Sir Francis Ronalds' Travel Journal: Constantinople and Troy
[10 June 1820]
"The immense crowd of Vessells all passing up with us under every inch of Canvass [sic] they could crowd, illuminated by a fine setting Sun, the white fortifications at Kana-kale... all put together did inspire a little enthusiasm & I did then give way a little to my imagination but I shall not now do so"
The Revolutionnaire Frigate was anchored at the mouth of the Hellespont waiting for the Ambassador to go to Leghorn or Genoa, we passed her rapidly and at 6 entering the Channel soon after passed the Tomb of Ajax. What can I say of the Hellespont? I have already I fear tired you by descriptions of scenery & I dare not enter into historic or critical details or classical allusions but I should expose my ignorance. Although I was never better pleased, yet I considered the view far from being so fine as many others, that for instance on first entering the Nile from the new Canal. The immense crowd of Vessells all passing up with us under every inch of Canvass they could crowd, illuminated by a fine setting Sun, the white fortifications at Kana-kale & of on the opposite side the plain of Troy, the Tumulus of Ajax, all put together did inspire a little enthusiasm & I did then give way a little to my imagination but I shall not now do so. By 8 o clock we had arrived at the Dardanelles but it was too dark to see much. We all went to bed in high spirits. This was the first good wind I had been favoured with since leaving Malta. At Sun Rise of the 11th we were off the Town of Gallipoli, nothing extraordinary, scenery pretty not fine. Our breeze carried us this day and night nearly across the Sea of Marmara passing the Island of Marmara to westward a little. It was foggy rather. On the 12th at Sun Rise we found ourselves in sight of Constantinople but the air still hazy.
"we were all struck with its deformity - a quantity of ill constructed buttresses support the dome and render the building a mere pile of rubbish on the outside"
"We learned that the Plague had seized a few victims lately and that it was necessary to avoid touching people in the streets"
"The Bazaars are more worth seeing... what seems to me to be always a mark of great extent of trade in a place is that the principal dealers in each particular article herd together in particular quarters"
We anchored at about 10 in the morning near the grand Seraglio with the thousand mosques, the far famed Mosque of Santa Sophia & some other splendours of Constantinople full in view. But where is the boasted beauty of the Mosque of Sa Sophia, where are the gilded domes of Constantinople, its beautiful minarets? To us Sa Sophia appeared not so handsome as another of no note standing very near it and we were all struck with its deformity - a quantity of ill constructed buttresses support the dome and render the building a mere pile of rubbish on the outside. The inside I can say nothing about of Course but by all the accounts I can get, no comparison can be held for a moment with St Peter's, what profound ass could ever have first made such comparison. The little red or bluish coloured houses covered with sloping tiles also cut a very mean appearance and altogether I was hitherto quite of accord with those who have compared this city with Cairo, but as we crossed the harbour shortly afterwards to land at Galata I was very agreeably surprised by the view of the Seraglio, the innumerable masts of vessells, the Wharfs &c &c all round and particularly with the more distant docks & the Harem & the busy crowd of Turks. Here they were to be seen in all their glory and I did not repent of coming out of my way for such a sight. The general effect is I think superior to London because there is a greater variety of objects and one gets a little of the distant mountains.
Having housed ourselves at the wretched french Inn at Pera we proceeded to visit the Ambassador Sir R. Liston but he was at Beukderry. We learned that the Plague had seized a few victims lately and that it was necessary to avoid touching people in the streets. After dining badly we again sallied forth to see the Lions but it was so very hot, so crowded were the streets and bazaars we passed through and we ported[?] on at such an enormous rate that I was almost exhausted and could pay but little attention to them. My good Indian friends forgot I believe that I had not undergone an indian Seasoning, they seemed only anxious to get the affair done & certainly it was not a matter of very great consequence. We visited first the Cistern, exactly like all other ancient cisterns, a number of Pillars supporting the earth above with little regard to beauty or proportion. Next we came to the Pillar ornamented with some remarkable bands (it has been much damaged by fire) & at last to the Hippodrome, now a sort of public square within which stands all the remaining antiquities of Constantinople viz the celebrated piece of a twisted bronze column mentioned by Gibbon, the Granite Obelisk resting upon a marble Pedestal with four bronze supports at the angles of the obelisk (a very gammy[?] concern as the architects say) and another brick obelisk. The Bazaars are more worth seeing. They seem to contain every thing which can be desired by the inhabitants in the utmost profusion, & what seems to me to be always a mark of great extent of trade in a place is that the principal dealers in each particular article herd together in particular quarters or divisions. Thus you see a bazaar of Tobacco, another of Tobacco pipes, others of Coffee, of Fruits &c &c. Not content with our walk we again strolled out in the evening to the principal lounging[?] in Pera which is also the promenade. Here there is some slight resemblance to the Palais Royal at Paris but a very slight one, indeed don't imagine that there is any such building, there is only a little resemblance in the manner of people sitting under a few trees in the air to take Ice lemonade &c - I should like very much to see a row of about 20 Turks saying their evening prayers in time of their Ramadan in the Palais Royal as I saw them here.
