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    Frederick’s First Glimpse of Constantinople

    When the humiliating and painful French quarantine procedures were finished, the Russian refugees were finally put on steamers for the hour-long trip south to Constantinople.

    Then as now, the first glimpse of the city was breathtaking. 

     

    View of Stambul much as Frederick Thomas first saw it in 1919

     

    Galata Bridge leading to Galata and Pera, Constantinople

     

    As the boat transporting Thomas and his family navigated the final, right bend of the Bosphorus, with Asia on the left and Europe on the right, the steep green banks parted slightly and all of Constantinople swung into view. 

    Shimmering straight ahead in the distance, and dominating the promontory known as Seraglio Point, stood Topkapi Palace, the old seat of the Ottoman Sultans, and beside it, silhouetted against the sky, rose the thin minarets and giant domes of the mosques in the old part of the city—the legendary, Muslim Stambul. 

    On the right, by the water’s edge, the boat soon passed a vast, low building of gleaming white marble, the present Sultan’s Dolmabahce Palace, decorated with elaborate carvings that looked like frozen sea foam. 

    A bit further on, small houses suddenly began to increase in number and to climb up the steep slopes of Galata and Pera, the European parts of the city, over which loomed the stubby cylinder of the Galata Tower. 

    The Golden Horn, a long natural harbor between Stambul and the European parts of the city, as well as the entire waterway around Thomas’ boat, teemed with traffic:  dozens of grey European warships rested heavily at anchor; ferries linking the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus churned back and forth; countless small boats under oars or sail coursed in every direction. 

    Never in all his travels had Thomas seen anything like this ancient capital of the Ottoman Empire. 

    Prince Lobanov-Rostovsky, the Russian naval officer who was on the same ship with Thomas from Odessa, recalled that when he first saw Constantinople he “gasped at the vision of beauty.”  He searched for something to compare it to and decided that it could only be “the view of the Golden Gate and the Bay of San Francisco from Telegraph Hill.”  But, he added, “San Francisco lacks the oriental glamour which gives such colour to the sky line of Constantinople.” 

    The evacuation from Odessa was now a bad memory.  What lay ahead was full of uncertainty and would surely be difficult. 

    But not long after he stepped ashore for the first time Thomas decided that he liked the look and the feel of the new city.

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