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J. W. McGarvey
Lands of the Bible (1881)


L E T T E R   X X I.


      ON Monday afternoon, July 21st, I bade farewell to Smyrna, and went on board an Egyptian steamer, bound for Constantinople. The vessel had put out at Smyrna a vast quantity of rice which she had brought from Egypt, and she took on board a cargo of grapes which were now just ripening in Asia Minor and would be most welcome as early fruit in the markets of Constantinople.

      Our ship and her crew presented a striking illustration of the class which now reigns in Egypt. She was the property of the Khedive, but she was built in Glasgow, Scotland. Her captain was an Austrian, her chief engineer an Englishman, her doctor a Russian, her steward an Italian, her crew Egyptian Ar'abs, and her passengers a mixed multitude of Turks, Jews, negroes, Italians, Greeks, French, English, Germans, and one American. Noise and confusion were the order of the day. The captain stormed at his officers and crew, and the subordinate officers stormed at one another, and stormed back at the captain. When a group of seamen were at work, moving freight or furling sails, every man was giving orders, and the storming rose to its highest pitch. I was constantly reminded by contrast of the perfect order and discipline which prevailed on the "Pennsylvania." [594]

      The chief part of the deck was covered with deck passengers who had with them their own bedding and provisions, and who were a miserably filthy, ragged, and sickly looking crowd. Among them were 180 Turkish soldiers returning from Abyssinia. Their term of service had expired and they were to be discharged at Constantinople. Two officers who were in command of these men had their harem on board, and it was one of the curiosities of the voyage. The women might have been seen by other men than their husbands had they occupied rooms below; so to prevent such a calamity their beds were spread on deck, a piece of sail-cloth about eight feet high was hung around them, and the two jealous husbands stood watching to prevent any man from getting a peep behind the curtain. I felt that they might have spared their pains so far as I was concerned, for unless the women had been fairer to look upon than any of Turkish blood that I had yet seen, I would not have annoyed them much by gazing. But when we cast anchor at Constantinople, and these women were compelled to come out of their hiding-place to go ashore, I was surprised and almost enchanted for a moment at the vision of beauty which one of them presented. She was just tall enough to be graceful; her features were finely cut, her complexion was clear and fair; her soft dark eyes looked steadily but sadly down upon the crowd of noisy boatmen who had gathered with their boats under the side of the ship; her neck was round, gracefully tapered, and as white as alabaster; and the silk robe which enveloped her form was tastefully made and hung gracefully about her person. She was evidently a Circassian of the purest type. A servant, also neatly dressed, stood by her side holding a beautiful babe in her arms. I was now not so much surprised at the jealous care of her stupid husband.

      We passed by Mitylene, where Paul's ship cast anchor for a night,1 and we spent a few hours in its harbor. The city is a strange aggregation of ancient and modern structures, some of its houses dating back to the days of Paul, and some, but recently erected, presenting all the taste and beauty of a European city. We saw the site of Troas on a slightly elevated shore, with hills of moderate height rising above it to the right and left and in its rear. Only a very small village occupies a part of the space which the city once covered. At 2 P. M., Tuesday, we entered the mouth of the Dardanelles, passing between two large fortifications which guard the entrance with heavy artillery ready for action. I counted 30 ships under sail and 10 at anchor [595] under bare poles about the mouth of the strait, and before us were three steamers preceding us to Constantinople. At the town of Dardanelles, which we reached in an hour and a half, the strait narrows


considerably, and here again are strong earth-works on either side presenting a fearful array of enormous guns pointing toward us, all painted white. As night closed in we were passing Galipoli', an old-looking town, and when I arose in the morning we were "lying to" in a dense fog in the Sea of Mar'mora. This detained us three or four hours, but at 11 A. M. we were so near the city that a steam-tug met us and towed us into the Golden Horn.

