Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Constantinople is a very big word

Today's research snippet: This is a description of Constantinople from Odo of Deuil who whas chaplain to Louis VII on the 2nd crusade. I used this source extensively when writing THE SUMMER QUEEN. It certainly must have made a dramatic impression on the crusaders.

Constantinople, the glory of the Greeks, rich in renown and richer still in possessions, is laid out in a triangle shaped like a ship’s sail. In the gates in the angle stand Santa Sophia and Constantine’s palace, in which there is a chapel that is revered for its exceedingly holy relics. (among the most precious relics were those of the Passion: the Holy Lance, the Holy Cross, Crown of Thorns, the Nail of the Crucifixion, the Shroud, and the Stone from the tomb). Moreover, Constantinople is girt on two sides by the sea; when approaching the city we had the Arm of Saint George on the right and on the left of us an estuary, which, after branching from the Arm, flows on for about four miles. In that place the Palace of Blachernae, although having foundations laid on low ground, achieves eminence through excellent construction and elegance and, because of its surroundings on three sides, affords its inhabitants the triple pleasure of looking out upon sea, fields, and city. Its exterior is of almost matchless beauty, but its interior surpasses anything I can say about it. Throughout it is decorated elaborately with gold and a great variety of colours, and the floor is marble, paved with cunning workmanship; and I do not know whether the exquisite art or the exceedingly valuable stuffs endows it with more beauty or value.
The third side of the city’s triangle includes fields, but it is fortified by towers and a double wall which extends for about two miles from the sea to the palace. The wall is not very strong, and it possesses no lofty towers; but the city puts its trust, I think, in the size of its population and the long period of peace which it has enjoyed. Below the walls lies open land, cultivated by plough and harrow, which contains gardens that furnish the citizens all kinds of vegetables. From the outside underground conduits flow in, all bringing the city an abundance of sweet water.
The city itself is squalid and fetid and in many places harmed by permanent darkness, for the wealthy overshadow the streets with buildings and leave these dirty, dark places to the poor and the travellers; there murders and robberies and other crimes which love the darkness are committed. Moreover, since people live lawlessly in the city, which has as many lords as rich men and almost as many thieves as poor men, a criminal knows neither fear nor shame, because crime is not punished by law and never entirely comes to light. In every respect she exceeds moderation; for just as she surpasses other cities in wealth, so too, does she surpass them in vice. Also she possesses many churches unequal to Santa Sophia in size but but equal to it in beauty, which are to be marvelled at for their beauty and their many saintly relics. Those who had the opportunity entered these places, some to see the sights and others to worship faithfully.

Reliquary of the Crown of Thorns, today housed in Notre Dame de Paris.

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