National Geographic : 1956 Jan
Athens to Istanbul "Are all American women so long and nar row?" asked a plump matron. "Now I know why the clothes in those packages from the United States never fit." Thrace lay before us. Over excellent roads we rolled through Xanthi, Komotini and Alexandrofipolis. The fertile plain was solidly planted with tobacco, and whole families were in the fields, bent low over short-handled hoes. Then we came into rolling hills and olive groves. Many Turks live in this part of Greece; we passed women with veiled faces and men wearing fezzes. On the way to the border we blew out a tire and broke a spring. We must have looked exhausted. The Turkish customs of ficial peered at us and our laden car, stamped our passports, and waved us on without opening a single bag. "Drive along," he said. "You've had enough trouble." We stopped at Edirne (Adrianople), the Turkish border town. At 6 o'clock there was a knock on our door. A tall young Turk and a pretty girl introduced themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Mustafa Gezgin. "The hotel manager told us there were Americans staying here," Mr. Gezgin ex Page 72 +"Solomon, I Have Surpassed Thee!" Cried Justinian When He Built St. Sophia In constant use as a place of worship for 14 cen turies, withstanding earthquakes and the fall of em pires, the magnificent Byzantine Church of the Holy Wisdom in Istanbul has lived longer than almost any other of Christianity's great buildings. Here presided the patriarchs of the Greek Orthodox Church, and here the Byzantine emperors accepted their crowns amid lavish pageantry. After the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople, the church became a mosque, complete with minarets. Moslems plastered and painted over its priceless mosaics, regarding representations of the human form as sacrilegious. Kemal Atatiirk in 1934 turned the building into a museum displaying the finest glories of Byzantine art. Much of the treasured mosaic work has been uncovered and reinforced. Architecturally, the building is significant as the first in which builders solved, on a large scale, the problem of supporting a dome on a square structure. Here the Bosporus lies at right and Asia beyond. A minaret of the Blue Mosque of Sultan Ahmet pierces the foreground. "To get the best view of St. Sophia," Mr. Shor writes, "I tested all the minarets of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque. On my way up to the muezzins' balconies, I climbed spiral staircases less than 24 inches wide, and for this narrow space within the minarets I had to compete with pigeons." © National Geographic Society plained. "The Turkish-American Friendship and Cultural Society meets tonight, and we thought you might like to come." We found more than 200 people crowded into the little clubroom. It was lined with books in English, the gift of the United States Information Service. One of the members gave a speech, in Turkish, on the United States Constitution. Another read from the poems of Walt Whitman. Then everyone joined in a half-hour English lesson. Turkish Veterans Like GI's "We founded the society," Mr. Gezgin told us, "because America has done so much for us we wanted to know more about you." Half a dozen Turkish veterans of the fight ing in Korea were members of the group. "Tell your GI's we still love them," was the farewell of one. Four hours over paved roads, through roll ing grainfields where ox teams and tractors moved side by side, brought us to Istanbul, once called Constantinople and before that Byzantium. From our balcony we watched the sun set in purple glory over the Golden Horn, heard the muezzin call the faithful to prayer, and saw the great mosques silhouetted against the darkening sky. We walked the winding, hilly streets of the beautiful old city, wandered along the teem ing waterfront, and sailed on the Bosporus (page 74). We visited the Blue Mosque of Sultan Ahmet and the Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent, and we stood inside soaring St. Sophia and marveled at one of man's great est architectural triumphs (opposite). Medieval Art Recalls Strange Story Early one morning we had a phone call from His Excellency Avra M. Warren, Ameri can Ambassador to Turkey, an old friend. "Paul Underwood, of the Byzantine Insti tute of America, has invited me to visit a church they're restoring," he said. "Would you and Jean like to come?" The church was Karieh Djami; at one time it was a mosque. And from the moment Pro fessor Underwood pushed open its ancient doors we were enchanted. Once known as the Church of the Monastery of the Chora, it was decorated in the early 14th century under the patronage of Theodore Metochita, high official of the Imperial Treasury. The murals and mosaics, wonderfully preserved, are of surpassing beauty.