Murat Reis' cemetery

“It was in Rhodes where I spent such happy post-war years, locked into the sacred garden of Murat Reis. I was indeed living in a Turkish cemetery of such beauty and silence that I often longed to die and be sealed into one of those beautiful forms; to lie there dreaming for ever of Eyoub and the great ladies who dream away time in the vehement silence of the Turkish heat, with just the sound of the leaves falling… My table in the garden rotted with heat and spilt wine; sometimes I made notes on it or drew something. Everything ran with sweat, wine and heat. The visiting friends wrote messages on the table when I was absent, and finally started to write poems. The yard was completely surrounded with flowering hibiscus – the most beautiful, tenacious and feminine plant there is.” (Lawrence Durrell: The Greek Islands)

The Ottoman army led personally by Suleiman the Conqueror seized the island of Rhodes on 22 December 1522, after forty years of renewed attempts and six months of continuous siege. The Great Master of the Johannite knights, who reached the end of their forces after waiting in vain for any liberating army from Europe during six months, agreed two days before Christmas on the surrender of the city in return for a free withdrawal. The Johannite fleet did not threaten any more the Turkish coasts of Asia Minor and the Turkish navy raiding over the Aegean Sea. The Mediterranean Sea was opened before the Ottoman conquest.

The city of Rhodes on the northern tip of the island, from a 17th-c. copy of Piri Reis’ south-oriented map made in 1525, in the Walter Art Library Collection. Click for the whole map

Murat Reis – that is, Admiral – was already born in Rhodes, in a Muslim Albanian family settled on the island. Since the age of twelve he served under the greatest Ottoman admirals, Turgut Reis, Piri Reis and Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha. In 1552 Suleiman appointed him admiral of the Turkish navy in the Indian ocean, where he fought against the Portuguese fleets. From 1570 he led a fleet on the Mediterranean Sea again, defending the Aegean Sea and preparing the occupation of Cyprus and Crete from the Venetians. He died in 1603, and was buried in the port of Rhodes, in the cemetery of the Murat Reis Mosque founded by him. His tomb became a pilgrimage site for Ottoman sailors

“Upon my first landing [in Rhodes] I had espyed among divers very honourable Sepultures, one more brave then the rest, and new; I enquired whose it was; a Turke not knowing whence I was, told me it was the Captaine Basha, slaine the yeare before by two English Ships; and therewith gave such a Language of our Nation, and threatning to all whom they should light upon, as made me upon all demands professe my selfe a Scotchman, which being a name unknowne to them, saved me, nor do I suppose it any quitting of my Countrey, but rather a retreat from one corner to the other.” (Henry Blount: A Voyage into Levant, 1650)

“A few sporadic points of light shone in the new town, but the street-lighting had not yet been restored and we walked in a deep calm darkness as the first stars began to take shape upon the evening sky. It was now. I remember, that we stumbled upon the little garden which encircles the Mosque of Murad Reis—a garden at whose heart I was later to find the Villa Cleobolus; and here we sat for a while perched upon Turkish tombstones, smoking and enjoying the darkness which had now (spring was advanced) an almost touchable smoothness, the silkiness of old velours.” (Lawrence Durrell: Reflections on a Marine Venus)

“Torr has some amusing facts about the little Turkish graveyard which I have come to think of as the garden of Villa Cleobolus. During the Middle Ages it was part of the Grand Master's garden. 'In 1496,' says Torr, 'an old ostrich and two young were kept with their wings clipped in a walled enclosure here. They laid their eggs in sand and hatched them by simply looking at them: they fed on iron and steel. There was also a sheep from India and various other strange animals: particularly a hound given to the Grand Master by Sultan Bajazet. It was about the size of a greyhound, mouse-coloured, with no hair at all except about the mouth, and it had claws like a bird. From this last fact comes the story that the Grand Turk had a bird that every year laid three eggs; and from two of the eggs came birds, but from the third a puppy. It was necessary to remove the puppy as soon as it broke its shell: otherwise the birds pecked it.' Not the shadow of a smile disturbs the dry exposition of the scholarly Englishman who has given us the best historical monograph on the island. But then history for Torr was a serious business. I have not been able to discover whether he visited Rhodes. Perhaps he thought it wiser to stay out of this sunlit landscape whose wine and fruit could only lead a man to laziness, procrastination and even to mendacity.” (Lawrence Durrell: Reflections on a Marine Venus)

