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Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, October 24, 1927 [1]

Ministry of Finance,

I have just returned from Constantinople, dearest Mildred, and must tell you something of my stay there and of my journey in Bulgaria, or I shall burst.

Hayford and I took the boat here and eased down the Danube to Lom Polanka, which is in Bulgaria and a short night by train from Sofia.Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. It was a two days’ trip on the boat, quite comfortable, and on the second day one passes through magnificent gorges, with crags rising sheer 300 metres and another story a little further back 600 metres. One sees the remains of the road TrajanTrajan (53–117), Roman emperor between 98 and 117. built; in several places, for hundreds of yards at a time, it was carried on beams fitted into holes cut in the face of the rock a couple of yards above the water-level. There is a great inscription,The “Tabula Traiana” which measures 4 m x 1.75 m, commemorates the completion of Trajan’s military road and is located near Ogradina, Serbia, on the Serbian side of the Danube River facing Romania. It reads: IMP. CAESAR. DIVI. NERVAE. F / NERVA TRAIANVS. AVG. GERM / PONTIF MAXIMUS TRIB POT IIII / PATER PATRIAE COS III / MONTIBVUS EXCISI(s) ANCO(ni)BVS / SVBLAT(i)S VIA(m) F(ecit). [Emperor Caesar son of the divine Nerva, Nerva Trajan, the Augustus, Germanicus, Pontifex Maximus, invested for the fourth time as Tribune, Father of the Fatherland, Consul for the third time, excavating mountain rocks and using wood beams has made this road.] still perfectly legible, in which Trajan recorded how he vanquished river and mountain in order to conquer DaciaDacia, the land inhabited by the Dacians, a branch of the Tracians. Dacia was bounded in the south by the Danube River or, at its greatest extent, by the Haemus Mountains (the Balkan Mountains). In the east, Dacia was bounded by the Black Sea and the Dniester River. Ancient Dacia corresponds to the present-day countries of Romania and Moldova as well as to smaller parts of Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, and the Ukraine. The Dacian Wars (101–102 and 105–106) were two military campaigns fought between the Roman Empire and Dacia during Emperor Trajan’s rule. (103 A.D.). Very wild and primitive country; the peasants all in white or brightly coloured costumes woven by themselves.

Sofia is not at all a bad little place. The League Commissioner there, Charron,René Charron, the League of Nations Finance Committee’s Commissioner to Bulgaria (1926–1932). Charron became an assistant (number 492, codename “Boatman”) to Allen Dulles during the Second World War. See Allen Welsh Dulles and Neal H. Petersen, From Hitler’s Doorstep: The Wartime Intelligence Reports of Allen Dulles, 1942–1945 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996), 625. is a great friend of mine, and Wilson,Charles Stetson Wilson (1873–1947), the U.S. minister to Bulgaria (1921–1928). our Minister, is a cousin of Hayford’s. Charron looked after us beautifully. The museumThe National Archaeological Museum, Sofia (Национален археологически музей). has a lot of Byz. stuff of great interest to us, as well as other exciting things, for instance, a gold treasure,The identity of this gold treasure is uncertain. It may be the Valchitran Treasure, discovered in 1924 (not during the First World War) with a total weight of 12.5 kg (not 20 kg). It is usually dated ca. 1300 BCE. discovered during the war and weighing over 20 kilos, consisting of huge massive drinking vessels in solid gold with silver niello of a very strange style. Opinions on it vary from Neolithic (Bégouen)Count Henri Bégouen (1863–1956), a French archaeologist and a lecturer on prehistory at the Université de Toulouse. to Mycenaean (S. Reinach)Salomon Reinach (1858–1932), a French archaeologist and a keeper at the National Museum of Antiquities at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. and early Bulgarian, perhaps 7th–8th cent, of our era (Peirce and Tyler). There’s so little ornament that it’s very hard to make a case, but what little there is seems to us to belong to the Barbarian-Provincial-Byzantine world of the Nagy Szent Miklos treasure in Vienna,The Nagy St. Miklos (Nagyszentmiklós) treasure is a collection of twenty-three early medieval gold vessels, variously dated between the sixth and tenth centuries, found in 1799 in Nagyszentmiklós, Hungary, in the Habsburg Empire (modern Sânnicolau Mare, Romania). The treasure was transferred to the Imperial Collection (now Kunsthistorisches Museum), Vienna. which all now agree about.

