Pilgrimage – the road to Istanbul

Some of you, at least in the UK, may have watched the previous two programmes of BBC’s Pilgrimage series, and might like to watch the third installment which has just started on BBC2.

Hot on the heels of their predecessors, who journeyed to Santiago and Rome, seven new celebrities are set to embark on their own journey of discovery – this time to Istanbul. I’m not sure this is an actual pilgrimage route as such, but what the hell. It runs through a beautiful part of Europe and it features Dom Jolly who is always fun.

Taking part is journalist Adrian Chiles, a converted Catholic; former politician Edwina Currie, a lapsed Jew; Olympian Fatima Whitbread, a Christian; broadcaster Mim Shaikh and TV presenter Amar Latif, both Muslims; and two confirmed atheists, comedian Dom Joly and actress Pauline McLynn.

Donning backpacks, the group will spend just over two weeks living as simple pilgrims following an ancient 1,000km military route, which has been transformed into a modern-day path of peace.

Starting in Serbia’s capital city Belgrade, the pilgrims will travel through Bulgaria and the mountainous Balkans, before crossing the border into Turkey, with their goal of reaching Istanbul and the Suleymaniye Mosque.

I have yet to watch this and don’t know which old route they may have followed, but some of it will probably cross places visited by Paddy, and they may even use parts of the Via Egnatia that I started to walk ten years ago; I must finish it sometime!

Find out more and watch (if your location permits) here. If you use a VPN package like Nord VPN (which is top grade VPN) you can connect to the UK.

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Two Collections Meet – Museum of Byzantine Culture Thessaloniki – to September 30 2020

The Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki presents an exhibition comprising icons, vestments and precious heirlooms on loan from the northern port city’s Municipal Art Gallery. The items are shown alongside texts which present and explain the most recent findings on Byzantine painting in northern Greece, and especially Thessaloniki, Mount Athos and Central and Western Macedonia. The exhibition is the result of a combinative study of items belonging to the collections of both the Museum of Byzantine Culture and the Municipal Art Gallery. Its aim is to link these items to the socioeconomic context of the years that followed Constantinople’s fall. Admission is free. Opening hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily until March 31. From April 1 the museum will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

Museum of Byzantine Culture, 2 Stratou, tel 231.330.6400.

Further details http://www.mbp.gr/en/exhibitions/%E2%80%9Ctwo-collections-meet%E2%80%9D

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Chora church frescoes ‘at risk’ after Turkish court ruling

The world’s finest example of Byzantine art— the 14th century frescoes and mosaics of the Chora Church in Istanbul, Turkey— are at risk.

First published in Pappas Post.

The mosaics— significant not only as art but as liturgical elements to Greek Orthodox Christians who once worshipped in the church before it was converted into a mosque and later a museum— are in the 1,000-year old Church of the Savior in the heart of what was once Constantinople to the Greeks— and now Istanbul to the Turks.

The Church of St Savior in Chora, which was converted into the Kariye Mosque in the early 16th century after the city fell to the Ottoman Turks, was transformed into a museum by the Turkish government in 1945 and opened to the public.

Turkey’s top administrative court ruled last month that the 1945 cabinet decision that transformed the mosque into a museum was unlawful because a mosque “cannot be used except for its essential function”.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to implement the court’s decision.

Is Hagia Sophia next?

The move will have repercussions for other monuments from Turkey’s Christian past, especially the Hagia Sophia, Christendom’s greatest cathedral for a millennium before Constantinople’s conquering Ottoman sultan, Mehmed II, claimed it as his imperial mosque in 1453.

In 1934, the Turkish republic’s secular founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, transformed Hagia Sophia into a museum.

Erdogan threatened in March to re-consecrate Hagia Sophia as a mosque, in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to win a majority for his conservative party in Istanbul’s mayoral elections.

Islamists have long prayed for both the Chora Church and the Hagia Sophia to reopen as mosques, arguing that their neutral status is an affront to the Ottoman caliph’s decrees forbidding other uses.

There is an obvious disregard by these same Islamists for the original use of these buildings— as Christian basilicas— before they were transformed into mosques by conquerors.

Both the Hagia Sophia and the Chora Church are listed on Unesco’s World Heritage list, which recognizes the “architectural masterpieces” of the world.

Unesco has warned that changes in status of the city’s historic monuments would undermine their heritage value.

Other Byzantine sites converted into mosques have covered frescos to comply with Islamic tenets prohibiting the use of images. But for much of the Ottoman period, Muslims worshipped at Chora and other former churches in view of the art, says Edhem Eldem, a professor of history at Bogazici University.

Turning Chora into a museum served as a compromise between Muslims and Christians, he says, adding that the current uneasiness around Turkey’s Byzantine heritage is part of the “politics of populism that appeal to basic feelings of ethnic, national and religious identity”.