The island of Rhodes was occupied by the Italians from Turkey already in 1912, and the Treaty of Lausanne awarded it together with the whole Dodekanesos to Italy. Thus its Turkish and Greek population was equally spared from the terrible exchange of population in 1924. Only a large part of the two thousand Sephardic Jews living here since the late 15th century were deported by the German occupiers in the Second World War. The Turkish Consul managed to save only those two hundred of them, whose families still included at least one living Turkish citizen. The island, which in 1947 was awarded to Greece, preserved its Turkish population. They take care of the mosque and cemetery of Murat Reis.

“As a nation they are the most withdrawn and the most secretive of any I have met. This does not imply either lack of spontaneity or of goodwill—they have a great measure of both. But the centuries of religious difference have given each Moslem Turk the look of a walled city. In Rhodes they live like moles behind barred windows, inside walled gardens, full of orange trees; as a community they are not divided internally as the Greeks are by petty jealousies and schisms, nor externally by a multiplicity of political interests.” (Lawrence Durrell: Reflections on a Marine Venus)

“Our agreement is cemented by a visit to the grave of Hascmet, the Turkish satirical poet, who lies buried in a small walled enclosure in one corner of the courtyard. The tomb is chipped and stained by rain. A goat munches and scratches round it, tethered to a dwarf eucalyptus by the wall. I put my hand to the gravestone and feel the warmth of the sun upon it. Who was Hascmet, and how did he come to be exiled here, to this forgotten graveyard full of the sedate tombs of Turkish civil servants? It is an after dinner problem for Gideon to solve.” (Lawrence Durrell: Reflections on a Marine Venus)

“Forget that tiresome, learned and entertaining Gideon; he was half fanciful, half an alter ego of Larry’s: a semi-fictional though pivotal character in Reflections on a Marine Venus.” – John Leatham: “Durrell on Rhodes”, in Anna Lillios: Lawrence Durrell and the Greek world

“We walk back now, the three of us, across the melancholy but beautiful churchyard, pausing from time to time in the shade of the tall flowing trees as Hoyle deciphers the lettering on a tomb, or offers the Mufti a chocolate from the little silver box he always carries about with him in his pocket. Our feet crunch the crisp sickles of eucalyptus-leaf underfoot as we walk. The graveyard is in a sad state of disrepair. Many of the tombs have fallen to pieces, and in places the loose drift of leaves has half obscured others. The majority of those who lie buried here are Turkish civil servants. A few are political exiles. The gravestone records the sex of its tenant: with a heavy marble turban surmounting it, in the case of a man, and with a sort of marble pine-apple in the case of a woman. The greater dignitaries have a small vault to themselves—a sort of stone sentry-box with a domed roof and barred windows. But now with wind and weather many of the stone turbans have been blown off and lie about in the pathways like heads blown from statues. We skirt the final row of tombs and plunge into the dense thicket of oleander which hides the house.” (Lawrence Durrell: Reflections on a Marine Venus)

To the visitor, my wish is a prayer (from you); Today it may be for me, but tomorrow it shall be for you; the late and forgiven Captain Haji Abdul Kerim.

(Here lies) The Late and Forgiven, Warrior of the Faith Ahmad Abdullah, one of the Flagbearers of the Conquering Sultan Suleiman.

The photos were saved some years ago from a since then cancelled Russian photo blog, whose address and author I could not find any more. I think this fact fits well to the cemetery of Murat Reis.

4 comentarios:

Araz dijo...

a beautiful post, Studiolum, it seems that you read my mind, since I am planing to write about another cemetery far away and forgotten. One tiny note though - inscriptions for Haji Abdul Kerim and Ahmad Abdullah are mixed, so you will need to exchange them.

Studiolum dijo...

Thanks, Araz! In fact, when composing this post, I thought about that far away and forgotten cemetery too, and I hope very much to read about it soon!

Thanks for the correction. As before publishing I usually compose the post in html, I did not see the pictures when adding the formatted captions under them, and the picture numbers were changed. Now I have restored the correct order.

Alaleh dijo...


Studiolum dijo...

to you, for the visit!