      The famous Golden Horn has the appearance of a river entering the Bosphorus from the west near the mouth of the latter. Viewing it from its mouth, it extends westward for two or three miles, with a slight curve northward, and then narrowing curves more rapidly toward the north, presenting much the shape of a cow's horn. It is fed at its farther extremity by a small stream, but its water is chiefly backed water from [596] the Bosphorus, and it is deep enough for about half a mile from its mouth for the reception of the largest ships. South of it lies the most ancient part of the city, now called Stamboul'; and the eastern extremity of this, forming the apex of the angle between the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus, is occupied by the old seraglio of the sultan, which is now used as a national museum of antiquities. It is still the most beautiful part of the city, and the most strictly Oriental in its appearance. The northern side of it, viewed from across the Golden Horn, is seen in the cut on the opposite page.

      When we anchored in the Golden Horn it was crowded with shipping; the great bridge which spans it just above the anchorage was crowded from end to end with an almost solid mass of human beings crossing from one part of the city to the other; small steamboats, whose decks were covered with passengers from the suburbs, were coming and going and sounding their whistles; the surface of the harbor not occupied by large vessels was alive with row-boats transporting passengers and baggage to and from the ships, and a babel of loud calls in unknown tongues filled the air around me. It was enough to turn one's head, and it required all the nerve I could command to enable me, alone in the hubbub, to maintain my self-possession. I waited for an English-speaking boatman to address me. Several had tried me in vain in other tongues, when a tall Greek in European dress and wearing a straw hat drew near and spoke in good English. He was a runner for a hotel, and upon his offering, for about two prices, to take me ashore and guide me to an English hotel, I accepted his services and gladly bade the Egyptian ship farewell.

      We landed on the pier of Gal'ata (the lower part of the city north of the Golden Horn, a part of which is seen in the preceding cut), and as we passed through the custom-house an officer opened and shut my valise and asked me for buckshîsh. I answered, "Not a copper." My dragoman begged me to give him something, but I ordered him to move on, and told him I would not be a party to bribery. I could not make him appreciate my reason. He led me up the steep street which climbs the hill of Pe'ra (the upper part of the city), and secured me a room in a very good hotel called the Hotel d' Angleterre, English Hotel. It was kept by an old Englishman who has lived in the city a long time, and I met a number of English people, both male and female, at the table. During the afternoon I called on our consul, Mr. Heap, where I found several letters from home, the first I had seen for several weeks; and I made a very pleasant visit to Minister Maynard, [597] whom I found an agreeable gentleman of very intellectual appearance, and of unaffected elegance of manner.

      During the 48 hours which I spent in Constantinople I was on a rush continually. I saw the principal monuments of her antiquity and of her modern splendor. I walked through the principal streets, and rode on horseback through most of those more remote, and along the outer face of the old wall on the land side of Stamboul'. It would require more space than I can here afford to speak of all that I saw, and of the few interesting objects which I do mention I must speak but briefly.

      One of my first walks was to the large printing and publishing house of the American mission in Stamboul', where Bibles, newspapers, and religious books of various kinds are printed by thousands of copies in all the languages of the Turkish empire. This is the headquarters of the Turkish missions of the Congregational Church of the United States. A very large boarding-school for girls, situated in Scû'tari, on the opposite side of the Bosphorus from Stamboul', and a fine college building called Robert College, situated on the European side of the Bosphorus 10 miles above the city, are also the property of the American Congregationalists. All these establishments are in a flourishing condition, and they are doing much to enlighten the people of the city. I learned, however, upon inquiry, that the missionaries make but little headway in the religious enlightenment of either the Mohammedans or the Greek Christians, and that nearly all their converts are from among the Armenians. Of these people there are a vast number--perhaps 200,000--in the city. The entire population of the city and its various suburbs is estimated at about 1,500,000, composed of the following nationalities in the order of their numbers,--Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Jews, French and Italian Catholics, Germans, English.

