In his great poem Sailing to Byzantium, WB Yeats addresses growing old and embarks on a late spiritual journey to a poetic paradise.

“And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium”.

Byzantium was home for a thousand years to a civilisation based around the city that eventually became Constantinople until 1453 when it formed part of the Ottoman empire and thus became modern day Istanbul.

“Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect”.

After our recent visit to this amazing city I have reflected on its extraordinary past and its turbulent present.

We visited a beautiful Byzantine Church and also several Mosques but the Hagia Sophia still stands as an overpowering symbol of man’s genius to build monuments that defy time and change.

Seeing it from the Bosphorus was a humbling sight and like all survivors it speaks to us of the ever present dangers of destruction and the eternal beauty of endurance.

Light perhaps lends everything a romantic glow but despite recent terrible events, the city remains a powerful symbol of a bridge between east and west.

Recently also the Byzantine period of its past has become a more accepted area for research by Turkish academics and museums, this will open up an even greater dialogue between the cultures of the region.

This is my painting inspired by the view across the mighty river Bosphorus that both divides and unites us. May it survive another thousand years, or as Yeats put it:

“O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing‐masters of my soul”.


Till next time, David

“Sailing to Byzantium” Diptych, Sunset on the Bosphorus.

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