"I fell into some comparison between Unitarianism & mohammedism & I was not surprised to find that we agreed on a great many points"
"We plunged into woods of nut, oak, &c merged into beautiful & extensive plains & climbed craggy heights"
I have felt very lone all the time I have been in Turkey in religious affairs. To be of a different religion even from every one about is very unsociable and I would sacrifice something for a sociable way of worshipping god. If it were not for sociabilities' sake I would not profess any particular creed whatever. I fell into some comparison between Unitarianism & mohammedism & I was not surprised to find that we agreed on a great many points.
On the 13th having engaged a Dragoman of the Ambassador we started early in the morning for Beukderry, taking in our way the Aqueducts and the Banks or heads of water which supply the Town &c. There was nothing extraordinary in any of these objects, but the scenery almost all the way was very pretty. At Sweet-Water (the country residence of the Vizier) placed in a fine valley at the bottom of which runs a small river discharging itself into the end of the Harbour, I recognized the same kind of scenery as amongst the mountains of Cyprus, that pleasing effect produced by clumps of & isolated trees standing in the rocky bottom & on the sides of a fine fresh verdant valley watered by a gurgling stream. The composition of the hills we passed over before arriving here was principally argillaceous, sometimes so much stratified as to approach very nearly to slate. They were rather barren. After passing Sweet-Water there was little argillaceous earth to be seen, the rock became totally[?] limestone. The Views now began to assume features very similar to those of Kent and Sussex indeed they reminded me very much of my rides at home, afterwards they assumed a bolder style but always English. We plunged into woods of nut, oak, &c merged into beautiful & extensive plains & climbed craggy heights. The winds from the black Sea are sometimes very cold here and will not permit the growth of many oriental plants & trees. At last after a circuit of about 30 Miles we arrived at Beukderry. This is a sort of watering Place to Constantinople where people retire for a little sweet air (a very necessary thing I should think). There are a few good houses and it is certainly a pretty place.
"I will not damn turkish taste any longer. It is not very much worse than our gothic, only a little more childish"
Sir Francis' passport issued by Ambassador Liston in Constantinople
We waited only an hour to refresh & took a boat to have a peep into the Black Sea just for the sake of saying we had been there. We rowed up to a little rocky island about a mile from the entrance of the Bosphorus in about 3 Hours. This Rock as well as the neighbouring shores exhibit evident basaltic phenomena & are black, perhaps volcanized. It may be this circumstance that has given the appellatus black to the Sea, or the term may be derived from its gloomy appearance and cold uncomfortable winds, god knows. Having inscribed our names on a piece of an ancient altar (such as Clarke describes except that it has Bull's Heads instead of Ram's) placed as a land mark for ships, to attest that we had actually been in the black sea, we again took to our Boat and making all possible speed arrived at Constantinople to a late dinner, having travelled over a space of at least 50 miles to see one of the most celebrated prospects in the world in the course of a morning. Don't expect therefore any details, I can only say that the general effect of the Bosphorus came short of my expectations. It is undoubtedly a very grand thing but there are many very ugly points of view as well as beautiful ones & it does not upon the whole afford entertaining views at least as we saw it. No doubt much might be chosen to admire by those who would lay themselves out for it, who would visit it at different times, in different tints &c &c. It has not derived its celebrity from such visitants as we were. The Red Houses annoyed me very much but I was delighted with the Grand Sultan's new Summer seraglio on the western bank a little before arriving at the town of Pera. Its lightness and airiness and even form are I think very elegant. I will not damn turkish taste any longer. It is not very much worse than our gothic, only a little more childish. Altho' we passed at a distance of a least ¼ mile from it we were obliged to put down our Umbrellas and expose ourselves to the Scorching Sun to avoid a visit from the Bostangi.
