The first two citizens to sign the document were Stefano Coloprino and Domenico Morosini, two of the most powerful men in Venice at the time. Other names appeared in order of importance. The forty-second signature on the list of 131 was one Vitale Dandolo, presumably an ancestor of Enrico Dandolo. From this we may include that the Dandolos had joined the ranks of the prominent families of Venice but were not yet among the highest ranking elite. Yet the family was clearly on ascendant. By 992 one Lucio Dandolo was serving as Procurator, or financial manager, of San Marco, and another Dandolo,  Carlo,  was appointed to the same office in 1033. The leader of the clan, however was Domenico Dandolo, who was actively involved in trade with Constantinople in the years 1018–25 and owned at least one boat.

The family added luster to their name by bringing back from Constantinople the body of Saint Tarasius and adding it to the large collection of relics already found in the city. Tarasius (c. 730—806) was born and raised in the Byzantine capital and was later the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. He was a noted Iconodule who believed in the veneration of icons, in staunch opposition to the iconoclasts who had come to power after Byzantine Emperor Leo III had ordered the destruction of many icons back in the 720s and 730s. Before accepting the post of Patriarch of Constantinople in 784, Tarasios made the Empress Irene promise that she would restore the veneration of icons, which she did. He was also active in the movement to unite or at least reconcile the Roman and Orthodox churches. For this he was granted sainthood by both branches of the faith. His feast day is celebrated on February 25  by the Eastern Orthodox Church, using to the Julian Calendar, and on March 10 by Roman Catholics, the same day according the Gregorian Calendar.

Tarasius’s rule as a unifier of the two churches resonated strongly in Venice, which throughout the first centuries of its existence had swerved back and forth between allegiance to the Orthodox Church in Constantinople and Catholic Church in Rome.  By the eleventh century it was firmly in the Catholic camp in religious matters, but due to its trade ties with the East it was still inextricably linked with the Orthodox world of the Byzantines. Not for nothing was it known as the westernmost city of the Orient. These bonds, it was thought, would be further strengthened by having the body of Saint Tarasius, the unifier, in Venice where it would be properly venerated. No less, it would attract pilgrims from all over the Catholic world who would drop a lot of cash in  the city, pilgrims at the time being the equivalent of today’s tourists.

Some enterprising Venetians merchants and priests in Constantinople soon located the body in a monastery near the city and concocted a plan to steal it. Surreptitiously they moved the remains of Tarasius to an awaiting ship belonging to Domenico Dandolo, who then transported it back to Venice. Dandolo was greeted with hosannahs  and the body was transported with great ceremony to the Convent of St Zaccaria, the church of which had been created to house the body of yet another saint, Zaccarios (Zechariah), This relic had actually been the gift of Byzantine Emperor Leo V the Armenian (r. 813–820 and had not been stolen. Zechariah appears both in the Bible, where he figures as the father of John the Baptist and the husband of Elizabeth, a relative of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and in the Quran, where he  named as the guardian of Mary and also as the father of John the Baptist.

The Convent of St Zaccaria itself was home to Benedictine nuns, many of them from the city’s most affluential families, who over the years had acquired a reputation for less than strict observance of their monastic vows. In 855 Pope Benedict III was granted refuge here during the upheavals surrounding the ascension of the notorious Antipope Anastasius, named pope over the objections of church hierarchy by Roman Emperor Louis II. Anastasius was eventually sent packing and Benedict III placed on the papal throne. In gratitude to the sisters who had succored him in his hour of need (I am not suggesting anything untoward here), Pope Benedict donated to the convent a significant collection of relics, including the remains of the Saint Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296–298—373) and a piece, one of many, of the True Cross. (Athanasius is also a saint according to the Egyptian Coptic tradition. During a visit to Rome in 1973 Pope Paul VI gave the Coptic Pope Shenouda part of Athanasius’s remains, which were then taken back to Egypt. The relics are now in Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo. Most of Athanasius’s remains are still in the Church of St. Zaccaria.)
 Tomb of Saint Zaccaria and Saint Athanasius in the Church of St. Zaccaria (click on photos for enlargements).
 Painting of St. Zaccaria Church and adjacent Monastery by Francesco Guardi (1790)
The Church of St. Zaccaria became famous for its assortment of relics and was soon a magnet for pilgrims visiting the city. The addition of the body of Saint Tarasius, spirited from Constantinople by Domenico Dandolo, only added to its luster.  The acquisition the relic—overlooking the small detail that it had been stolen—also added the esteem to the Dandolo family as a whole. In 1055 Domenico’s son Bono was named as one of two ambassadors to the court of Henry III of Germany, where he met with Henry and negotiated a trade treaty with the Germans. The next step in the Dandolo family’s ascendency was the founding of a parish church. Many Venetian families had cemented their membership among the elite by funding new churches and now it was the turn of the Dandolos. Teamed up with another local family, the Pizzamanos, they built the Church of Saint Luca (Luke) near one of the first Dandolo residences. The oldest document mentioning the church dates to 1072, although it may have been actually founded decades earlier.