      I visited, of course, the Mosque of St. Sophia, a Christian cathedral erected in the time of Constantine, and one of the grandest religious edifices ever constructed. It is impressive, both within and without, by its vast extent and massiveness, and the impression is deepened by the air of antiquity which pervades every part of it. Among the forest of massive columns which support its lofty ceiling and the domes of masonry which rise above it are many columns which were brought from the Temple of Diana at Ephesus. The walls and ceiling are everywhere covered with glass mosaics, which originally presented a vast array of life-like pictures; but the Mohammedans, when they turned the building into a mosque, covered all these with gilt. The gilt has now become dim in places and some of the mosaic pictures [598] have begun to show through. On one of the piers which support the principal dome there is the print of a bloody hand 20 feet from the floor, said to have been made by the hand of Sultan Mohammed II. as he stood on the bodies of Christians slain in the church when he first captured Constantinople. The following cut represents an exterior view of this ancient and interesting building, with the Turkish additions grouped around it.


      The constant contact of Mohammedism in this city with the enlightened Christianity of Europe has had a decided effect upon the pride and bigotry of the Mohammedans. It is impossible for them to see from age to age the superiority of Christian nations, and still retain toward them the feeling of contempt which they exhibit in less favored communities. The change is manifest in small things as well as great; for example, the grand marble mosque in which several of the sultans are buried, including Abdul Aziz, the predecessor of the present sultan, is the only one I visited which I was allowed to enter with my boots on. True, even here it was not allowable that my Christian sole-leather should touch the floor of the mosque, and to prevent this I was provided at the door with a pair of slippers large enough to slip on over my boots. Once in a while as I turned about I would lose one of them, for they had no upper leather at the heel to keep them on, [599] but the Ar'ab who attended me would quickly give me a hunch with his elbow and motion to me to put it on again. The Mohammedans themselves must always bare their feet on entering sacred inclosures. This is quite a reversal of things from a Christian point of view, for while we bare our heads on entering a holy place but keep our shoes on, they bare their feet and keep their heads covered. In point of antiquity their custom has the advantage, for it will be remembered that when Moses drew near to the burning bush he was told, "Pull off thy shoes from thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."

      The Mohammedans are also very scrupulous about another practice in


connection with their worship, which is peculiar to themselves. They never enter the mosque to pray, nor do they pray anywhere else, if water is at hand, without first washing their faces, hands, and feet. The favorite method of washing the feet is to have a boy or a servant pour water on them from a vessel. They are never dipped into, the water. The above cut is true to life in every particular. [600]

      The sultan goes to one of the mosques to pray every Friday about noon, and this furnishes an opportunity for strangers to see him. I took advantage of the opportunity, for I had never seen a crowned head, and the sultan was the sovereign whom I least expected to see of all through whose countries I passed. Three regiments of soldiers were drawn up, one on each side of the street along which he was to pass, and one in a solid mass at the end of the street just beyond the mosque. The sultan came out of his palace gate on a splendid gray horse, surrounded by a dozen or more of his pashas and other chief officers, among whom were Pashas Osman and Hobart, and followed by his body-guard in Oriental uniform. He passed within a few steps of me, so that I saw him very distinctly. He is a small and delicate man with a pale face. He was dressed in a plain suit of black, with a light military cloak of the same color hanging loosely on his shoulders, and he wore on his head the inevitable fez, as did every other man, great and small, in the vast concourse of soldiers and citizens. The sultan's fez was not distinguishable in shape, color, or ornamentation from that of any other officer, soldier, or citizen on the ground. He rode his spirited horse with ease, and when he reached the portico of the mosque he dismounted with the grace of an experienced horseman. As he entered the door of the mosque I heard a loud voice, pitched in a very high key, which seemed to ring through the very sky above us. I asked my guide what it meant, and he said it was the voice of an attendant at the mosque crying out, "Remember that God is greater than thou; and remember that thou must die." It was impressive and appropriate to the occasion.