On the 14th we called after breakfast on the Consul Mr Cartwright & on Sir Robt Liston to accept his invitation to dine. Lady L is as fine an old scotch Lady as you ever meet with. Afterwards we went up to the end of the Harbour to see the ships of war &c. There were 10 or 12 very handsome seventy-fours and 2 or 3 larger ships & about 30 smaller & schooners &c, 2 Seventy-fours had been lately sent against our friend Ali Pasha. We did not see the interior of the Canon [sic] foundry, the exterior is a respectable building. The Harem looks better at a distance than near, we landed a little beyond it and walked up to the burying ground on the right where we had a compleat view of the harbour & neighbouring parts but this was not the most interesting point. We passed some burying places of People of great distinction, I need not describe their sloping tombs being shawls & Turbans & ornamented fancifully with gilding. We met at Dinner the chargé d'Affair Mr Frere, The Consul Mr [blank], the physician & Mr [blank] secretary of [?]. The Dinner was completely comme il faut and we were very kindly treated.
"The bible society here seems to make no kind of progress, it rather excites ridicule & I cannot help joining in the laugh a little, it is no go here"
I passed the morning of the 15th in the Bazaars of Constantinople in making a few purchases & amusing myself very well with the people, but it was impossible to avoid touching them and the more one attempts to do so the more the turks crowd upon you. If they see you over cautious they will purposely touch you. The plague was very trifling then at Constantinople, it was stronger at Pera. We made no attempt to get into the seraglio as Clarke did who actually succeeded altho' his statement has been doubted. The danger of the undertaking however furnished as he was with the assistance of the Gardener was nothing, that part of the history is for effect. We soon discovered that Boatmen, Rogues and Porters in this city are quite equal in handicraft to their brothers in London and all great Cities and not inferior to ours in their skill & in the velocity of their motion. We dined with the Consul, a regular John Bull. He shewed us some curious ancient helmets which were found at Olympia near Patras. The bible society here seems to make no kind of progress, it rather excites ridicule & I cannot help joining in the laugh a little, it is no go here. How silly to attempt to teach people to read the Bible before they have any desire to Read at all, to begin with puzzling them. We met at dinner a Mr [blank].
On the 16th we went to see the Grand Signore, go to a mosque in his barge & dined again with Sir Robt where we met besides the former party a Mr Black merchant here, Captn Pellens of the Revolutionnaire frigate, his lady, & several more gentlemen, the dinner was very elegant. At about 9 in the evening we went on board our Schooner and got under way early on the morning of the 17th having seen & done more at Constantinople &c in five days than many do in a month I believe. I don't boast of our expedition, it was the hardest work I ever performed certainly. So we quitted the proud city. My sojourn there seemed like a very pleasing dream so very different did it appear to me to what reporters had told me of it. We were again favoured with a good wind and arrived in sight of the Dardanelles on the afternoon of the 18th, but now a violent squall surprized us and carried away our fore top sail so that we were obliged to anchor after having run no small risk of getting ashore.
"we went on board the Revolutionnaire and drank tea & grog with... the officers until about 10 o clock"
On the 19th we landed at the Town of the Dardanelles where we delivered our firman authorizing us to pass the great Guns & called on the Consul Mr [blank]. The Plague was here in some force & the town presented nothing worth observation (the supposed scene of Hero & Leander's Pranks is a little higher up towards Constanple) so we were not desirous to remain a moment longer than was necessary. Since the English passed the Dardanelles 350 more pieces of canon have been mounted in 3 or 4 batteries high up. The bore of the largest guns on the water lines is just the length of my umbrella 35 inches, & the shot is made of Granite from ancient columns brought from the plain of Troy. They are very badly manned but we could not gain admission into any battery, I stole round on the outside to measure a gun in one battery not yet compleated at the Town. We did not judge the distance across to the other battery to be greater than a mile and a half. Our sail being not yet replaced we took a boat and proceeded to Kana-kale, the little village on the E. side of the mouth of the Hellespont where we got a room to lie in and plenty of animalerle but nothing else, so we went on board the Revolutionnaire and drank tea & grog with the first Lieutenant to whom Capn Pellens had given us a letter & the officers until about 10 o clock and then returned to our uncomfortable quarters.
