By the end of the 17th century the Georgian Nune Marta visited Jerusalem. She writes with great sadness that the Georgian Monasteries of Jerusalem were occupied by other nationalities (For example: The Monastery of St. Jacob was seized by Armenians, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - by the "French" i.e. Catholics). Marta suggests to the church personalities and Georgian nobility to send mission to "Stambol" (the letter transcripts the name of the city in this way) visiting Khvantqar (Sultan) and make the deal over the Georgian Monasteries of Jerusalem with him. Besides, she urges to the Catholicos of Western Georgia that the problem should be solved personally by Georgians, and not to hope for assistance of others. She directly points to the "other;" As Marta writes, "Moscow did not manage to do something profitable", thus not hope for Moscow (Russia) and make direct relations with Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, she argues.2
By the beginning of the 18th century, in 1713, Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani (1658-1725) famous Georgian writer, diplomat and lexicographer, left for Europe with a special mission. His route passed through Constantinople-Marsel-Paris-Rome and some other cities of Italy: Genoa, Pisa, Livorno; On his way back he passed through Constantinople to Georgia. Unfortunately the first part of his travelling was not preserved and his diary starts with the description of his way back to Georgia.
Sulkhan-Saba visited the King of France Louis XIV, Pope of Rome Kliment XI and some other European leaders in 1714 -1716. His mission set as its task to help the king Vakhtang VI out of trouble, being imprisoned in Persia. Besides, the mission looked for the possibility of getting assistance from the side of the European Christian Countries and the Pope of Rome to Georgia. Both of the missions were not fulfilled. It seems Sulkhan-Saba got Catholicism in hope of the success of the mission (the rite of Basilian Order).
As for Constantinople (Istanbul), the city is mentioned several times by Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani. He spent 17 months in Istanbul on his way back to Georgia, but he shortly describes the city in his diary. It should be mentioned that Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani, with the representative of France, Jan Rishard, visited Constantinople on November 15, 1713 very first time, but the case is not mentioned in his notes, rather preserved in European sources. The sources reveal that on January 28, 1713, Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani sent letter to the imprisoned king of Kartli Vakhtang VI from Constantinople3. Approaching the city he wrote: "On January 27 [1715, V.K.] the side wind was blowing and the night was dark and foggy . . . we were at the entrance of Constantinople. We could not enter to the harbor as the wind was coming from there. As it was night, the captain of the ship could not determine the course and the ship set down on sandy shoal. God protected us that the shoal was not rocky, as our ship would be destroyed . . . with the sunrise the ship tiered away from the shoal and we entered to the Constantinople, camping near Iedi-Kule."4
Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani goes on to describe his travelling, mentioning that "Ianichar's" small ship met them at the entrance of the city . . . Sulkhan-Saba and his accompanies rounded the city. As Orbeliani wrote, "It's a big city with dozens of huge buildings but as arrived from France (Europe, V.K.) we did not like it." Earlier, describing Genoa in his Diary, Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani mentions that both cities Genoa and Constantinople have a huge fence, 6 "eji" or 18 miles in length ("Eji" was the ancient measuring unit; 1 Eji equals 4.5 Km), although mentioning that no beauty, wealth, law and calm could be found in Constantinople, like the one, in Genoa5.
Thus, Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani liked the city of Constantinople rather less than one of Europe, stressing that European cities were more impressive; Although he mentioned that Istanbul had a remarkable geographical location. The only restored and re-painted building in white was the fortress of Edi-Kule. Sulkhan Saba Orbeliani stressed that as at that time it was the residence of the Ambassador of Russia, the all 7 towers of the fortress were restored and renovated6.
