A Greek View on the Ottoman City: Istanbul/Constantinople (Part I)

[1] View of Istanbul by Constantinos Kaldis, 1851.
Benaki Museum, Inventory No. 30411

If you visit the Benaki Museum while in Athens (and you should!), it is hard to miss this engraving--a city view of Istanbul produced by Constantinos Kaldis in 1851. [1]  This object in many ways resembles the 16th-century view of the city that I had referenced last post, [2]  and, looking at them together, we notice that by the 19th century the European quarter in Galata to the north (the top half of the image) has expanded dramatically. We should also consider the fact that, as far as we know, Kaldis never spent much time in Istanbul; this is an image by an outsider looking in. Kaldis was a Greek Orthodox priest from the island of Lesbos, and it is believed that he trained in the tradition of printmaking developed on Mount Athos in Greece, whose workshops specialized in not only printed icons but also maps of holy places. 

 [2] Matrakçi Nasuh, 1537

Although clearly based in a European tradition of topographical engravings beginning in the 15th century, within the context of the Greek community in the Ottoman Empire, this city view also looks to illustrated guides for pilgrims to the Holy Land (such as those printed in Mt. Athos), which often featured similar types of representations of the holy cities like Sinai, Mount Athos, and Jerusalem.  Kaldis produced this print in the town of Plomari, on the island of Lesbos, where he spent most of his life. It is most likely that this engraving would have been marketed to the Greek merchant community of Lesbos, who were constantly moving between Izmir, Istanbul and the Black Sea plying their wares. The fact that the print features explanatory comments in both Greek and Ottoman Turkish (plus the French title: "Vue de Constantinople") indicates the cosmpolitanism of Kaldis's clientele. Quite large at 47 x 62 cm, this engraving probably was hawked as a less expensive means to decorate a home, either hung or pasted onto the wall. It is essentially a knock-off (the IKEA version, if you will) of topographic murals painted in the homes of wealthy merchants in the 18th century, with examples surviving from Albania to Damascus. Value is added to the black-and-white print with hand-painted embellishments in blue, green, red and yellow. Apparently the engraving wasn't a very hot commodity, however, as this print is extremely rare and seems to be almost unique in the 19th-century Mt. Athos tradition in its "secular" subject matter. Nevertheless, taking a closer look offers an opportunity to understand the Ottoman capital from a unique point of view. 

[3] Close up of the Galata Tower
This view has been designed very much with the audience in mind, including an abundance of merchant vessels crowding every available inch of the water-ways, and the most detailed representations of the city situated along the shorelines of the Marmara sea (at the very bottom of the image) and the shore of Galata in the Golden Horn. That is, the monuments which Kaldis highlights are all relatively tall and easily viewed from the perspective of someone standing in one of the ships entering the harbor areas. As for the Galata tower, which was easily the highest point at that time in the area, it is inexplicably labeled as the "Bank tower" (Bankalar Kulesi) in Ottoman Turkish, perhaps alluding to a number of money-lenders in the area, while the neighborhood itself is named "Galatas" in Greek directly to the right. [3] 

[4] Possible view of the Dolmabahçe Palace

The quarter of Galata and Pera would have especially been familiar to this merchant community in Lesbos because these settlements were the home of a vibrant blend of Armenians, Greeks, Western Europeans and Jews. Other buildings that stand out are more utilitarian. Directly below the Galata Tower on the shore is labeled in Ottoman Turkish a location every sailor would know well: "Quarantine." To the right of the tower, on the European side of the Bosphorus shore, we might have an early glimpse of the Dolmabahce Palace, which was currently under construction (begun 1846). [4] 

[5] View of the Imperial Navy Yard in Tersane

In the upper left corner, the Imperial shipyard of the Ottoman navy (in Ottoman Turkish "Tersane," labeled on the map in the Greek "Tarsana") is highlighted on the shore, with a concentration of ships and the imperial gardens of the 18th-century palace at Aynalıkavak directly above. [5] On the Asian side of the Bosphorus to the left, there is the Maiden's Tower, the 18th-century Beylerbeyi Mosque, and some kind of factory installation in Üsküdar. 

[6] View (from right to left) of the mausoleum of Süleyman,
the tower of Beyazid II, the Mosque and Mausoleum
of Fatih Mehmed II, the Hippodrome (located in the
 wrong place), and the Selimiyye. 

In the old walled city of Istanbul, again only what would have been visible to a sailor standing on the deck of his ship in the Golden Horn is emphasized: from left to right, Kaldis labels the tip of the peninsula where the imperial Topkapı Palace stood (Sarayburnu), Hagia Sophia, Yeni Camii, the Süleymaniyye (with the tomb of Süleyman larger thant the mosque!), the Beyazit Tower, and the Fethiyye mosque (also with the tomb of Mehmed II highlighted). Confusingly, the area of the Hippodrome (labeled in Ottoman as "At Meydanı") with its obelisk and spiral piers, has been located in Fatih, not in its actual location further east next to Hagia Sophia and the Topkapı Palace. [6] This could be attributed to the fact that Kaldis would not have spent much time in this area of the city. This being said, the lack of emphasis on the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Fatih, or in fact any major Christian monument besides the Hagia Sophia, is curious.  Perhaps this city view was designed to grace the walls of Christian and Muslim alike in Ottoman Lesbos. 

Explore more at the Benaki Museum

**See Part II of "A Greek View on an the Ottoman City": Izmir/Smyrna

DELIVORRIAS, Angelos. Ed. From Byzantine to Modern Greece: Hellenic Art in Adversity, 
1453-1830. Catalogue of Exhibition held at the Onassis Center in New York City, 2005-2006. New York: Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, 2005.

View Larger Map


Popular Posts