The church in front of which I am now standing is on the site of the original Church of Saint Luca. The structure was largely rebuilt in the early 1600s and was reconsecrated in 1617. The exterior is rather plain, but the interior contains frescos by  Sebastiano Santi (1789–1866) and other works by Palma il Giovane (c. 1548–1628 and Paolo Veronese (1528–1588).
Exterior of the Church of San Luca
Interior of Church of San Luca
Ceiling Fresco by Sebastiano Santi
Veronese, one of sixteenth century Venice’s greatest painters, mentioned in the same breath as Titian and Tintoretto, is perhaps most famous for his monumental “The Feast in the House of Levi”. Measuring 18.20 by 42 feet, it was one of the largest canvasses painted in the sixteenth century. It was intended to be a painting of the Last Supper, a conventional enough theme. Veronese included in his painting, however, dwarfs, buffoons, drunken Germans (a common depiction, but an obvious anachronism), dogs, and a host of other extraneous characters that seemingly had no place in a painting of the Last Supper. The Inquisitors of the Catholic Church soon called Veronese on the carpet and demanded to know just what he had meant by this seemingly blasphemous treatment of such an important event in the life of Christ. Given three months to alter the painting or else, Veronese countered by changing the name of the painting to “The Feast in the House of Levi”, in reference to episode in the Gospel of Luke:
And Levi made himself a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of tax collectors and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
The Inquisitors relented, perhaps because the painting did appear to contain sinners, and the painting was hung in the church of  San Zanipolo in the Castello district of Venice. It now covers an entire wall in Venice’s Accademia art gallery.
I eventually visited the Accademia and was able to see Veronese’s “The Feast in the House of Levi”. It is one of the most popular paintings in the museum, and I had to wait for an hour before I could take this photo without someone standing in front of it. The time was well spent, however, since the painting presents a host of intriguing details. Especially amusing were the Black Africans peeping around the columns. Were they casing the joint? None of this, of course, has anything to do with the Last Supper, or with the Feast of Levi for that matter. 

Given his familiarly with the Gospel of Luke it is perhaps understandable that he was called upon to produce a work for the Church of Saint Luca (Luke). His altarpiece, which can still be seen in the church, portrays the Virgin Mary appearing to St. Luke as his writes Gospel. Presumably the work was done for an earlier version of the current church, since, as mentioned, the church underwent major renovations in the early seventeenth century, after Veronese had died in 1588. That a parish church like Saint Luca was able to acquire the work of a master like Veronese would seem to indicate that it enjoyed a certain degree of affluence long after the Dandolos were gone from the scene.

Oddly enough, nowadays the church turns up in tourist guides and history books not because of its association with the Dandolos and famous artists like Veronese but because  it was the burial place of the notoriously licentious gadfly and poet Pietro Aretino (1492–1556). Alessandro Marzo Magno, in his engrossingly entertaining  Bound in Venice (2013), a study of the early publishing industry in the city, tells us that Aretino was:
A genius. A pornographer. A pervert. A refined intellectual. Pietro Aretino has been called all of these and more. And, at the end of the day, all of them are justified. He published what can be defined as the first pornographic book in history. And he . . . invented the figure of the author-celebrity, the writer-star that droves of nameless readers throng to see.
Born out of wedlock in Arezzo (Aretino = “from Arezzo”), the young Aretino first achieved literary fame with a pamphlet entitled "The Last Will and Testament of the Elephant Hanno”, Hanno being the pet elephant of Pope Leo X which had died in 1516. This bitterly satirical work, which lampooned both the Pope and other political and religious panjandrums, and other similar works earned him the title of “the Scourge of Princes”. But royalty also avidly sought his friendship. The King of France, François I, presented him with  a three-pound gold chain with links in the form of serpent’s tongues as a token of his affection. One of his most notorious literary productions was entitled Sonetti Lussuriosi (Salacious Sonnets):
Let’s fuck, heart of mine, let’s fuck soon
Since to fuck is what all of us are born to do
And while it’s the cock that you adore, it’s the vulva that I love more.
Pornography it may be, but as poetry it is not exactly Wordsworth. Also, the sentiment expressed about himself may have been less than sincere, since Aretino was a bisexual who once complained that the women of Venice were so seductive that they induced him to ignore his male lovers.