      At sunset on Friday, the 26th, I set sail on the Austrian Lloyd steamer "Hungaria" for Athens. Our ship was one of the regular line making a bi-weekly circuit from Tri-este' by Brin'disi to Alexandria, thence by Port Sâ'id, Joppa, and Beirût' to Constantinople, and thence back by Brin'disi to Tri-este'. She was homeward bound, and was not to touch at Athens, but to transfer passengers and freight bound for that city to a much smaller vessel, which plies semi-weekly between Syra and Athens. Syra is a city with an excellent harbor on the island of the same name in the Archipelago, a little south of east from Athens. It has grown into considerable importance since lines of steamers were established in the Mediterranean, in consequence of having been selected by the different lines which cross the Archipelago as a common place for meeting and transferring passengers and freight. Our ship reached there early Sunday morning, and I immediately went on board the smaller vessel bound for Athens, but she did not sail [601] until 8.30 P. M. As there was not a soul on board who could speak English, I spent the day in reading and writing, except an hour or two on shore walking up and down the streets of the city. The city is built on the side of a steep hill about 300 feet high. The houses, which are built of yellowish limestone, rise almost like steps one above another, and many of the streets ascend the hill by frequent flights of steps. It is a clean and pretty place, but not intended for the use of vehicles.

      On Monday morning, the 28th, we sailed into the famous harbor of Piræ'us at sunrise. I had already seen and recognized the Acropolis of Athens as we passed the port of Phale'rum, and the island and strait of Salamis were at my left hand as we sailed into the harbor. The harbor, which is small but deep and landlocked, was crowded with vessels, and the town of Piræ'us appeared full of business and activity. In company with a Greek passenger who could speak broken English I took a carriage for Athens, and was surprised to find that our ride of five miles was along a smooth and beautiful turnpike, shaded by a row of trees on either side. A railway, whose trains make the trip every half-hour, runs parallel with the pike, but I preferred the carriage on account of the better view which it afforded of the scenery along the way. As I rode into the city it was curious to see all the signs over the business-houses written in Greek. I had seen many such signs in Smyrna and some in Syra, but here it was universal. Hitherto my conception of Greek had been that of a dead language to be found only in books, and although I knew that the ancient alphabet was still used in Greece, I had not thought of seeing it on the signs. The difference between the ancient and the modern Greek is not so great as is supposed by many, but I soon learned, on attempting to speak such Greek words as I could command, that I would have to go to school again for the purpose of restudying the pronunciation and selection of words before I could converse with a modern Greek.

      I took a room in the Hotel Great Britain, where there was one clerk who could speak English. The hotel fronts a beautiful little park of a few acres, and my window, which was on the side of the building, opened on the grounds and palace of the king of Greece. The hotel and a great many other new houses in the city appeared to be built of a most beautiful marble, but as I could see no joints between the blocks of marble I suspected that my eye deceived me, so I put my hand on the wall and it felt like marble; but I was told that it is a cement made of pulverized marble intermixed with some other substances and used as an outside coating on a plastered wall. The wall is first built of [602] common unhewed stones, a heavy coating of common plaster is put on, and then it receives a finish of this marble-cement, which is impervious to water and as smooth as a polished marble slab. In a few years the newer portion of Athens will have the appearance of a city built of marble, and then, with its wide streets, which are already set with a row of shade-trees on either side, it will be a copy of Paris on a small scale.

      As soon as I had eaten my breakfast I started out alone, determined to see how well I could make my way in Athens without a guide, and I directed my courses at once toward Mars Hill, the most interesting object to me in all Greece. The Acropolis, which rises in the southwestern part of the city high above all the houses, being 300 feet high, was my guide, for I knew that Mars Hill was near its western extremity. I found it without difficulty, and approached it from its northern side.


