Bedeck its solid wavelets: wise was he
Who blended shore with deep, with seaweed flowers,
And Naiads' rivulets with Nereids' sea."
Strictly speaking the peninsula on which the city stands is of the form of a trapezium. It juts out into the sea, beating back as it were the fierce waves of the Bosphorus, and forcing them to turn aside from their straight course and widen into the Sea of Marmora, which the ancients called the Propontis, narrowing again as it forces its way between the near banks of the Hellespont, which rise abrupt and arid from the European side, and slope gently away in Asia to the foot of Mount Ida. Northwards there is the little bay of the Golden Horn, an arm as it were of the Bosphorus, into which run the streams which the Turks call the Sweet Waters of Europe. The mouth of the harbour is no more than five hundred yards across. The Greeks of the Empire spanned it by a chain, supported here and there on wooden piles, fragments of which still remain in the Armoury that was once the church of S. Irene. Within is safe anchorage in one of the finest harbours of the world.
South of the Golden Horn, on the narrow tongue of land—narrow it seems as seen from the hills of the northern shore—is the city of Constantine and his successors in empire, seated, like the old Rome, on seven hills, and surrounded on three sides by sea, on the fourth by the still splendid, though shattered, mediæval walls. Northwards are the two towns, now linked together, of Pera and Galata, that look back only to the trading settlements of the Middle Ages.
The single spot united, as Gibbon puts it, the prospects of beauty, of safety, and of wealth: and in a masterly description that great historian has collected the features which made the position, "formed by Nature for the centre and capital of a great monarchy," attractive to the first colonists, and evident to Constantine as the centre where he could best combine and command the power of the Eastern half of his mighty Empire.
Byzantium Before Constantine.
It is impossible to approach Constantinople without seeing the beauty and the wonder of its site. Whether you pass rapidly down the Bosphorus, between banks crowned with towers and houses and mosques, that stretch away hither and thither to distant hills, now bleak, now crowned with dark cypress groves; or up from the Sea of Marmora, watching the dome of S. Sophia that glitters above the closely packed houses, till you turn the point which brings you to the Golden Horn, crowded with shipping and bright with the flags of many nations; or even if you come overland by the sandy wastes along the shore, looking across the deep blue of the sea to the islands and the snow-crowned mountains of Asia, till you break through the crumbling wall within sight of the Golden Gate, and find yourself at a step deep in the relics of the middle ages; you cannot fail to wonder at the splendour of the view which meets your eyes. Sea, sunlight, the quaint houses that stand close upon the water's edge, the white palaces, the crowded quays, and the crowning glory of the Eastern domes and the mediæval walls—these are the elements that combine to impress, and the impression is never lost. Often as you may see again the approach to the imperial city, its splendour and dignity and the exquisite beauty of colour and light will exert their old charm, and as you put foot in the New Rome you will feel all the glamour of the days that are gone by.