The Boulgres“Bulgarians.” gave us one of the Museum officials to pilot us about the country, and a very good, serviceable fellow he is. We saw, in four days, plus 4 in and round Sofia, very nearly all there is to see, by working pretty hard, travelling by night in a sleeper and motoring a lot in the day. Much of the stuff is wretched, and it was not really surprising to find, where the arch-fumiste Diehl“The arch-humbug Diehl.” Charles Diehl. describes “un ensemble important de fresques du XIe-XIIe”“An important ensemble of frescos of the 11th–12th centuries.” nothing but the lowest sort of XVIII and even XIX (Batschkovo).The Batschkovo Monastery, founded in 1083 in the valley of the Chepelare River. TirnovoVeliko Tŭrnovo, the fortified former capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire and the seat of the Bulgarian patriarch. is a wash out, except (geographically) for its extraordinary double-meander, and as far as one can judge by existing remains, the Bulgarian empire of the late Xllth–late XlVth was a one-horse affair.

But we were altogether unprepared for the stupendous vestiges of the first Bulgarian empire: late VIIth–late Xth.The First Bulgarian Empire or the Danubian Bulgar Khanate was founded ca. 680 by Bulgars in the northeastern Balkans, territory conquered from the Byzantine Empire. This medieval state was ruled by hereditary emperors until the early eleventh century, when in 1014 the Byzantine Emperor Basil II defeated the Bulgarians at the Battle of Kleidion. The excavations of the Churches at PreslavPreslav, the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire between 893 and 972. At the royal monastery in Preslev, more than two thousand whole or fragmented tiles have been discovered. and PatleinaPatleina, a monastery dedicated to St. Panteleimon. and the fortress-palace at Plishka [sic]Pliska (Pliskusa), the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire between 681 and 893. show how absolutely Byzantine the art of that Empire was, and throw much new light on the character of Byz. keramics (entre autre“Among other things.”) of the time.See Paul Stephenson, Byzantium’s Balkan Frontier: A Political Study of the Northern Balkans, 900–1204 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). For the Byzantine ceramics from this area, see D. Talbot Rice, “Byzantine Polychrome Pottery,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 61, no. 357 (December 1932), 281–86. At Patleina, they have found an over-life sized head of a saint in glazed tiles,St. Theodore Icon from the Patleina Monastery, ninth–tenth century, made from twenty-one terracotta tiles, National Archaeological Museum, Preslav, Bulgaria. See The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, AD 843–1261, ed. Helen C. Evans and William D. Wixom (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997), 329. very fine indeed and entirely new as regards technique, which can’t be later than the reign of Ximisus (late Xth)John I Tzimiskes, brother-in-law of the Byzantine emperor Romanos II Porphyrogennetos, was emperor between 969 and 976. In a series of campaigns on the lower Danube in 970–971, he captured the Bulgarian emperor Boris II and proclaimed the annexation of Bulgaria. who destroyed Patleina. But the great surprise was the colossal cliff relief at Madara:The “Madara Horseman” is a large rock relief carved on the Madara Plateau east of Shuman in northeastern Bulgaria, near the village of Madara. The relief is now generally dated to ca. 710 and to the reign of the Bulgar khan Tervel (ca. 695–718), suggesting that the horseman portrays Tervel thrusting a spear into a lion. The image may also represent the Bulgar god Tangra, an image type based on the Thracian Hero God. The inscriptions probably date to several periods, those of Tervel, Krum (796–814), and Omurtag (814–831). The “Madara Horseman” may commemorate Tervel’s victory in 708 over the Byzantines at the Battle of Anchialus. See Veselin Beshevliev, Die protobulgarische Periode der bulgarischen Geschichte (Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1981), 170, 473–74, ill. 38, pl. 22, and ill. 77, pl. 49. In 811, the emperor Nikephoros I invaded Bulgaria and sacked the capital Pliska, defeating Krum. On Nikephoros’s retreat, however, Krum ambushed the Byzantine army in the mountain, and Nikephoros was killed in the battle. See UNESCO, “Madara Rider.” 35 metres from the ground on the face of a 100 metres-high cliff, the equestrian figure of the Sublime Kahn Krum, accompanied by the lion and the dog which were regarded as sacred by the pagan Bulgars. The relief was carved, as a long Greek inscription cut on the rock beside it tells, by order of the Sublime Khan Omurtog to commemorate Khan Krum’s (Omurtog’s father’s) defeat of the Byzantine army under Nicephorus I (A.D. 811) who was killed in the battle in a gorge not far from where the relief stands.