“The stunning mosaics of Istanbul’s 1,000-year-old Chora Church are at risk—not from vandalism or theft but a legal order to transform the museum back into a mosque,” according to The Art Newspaper.

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Lost Byzantine castle found under water

Within the scope of the Yalova Coasts Ancient Harbor and Underwater Survey, which was carried out in Altınova district of the northwestern province of Yalova for two years, the Byzantine caste of Kibatos (Civetot) was discovered.

First published in Hurriyet Daily News.

It was reported that the castle was built for the refuge of Anglo-Saxon soldiers, who escaped from the Battle of Hasting between the Crusader armies and the Seljuk armies in the First Crusade in 1069 but may have remained under the Hersek Lagoon as a result of severe earthquakes.

The survey has been carried out with the permission of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and with the contributions of Altınova Municipality, Uludağ University and the Turkish Historical Society.

During the works carried out by a team made up of academic Serkan Gündüz, Işıl Akalan Gündüz of Leicester University, Survey Engineer İlke Ekioğlu of Sinop University and a team of students, a sea castle spreading over an area of approximately 4,200 square meters was discovered on the coastline between Altınova and Karamürsel district of Kocaeli. The castle was in 3.5 meters deep.

Following the discovery, a press conference was held on the coast of Hersek Lagoon.

Altınova Mayor Metin Oral said that the castle was discovered as a result of a two-year work and continued:

“Although it was located in a very important place in the history scene, finding this castle, which could not be definitively localized, was one of the reasons for starting our research. It was known from the written documents that the Byzantine Emperor Alexius had built a castle in this area for Anglo-Saxon soldiers, who fled the Battle of Hasting in 1069, which changed the history of England. In order to find the castle, we have been searching for a sea castle on the opposite side of the Hereke Castle near Helenopolis, based on the studies we have done in the region for two years. The structure, identified between Helenopolis (Hersek) and Karamürsel, is thought to be the Kibatos-Civetot Castle because its architecture is very similar to the expressions in the written documents. Kibatos-Civetot Castle gained great importance in 1096 during the First Crusades. In 1095, just one year after the Pope’s call for the Crusade, the first campaign, called the Crusade, began. Alexios, who wanted to remove the Crusaders, who came to Constantinople, from the capital, sent them to Kibatos Castle. The armies came to the castle via Nicomedia from the land, and some went directly to the castle by sea. According to the various sources, their number was between 25,000-600,000 people.”

Oral said that they would start working to bring the castle to light

“The Crusades have had inevitable consequences for both the Christian world and the entire Muslim world. This battle is of great importance for European history. However, its importance for the Anatolian Seljuk history and Turkish people, unfortunately, is not known enough. It was the first great battle defeat of the Crusader history in Anatolia that would attack the Anatolian Seljuk State with various games with the siege of İznik in 1097,” he said.

Oral said that finding this castle and archeological studies will shed light on a dark page of our history and added, “In this period, we will highlight our historical textures. We will unearth them. It will also give us information about the Seljuk State. In the following process, it may provide us different historical information. This is the beginning. The main work will begin from now on.”

The works to unearth Kibatos Castle will take about three years. The findings of the studies will be shared with the public.

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‘Rise of Empires: Ottoman’: Release date, plot, cast and all you need to know about Netflix’s historical series

It appears that Netflix will be streaming this new series from 24 Jan 2020.

The docuseries will chronicle the Fall of Constantinople and the end of the Byzantine Empire from the Ottoman perspective.

In October 2018, Netflix greenlit the limited series titled ‘Rise of Empires: Ottoman’ which will chronicle the life of Mehmed the Conquerer and aims to tell the story of the Fall of Constantinople from a different perspective.

Release Date
The first season, consisting of six episodes, will be released on Netflix on January 24, 2020.

The Turkish documentary series follows the rise of the Ottoman Empire under the leadership of Mehmed the Conquerer. In 1453 AD, at the age of 21, Sultan Mehmed conquered Constantinople (now Istanbul) and brought an end to the centuries-old Byzantine Empire.

After conquering the city, Sultan Mehmed transferred the capital of the Ottoman State from Edirne to Constantinople and established his court there.

The capture of the city (and two other Byzantine splinter territories soon thereafter) marked the end of the Roman Empire, a state which dated to 27 BC, which had lasted for nearly 1,500 years.

At home he made many political and social reforms, encouraged the arts and sciences, and by the end of his reign, his rebuilding program had changed the city into a thriving imperial capital. He is considered a hero in modern-day Turkey and parts of the wider Muslim world.