On March 6, evening the outskirts of Constantinople - Skudara, Pera, Galata and the nearby Minars were lightning. As Sulkhan Saba Orbeliani mentioned, the event was the part of celebration of the victory of Sultan (probably Sultan Ahmed II (1703-1730) is meant). At the same time, it was the night of birth of Muhhammed. The following days hosted the parade of ships as well. Sulkhan- Saba Orbeliani points to the one, with 120 cannons and some 1800 soldiers. The ethnic composition of Istanbul is also provided by Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani. He mentions the portion of the population, paying contribution to the Sultan (Males aged between 15-60). As Orbeliani mentions, the city and the outskirts were inhabited by Greeks - 43 thousand, Armenians - 17 thousand, Jews - 12 thousand, "French" (Europeans) - 2 thousand; As well as visiting Christians - 4 thousand and prisoners from different countries - 2 thousand. The Turkish population comprised 475 thousand in city. Besides, Frenchs and Turks did not pay contribution to Sultan7. As we have mentioned, Sulkhan Saba Orbeliani spent 17 months in Constantinople and later was back to Georgia. He was accompanied by Catholic missionaries: three "Capuchins" (members of the Order of Capucins) and one Jesuit priest, to conduct his mission in Shirvan8. It is the information preserved on Constantinople in the writings of Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani. As for Hagia Sophia, it is shortly mentioned by Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani, while discussing sightseeing of the city Rome. Orbeliani wrote that he saw the grave of St. Sofia in one of the local Monasteries, explaining that Emperor of Byzantium Justinian built the temple of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople in the name of St. Sofia9. Although we should not trust to the note as long as Hagia-Sophia was built in the name of "Wisdom of Our Savior" (Sophia) and not in the name of St. Sofia.
Timote Gabashvili (the end of 17th century - 1764) is the next author who comes with the valuable notes in the description of his travelling. Bishop Timote Gabashvili went through the hard life, like his own country. He was born in Kartli but left for the Western Georgia, Kutaisi from 30s of the 18th century. He got the rank of Metropolitan of Kutaisi. In 1738 he left for Russia with diplomatic mission under the auspices of King of Imereti, Alexandre V. It seems he carried with him the map of the Western Georgia, worked out by him. Not only geographic places and churches are depicted on the map (in shape of small drawings, rather then through conditional signs) but strategic locations and fortresses are also provided. The map brings the number and ammunition of Turkish soldiers, dislocated in the fortresses. Besides, Roads, harbors, rivers and minerals are also depicted10. It sems the main task of Timote Gabashvili, as set by the King of Imereti, Alexandre, was to get real military support and financial aid from Russia. Although the mission was not successful and Gabashvili was back to the Eastern Georgia in 1749. From 1753 he received the title of Archbishop of Kartli.
In 1755-1759 Timote travelled to Mount Athos and Jerusalem via Constantinople. In 1759 he was back to Kartli and shortly left for Russia in 1761. He asked the Russian autorities to allow him to live either in Moscow or St.Petersburg, but before getting the permission he died in Astrakhan, in 1764.
Timote Gabashvili three times travelled to Istanbul: in May-July 1756, from Autumn 1756 to Spring 1757, and in Summer 175811. There are general descriptions of Stambul, although some interesting ideas could be found.
Timote describes his first visit, mentioning that he left from Mount Athos by Ship ahead to Istanbul. He crossed through s. c. "lower Troada" and Bogaisar. As heavy wind was blowing, he spent that night visiting Archbishop of "Galiopolis". "On the second day I passed through the place, where the stone of Communion Table of Hagia Sophia was sunk in the sea," he wrote. Timote further clarifies that the Communion Table was made of metal, ordered by the Emperor Justinian. After the seizure of Constantinople by Venetians (i.e. Crusaders) in 1204, the temple of Hagia Sophia was robbed and the Communion Table dropped in the sea. According to Archbishop Timote, the chrism is coming out from the place, the Communion Table was sunk12. Author goes on to describe the outskirts of the city - "Barutkhana" and "Demirkhafis" before entering the city, as well as the palace called "Daudpasha". Timote writes that the buildings of the city were impressive, whereas describing the temple of Hagia Sophia, mentions that "it was seen as a "high mountain" in the midst of the surrounded buildings."13
