I love travel and Istanbul is one of the most interesting places I’ve been to so I am delighted to be hosting Barbara Nadel as she explains the jealousy, intrigue and mystery of her setting for ‘Land of the Blind’, published by Headline and available in hardback, paperback and ebook.
Death in Byzantium by Barbara Nadel
Istanbul history is a bit of a chocolate box. By this I mean there’s so much to choose from it’s almost impossible to know where to start. Do you want 19th century Ottoman history? The early Republican history of the 1920s? Or would you opt for Byzantine history?
Much of my inspiration for ‘Land of the Blind’ came from the Byzantine period (approx 330AD – 1453) when Istanbul was ruled firstly by the Graeco-Roman ‘Empire of the East’ and then, after the Emperor Constantine by the ‘Christian Empire in the East’. A rival to Rome and ultimately of the Roman Catholic Church, the Byzantine Empire was an inheritor of traditions from Athens, Rome and later, the Holy Land.
One of the architectural features of early Byzantium that still survives today is the Hippodrome, which was built in 203AD before the city was actually designated a city. It was inaugurated by the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus and was the scene of great carnage at the many games that were held within its walls. Even when the empire became a Christian as opposed to a Pagan administration under Constantine the Great (272AD – 337AD), the Hippodrome was still used for the type of ‘games’ most people today would find a tad too bloody.
It is into what remains of the back of the Hippodrome that I have chosen to place a body in ‘Land of the Blind’. It’s that of a female archeologist – few other people can get actually inside the back of the Hippodrome these days – and she harbours a dangerous secret. You’ll have to read the book to find out what that is. The book will also introduce you to a palace you will never have seen.
The Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors was located between the Hippodrome and the building called the Aya Sofya in the part of Istanbul known today as the ‘Old City’. Aya Sofya, once a church, then a mosque, now a museum was where the Byzantine Emperors went to pray. So their palace was situated between the divine ‘greatest church in Christendom’ and the very earthly pleasures of the Hippodrome and the games.
The Great Palace was heavy on murder and intrigue. The emperors were very jealous of their power, their wives and mothers even more so. Constantine the Great in league with his mother Helena, had his own son Crispus and his wife Fausta murdered. During riots in 532 the Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora had all the former’s political opponents executed and the Empress Zoe not only had her first husband murdered but also had her sister forcibly confined to a convent. So what remains of the building that saw all this crazy Byzantine action?
Not much and a lot. When Byzantium, then called Constantinople, was conquered by the Turks in 1453 much of the city was destroyed, including the Great Palace. Over the years other structures were built on top of what had been the Palace of the Byzantines including the Ottoman Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque. But every so often something comes to light. For instance I know a carpet shop which has a Byzantine chapel in its cellar and a few years ago a room was unearthed which is thought to have been the Library of the Great Palace. It’s all still there, underneath the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi and other, more modern buildings too. It’s just inaccessible.
As well as the Hippodrome, the Great Palace plays a central part in ‘Land of the Blind’. Cetin Ikmen and his officers have to contend not only with modern property developers moving into the area and a possible lost baby, but also with a great historical mystery about the exact location of one particular room in the Great Palace of the Byzantines.
Which room and why? Read the book and you will find out. If, of course, that particular room even existed. Unfortunately for us the Byzantines, like so many empire builders of the past, didn’t always tell the truth.