Little mysteries: the stub of a pillar, its break rounded with age, sticking up through the sidewalk next to a parking lot.
Across the narrow street, another pillar-sized lump, mortared all over with stones. Nearby, two arches stacked in front of a staircase going into a hill, with a brick barrel-vault ceiling,
leading up to a bright pink-stuccoed wall behind a mosque. From the harsh recent restoration, you’d never dream how old it is.
A block away, another pillar stub sticking out of the sidewalk. This one is a different kind of marble.
Across the street, a haphazard pile of rubble, mortared here and there to lumps of Byzantine brick.
Through a chink in the mortar, a flashlight glimpse of a Byzantine brick arch down below the street.
A door-shaped area on a plaster wall showing the antiquity beneath. This particular mystery was eventually solved, long after this photo was taken in 2014. The spectacular answer is at the end of this post.
A sealed iron door in an old wall under a row of hotels. A hoary wall rearing up between a parking lot and a restaurant terrace. A ragged ruin over the Basilica Cistern, its windows Ottoman, its foundation Byzantine. Just hints, clues in a puzzle.
Once consecrated as holy, a place cannot be de-consecrated. So says a dear friend. Since he is a Canon in his church, with a lifetime spent studying such things, I listen to him. If so, then there is a certain parking lot in my old Sultanahmet neighborhood that is holy as all get-out, and on three theological pillars to boot: Muslim, Christian and Judaic. Before that, there was most likely some Pagan altar with flute and drum, an ancient withered seer behind the statue of the god, angels with wings coming out of their hips…
A NEW DEVELOPMENT
Here’s a cheery update: these observations were made back in 2014. Last week, in March 2019, I walked down the hill above Gulhane Park to a revelation. They’ve ripped down a big ugly building to reveal this:
This wonder is what was behind a certain pink-plastered wall, described above. Now it’s next to a parking lot. Notice how the four arched openings were bricked up and the building built on top, God knows how long ago. My prayer is that they leave it alone, neither covering, destroying or “restroying” it, which is what we’re calling restoration these days. Who knows, miracles may happen!
You can walk around Istanbul for years, speculating on some great temple all across the hill, its perfect Greek geometry leveling the lumpy streets. Here in Istanbul, we create our picture from minute fragments. Like sex in the movies under the old moralistic American Production Code, we have to make our guesses from the architectural equivalent of a hairpin on a pillow: that lone pillar stub sticking up out of the cobblestones. It led to St Jacob’s Chapel, hidden under a building near the foot of the hill. Going down!