The character of the relief is also absolutely Byzantine—though the way it is placed and the scale give it something of a Sassanian look—and this is of enormous interest as it is the only big piece of Byz. sculpture of that period that has survived. We always felt sure that sometime we’d come across big Byz. sculpture of the VIII–IX, but we thought it would emerge from excavations at C’ple. and never dreamed that we’d find it on the desolate and eagle-haunted Cliffs of Madara. Madara is a strange, almost terrifying place, with pairs of real eagles always circling about the cliffs, in the face of which there are countless dwellings, cut no one knows when or by whom, as the eagles have removed whatever vestiges may have been left in the chambers. At one place, where there are abundant springs, the cliff forms as it were a mighty apse of almost regular semi-dome shape, 50 metres high and 100 wide at the base. I don’t think I’ve ever, anywhere, seen nature and man combine to produce such an awe-inspiring whole.

Of course the dear Boulgres“Bulgarians.” stick to it that the relief proves that their ancestors brought with them to the Balkans a highly developed art, related with that of Persia, and owing nothing to Byzantium. They don’t draw attention to two huge stone magots,The sculptures that he refers to have not been identified. now in the museum at Preslav, which were found in Bulgar tumuli and undoubtedly represent what the Boulgre was capable of in the way of sculpture. Not only the Greek inscription, but the character of the relief (I had a very good spy-glass and was able to examine it well) show that it is Byzantine. There are many small fragments in the Museum at C’ple and elsewhere—set into Top Kapu gateThe Top Kapu (also known as the Cannon Gate and the St. Romanus Gate), the site of the defeat of the last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI, by Mohammed the Conqueror on May 29, 1453. for instance, of very closely similar style. Only the huge scale of the relief has prevented people from noticing this so far—such people as have seen it, that is, for Madara isn’t exactly accessible. Choumen (Chumla) is the nearest station, and that is 12 hours by rail from Sofia.

From the top of the Madara cliff one sees the ruins of the huge fortress-palace,The Madara fortress (called Matora) was probably first constructed in the fourth century and rebuilt during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185–1396). It continued in use through 1386. built of superb masonry, blocks a good 6 ft. long by 2 or 3 high and deep, and one has an impression that will last of the grandeur and might of that barbaric Bulgar kingdom which gave the Byzantine Empire a run for its money, defeated and slew a Byz. Emperor and mortally wounded his son and heir,Nikephoros I was killed in 811 at the Battle of Pliska. In 811, the emperor Nikephoros I invaded Bulgaria and sacked the capital Pliska, defeating Krum. On Nikephoros’s retreat, however, Krum ambushed the Byzantine army in the mountain, and Nikephoros was killed in the battle. His son, Stauakios, was paralyzed by a sword wound near the neck at the same battle. but, artistically speaking, was conquered by Byzantium even before it became Christian about A.D. 860. The whole country-side is covered with tumuli of which only a very few have been opened—our cicerone told us there were several thousands of them.

We ended our tour at Philippopoli—and in the Museum there found a most beautiful Byz. Xth bronze relief of the Virgin,The Virgin Elleusa, bronze, fourteenth century, The Regional Archaeological Museum, Plovdiv, Bulgaria. a perfect marvel, alone well worth the journey. The poor boobs in the museum think it’s made of lead and pay no attention to it! I expect that if one were for any time in Bulgaria one would have opportunities. As it is, Hayford got some very rare and valuable Byz. coins for nothing. By the way, we aren’t telling anyone that the ground looks promising there, as we’d be sorry to see Kalebdjian set up a consulate in Bulgaria.

Then Constantinople!

We were there ten days. Fortunately Hayford had been there for a month a few years ago, so we wasted no time.

C’ple is a formidable experience. Sta SophiaThe church of Hagia Sophia (“Holy Wisdom”) was built in Constantinople (Istanbul) between 532 and 537 on the orders of the Byzantine emperor Justinian. It was the largest church in the world for nearly a thousand years. far surpassed all I had expected. It is the grandest building man ever made; altogether unimaginable and incredible. The scale is terrific: 65 metres sous-oeuvre“At the base.” in the main cupola, and it looks even more. When one stands there, with the colossal dome and the semi-domes billowing away far over one’s head, it is as if one were inside a monstrous great balloon, straining at its moorings and about to soar off into the sky. This effect is partly due to the fact that there are 40 windows very close one to the next round the base of the great cupola, and the narrow spaces between them are as it were the cords and hausers that tie the balloon down to earth.