At four in the morning (20th) we started to visit the plain of Troy. We crossed the Simois soon after day light not over the wooden bridge which Clarke did but nearer the Sea (it was but little deeper than our horses' knees) and came to the Tomb of Ajax soon afterwards, which my friends indulged me with a delay of Ten minutes to sketch [not found]. I cannot believe the masonry on this Tumulus to be even so ancient as Clarke considers it having never before seen or heard of any composed as this is of small unhewn pieces of stone and soft cement. The Pyramids of Egypt which he addresses as an example of the use of cement appear to me no example of this kind of masonry (a part of the Stadium at Athens is more like it). The masses of stone of the Pyramids were all hewn with great care. From the Summit we got a good view of the plain and the bay where the grecian fleet lied.
The next place we were shewn was the Remains according to Clarke of the Temple of the Thymbrean Apollo, which he very justly remarks "seems rather the Remains of ten Temples than one, the earth to a considerable extent being covered with broken columns of marble, granite &c &c." It is astonishing to me that the Dr as well as the two artists who were with him should seem not to have discovered that these fragments of columns, capitals, entablatures &c &c have been placed here for Tomb stones & that the whole space "to a considerable extent" is neither more nor less than a Turkish burying ground, so that one ancient Column may have formed 2 or 3 tombs & one entablature 2 or 3 dozen and they no longer mark the site of temples. I don't mean to dispute the fact of a temple, a number of temples having existed hereabouts, but read the note at page [blank] of his [blank] Volume 8. - We came next to precisely similar Ruins on the hill called Beyan the supposed ancient Ilium, distributed amidst a few stunted oaks exalted by the enthusiastic Doctor into a beautiful grove. We saw here the inscription he has copied on a slab upon a fluted Doric shaft in tolerably good preservation.
"struck with the melody of a Shepherd's pipe... I bought his instrument of him. It is made out of a goat's shank... but it is very difficult to play"
Bunarbashi on the Plain of Troy
"the servants had provided us a pot of soup, but were obliged to eat it a la turque for plates were not to be had"
We now travelled a fine plain in general cultivated with Corn & pasture & on our way were struck with the melody of a Shepherd's pipe, the air was very pretty & I bought his instrument of him. It is made out of a goat's shank open at both ends and having holes disposed like a flageolet. It is of the same kind as the Arcadian Pipe. In using it a quantity of wind is allowed to escape somewhat in the same way as in blowing into a Key, but it is very difficult to play. It is rather curiously but rudely carved.
Presently we came to the Tumulus called the Tomb of Hector, a long conical heap of loose stones only remarkably distinguished from the other Tumuli by having no vegetation on the Top, no vestiges of building could be here pretended to even by the Dr I think. Then walking 200 yards distant we mounted the Tomb of Priam. We could discover nothing like a wall in the vicinity of these Tumuli.
After passing through the village of Bunarbashi we took a breakfast at the Springs of Bunarbashi and there halted to sleep about 2 hours for the heat was excessive & we had been on horseback 7 Hours. These springs instead of being warm afforded us great refreshment by their coolness. Even that mentioned by Clarke was as cool as all the rest, it might be a little warmer than the air in winter perhaps but can never I think be entitled to be called a warm spring. The place is certainly pretty being situated in a fine fresh valley and the trees numerous and well varied.
From hence we returned visiting on our way the Village of Erkessey where we saw the soros with an inscription copied by Clarke, some other ruins called those of [blank] exactly like what I have mentioned (and here we saw some pieces of columns used as tomb stones actually carved with a Turban on the top), the Tumulus or Tomb of Esyetes & lastly the two Tombs of Achilles & Patroclus. These tumuli are all alike. Heaps of stones more or less covered with earth & vegetation of a conical figure & that of Ajax alone exhibiting some resemblance of ancient masonry. We saw Mount Athos distinctly from the Tomb of Patroclus.
We crossed the wooden bridge over the Simois and arrived again at Kana-Kale in the evening where the servants had provided us a pot of soup, but were obliged to eat it a la turque for plates were not to be had. We slept a little & then again took a boat & reached our schooner at the Dardanelles at sun rise (21st) where we glad to find her ready for sea and at 8 found ourselves close to our friends on board the Revolutionnaire whom we visited ppc, and at about 11 arrived at Lesbos where we landed. The great uncertainty of every thing relating to the Troyad destroys much of the pleasure of visiting it but I should not cry down too much its merits. If one can swallow but half of what is said and sung about it one may find it a good dish and think it worth the trouble of coming a few Hundred miles to enjoy perhaps. I cannot.