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The Sultan's Treasures

Like many smaller institutions, items of interest are sometimes lost in transition. This article is one such piece. While going through some old paperwork that had never been properly filed we ran across a cut out and taped together news article. It was written by Joanna Lane describing her time in the East and was probably written between 1885-1890.

They make the Count of Monte Christo Seem a Pauper.

The eyes of all Christendom are now turned toward the sick man on the Bosphorus, who neither slumbers nor sleeps for the demon Fear goes with him by day and stays with him by night. No more unhappy man lives today than the Sultan of Turkey in his marble palace at Yildiz. He takes no pleasure in his beautiful surroundings, nor cares for the splendid accumulations of former rulers stored in his own treasure house. Possibly your young readers may enjoy a description of some of these precious things which I saw there a few years ago. They are so jealously guarded by the police that it is regarded as a special favor to be allowed to enter the “holy of holies.”

Fortunately we belonged to General Wallace’s party when the “permit” came to visit the sacred place, where we were to look upon the glory of this his kingdom. The first room contained the “Persian throne,” which was captured from that country in 1514 by Selim I. It is not much more than six feet long and something less in width, is covered with beaten gold, with arabesque of pearls, rubies, and emeralds; is cushioned in red velvet decorated with brilliant gems. It is inclosed in a glass case and carefully guarded day and night lest some Christians should profane it with their touch.

Another “Divine Throne” is a square seat with hexagon columns, supporting a canopy inlaid with turquoise and emeralds uncut and unpolished, as it was made before the Turks understood the art of working in precious stones. The ancient Caliphs probably meditated mischief in this royal chair. Near this was a splendid gold and silver service, “fit to set before a King,” and a low, gilded cradle studded with valuable gems, over which some heathen mother, with Mary’s heart, had sung a sweet lullaby to her darling baby, “born to the purple.” Ropes of amber festooned the room and it was spread in lavish profusion on the handles of pistols, pipes and guns. Ivory and pearl adorning the hilt of a fine old Damascus blade, such as Saladin used in cutting the silken scarf after Coeur de Lion […] the iron bar with his huge battle ax.

Pretty things for women were seen, red and yellow satin bed spreads closely embroidered in small pearls. And behind glass doors were large china bowls heaped with exquisite rubies, corals, and emeralds; with a variety of coins, the smallest of which is called “Asper,” and in former and better days was thrown to the crowd on festival occasions. An amber prayer carpet, like chainmail, attracted much attention, and a confession of faith. “Allah Il Allah” written with diamonds on velvet expressed the devotion of the Moslems for the great unseen.

All forms of beautiful china delighted the eye of the housekeeper. A pair of Sevres vases, richly painted, were valued at $8,000. I thought to myself, they might be sold and given to the poor who are around us everywhere.

Shields of embossed work, stirrups crusted with diamonds, armor gilded and jeweled, suggested the “pride, pomp and circumstance”of old-time warriors in war. The lavish profusion of jewels of priceless value prove the riches of dead and gone sultans could not have been fictitious. In an upper room, arranged in cases, are the effigies of twenty-four sultans in gold-embroidered silken dress (much like a modern dressing gown), with a jeweled dagger in each in each breast and a high, white turban on each royal head. The last one in the row, who died about seventy years ago, introduced the French style of dress, red pantloons and dark cloth coat heavily embroidered in gold. Since then the Turks have discarded the oriental costume, and with the exception of the fez, dress like other European gentlemen.

A Primitive Defense.

In the court leading to the great treasury are large porphery sarcophagi, where kings and queens were once entombed. Only “two handfuls of white dust” remain. An immense iron chain lies in one corner, which was stretched across the Bosphorus in war time as a protection against the entrance of foreign ships. How the world has moved since that primitive style of defense! Here, too, we saw great earthen jars, like small cisterns, said to be like the ones which held water at the wedding of the Cana, where our Lord changed it to wine. And we can readily believe the “Forty Thieves” might have been concealed in jars of this size.

The large armory was once a Greek church, built by Queen Irene and dedicated to peace. Over the high altar is still seen the Greek inscription, “His Kingdom Shall Be and Everlasting Kingdom,” and “His Dominion Shall Be Without End.” Now, many warlike implements, arranged in fanciful forms, adorn or desecrate the old church. After several hours spent in examining these curios an aide to his majesty ushered us into a magnificent salon, where two men in the gravest, quietest way handed the eastern preserve of roses, of which we took one teaspoonful, then a cup of water, after which came coffee in delicate cups set in gold filigree holders, studded with gems […..] served with such true Oriental deference and solemnity as to convince us that Christian men and women were held in high respect by the dignified Moslem.

Our excursion was extended down the river to the marble palace “of rare device” called “Dolma Batche,” built on the spot where Jason went ashore with the Argonauts during the expedition to Cholahis [Colchis]. We were conducted through a bewildering succession of superbly furnished rooms, with inlaid floors, frescoed ceilings, crystal balusters. Turkish carpets, mosaic tables, marvelous prism mirrors over tile painted mantels. The loveliest alabaster lined bath room, fit home for Undine or any other water nymph, was a triumph of art. Circassian beauties revel in luxury. Another day we will finish our trip.

Mrs. H. S. Lane

Crawfordsville, Ind.

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