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Ch. 25: Brousa and the Sea of Marmora


The City of Brousa--Return to Civilization--Storm--The Kalputcha Hammam--A Hot Bath--A Foretaste of Paradise--The Streets and Bazaars of Brousa--The Mosque--The Tombs of the Ottoman Sultans--Disappearance of the Katurgees--We start for Moudania--The Sea of Marmora--Moudania--Passport Difficulties--A Greek Caïque--Breakfast with the Fishermen--A Torrid Voyage--The Princes' Islands--Prinkipo--Distant View of Constantinople--We enter the Golden Horn.


"And we glode fast o'er a pellucid plain
Of waters, azure with the noontide ray.
Ethereal mountains shone around--a fane
Stood in the midst, beyond green isles which lay
On the blue, sunny deep, resplendent far away."

~Percy Bysshe Shelley.


Constantinople, Monday, July 12, 1852.


Before entering Brousa, we passed the whole length of the town, which is built on the side of Olympus, and on three bluffs or spurs which project from it. The situation is more picturesque than that of Damascus, and from the remarkable number of its white domes and minarets, shooting upward from the groves of chestnut, walnut, and cypress-trees, the city is even more beautiful. There are large mosques on all the most prominent points, and, near the centre of the city, the ruins of an ancient castle, built upon a crag. The place, as we rode along, presented a shifting diorama of delightful views. The hotel is at the extreme western end of the city, not far from its celebrated hot baths. It is a new building, in European style, and being built high on the slope, commands one of the most glorious prospects I ever enjoyed from windows made with hands. What a comfort it was to go up stairs into a clean, bright, cheerful room; to drop at full length on a broad divan; to eat a Christian meal; to smoke a narghileh of the softest Persian tobacco; and finally, most exquisite of all luxuries, to creep between cool, clean sheets, on a curtained bed, and find it impossible to sleep on account of the delicious novelty of the sensation!

At night, another storm came up from the Sea of Marmora. Tremendous peals of thunder echoed in the gorges of Olympus and sharp, broad flashes of lightning gave us blinding glimpses of the glorious plain below. The rain fell in heavy showers, but our tent-life was just closed, and we sat securely at our windows and enjoyed the sublime scene.

The sun, rising over the distant mountains of Isnik, shone full in my face, awaking me to a morning view of the valley, which, freshened by the night's thunder-storm, shone wonderfully bright and clear. After coffee, we went to see the baths, which are on the side of the mountain, a mile from the hotel. The finest one, called the Kalputcha Hammam, is at the base of the hill. The entrance hall is very large, and covered by two lofty domes. In the centre is a large marble urn-shaped fountain, pouring out an abundant flood of cold water. Out of this, we passed into an immense rotunda, filled with steam and traversed by long pencils of light, falling from holes in the roof. A small but very beautiful marble fountain cast up a jet of cold water in the centre. Beyond this was still another hall, of the same size, but with a circular basin, twenty-five feet in diameter, in the centre. The floor was marble mosaic, and the basin was lined with brilliantly-colored tiles. It was kept constantly full by the natural hot streams of the mountain. There were a number of persons in the pool, but the atmosphere was so hot that we did not long disturb them by our curiosity.

