Whatever we have most of, we seem to take for granted. When I first moved here I was horrified to see three guys hauling a wheelbarrow of marble fragments out of the Palace to decorate their cafe. I called the Tourist Police and got an embarrassed reaction, but despite all those stories about dire consequences for removal of souvenirs from ancient ruins, there simply was no provision made to keep such things from happening here at the Boukoleon.
The Palace has been left to rack and ruin for decades. The good part was that we could walk up into it. The bad part was that homeless people lived in the ruins, and that can be dicey. I got along with most of them, but never sat and drew in the ruins as I longed to do because one never knew when some glue-sniffing idiot would show up dangerous.
But many a time I went in there, alone or with friends, to marvel at the rising walls of brickwork, the piles of marble rubble all around. One massive malachite pillar still lies in there, its thickness up to my thighs. Weed-fringed holes go down into the area below, peopled by denizens of the dark amongst the trash.
The one remaining sea gate, the sides of a marble keyhole shape rising from vast marble pediments carved with egg-and-dart borders, was choked with trash, dumped furniture, garbage and dead things.
There had been a fig tree, but the Belidiye- the local government- lopped it down, dead branches rotting on the marble pediments leading up into the ruins. We would clamber from the gate up through the weeds along the ridge of masonry, and suddenly be looking down into exposed rooms and arched portals and mystery. Up top was a toothed ridge over the big arch, one lone standing pillar marking the airspace of an entire colonnade.
We’d jump down past more shoots of fig saplings, over a massive pile of potsherds and into what had been a great hall, open to the sky, with the remnants of walls and arched doors and windows all around.
The ground surface was rubble and weeds, punctuated with the remains of campfires. Once I saw a carved piece of alabaster, burned on top and littered with mussel shells. Once we found an empty purse, still lying where it was tossed long after the thief had run into the ruins. Once we walked in to see somebody huffing fumes out of a sack, and left in a hurry. More often, friendly bums would show up to watch out for us, like Ahmet, here, reading about the ruins in my copy of Byzantium 1200.
Then last spring one guy, Mehmet, set up his mattress on the marble fragments right under the huge arch, keeping dogs in the ruins and stringing his laundry up on the top, a fine sight for tourists. “I may be poor,” he said, “but I live in a palace.”