Timote described Istanbul in the following way: "the meeting point of mounts, lands, and seas; the place where Asia and Europe meet." Timote mentions the place called "Gold City", named as Uskudara at that times, on the side of Anatolia. In the middle of the city there is Galata and some other places14. Going on to describe Istanbul, he writes: "this is the most beautiful city in the world, being founded by Sabaoth."15 The both banks of the sea are covered with the cypress tress. Fortresses and towers are huge and colorful. Palaces are so colorful that the city looks like a Garden of Eden. Constantinople is described in the following way: "Palaces, arches, markets, all are gilded, some of them sparkling like a sun, other like a glazed tile. Purple color could be caught all around, resembling the red color of Magrib. Ships, near the city, swinging like the trees. The gardens of the city are full of different kinds of plants - fir-trees, cypress, pine-trees, covering buildings like curtain."16
Timote does not doubt to hide his feelings concerning the fact that Istanbul is no longer a Christian city. As he puts it, Christians were punished by God for their sins and taking away the city. As Timote writes, "Constantinople is the Venus among stars, rose among flowers. Its a rubby (sapphire) among precious stones, rainbow between clouds and Caesar Augustus among kings."17
As we could see, as different from Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani, Timote refers to lots of artistic comparisons to describe the city. He compares Constantinople to the Biblical Garden of Eden, God drove out people for their sins. Although Timote does not refer to his diplomatic and secret service missions, probably set by the government of Russia and the kings of Georgia (Kartli-Kakheti and Imereti) in his diaries, but scholars confess that such tasks were set in front of Timote18. Timote's contact in Istanbul with the inhabitants of village Ali, Kartli Region, could come as an indirect testimony of the statement. It seems Timote sent confidential information to the kings of Kartl-Kakheti (Teimuraz II and Erekle) with the help of these peasants19. There are testimonials of his interest towards Christian sights, but also towards military units20.
Iona (Gedevanishvili) bishop of Ruisi, is the next author who comes next among our targeted personalities. He was born at the end of the 17th century, in Kartli. From 1755 he is the bishop of Ruisi. In 1780, Bishop Iona was prohibited of ecclesiastical activities for unknown offence. In 1783 he leaves for a short tour to meet Eastern Patriarchs, asking them for restoration of religious rite. Than he traveled on Holly Land, Jerusalem, Mount Athos, Egypt, Venice, Europe, Poland, Romania, Moldavia, etc. Iona Gedevanishvili travelled for 12 years and spent his last years in Kiev and Moscow. He died in 1821, in Moscow.
Among many other cities he visited Constantinople and made its description. The description of his travelling resembles much to the descriptions of Timote Gabashvili, although some differences could be easily caught. The chapter, dedicated to the description of Constantinople opens as follows: "There are lots of fortresses on the both banks of Bogaisar. The fortresses are lightning, to make the way for ships easily passed and securing them from crashing on to the cliff. These [lightings] are called "lanterns".21 Then Iona goes on to list the districts and outskirts of Istanbul: Uskudara, Arnautqoi, Gaurqoi (my be "Giaurqoi"), Enisarqoi, Istanqoi, etc22. As Bishop Iona describes, in front of the Winter Palace of Sultan on a huge square, the high, quadrangle column of stone is constructed (Obelisk) and the column made of metal could be caught at a glimpse nearby23. The editor of "Pilgrimage", the 19th century historian Platon Ioseliani, mentions that the case is on the obelisk, standing on the place of old hippodrome, by that times called "atmeidan". As for the column made of metal, as he tells us, it is the column, brought to Constantinople from Rome by the Emperor Constantine the Great putting small piece of crucifix on it24.
According to Iona Gedevanishvili there were 24 orthodox churches at that times in Istanbul25. One of Churches were owned by Armenians, whereas French Catholics were in disposition of non of them. Iona Bishop describes the process of getting out of Sultan from his winter palace, located at the shore of the Bleak Sea. As he puts it, "the small boat, the Sultan got out was covered with the small umbrella, the 24 sailors, with colorful oars were synchronically moving it on the sea, making boat resembled to the bird, moving his wings."26 Coming close to arsenal Sultan was welcomed with the fire of cannons, the same fire of cannons met him at the entrance of the winter palace. Sultan was accompanied with his two sons. According to the norms set, he was met by the "Stambol Efendi" (head of city Istanbul) and "Milahor" (head of stable). They brought the horse of Sultan, with equipment covered with diamond and ruby. Sultan was dressed in a wealthy way, with a crown tied in the middle of the front side. Iona mentions, that the Serbian monks and himself met the Sultan dressed in ecclesiastical clothes, not rejected or opposed by the guards of Sultan27.