We then ascended to the Armenian bath, which is the neatest of all, but it was given up to the women, and we were therefore obliged to go to a Turkish one adjoining. The room into which we were taken was so hot that a violent perspiration immediately broke out all over my body, and by the time the dellèks were ready to rasp me, I was as limp as a wet towel, and as plastic as a piece of putty. The man who took me was sweated away almost to nothing; his very bones appeared to have become soft and pliable. The water was slightly sulphureous, and the pailfuls which he dashed over my head were so hot that they produced the effect of a chill--a violent nervous shudder. The temperature of the springs is 180° Fahrenheit, and I suppose the tank into which he afterwards plunged me must have been nearly up to the mark. When, at last, I was laid on the couch, my body was so parboiled that I perspired at all pores for full an hour--a feeling too warm and unpleasant at first, but presently merging into a mood which was wholly rapturous and heavenly. I was like a soft white cloud, that rests all of a summer afternoon on the peak of a distant mountain. I felt the couch on which I lay no more than the cloud might feel the cliffs on which it lingers so airily. I saw nothing but peaceful, glorious sights; spaces of clear blue sky; stretches of quiet lawns; lovely valleys threaded by the gentlest of streams; azure lakes, unruffled by a breath; calms far out on mid-ocean, and Alpine peaks bathed in the flush of an autumnal sunset. My mind retraced all our journey from Aleppo, and there was a halo over every spot I had visited. I dwelt with rapture on the piny hills of Phrygia, on the gorges of Taurus, on the beechen solitudes of Olympus. Would to heaven that I might describe those scenes as I then felt them! All was revealed to me: the heart of Nature lay bare, and I read the meaning and knew the inspiration of her every mood. Then, as my frame grew cooler, and the fragrant clouds of the narghileh, which had helped my dreams, diminished, I was like that same summer cloud, when it feels a gentle breeze and is lifted above the hills, floating along independent of Earth, but for its shadow.

Brousa is a very long, straggling place, extending for three or four miles along the side of the mountain, but presenting a very picturesque appearance from every point. The houses are nearly all three stories high, built of wood and unburnt bricks, and each story projects over the other, after the manner of German towns of the Middle Ages. They have not the hanging balconies which I have found so quaint and pleasing in Kiutahya. But, especially in the Greek quarter, many of them are plastered and painted of some bright color, which gives a gay, cheerful appearance to the streets. Besides, Brousa is the cleanest Turkish town I have seen. The mountain streams traverse most of the streets, and every heavy rain washes them out thoroughly. The whole city has a brisk, active air, and the workmen appear both more skilful and more industrious than in the other parts of Asia Minor. I noticed a great many workers in copper, iron, and wood, and an extensive manufactory of shoes and saddles. Brousa, however, is principally noted for its silks, which are produced in this valley, and others to the South and East. The manufactories are near the city. I looked over some of the fabrics in the bazaars, but found them nearly all imitations of European stuffs, woven in mixed silk and cotton, and even more costly than the silks of Damascus.

We passed the whole length of the bazaars, and then, turning up one of the side streets on our right, crossed a deep ravine by a high stone bridge. Above and below us there were other bridges, under which a stream flowed down from the mountains. Thence we ascended the height, whereon stands the largest and one of the oldest mosques in Brousa. The position is remarkably fine, commanding a view of nearly the whole city and the plain below it. We entered the court-yard boldly, François taking the precaution to speak to me only in Arabic, as there was a Turk within. Mr. H. went to the fountain, washed his hands and face, but did not dare to swallow a drop, putting on a most dolorous expression of countenance, as if perishing with thirst. The mosque was a plain, square building, with a large dome and two minarets. The door was a rich and curious specimen of the stalactitic style, so frequent in Saracenic buildings. We peeped into the windows, and, although the mosque, which does not appear to be in common use, was darkened, saw enough to show that the interior was quite plain.

Just above this edifice stands a large octagonal tomb, surmounted by a dome, and richly adorned with arabesque cornices and coatings of green and blue tiles. It stood in a small garden inclosure, and there was a sort of porter's lodge at the entrance. As we approached, an old gray-bearded man in a green turban came out, and, on François requesting entrance for us, took a key and conducted us to the building. He had not the slightest idea of our being Christians. We took off our slippers before touching the lintel of the door, as the place was particularly holy. Then, throwing open the door, the old man lingered a few moments after we entered, so as not to disturb our prayers--a mark of great respect. We advanced to the edge of the parapet, turned our faces towards Mecca, and imitated the usual Mohammedan prayer on entering a mosque, by holding both arms outspread for a few moments, then bringing the hands together and bowing the face upon them. This done, we leisurely examined the building, and the old man was ready enough to satisfy our curiosity. It was a rich and elegant structure, lighted from the dome. The walls were lined with brilliant tiles, and had an elaborate cornice, with Arabic inscriptions in gold. The floor was covered with a carpet, whereon stood eight or ten ancient coffins, surrounding a larger one which occupied a raised platform in the centre. They were all of wood, heavily carved, and many of them entirely covered with gilded inscriptions. These, according to the old man, were the coffins of the Ottoman Sultans, who had reigned at Brousa previous to the taking of Constantinople, with some members of their families. There were four Sultans, among whom were Mahomet I., and a certain Achmet. Orchan, the founder of the Ottoman dynasty, is buried somewhere in Brousa, and the great central coffin may have been his. François and I talked entirely in Arabic, and the old man asked: "Who are these Hadjis?" whereupon F. immediately answered: "They are Effendis from Baghdad."

