The Divanyolu is the avenue connecting the Beyazit and Sultanahmet Squares. When he took the throne in 323, Constantine wanted to make Byzantium the new capital of Rome , and this is where he started, on the avenue then known as the Mese. This avenue, along which the emperor soon had walls, monuments, cisterns, palaces, hippodromes and the famous Çemberlitas or ‘Hooped Column‘ (the Constantine monument) erected, took on a special significance with the addition of the Hagia Sophia, the splendid monument built by Justinian.
The avenue, which became the ‘Divanyolu’ with the Turkish conquest of Istanbul , began to be adorned now with Ottoman monuments. In time the Ottoman and Byzantine structures learned to accommodate each other, holding their own against fires, earthquakes, and rebellions right up
to the present-those still standing glad to be alive though filled with grief for the departed.
A TOUR WITH BESIR AYVAZOGLU
“How can stone buildings and wooden mansions feel grief?” you might ask. In his new book, ‘Divanyolu’, writer and cultural historian Besir Ayvazoglu makes history speak. In the book, in which Ayvazoglu relates the avenue’s almost 2000-year history in his own original style, ‘the stones come to life’ and tell their own story. Amplified by old photographs and engravings, the book is a virtual biography of the Divanyolu. Ayvazoglu, who combines the traditionalism of Yahya Kemal, the modernism of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar and the conservatism of Tarik Bugra in his writerly personality, opens the door onto the mysterious history of the Divanyolu, which is just waiting to be discovered. Stepping through this door, we set out one weekend with Besir Ayvazoglu on a brief journey back in time. Thanks to the writer, avenues and streets we had walked countless times before were suddenly permeated with enchantment. Ignoring the present-day condition of the buildings, we retreated with Ayvazoglu into the past, back to their periods of splendor. A far cry from ‘dry history’, the writer, using his imagination when necessary, took us on an engaging
journey, shuttling back and forth between old and new. It was a journey filled with nostalgia and passion but mostly, to tell the truth, with sadness says Ayvazoglu, who deliberately chose this style for his book, “You have to use a different style, employ unusual language, if you want to get people to like history. In a sense I blended knowledge of history with literature.” This writer, who imagines the buildings on the Divanyolu as thinking, feeling and talking creatures, occasionally puts himself in their places and tries to answer the question, “If this stone had been alive and conscious at the time of this incident, what would it have felt?”
THE COFFEE TRADITION LIVES ON
Our first stop on the Divanyolu is the Medrese of Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha. We listen as Ayvazoglu tells the story-the gay hum of the pupils hard at their religious studies, tempered by the Pasha’s bitter end-and continue on our way. Ayvazoglu tells us that the Divanyolu has been famous for its coffeehouses since time immemorial. A little nostalgic, a little sad, he says: “Those coffeehouses, principally the Tavukpazari, which once served the city’s ‘pleasure-seekers’, are gone today.” And he invites us to the Medrese of Çorlulu Ali Pasha, which to some small degree still preserves the coffee tradition. We accept with pleasure. The conversation deepens as we sip our coffee and enjoy our hookahs at Çorlulu. The past comes alive in the pipe’s flame, and we perceive the difference between the writer’s Divanyolu and today’s avenue. How we have plundered our own history!
LIVING IN MULTI-DIMENSIONAL TIME
But not everything Ayvazoglu recounts is sad, of course. The Divanyolu’s ancient and magnificent past becomes the centrepiece of the conversation. With candor, as if he experienced it all himself, Ayvazoglu describes the days, both Byzantine and Ottoman, when the avenue was decked out like a bride. “I would truly have loved to see it bustling,” he says, describing the procession of the Ottoman imperial army setting out on a campaign and the official cavalcades that once passed down this thoroughfare.His eyes light up as he recounts how the avenue was spruced up for imperial festivals and coronations. His is not merely ‘a yearning for the aesthetic taste of the past, an interpretation of life styles and of the significant events in the avenue’s history’. He also has recommendations for the future of the Divanyolu. In his photographs, taken with the eye of a documentarian, he offers the reader the historical facts woven together like a novel. He also takes a multi-dimensional view of the buildings, believing this is essential in order to color and enrich life, which modernity has rendered flat and unappealing. We will derive far more pleasure from life when we develop an awareness of the richness of the space we inhabit, he believes: “More than seeking the taste of the old, I want to live in a multi-dimensional time.
ISTANBUL ‘S MOST MYSTERIOUS SPOTS
When we stand in front of the Çemberlitas, the Divanyolu’s 2000-year-old history seems suddenly to come alive. The conversation turns to Noah’s ax, which is rumoured to be buried beneath the monument, the stone Moses turned into water, and the cross on
which Jesus was crucified. When we reach the tomb of Sultan Mahmud II a short distance ahead, the writer says: “Let us go inside and see which sultans, military judges, thinkers and sultan’s favorites rest here.” So many people are laid to rest in the garden of this mausoleum! Besides Sultans Mahmud II, Abdülaziz and Abdülhamid II, they include numerous men of state and letters from Muallim Naci to Ziya Gökalp. As we leave the mausoleum and continue on our way, Ayvazoglu draws our attention to where the stately mansions and imperial palaces once stood that are gone today. When we reach the Sultanahmet tram stop, the Sultanahmet or Blue Mosque rises on our right, and in front of us the Hagia Sophia. Just ahead is the Yerebatan Cistern, one of the most enchanting places on the Divanyolu. According to the writer, these are Istanbul ‘s most mysterious spots. “Living on the Divanyolu is an opportunity, a privilege actually,” says Ayvazoglu at the conclusion of our brief but most enjoyable tour. The black and white photographs and drawings are taken from Besir Ayvazoglu’s book entitled ‘Divanyolu’, published by Ötüken Yayinlari.
TEXT:ABDULLAH KILIÇ PHOTO:KURTULUS GÖKALP