Aretino died of an apoplectic fit brought on by laughing too hard at an obscene joke he had heard about his sister and was entombed in San Luca Church. For part of his life he lived nearby and was probably just interred in the nearest parish church. The staid San Luca Church has no other known connection with pornographers. A blasphemous epigram on his tombstone was effaced during the Inquisition in Venice and his tomb disappeared sometime later. The only surviving copy of Sonetti Lussuriosi, his pornographic masterwork, was sold in 1978 by Christie’s art house in New York to an unknown buyer for $38,000. Despite Aretino’s rather questionable place in the ongoing history of civilization it is still his name that pops up first when the  Church of San Luca is mentioned in many current-day sources.
 Portrait of Potty-Mouthed Poet Pietro Aretino by Titian

Monday, January 25, 2021

Turkmenistan | Nohur | Kopet Dag Mountains

I was extremely eager to see the ruins of the city of Dehistan, 195 miles northwest of Ashgabat as the crow flies. The city was located on the old flood plain of the Amu Darya River back when the river flowed into the Caspian Sea and not the Aral Sea, as it now does. Dehistan was founded by the Khwarezmshahs who ruled the Khwarezmian Empire up until the early thirteenth century when Chingis Khan And His Boys invaded the region. The buildings and minarets found there, now in ruins, are probably the only examples of structures built under the direction of the last Khwarezmshah, Muhammad II. Now you can understand why I was so determined to visit the site. 

It is possible to drive to Dehistan directly from Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. The tourist agency from which I had hired a car and driver suggested, however, that I make a detour through the Kopet Dag Mountains and visit the small village of Nohur, where I would be able to spend the night with a local family. Although I was raring to go to Dehistan I thought that it might be interesting to get of glimpse of the Kopet Tag Mountains on the way and so agreed to the detour. 
The Kopet Dag Mountains rearing up along the southern border of Turkmenistan (click on photos for enlargements).
The Kopet Dag Mountains, which constitute the northern edge of the Iranian Plateau, run for some four hundred miles along the southern border of Turkmenistan. From Ashgabat we drove fifty-two miles west through the desert fronting the Kopet Dag to the town of Barharly and then turned southwest onto a gravel road which climbed into the mountains. Nohur is about twenty-four miles from Barhaly as the crow flies, at an attitude of 3100 feet, some 2650 feet above the desert immediately to the north. The Iranian border is just sixteen miles away to the south. 
 Climbing into the Kopet Dag Mountains. An apricot orchard can see seen in the bottom of the valley. 
The village of Nohur is inhabited by an ethnic group known by the same name, the Nohurs. According to one legend, perhaps apocryphal, the Nohurs are descended from the soldiers of the Greek adventurer and gadabout Alexander the Great. Whatever their origins, they are decidedly different from the usual Turkmen and speak a dialect incomprehensible to outsiders. They maintain their ethnic purity by marrying only within the group. Although known for their strict adherence to Islam, elements of animism and Zoroastrianism can be detected in their religious practices. They are also famous for their work ethnic and members of the group who have established businesses in Ashgabat and other cites have achieved considerable wealth and power.

One of the most unusual features of the town of Nohur is the local cemetery. Almost all grave markers are topped by the horns of mountain sheep and ibex collected by local hunters.
 Nohur Cemetery
 Nohur Cemetery
 Nohur Cemetery
 Nohur Cemetery
 Nohur Cemetery
 Nohur Cemetery
 Nohur Cemetery
 Nohur Cemetery
 Nohur Cemetery
 Nohur Cemetery
 Nohur Cemetery
Nohur is also known for its silk weaving. The silk itself is imported from Iran and hand-woven using traditional local designs. 
 Silk Weaver. As can be seen, the woman has a scarf over her mouth. Nohur women traditionally wear a scarf over their mouths “so that they will not say silly things,” at least according to local lore. 
Silk Weaver
The house where I spent the night. The owners were a man and woman in their sixties. They had a daughter with a small baby who was the apple of everyone’s eye. The woman made a mean mutton plov. They also had wonderful local butter, honey, and cherry juice.
 Plateau west of Nohur
Plateau west of Nohur
Ramparts at the edge of the plateau
Village at the base of the ramparts. This village had wonderful honey for sale.
Two silk hangings I bought in Nohur, now in the Galleria of my hovel in Zaisan Tolgoi. The painting is by the father of Mongolian Artist Mönkhtsetseg.