by Larry Stillman © 1999.
.....Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enameling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
W B Yeats
The deserted Seraglio, the sumptuous great mosques, the ruinous mosques that were Greek churches, vanished Byzantium below Islam, the spacious gardens, the storks, the whole crumbling magnificence standing above those shining seas-in spite of the encroaching vulgarity and modernity of the occidental city,e there is still nothing like it. The ancient imperial pomp, remote, ceremonious, Byzantine and strange, whispers like a proud, undefeated ghost among the mosques; the old pomp of Islam, as extravagant, luxurious, fastuous and fantastic, rises like a garden sacked and of tulips before our dazzled eyes, among the verdure, terraces and the Greek streams of that abandoned, cypress-grown quarter where the Sultans reigned among their viziers, janissaries, harems and pleasure gardens for four sumptuous centuries, before they deserted it for their modern palace on the Bosphorus.
Once the capital of imperial Rome; later the greatest city of Christendom, the richest city in the world, the spiritual head of the eastern Church, the treasure house of culture and art; then the opulent capital of Islam; this sprawl of mosques, domes, minarets, ruined palaces, and crumbling walls, rising so superbly above three seas, crusading looking towards Europe, Asia, and ocean, oriental, occidental, brooding on past magnificence, ancient rivalries and feuds, modern cultures and the spoils of the modem world, Constantinople has ruin in her soul, the ruin of a deep division; to look on her shining domes and teeming streets is to see a glittering, ruinous facade, girdled by great, broken, expugnable walls.
Rose Macaulay, The Pleasure of Ruins
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