Iona Gedevanishvili, according to the directions of Paisios, the exarch of Patriarch of Constantinople was hosted at the cell of the Church of Mother of God. He spent 4 months in Constantinople. During his stay in Constantinople Iona visited the Church of Apostols (residence of the Patriarch of Constantinople), St. George Church (residence of Patriarchate of Jerusalem). They were located in the Christian district, called "Paran". Iona visited to the Temple of Hagya Sophia as well, stating that, "no mosque could come close to it except the one, called "Sultan Baia." Beyond the boundaries of Constantinople, on the way of Adrianopolis ("Adrana-Iapa") Bishop visited the monastery of "Source of Life", with a cold spring running nearby and a pool full of fishes. From this place Iona left for Khalkidon ("Kadi-Koi"). As Platon Ioseliani mentions, there could not be found the place, once hosting the 4th World Ecclesiastical Consil28.
The next author who bringing long description of Istanbul of his "Travelling" is Giorgi Avalishvili (1769-1850). As different from other travelers he is a secular person. Besides "Travelling" some other literature genre type writings of him are well-known. Avalishvili is well known for his translating activities as well. His writings point to the fact that he was in service of the Russian state interests. He spent his last years and died in Russia. From Tbilisi Giorgi Avalishvili left for Sokhumi, coming to Constantinople (Istanbul) via Crimea. After Istanbul he crossed the seas of Aegian and Marmara and after visiting Egypt came to Jerusalem. On his way back he took another route. From Jerusalem he went to Iafa, visited island Cyprus and came to the Southern Anatolia, crossing it from South to the North-Eastern direction (Mersinia-Erzrum-Kars). Afterwards he went to Gumri and returned back to Georgia. Thus, he covered a huge area during his travelling.
G.Avalishvili stayed in Constantinople for 40 days. Besides the description of the city, he left some valuable paintings of sightseeing's of the Constantinople. Familiarization with the foreign and unknown countries, with their customs and traditions, as well as local systems of governance are set as the main tasks of his travelling by Avalishvili29. At the same time he does not doubt to mention the prosperity of the Russian Empire and its "liberating" missions. He even mentions the fact of receiving secret packages from the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Jerusalem to be delivered to the Russian ecclesiastical and secular personalities of Russia30.
The language of Giorgi Avalishvili is not an easy one; On the one hand he artificially creates some new Georgian words, whereas simultaneously he refers to Turkish, Russian and some other terms from various languages. The description of Avalishvili's "Travelling" has some peculiarities as well. He pays too much attention to his personal statements, provides the content of his dialogue with various personalities, occasionally meeting time to time, as well as bringing rumors and gossips.
After seen Constantinople from the sea, Giorgi Avalishvili poetically referred to it similar to other travelers, writing that the streets of Constantinople is covered with different kinds of tress: Cyprees, Firtrees, Planetrees (Platanus), Laurel; And the springs are running between them.31 This is the mode of Avalishvili describing the city of Constantinople. He describes those days suburb of Constantinople, called Beiuqdara, where he spent some 40 days. As Avalishvili notes, the district was the residence of different ambassadors to Constantinople. The house of ambassador of Russia, Grigorii Stroganov was located nearby. There were the wells in the yards and the small springs were running between houses. Giorgi Avalishvili mentions that 500 Greek, 200 French (European), 5 Armenian and 12 Muslim families were residing in Beiuqdara at that time. Greeks and "French" had one church each in this district, whereas Armenians were in possession of none of them. Muslims had two mosques.32
Avalishvili provides detailed description of the different districts of Constantinople. He mentions that the valley of "Chair" was located near Beiuqdara, entertaining place of the whole Istanbul. The colorful tents were placed between rows of plane trees. There was standing the precious throne, representatives of nobility women's travelled with it. As Avalishvili mentions, the throne resembled to the travelling cart of Kalmyk and Nogais.33
The oldest and biggest Planetree was standing, on "Chair" valley. It was 69 steps long all-around. According to the oral traditions it was planted by the Emperor Constantine the Great, although author mentioned that it could approximately 400 years old.34 As author mentions he saw the ancient Roman aqueduct (arch type building, crossed by the water pipes) on the valley. Aqueduct still functioned at the time, Avalishvili visited the place. Only one branch of it was not functioning, watering the roots of plane in ancient times.35
In the district of "Ieniqoi" ("The New Village") G.Avalishvili visited St. George's Church, where author met, the local church autorities and among them Georgian archbishop and the newly arrived monk from David Gareja monastery - Iostoss. Author had a long dialogue with them, although he does not clarify its content.
