When I was younger I traveled the world, dragged by my family from one country to another, back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean. I hope to travel widely again, in this newer century. Until then, my travels occur only through the vast loops of Internet connections that lead from my computer to the far corners of the earth and back again.
But what a magnificent journey it is! Some of what I find makes its way into the pages of my new novel. Other discoveries wait, scribbled in the pages of my notebook, saved in lists of my favorite sites, deposited in magical magnetic collections of ones and zeroes.
The idea for this post came from the site, Where’s My Backpack? Although my blog doesn’t treat the theme of travel in same way, I couldn’t resist the temptation of posting some of the magic circles I’ve found on my own adventure.
The main character of my novel is a young Hungarian girl, Mina Ferenci. Captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1626, she is taken from her home town of Mako to Istanbul to be a household slave.
Excerpt from Chapter 1: The Sublime Porte.
Groups of men were filtering into the courtyard through the four southern gates and Mina slowed to a walk and followed them along a straight wide path lined with cypress, willows and other trees she could not identify. From the four minarets the call to prayer began, and from within the animosity in her gut she felt the urge to laugh. This time she did not suppress it and her amusement grew as the words spread out into the courtyard and beyond.
“God is most great,” sang the voices from the minarets. “I testify there is no other God but God. I testify Muhammad is the messenger of God. Come and pray. Come and flourish. God is most great. There is no God but God.”
Mina accepted the invitation and entered the inner courtyard through the gate. The shock of beauty almost took her breath away. A plateau of perfectly smooth white marble was walled in by multicolored stone columns supporting windowed galleries. Above the galleries, arches of the same multicolored stone looked like rainbows. A line of domes finished the top of each wall and the four minarets anchored each corner of the courtyard.
You might wonder how a girl could enter the mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent. In real life, she couldn’t. In the novel … well, I don’t want to give away too much of the plot. Mina does escape from slavery (of course) taking with her two maps that describe the trade routes across Anatolia to the Caspian Sea.
Maps have been enormously important throughout history, but a “map” has not always been what we understand it to be today. For instance, the Portolan Charts of the 1400’s, which appeared as Europeans started using the magnetic compass, “were made to get seafarers from home to another place and back again safely.” Modern viewers, although we can identify certain features, would find them useless for our own travels.
Technology advanced, and Portolan Charts were succeeded by the modern map, with all its variations. Other inventions exploded into human consciousness, too, many of them related to astronomy and navigation. The “lead and line” — used by sailors for so long to gauge depth, speed and distance — disappeared from use. The Museo Galileo has some stunning examples of human ingenuity, like this “nautical circle.”
Other examples of the circle have no circular images to accompany them. With the invention of the printing press, books spread across empires and some authors sought to catalog all knowledge in a new form. As William N. West points out in Theatres and Encyclopedias in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge University Press, 2002, part of the word “encyclopedia” comes in part from the Greek root word meaning “circle.”
The capaciousness of the word “encyclopedia” in the sixteenth century and its almost utopian claims for comprehensiveness, compression, and speed of access, similar in tone and content to modern ones for the World Wide Web, are in part a result of its newness; like the word “theatrum,” “encyclopedia” was a sign for which a referent had to be imagined before it could be realized. From its beginnings, the term was unstable, implying a great deal about totality and mastery but difficult to pin down or even evaluate as serious or satirical. Although composed of Greek elements — enkuklios means “general” or “everyday” and derives from the root kuklos, “circle,” while paideia means “education” or “training” — it is in fact not the product of any Greek-speaking culture, but rather of one that read Greek voraciously, early modern humanist Europe.
With the encyclopedia came the idea of a museum, the Kunstkammer, or “art cabinet.” Elites of the Early Modern era collected treasures — just like they do today, and for all the same reasons — but the manner of organization was entirely different. The History of the Royal Danish Kunstkammer, a 2002 essay by Bente Gundestrup of the The National Museum of Denmark , tells an interesting story:
Hans Christian Andersen concludes his tale The Princess and the Pea by telling us that ‘– the pea was put into the museum, where it can still be seen, if no one has taken it!’ Anyone who has read the story will probably recognize the ending, but they will almost certainly have been unaware of the allusions to one particular museum, and to a remarkable act of theft.
The absolutist monarchs of Denmark had created a multi-museum in Copenhagen – a Kunstkammer – containing all those things, which nowadays can only be seen by visiting a whole range of different museums. The collection reflected the Universe, with naturalia created by God, and objets d’art created by Man – all arranged and displayed according to an efficient, precise system.
This was the repository for some of the treasures of the realm. Here could be found the exquisite Dagmar Cross, as well as the two famous 5th century Golden Horns – found in 1639 and 1734. It was the fate of these Golden Horns that Hans Christian Andersen was hinting at. In 1802 they were stolen from the Kunstkammer and later melted down. The theft inspired Adam Oehlenschläger that same year to write his poem Golden Horns.
And here this blog entry comes full circle, because Mina Ferenci, the former Ottoman slave girl, arrives in the Baltic in the company of one Adam Olearius. Therein lies a tale, but I’ll leave you with this final circle, the Great Gottorp Globe, currently owned by the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology.
The Great Gottorp Globe is on display at our museum. One of the first planetariums in the world, it is unique in its size and construction, allowing an external globe with a map of the earth’s surface and an internal planetarium with a map of the starry sky to rotate simultaneously.
The globe was made in 1654-1664 under the supervision of A. Olearius in Gottorp, the resident of the Duke of Holstein. The planetarium globe of 3.1 meters in diameter was given to Peter the Great during the Northern War and brought to Petersburg in 1717. Initially, it was placed in a special pavilion on the Tsaristin meadow (now the Field of Mars). It is known that the Tsar frequently examined the Gottorp globe in the morning, such was the interest he took in it.
In 1717, the globe was moved to the tower of the Kunstkamera building. It was severely damaged in the fire of 1747, and its surface was destroyed. Thanks to the work of 18th-century Russian craftsmen, modern restorers, researchers and curators, visitors to the museum today can share the pride and amazement which this unique globe evoked among the people of past centuries.