We had intended making the ascent of Olympus, but the summit was too thickly covered with clouds. On the morning of the second day, therefore, we determined to take up the line of march for Constantinople. The last scene of our strange, eventful history with the katurgees had just transpired, by their deserting us, being two hundred piastres in our debt. They left their khan on the afternoon after our arrival, ostensibly for the purpose of taking their beasts out to pasture, and were never heard of more. We let them go, thankful that they had not played the trick sooner. We engaged fresh horses for Moudania, on the Sea of Marmora, and dispatched François in advance, to procure a caïque for Constantinople, while we waited to have our passports signed. But after waiting an hour, as there was no appearance of the precious documents, we started the baggage also, under the charge of a surroudjee, and remained alone. Another hour passed by, and yet another, and the Bey was still occupied in sleeping off his hunger. Mr. Harrison, in desperation, went to the office, and after some delay, received the passports with a visè, but not, as we afterwards discovered, the necessary one.

It was four o'clock by the time we left Brousa. Our horses were stiff, clumsy pack-beasts; but, by dint of whips and the sharp shovel-stirrups, we forced them into a trot and made them keep it. The road was well travelled, and by asking everybody we met: "Bou yôl Moudania yedermi?" ("Is this the way to Moudania?"), we had no difficulty in finding it. The plain in many places is marshy, and traversed by several streams. A low range of hills stretches across, and nearly closes it, the united waters finding their outlet by a narrow valley to the north. From the top of the hill we had a grand view, looking back over the plain, with the long line of Brousa's minarets glittering through the interminable groves at the foot of the mountain Olympus now showed a superb outline; the clouds hung about his shoulders, but his snowy head was bare. Before us lay a broad, rich valley, extending in front to the mountains of Moudania. The country was well cultivated, with large farming establishments here and there.

The sun was setting as we reached the summit ridge, where stood a little guard-house. As we rode over the crest, Olympus disappeared, and the Sea of Marmora lay before us, spreading out from the Gulf of Moudania, which was deep and blue among the hills, to an open line against the sunset. Beyond that misty line lay Europe, which I had not seen for nearly nine months, and the gulf below me was the bound of my tent and saddle life. But one hour more, old horse! Have patience with my Ethiopian thong, and the sharp corners of my Turkish stirrups: but one hour more, and I promise never to molest you again! Our path was downward, and I marvel that the poor brute did not sometimes tumble headlong with me. He had been too long used to the pack, however, and his habits were as settled as a Turk's. We passed a beautiful village in a valley on the right, and came into olive groves and vineyards, as the dusk was creeping on. It was a lovely country of orchards and gardens, with fountains spouting by the wayside, and country houses perched on the steeps. In another hour, we reached the sea-shore. It was now nearly dark, but we could see the tower of Moudania some distance to the west.

Still in a continual trot, we rode on; and as we drew near, Mr. H. fired his gun to announce our approach. At the entrance of the town, we found the sourrudjee waiting to conduct us. We clattered through the rough streets for what seemed an endless length of time. The Ramazan gun had just fired, the minarets were illuminated, and the coffee-houses were filled with people. Finally, François, who had been almost in despair at our non-appearance, hailed us with the welcome news that he had engaged a caïque, and that our baggage was already embarked. We only needed the visès of the authorities, in order to leave. He took our teskerés to get them, and we went upon the balcony of a coffee-house overhanging the sea, and smoked a narghileh.

