Thursday, June 23, 2011

Paul Bowles in Istanbul -- Hagia Sophia (Ἁγία Σοφία) and Selim The Grim








 October 6

        Santa Sophia?  Aya Sofya now, not a living mosque but a dead one, like those of Kairouan which can no longer be used because they have been profaned by the feet of infidels.  Greek newspapers have carried on propaganda campaigns designed to turn the clock back, reinstate Aya Sofya as a tabernacle of the Orthodox Church.  The move was obviously foredoomed to failure;  after having used it as a mosque for five centuries the Moslems would scarcely relish seeing it put back into the hands of the Christians.  And so now it is a museum which contains nothing but its own architecture.







Hagia Sophia (top two images)






Selim the Grim (left)  (r. 1512-20) wrote poetry under the name Mahlas Selimi. His arch-rival Shah Ismail I (right) (r. 1501-24) wrote poetry as Khata'i.
 

October 10


      At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Selim the Grim [1] captured from the Shah of Persia [2] one of the most fantastic pieces of furniture I have ever seen.   The trophy was the poor Shah’s throne, a simple but massive thing made of chiseled gold, decorated with hundres of enormous emeralds.  I went to see it today at the Topkapi Palace.  There was a bed to match, also of emerald-studded gold.   After a moment of looking Abdeslam ran out of the room, where these incredible objects stood into the courtyard, and could not be coaxed back in.  “Too many riches are bad for the eyes,” he explained.  I could not agree; I thought them beautiful.  I tried to make him tell me the exact reason for his sudden flight, but he found it difficult to give me a rational explanation of his behavior.  “You know that gold and jewels are sinful,” he began.   To get him to go on, I said I knew.  “And if you look at sinful things for very long you can go crazy; you know that.  And I don’t want to go crazy.”   I was willing to take the chance, I replied, and I went back in to see more.







Shah Ismail's Throne




[1] Selim I, Yavuz Sultân Selim Khan, Hâdim-ül Haramain-ish Sharifain (Servant of the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina) (Ottoman Turkish: سليم اوّل, Modern Turkish: I.Selim), nicknamed Yavuz "the Stern" or "the Steadfast", but often rendered in English as "the Grim" (October 10, 1465/1466/1470 – September 22, 1520), was the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1512 to 1520. He was also the first Ottoman Sultan to assume the title of Caliph of Islam. He was granted the title of "Hâdim ül Haramain ish Sharifain" (Servant of the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina), by the Sharif of Mecca on 1517. Selim carried the empire to the leadership of the Sunni branch of Islam by his conquest of the Middle East. He represents a sudden change in the expansion policy of the empire, which was working mostly against the West and the Beyliks before his reign. On the eve of his death in 1520, the Ottoman empire spanned almost 1 billion acres (trebling during Selim's reign).

[2]  Shāh Ismāˤil Abū l-Muzaffar bin Haydar bin Sheikh Junayd as-Safawī (Persian: شاه اسماعیل / Šāh Ismā'īl) (July 17, 1487 - May 23, 1524), was a Shah of Iran and the founder of the Safavid Empire, which survived until 1736. Isma'il started his campaign in Azerbaijan in 1502 as the leader of the Safaviyya, an extremist heterodox Twelver Shi'i militant religious order and unified all of Iran by 1509.. Born in Ardabil in Northwestern Iran, he reigned as Shāh Ismāˤil I of Iran from 1502 to 1524. Isma'il played a key role in the rise of Twelver Islam; he converted Iran from Sunni and Ismaili Shi'i Islam, importing religious authorities from the Levant.   In Alevism, Shāh Ismāˤil remains revered as a spiritual guide.  Ismā'il was also a prolific poet who, under the pen name Khatā'ī ("Sinner") contributed greatly to the literary development of the Azerbaijani language.







Paul  Bowles in Tangier



Paul Bowles excerpts from Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue, Scenes From The Non-Christian World.  New York, Random House, 1963.

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