Welcome to Itinerant Histories, the blog of a fan of history, travel and writing. Within these digital pages you will find my thoughts (rational and irrational), observations (physical and mental), debates (internal and public) and some hopefully interesting discussions of the places and people of the past. My intent is to provide a first hand account of the places I see, along with a discussion and my interpretation of their historical significance. I will endeavour to back up my claims with evidence, however, it is worth remembering that everything written here is opinion, not fact and that I am a fan of history, not a historian (thank you for that line, Dan Carlin). This is not a travel blog, make no mistake, I will generally not be writing about how to go about seeing a site, or the best way to get from one place to another. However, if you have any questions of this nature, leave a comment, but beware I am not an authority on these things and my advice is worth taking with a grain of salt or two. Also feel free to engage in debate, add your own thoughts or interpretations or call out any bullshit you think I may have slipped in, accidentally or otherwise, in the comments section. Now onto the show.
I am writing this now from my hotel room in Istanbul, the first stop on my most recent travels. The Basileus Hotel (the old Greek name for the Roman Emperor) is in the Sultanahmet neighbourhood, named after Sultan Ahmed I of the Ottoman Empire who ordered the construction of the famous Sultan Ahmed Mosque, known as the Blue Mosque. this is the heart of old Istanbul. The history here stretches back to when the city was Constantinopolis, capital of the Roman Empire and before when it was Byzantion, Greek trading colony and gatekeeper to the Black Sea. Not one minute walk from the hotel is a tall Roman wall, now foundation to an apartment block. another minute from that is the Hippodrome, the Roman chariot stadium which exists now only as the space in which it once occupied and three of the great monuments which once lined it’s centre. It was here, in front of the Blue Mosque and within sight of the old Haghia Sophia, that a suicide bomber blew up himself and ten other people, mostly German tourists, not three days ago. (Sydney Morning Herald article on the bombing)
Early this morning the square is open again, with a strong police presence. People walk by on their way to work, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts is open while staff load carefully packed exhibition pieces onto trucks, street vendors hawk fresh bread rolls and roast chestnuts and the cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops slowly open for business. There was no tension in the air, no claustrophobic sense of fear. The wind was brisk as the sun peaked over the domes of the Mosque and the fountain of Kaiser Wilhelm II stands undamaged. It is a memorial to the long relationship of two proud cultures which has survived far worse than the cowardly expression of the outmoded and decaying ideology hawked by those who claimed responsibility for the attack. What is clear now is that fear shall not rule here. The attack is already a failure. Those innocent people who lost their lives shall be mourned and buried and remembered, not for how they died, but how they lived. The perpetrator shall go unnamed and unremembered, not a victorious warrior on a righteous path, but a pitiful victim of cruel and unfeeling manipulators, mad for what little power they can hope to vainly grasp at before an inevitable oblivion erases their stain from the world. Unlike Ozymandias, they shall want even for a desolate remembrance.
I see travel as an expression of freedom. And rightfully nothing should curtail this freedom for any citizen of this world. It is a tragedy that it happens so often. That so many amazing places, so many welcoming people and so much illuminating history is closed off from the rest of the world either or both physically and mentally by the avarice and cruelty of close minded people. Expressing one’s freedom of travel, if one is able to, is an act of defiance to those who would rather sow a quick and feeble harvest of fear, than cultivate a garden friendship and common humanity. The people of this city are proud of their heritage which they wish to share with all other people of this great world. Nothing should stand in the way of a glad acceptance of this invitation and I shall not let fear stand in my way as I witness the majesty of this venerable and ancient place. It’s life is that of the people who have thronged it’s streets, waters, temples and palaces when it was Constantinopolis, when it was Byzantion and now, as it is and shall be, Istanbul.