Meditations on Istanbul: Rumelihisarı

The water was so blue that to call it blue – four mere letters of the English alphabet – would be an insult. It was not the point of our visit; we had arrived at a fortress after all. But it could not be ignored. It was blue beyond all possible literary description, beyond the combined ability of my paintbrush and my cheap watercolor set, beyond the megapixels of my camera and any Photoshop aftermath. It was a metamorphosing blue that could only exist in moments of visual clarity that would be forgotten as soon as one looked away from the sea. One had to look at it constantly in order to hold onto it; in memories, that blue would only be an idea.

The term for traditional Chinese landscape painting is shan shui (山水), literally meaning “mountain and water”. The scene of a fortress overlooking the Bosphorus strait bore no physical resemblance to these paintings, but yet this phrase has come to mind. At the time, as I ascended the dirt slopes and unassuming steps towards the main towers, the fortress felt less like a relic of a fallen empire’s military prestige than a geological structure that had miraculously woven itself into towers and stairways over several millennia. Erosion had scarred the bricks to the point of them resembling a rough cliff face – a mountain – that stared defiantly and reverentially back at the water.

What further encouraged this impression was the fact that, while climbing to the structure’s higher points, I found myself flanked both by trees that would have been more at home in a temperate forest, as well as an army of wild plants. They had seen fit to reclaim a territory lost ages ago, and endeavored to sink their roots not only into the ground, but also into any gaps between bricks, such that each tower had shrubbery growing out its side. Some were trying especially hard to mount an assault on this colossal man-made structure, attempting to swallow the six-hundred-year-old walls back into the earth. They didn’t seem to mind that it would take a very long time for them to fully scale the walls, or that their efforts might eventually be thwarted by a humble pair of shears; they were relentless, and a few of them had even found the time to bloom.

I felt quite brave, walking up those steps that had no railings, no support (a strange thought when one thinks of a fortress as a railing for the city, of sorts). Given more time, I think I might have traversed the entire length of the fortress walls. Reaching the top of one wall did not take much effort, but it still felt like a small victory for a girl born and bred in the city, whose sense of adventure was limited to exploring art museums in far off countries and riding on the coat tails of rollercoaster-motivated peer pressure.

A ten-minute climb, leaving behind a trail of inquisitive Turkish children, was all it had taken to conquer the structure. I gratefully accepted the breeze and the Bosphorus as my deserved reward.

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