Climbing the saddle of rock which connects it with the Acropolis, and passing around to its southern side, I looked for the steps by which it has ever been ascended, and there they were. The hill is a rough mass of naked rock, a coarse, reddish marble, which rises abruptly from the sloping surface on its southern side 30 feet high, and on its northern side about 40 feet. On the east it drops down with a perpendicular face about 35 feet high, but toward the west it descends by a gradual slope about 200 yards long into a narrow valley. On the southern side, and [603] about 40 feet from the eastern end, is the flight of steps just mentioned, cut along the steep slope of the rock, and leading directly to its summit. The stairway is 6½ feet wide, and 16 of the original steps are still traceable, some of them almost perfect. From the ground to the first of these about 5 steps have been broken away, so that the entire number of steps was originally not less than 21. The preceding cut is a very fair representation of this dark and rough mass of rock, viewed from its southern side.

      It had been my intention to climb this hill, stand in the very spot, as near as I could determine it, where Paul stood, seat before me by imagination the philosophers who constituted his audience, and repeat to them from the seventeenth of Acts that wonderful speech on the unknown God which I memorized many years ago. But when I found myself actually climbing the very steps by which Paul ascended this hill 1800 years ago, and when I stood on the summit within a few feet of the spot on which he must have stood, my heart was too deeply stirred for utterance. I stood awhile trembling with emotion, and then sat down and wept. I had visited no spot in all my journey which impressed me more deeply. I sat there for hours studying the surrounding scenery and meditating upon the events whose remembrance crowded upon me. The top of the hill is about 90 feet across in the widest part, and a considerable space near the top of the steps has been cut away about 20 inches deep, leaving a kind of bench around it on three sides as if it were intended for seats. But the bench appears to me too irregular in height and shape to have been intended for this purpose, and I think that any one who was not looking out for seats would suppose that it was formed incidentally by quarrying blocks of building stones. I suppose that the original seats occupied by the judges who held their court on this hill have long since disappeared; and it is highly probable that in the course of ages a large portion of the original top of the hill has been cut away.

      The modern city of Athens lies entirely north and northeast of Mars Hill and the Acropolis; the older part of the town, with its low houses and narrow streets, near by, and the new city, with its broad avenues and handsome buildings, in the distance. The ancient Athens was situated chiefly south of these hills, and the Agora, the marketplace as it is called in Acts of Apostles, in which Paul disputed with the Greeks before he was invited to the top of Mars Hill, lies immediately south of the hill.

      As I sat on Mars Hill I could see distinctly, on lower ground, and about 300 yards to the southwest, the celebrated Pnyx, a semicircular [604]

Page 605.      

space in the open air where the Athenians used to assemble to hear the speeches of their great orators. The space was made level by cutting a broad bench on the hill-side, and where the cutting in the rock was made, a platform of the natural rock, 10 feet high and 9 feet by 11 on top, was left projecting into the semicircular space like the platform of a modern pulpit. On this rock pulpit, called the Beema by the Greeks, which had steps to ascend it on the right and the left, Demosthenes and the other orators stood while they thundered their eloquence in the ears of the people. When I stood there and looked out on the semicircular area which accommodated an audience of 7000 people, a strong north wind was blowing in my face, and I did not wonder that Demosthenes felt the need of strengthening his voice by practicing on the seashore where the surf was rolling in, so that he might be able to make himself heard in this auditorium. It was interesting to stand on his pulpit and look up to Paul's, or on Paul's and look down upon his, while I mentally traced the contrast between the greatest of heathen and the greatest of Christian orators.

      The very highest spot on the summit of the Acropolis was crowned with the most famous of all temples of Greece, the Parthenon, so called because it was dedicated to Minerva, the virgin goddess of Athens. It is the most perfect model of the Doric style of architecture ever erected, and I never knew how to appreciate the massive simplicity of that style until I walked around and around this temple and gazed long upon it. I had seen many buildings before which I thought grand, but since taking this temple into my mind I fail to find enjoyment in seeing any of the great structures of Europe or America which sacrifice simplicity and proportion to ornamentation. My taste in architecture was revolutionized in the half-day that I spent on the Acropolis. Our cut presents a correct outline of this temple, but it fails, as any picture but a masterpiece of art must fail, to convey a conception of its grandeur.