On his way back to Constantinople, G. Avalishvili described the Summer and Winter Palaces of Sultans of the Ottoman Empire, and the residence of Sultan's women ("Sultanaa").36 As Giorgi Avalishvili writes, the Summer Palace of Sultan was decorated with marble columns and some partes of bronze covered with gold. It was a two storey building, decorated with white and colorless marble as well and roofed with metal covered with gold. As for the Winter Palace of Sultan, as author puts it, the palace was built on the place of the palace of the Constantine the Great, at the Southern side of the meeting point of the Black and Marmara Seas. The golden frames of the windows of the first store of this building made the difference between them, whereas the roof was covered with silver. The small gate of the palace was covered with metal, golden plates, as well.37
Giorgi Avalishvili poetically describes the boat journey of Sultan Mahmud (Mahmud II 1808-1839 is meant). According to him: "long and narrow boats, 32 in total were accompanied him, there surfaces were covered with gold and colorfully painted. Among them the boat of Sultan was floating. The Sultan's boat had the red velvet shadow canvas in the midle of it. On each corner of the canvas there were clung the carved gilded bronze luminaires in which were inserted crystalls."38
The underground water container - masterpiece of Byzantine era, so called "Binbirdirag" is described by Giorgi Avalishvili. The huge underground hall was hosting 212 colourfull columns. At the times of Avalishvili's visit, it was already made as a silk factory.39
Avalishvili tries not to miss any valuable artifact of the past. The old Roman memorial column of Ereqtash is mentioned by him, although he could not fix the date of its construction.40 He also visited the old hippodrome ("Atmeidan"), where two Egyptian obelisks were standing. As some authors mention, they could read the name of Queen Cleopatra on the first of it.41 The second obelisk was 94 cubit high, located at the end of hippodrome. Among these two obelisks the metal column was standing, with metal snakes rolled around it. According to Avalishvili, presumably the column was standing in the Temple of Apollo.42
One of the districts of Constantinople, Teqirsarai, is shortly described by Avalishvili, where the remnants of the palace of commander of the Emperor Justinian - Velisarius were preserved, by that time already transformed into the factory of cotton.43
The house, called "Aslankhona", full of animals, is also described by Giorgi Avalishvili. In this building, having a round shape, which looked like a circus, a lot of animals were brought together, among them lions.44
The temple of Hagya Sofia is separately described in his work. The temple, made into mosque, was closed, so he could not say much on it. At the time of Georgian traveler's visit to the temple (October 4, 1819) death penalty was set on the first personality at the door of the Sultan, Stephan Duz-Oglu and with his brothers. They had being executed on the square in front of the temple (between Hagia-Sophia and Treasury).45 Due to the reason, the whole space was full of the people, attending the execution of the will of Sultan.
G. Avalishvili writes that he had only an opportunity to see the closed door of Hagia-Sophia. Author provides the description of the door of the temple, mentioning that there was nothing important in it to bring in his account, but it had very nice marble frame. Rather he refers to the quotation from one of the book he came across in Istanbul, according which the main dome of the temple was 85 'arshin~ (1 arshin = 24 inches). The dome had 24 windows. The temple had two stores and the upper part was supported by 100 columns. As Avalishvili mentions, the mosaic of saints were preserved on the wall from place to place.46
It should be mentioned, that alongside the description of Istanbul (Constantinople) Avalishvili clearly mentions that he is the citizen of Russia (Moscow), defending its interests. He writes: "local Tatars (Turks) are cautious in their relations with Russians." The main position of Avalishvili is set in the long monologue. The description of the city is ended by this monologue. The monologue is the praise of Constantinople, with a warning tone towards the Ottoman government. Avalishvili openly remarks that the Emperor of Russia is "the heroe from the North and his advancement could not be blocked in any means..."47
Petre Konchoshvili (1836-1909) is another traveler to be mentioned in the paper. He was born in Kakheti, in a small village of Sabue (Kvareli Region). He was educated in a theological school of Telavi and theological seminary of Tbilisi. After becoming a priest, he served in different parts of Georgia (Kakhi, Java, etc).