The lighting is so marvellously devised that the interior is suffused with a light of its own, equally bright (or dim) in all parts of the Church—or nearly so. One has to pause and calculate to tell which way the light is coming from. And the acoustics! One isn’t allowed in Sta Sophia when the Moslem offices are going on, but on several occasions there was an ulemaAn ulema, an eduacated Muslim legal scholar or clergyman. softly chanting verses from the Koran near the mihrabMihrab, the niche in a mosque that indicates the direction of Mecca, toward which Muslims pray. The present Hagia Sophia marble mihrab dates to the mid-nineteenth century.—and his voice was almost equally audible all over the building: one had trouble in discovering where he was, just as I often was puzzled to know which side the sun was coming from.

Up to the level of the tribunes, the walls are wainscoted with verde-antico, Westphalia-ham and other marble, and the columns are verde-antico or red porphyry.Verde antico (“antique green”), a serpentine marble quarried in Thessaly, Greece. Porphyry is a purple igneous rock quarried in eastern Egypt. Both verde antico (sometimes called green porphyry) and porphyry had been associated with imperial use since Roman times. The marble columns at Hagia Sophia mostly were reused from pagan temples in western Anatolia. The colour is determined by these stones and is, on the whole, something between olive-leaf and pistacchio. The soffits and vaults and upper wall-spaces are of course covered with mosaic, and, though the Turk covers it all with a dirty yellow wash, he is slack about keeping it up and in many places the mosaic shows through—much more than has been noticed by the writers on Sta Sophia. In places there’s no wash at all. The mosaics date, we think, all from the latter part of the IXth cent., when the images quarrelThe two periods of Byzantine iconoclasm—imperial bans on religious images—were 730–787 and 814–842. was drawing to a close. There are hardly any traces of figures visible—and there don’t seem to be many hidden away. The bulk of the decoration is formed by crosses and scrolls and such-like of very beautiful character, with a liberal use of silver-cubes.

Of course the Turk has done much to deface Sta Sophia. Worst of all are the colossal round wooden shields with Koran texts, white on dark green, fixed to the faces of each of the 8 main piers.The eight leather and wood disks or medallions were added in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. The pulpits etc are all miserable, and the carpets nothing. If one allows the Turk’s contribution to prey sufficiently on one’s mind, one finds Sta Sophia looking like a huge circus on an off-day. The low hanging lamps are the trapezes, the Turks’ junk is the clown-stands etc and the very carpets are like circus carpets, and the unearthly, ethereal dome turns into a Barnum and Bailey tent. My God, I would like to see the Turk thrown out of Constantinople!—but then Sta Sophia would be exposed to the zeal of restorers and filled with modern Orthodox bondieuserie.“Religious knick-knacks.” Probably any change is for the worse. Only there is the horrible thought that, according to engineers, the dome is in perillous [sic] condition, and the Turk may be trusted to do nothing to save it. There were a couple or men hoisting up bags of cement by a hand-pulley, and I expect that rate of progression represents the Turks’ top speed.

Then, apart from Sta Sophia, there are such things as “little Sta Sophia” (the Ch. of SS Sergius and Bacchus)The Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, also known as the Little Hagia Sophia, was built between 527 and 536 and was something of a model for the larger Hagia Sophia. It also was converted into a mosque ca. 1506–1513 during the Ottoman Empire. which is only little in comparison with S. Sophia, than which it is a little earlier. A very lovely church also, with most beautiful capitals and columns. The capitals indeed are better than those in big S. Sophia, where the scale is so big that the size of the capital becomes rather too much for the VI cent, system of ornament. Again, a very marvellously arranged light. Another church still, St. Irene,The fourth-century church of Hagia Eirene (or Irene) was restored by the emperor Justinian in 548, after it was burned down during the Nike revolt of 532. It was again restored in the eight century after an earthquake. When Royall Tyler saw it, the former church had been used as a military museum since 1908. of the same period, has suffered much more, but preserves much of the ancient fabric.