      The Parthenon is only 208 feet long by 101 in width, and 66 in height. Its columns are fluted, and they are six and a half feet in diameter. The marble of the entire structure, once a pure white, is now brown from age and exposure to winter rains. The broken part toward the western end was prostrated by a shell thrown into it in 1687, when Athens was besieged by the Venetians. The temple was used as a Christian church from the sixth century to the time of the Turkish conquest in the fifteenth century, when it was changed into a mosque; but since its injury by the Venetian shell it has been kept, as it should have been from the beginning, as a mere specimen of ancient art. [605]

      There are many other temples, great and small, at Athens, the greatest an enormous temple of Jupiter, which stood on the plain east of the foot of the Acropolis. The temple of Theseus, the best preserved of all the Greek temples, stands about a quarter of a mile northwest of the Acropolis. But the most pleasing and interesting of them all, and the one most revered among the ancient Greeks, is the Erechtheum, or Temple of Erechtheus, which stands on the Acropolis a few steps north of the Parthenon. In striking contrast with the massive simplicity and grandeur of the Parthenon, this temple is small, graceful, and a model specimen of the Ionic order of architecture. These two older orders of Greek art were never presented in more appropriate forms than in these two temples, and the contrast between them could not be seen to better advantage than in two buildings so near each other. There is an airy grace and beauty about the ornamentation of the Erechtheum that can be seen nowhere else; but that which chiefly characterizes it is a porch on its southern side, called the Porch of the Caryatides. It is a simple portico, whose floor is about eight feet from the ground, and whose flat roof is supported by six columns in the form of exquisitely carved female figures. Some of the figures have been mutilated, and their broken parts have been restored. One is entirely new, but it is carved after the original model. The chief part of the temple is in ruins, but enough of it is left to show its original beauty.

      I will say nothing more of the antiquities of Athens, lest I occupy more space with this city than I should; but I cannot pass without mention a most gratifying evidence of its rejuvenation and of its promise of future greatness. It has a university, established and supported by the state, embracing in its courses of study the classics, the sciences, theology, and medicine, employing 24 professors, and annually attended by 1200 students. The students are gathered from all the communities of the Turkish Empire in which the Greek language and religion are known, and they are bearing the influences of modern enlightenment wherever they go. Thus Athens is again becoming, to a large portion of the world around her, what she once was, an educational centre. Nor does the new Athens altogether neglect the art for which her ancient citizens were so famous. Close by the side of the university buildings stands one of the most beautiful little marble structures on the face of the earth, constructed after the model of the Propyle'a of the Acropolis. Although not quite completed, it has already cost $1,000,000, and it is to be an academy of fine arts. It is the munificent gift to the state of a single Greek merchant who [606]

Page 606.      

resides at Vienna, where he has made his fortune, and who seeks to restore the ancient glory of his native city.

      After spending two days in Athens, during which I saw nearly all of its objects of interest, both ancient and modern, I was taken sick with what is called the Greek fever, which is often fatal to strangers. I had fever continuously for two days, but my physician, an intelligent and handsome young Greek who could speak some English, pronounced it an ephemeral attack, and said I would soon be well if I would immediately go to sea. I followed his advice by taking the first steamer which sailed for Venice. I had intended to cross over to Corinth and see much more of Greece, but I thought it better to forego that privilege than to run the risk of fatal sickness. With a tottering step I made out to leave the hotel on the morning of August 1st. I rode to Piræ'us on the train, and embarked on an Italian ship bound for Venice.

      1 Acts xx. 14. [595]


[LOB 594-607]

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J. W. McGarvey
Lands of the Bible (1881)

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