Cem Yigit Uzümoglu

Cem Yigit Uzümoglu is a Turkish actor known for his role as Emir in Netflix’s ‘The Protector’. He will play the role of Fatih Sultan Mehmet in the upcoming docuseries.

Tuba Büyüküstün is a Turkish actress known for her roles in ‘Black Money Love’ and ‘Brave and Beautiful’. She will play the role of Mara Hatun, who was the stepmother of Sultan Mehmed. Born Mara Branković, she was the daughter of a Serbian monarch whose betrothal to Murad II was an attempt to prevent an invasion of Serbia from the Ottoman Empire.

Osman Sonant

Osman Sonant is a Turkish actor known for his work on ‘Zengin ve Yoksul’ and ‘Ufak Tefek Cinayetler’. He plays the role of Loukas Notaras, a Byzantine statesman who served as the last megas doux or grand Duke and the last mesazon of the Byzantine Empire, under emperors John VIII Palaiologos and Constantine XI Palaiologos.

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The medieval ‘New England’: a forgotten Anglo-Saxon colony on the north-eastern Black Sea coast

Extract from an Italian portolan atlas of 1553 of the Crimea, which names Susaco (Sussex) and Londina (London), believed to have been settlements in ‘Nova Anglia’. Wikipedia

A New England on the Black Sea was created more than 500 years before its American successor, naming towns after their homeland like the Pilgrim Fathers.

Fugitives of the Norman Conquest are said to have been rewarded for their gallantry by the Byzantine emperor with an enclave in the Crimea, according to historian Caitlin Green.

Dr. Green’s account of ‘Nova Anglia’ on her blog tells of the 14th-century Icelandic saga of Edward the Confessor which outlines events following 1066.

‘They left their estates and fled away from the land with a great host,’ the old text says.

They were led by Siward, earl of Gloucester, and headed south to the Mediterranean, making a raid on Cueta, North Africa, and slaughtering there.

Afterwards, they made haste to Micklegarth, now known as Istanbul, where they had heard a siege was underway.

They defeated the enemy ships and the saga says that the emperor ‘took wonderfully well’ to the newcomers.

According to the saga he offered the English positions in his personal bodyguard, the Varangians, so impressed was he by the warriors.

But the astute Englishmen asked for land instead.

Rather than deprive his own gentry of their lands, the emperor advised the English of a region across the sea, which had once belonged to the Romans.

The emperor said they could have it if they were able to defeat the barbarians living there.

After countless battles, the saga says that they took the land and named it England.

The saga says: ‘To the towns that were in the land and to those which they built they gave the names of the towns in England. They called them both London and York, and by the names of other great towns in England.’

Despite problems with the narrative, for example there was never a Siward, earl of Gloucester, there remains compelling evidence provided by Dr Green.

It is well documented for instance that the emperor’s Varangian guard went from being largely made up of Scandinavians in the 10th and 11th centuries, to a predominantly English force.

Dr Green told The Times of those who rose through the ranks of Byzantine society who were able to earn titles and land.

Furthermore, old maps seem to show that there were places named by Englishmen, including the town of ‘Susaco’ (Sussex) and the river ‘Londina’ (London).

On her website Dr Green writes: ‘This territory would appear to have been established by the late eleventh-century Anglo-Saxon exiles who had left England after the Norman Conquest and joined the Byzantine emperor’s Varangian Guard, and their control of at least some land and cities here apparently persisted for several centuries, perhaps thus providing a regular supply of “English Varangians” to the Byzantine Empire that helps to explain why the “native tongue” of the Varangian Guard continued to be English as late as the mid-fourteenth century.’

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Event – Images of Byzantium: Don’t miss the stunning gilded iconography at Monkton Arts IoW

This will be targeted at a very tiny numbers of readers in England, but as I can see the Isle of Wight from one of my favourite walks, I thought I would highlight this exhibition.

This exhibition and illustrated talk by Isle of Wight artist, Stuart Robinson, features a large fully-gilded 18th century Moscow-prototype of the crucifixion.

The Acons Gallery at Monkton Arts kicks off the New Year with “Images of Byzantium”, an exhibition featuring sixteen icons painted by Isle of Wight artist, Stuart Robinson.

Taking place between 7th to 18th January 2020 (Monday-Saturday), the centre-piece of the exhibition is a 75cm x 60cm fully-gilded 18th century Moscow prototype of the crucifixion.

Stuart also explains that thirteen of the icons were painted to illustrate the booklet “Icons of the Great Feasts”.

Artist’s Talk
You can find out more at an illustrated talk presented by Stuart at Monkton Arts on Friday 10th January from 5 to 6pm.

The title of the talk is “Icons: What are they? What is their role in worship? How are they painted?”

Tickets to the talk are £2 each – proceeds will go to charity.

Monkton Arts can be found in East Street, Ryde.

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