Yesterday I was stressing about Christmas gift ideas and musing about the five ‘love languages’ with gift giving. While I’m working on that, though, I remember that there are other types of gifts too, which takes me — and YOU! — back into Istanbul. (YAY! I love going back there; hope you do too!)
Some people have the verbal gift of persuasion. Many people use gifts in order to persuade. This has been evident throughout history, in all cultures. At the highest of levels those gifts can be a bit…. um…. over the top, such as Kaiser Wilhelm’s Fountain on the north end of the Hippodrome.
Also known as the German fountain, this octagonal gazebo beauty of eight marble columns, gilded mosaic tiles, and precious gems was constructed first in Germany, and then taken apart, transported and reassembled here in Turkey as a gift from Germany to the Ottoman Empire to Sultan Abdülhamid II. Pretty dang awesome gift, wouldn’t you say? Some tidbits of info are below for your enjoyment.
Location, location, location:
Cool fact: There is a theory that the Quadriga of Lysippos stood on the very spot of the site of the German Fountain. That would be the famous four brass horses that adorn St. Marks in Venice after relocation from the sack of Constantinople in 1204. Prior to 1204 those horses were connected with the chariot in the Hippodrome stadium. I have been looking to see if the Quadriga was at anytime a fountain, since there was obviously a water source below, but haven’t found anything to support that.
Creepy fact: Between 1204, when the Quadriga was taken during the 4th Crusade, and 1898 when the German Fountain was reassembled where it stands, there is nothing much being noted for being on that spot…just the earth building up over time….and the location a very notorious tree. The Vakvak Tree. It was here in 1656, after 452 years of neglect and abandonment of the Hippodrome, that heads (and possibly the rest of their bodies) swung high on display after a crackdown on a rebellion. It got this name Vakvak Tree, based on the original, which is said to dwell in the highest layer of Hell, where human heads are the fruit it bears. Nice.
Some fancy fountain facts:
Eight is great!: eight sides, eight stairs going up, there is a dome in the middle that covers the reservoir with another eight columns, eight monograms in the stonework to show the political union of Abdülhamid II and Wilhelm, and eight medallions under the top dome, alternating the green and blue of Abdülhamid II’s official seal and Wilhelm’s symbol “W” respectively. Overdoing it a bit, maybe?
You can still cool off with water from the taps!: All seven brass taps function beautifully, however, turning one on to enjoy the waters and take a picture will get you chased off by police. I wasn’t fast enough with the camera to capture one Turkish lady’s attempt and thwarting.
There’s a note from the sender!: It is scripted in bronze on the inside dome saying, “German Kaiser Wilhelm II, who constructed this fountain in 1898 autumn, as a gratitude remembrance for his visit to Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II”. The Ottomans wrote their “thank you’ with a poem, a couplet of eight lines, inscribed into the arch of the fountain. BFFs for sure!
Reasons and hopes behind such a gift:
A Railway: German Emperor and King of Prussia, Wilhelm wanted to construct a Baghdad railway, running from Berlin to the Persian Gulf to move German exports, troops, and artillery that would just happen to connect to British India. This was his primary motive for his first visit on October 18, 1898.
Distrust: Abdülhamid II didn’t quite trust the motive for Germany to build a railway and gift the money. The Ottoman Empire didn’t have the funds to support such a project themselves, but liked the idea of connectivity. However, the Sultan suspected the real reason of Germany’s interest was to assess oil wealth in the Ottoman Empires. Later, in their own little Wikileaks moment, a German report came to light noting that “the oilfields in Mosul, northern Mesopotamia, were richer than that in the Caucuses.” Oops. Busted.
First deal: Wilhelm sold German made rifles to the Ottoman Empire.
Second Visit/ Second Deal: Wilhelm secured a promise regarding the railway, but it was for German companies to construct one from Istanbul to Baghdad. This railway, which wasn’t completed until 1940, is argued as a cause leading to the First World War.
Promoting Friendship: besides all the inscriptions and monograms named above, the fountain was to be inaugurated September 1, 1900 to mark the 25th anniversary of Abdülhamid II’s reign on the throne. That didn’t work out due to construction delays so the next best date was January 27, 1901, which happened to be the gifter’s birth date. I wonder how the date snafu was really thought about.
Interesting accusation: I cam across one insistence that the Fountain was the least Wilhelm could do after he hauled off most of the city of Pergamon to Berlin, including Temple of Jupiter. Although the railroad interests spurred by global events that were brewing prior to World War I were more likely the catalyst behind the gift, I will be interested to visit Pergamon and see if there is any mention or bitterness to this claim. Wilhelm II wouldn’t be the only one to rearrange monuments; the Turks frequently reused parts on one thing to make another. For example, in the nave of the Aya Sofia sits two huge alabaster urns, relocated from the ruins of Pergamon by Sultan Murad III. But that is a Turk relocating Turkish ruins, within Turkey. Maybe there is something there. It is a very extravagant gift, after all. Who know how many strings it came with or how smooth its beauty and grandeur made certain paths.