But here there was another history. The teskerés had not been properly visèd at Brousa, and the Governor at first decided to send us back. Taking François, however, for a Turk, and finding that we had regularly passed quarantine, he signed them after a delay of an hour and a half, and we left the shore, weary, impatient, and wolfish with twelve hours' fasting. A cup of Brousan beer and a piece of bread brought us into a better mood, and I, who began to feel sick from the rolling of the caïque, lay down on my bed, which was spread at the bottom, and found a kind of uneasy sleep. The sail was hoisted at first, to get us across the mouth of the Gulf, but soon the Greeks took to their oars. They were silent, however, and though I only slept by fits, the night wore away rapidly. As the dawn was deepening, we ran into a little bight in the northern side of a promontory, where a picturesque Greek village stood at the foot of the mountains. The houses were of wood, with balconies overgrown with grape-vines, and there was a fountain of cold, excellent water on the very beach. Some Greek boatmen were smoking in the portico of a café on shore, and two fishermen, who had been out before dawn to catch sardines, were emptying their nets of the spoil. Our men kindled a fire on the sand, and roasted us a dish of the fish. Some of the last night's hunger remained, and the meal had enough of that seasoning to be delicious.

After giving our men an hour's rest, we set off for the Princes' Islands, which now appeared to the north, over the glassy plain of the sea. The Gulf of Iskmid, or Nicomedia, opened away to the east, between two mountain headlands. The morning was intensely hot and sultry, and but for the protection of an umbrella, we should have suffered greatly. There was a fiery blue vapor on the sea, and a thunder-cloud hid the shores of Thrace. Now and then came a light puff of wind, whereupon the men would ship the little mast, and crowd on an enormous quantity of sail. So, sailing and rowing, we neared the islands with the storm, but it advanced slowly enough to allow a sight of the mosques of St. Sophia and Sultan Achmed, gleaming far and white, like icebergs astray on a torrid sea. Another cloud was pouring its rain over the Asian shore, and we made haste to get to the landing at Prinkipo before it could reach us. From the south, the group of islands is not remarkable for beauty. Only four of them--Prinkipo, Chalki, Prote, and Antigone--are inhabited, the other five being merely barren rocks.

There is an ancient convent on the summit of Prinkipo, where the Empress Irene--the contemporary of Charlemagne--is buried. The town is on the northern side of the island, and consists mostly of the summer residences of Greek and Armenian merchants. Many of these are large and stately houses, surrounded with handsome gardens. The streets are shaded with sycamores, and the number of coffee-houses shows that the place is much frequented on festal days. A company of drunken Greeks were singing in violation of all metre and harmony--a discord the more remarkable, since nothing could be more affectionate than their conduct towards each other. Nearly everybody was in Frank costume, and our Oriental habits, especially the red Tartar boots, attracted much observation. I began to feel awkward and absurd, and longed to show myself a Christian once more.

Leaving Prinkipo, we made for Constantinople, whose long array of marble domes and gilded spires gleamed like a far mirage over the waveless sea. It was too faint and distant and dazzling to be substantial. It was like one of those imaginary cities which we build in a cloud fused in the light of the setting sun. But as we neared the point of Chalcedon, running along the Asian shore, those airy piles gathered form and substance. The pinnacles of the Seraglio shot up from the midst of cypress groves; fantastic kiosks lined the shore; the minarets of St. Sophia and Sultan Achmed rose more clearly against the sky; and a fleet of steamers and men-of-war, gay with flags, marked the entrance of the Golden Horn. We passed the little bay where St. Chrysostom was buried, the point of Chalcedon, and now, looking up the renowned Bosphorus, saw the Maiden's Tower, opposite Scutari. An enormous pile, the barracks of the Anatolian soldiery, hangs over the high bank, and, as we row abreast of it, a fresh breeze comes up from the Sea of Marmora. The prow of the caïque is turned across the stream, the sail is set, and we glide rapidly and noiselessly over the Bosphorus and into the Golden Horn, between the banks of the Frank and Moslem--Pera and Stamboul. Where on the earth shall we find a panorama more magnificent?

The air was filled with the shouts and noises of the great Oriental metropolis; the water was alive with caïques and little steamers; and all the world of work and trade, which had grown almost to be a fable, welcomed us back to its restless heart. We threaded our rather perilous way over the populous waves, and landed in a throng of Custom-House officers and porters, on the wharf at Galata.


Bayard Taylor