He started to publish numerous articles on ecclesiastical themes from the 70s of the 19th century. He made corrections to the different editions of the Old Testament and prepared them for publication. From 1868 he taught God's Law at the Noble Women school of Tbilisi. In 1880-1905 he is an archpriest, in 1905 became a bishop and in 1907 he became the bishop of Gori and the first Vicar of Exarche.48
In 1899 he travelled to Jerusalem and on Mount Athos. His impressions were published us a book in 1901.49 As different from other authors, his travelling was aimed at visiting the local sacred places. Besides, he was looking for the re-birth of patriotic feelings among Georgians. In spite of the sever censorship, in the text of the "Travell" book denouncing of the official course of russification is strongly felt.
Bishop Petre Konchoshvili visited Constantinople (Istanbul) on May 24, 1899. He paid visit to the temple of Hagia-Sophia and described it in details. He does not go on to describe some other place of the city, although mentions that he visited the residence of Patriarch of Constantinople (As we know from the book of I. Gedevanishvili, it was the Churche of St. Apostles), the Church of Most Holy Mother of God and others.
Bishop Petre goes on to describe the temple of Hagia-Sophia: "On the one from the 7 hills of Istanbul the great temple of Hagia-Sophia is raised, the most advanced architectural sample of Byzantium, the norm of the Church Architecture."50
Petre Konchoshvili mentions that the first Christian praying was attended in this temple by the visitors from Russia, coming with a special mission as set by Grand Duke Vladimir (the 9th century). He wrote: "Everything in great temple of Hagia-Sophia was so astonishing, that the representatives of Russian Grand Duke did not know where they are: on the Earth or in the Heaven."51
Detailed history of the temple is provided by Petre Konchoshvili. The first church was built by Constantine I on this place (beginning of the IV century), but as it had the wooden roof it was burnt. This happened when the Great Christian figure John the Chrysostom (356-407) was forced to leave the city (beginning of the V century). As author mentions only an altar was preserved and the throne of bishop, kept at the Residence of Patriarch of Constantinople during the time of Bishop Petre. The temple of Hagia-Sophia was renovated by Teodosius the Minor (401-450), but the temple was burnt in 532 again. After this the huge temple was built by the Emperor Justinian. The process of building started on February 23, 533 and was over after 5 years, 10 months and 2 days. The new temple was sanctified on December 22, 537, Justinian pathetically stressing that "Solomone was left behind by him." The dome has 32 windows52 and the temple is 269 foot in length (109 Arshin) and 240 in wide (105 Arshin)53. In the temple there are hundreds of colorful columns. They are made of marvel. The dome of the temple is covered with different color of mosaics. The words of Sultan Abdul-Mejid are introduced by P. Konchoshvili, provided during the partial reconstruction of Hagia-Sophia. As he said, although the mosaic dating back to the Christian era should be covered with paint, it would be a tiny layer, being easily removed when needed.54 P. Konchoshvili writes that more then 1000 priests served to the Church in Justinian's epoch and it was made as a mosque by Sultan Mahmud II (1453). Konchoshvili mentions that at his time 6000 candles and 120 lamps were lightening the temple, having the egg of ostrich on its top.55
* * *
Concluding, the writings of Georgian travellers contain some important notes on Constantinople (Istanbul) and Hagia-Sophia. Besides, authors differ greatly according to era and the viewpoints.
If the mode and attitude of Sulkhan Saba Orbeliani is European and pro-Western, later authors - Timote Gabashvili and Giorgi Avalishvili - do not mind to hide their pro-Russian orientation. As for Bishop Petre Konchoshvili, his book, in spite of a sever censorship, actually contain critical remarks against the russification policy of the Russian Empire.