Scattered about StamboulStamboul here designates the old town city center of Constantinople. In 1928, the name was first officially used to designate the entire city. there are many other churches, now mosques, with much or little of the original Byz. building about them. Then there are the superb walls running from the Bosphorus to the Golden Horn.The defensive stone walls of Constantinople were initially built by the emperor Constantine after the founding of the city in the fourth century. A double line of walls was built in the fifth century, due to the city’s expansion. The area of Galata was fortified with walls under the emperor Justinian in the sixth century. The defenses thus enclosed Constantinople from the Bosphorus (the navigable strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara that separates the European part of modern Turkey—Thrace—from the Asian part—Anatolia) to the Golden Horn, an inlet of the Bosphorus forming a harbor.

There are several museums of enormous interest—the most surprising one to me was the Efkaf, or Museum of Pious Foundations,The Evkaf Museum (the Museum of the Administration of Pious Foundations or Evkaf-I Islamiye Müzesi) was opened in 1914 to protect objects of artistic value, especially carpets, that were used in mosques. It was located in the soup kitchen building of the Süleymaniye Mosque complex. It was reorganized as the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts (Türk ve Islam Müzesi) in 1927. See Kurt Erdmann, Seven Hundred Years of Oriental Carpets (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970), 105–11. where there is a stunning collection of about 100 Anatolian and a few Persian carpets of the XV and XVI centuries—they fairly leave one gasping, I can assure you. Also lots of exquisite Persian painted MSS.

The great trouble at C’ple is that one has to live in Pera,The district of Pera (Beyoğlu) is located in what is known as the European side of Istanbul and on the opposite side of the Golden Horn from the old town city center. The Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus gave Pera to the Republic of Genoa in 1273 in return for Genoa’s support after the Fourth Crusade and the sacking of Constantinople in 1204. It became a thriving center for European merchants. which is miles away from StamboulStamboul designated the old town city center of Constantinople. In 1928, the name was first officially used to designate the entire city. where everything one wants to see is, along a horrible street full of trams and traffic and the most raucous and strident motor horns I’ve ever heard anywhere. One’s nerves are all jangled by the time one has passed this ordeal. We used to spend the entire day in Stamboul, eating in unpromising Greek restaurants where the food is really delicious, and so reduced the number of times we did the trip to two daily. But that’s two too much, and one of my chief bones to pick with the Turk is that he hasn’t allowed a hotel to be built in Stamboul, where there are quantities of superb sites going begging, with splendid views over the Bosphorus, and quite close to Sta Sophia and lots of the things one wants to be near. Altogether, the Turk .... especially now that he’s dressed himself in modern clothes and pretends to be just like any other European, one has less patience with his incredible ways than one had when he was openly an Oriental. He has turned the main streets of Stamboul into something like the E. Side or Fall River.East side of Manhattan in New York, and Fall River, Massachusetts. It really is the limit that in Constantinople, the city with the finest sea-board in the world, one should nowhere be able to get to the water’s edge, which is devoted to dead-dog factories and sewage and every imaginable and unimaginable filth.

This is rather a long letter, I fear. The fact is that last night I dreamed that you and I were walking about C’ple together. We saw Sta Sophia and all sorts of things, some real—others the fruit of my imagination after eating immoderately but most delectably of blinzes, sour cream and caviare [sic] as a farewell ceremony for Hayford’s departure. But our walk through Stamboul was most delightful and therefore I can’t resist telling you what it all seemed like to me. Perhaps some day—.—I would much like to see Sta. Sophia with you.

Walter Berry’s death has been a terrible blow to poor Edith. Elisina has been with her all the time, and still is. I had a déchirante“Heartbreaking.” letter from her today. Poor, poor Edith.

The GrewsJoseph Clark Grew (1800–1965), an American diplomat and foreign service officer who was U.S. ambassador to Turkey in 1927–1932. were installed in the Embassy—in Pera, of course, as none of the embassies have been allowed to build in Stamboul. I saw something of them, but to tell the truth I grudged every waking moment I had to spend in Pera.

I’m enclosing a letter to Robert.See letter of October 24, 1927 [2].

Fettich has done some important digging this season, and is preparing for a trip to Siberia in the Spring, if he can collect enough money. He has scraped together about $300 already, and if he could get as much again he’d have enough—and he’s the only person who knows both the Hungarian and the Russian barbaric stuff, the study of which side by side will clear up many mysteries.

Much love to you and Robert, dearest Mildred.

R. T.

Associated Things: Kalebdjian Frères