Chariot Racing, Riots and the Biggest Building in the World.

One of the greatest testaments to human brilliance is located in the city of Istanbul, Turkey. Completed in 537 A.D., the Hagia Sophia was built to be the greatest church on earth by one of the Roman Empire’s most ambitious and controversial Emperors. In a recent post, I told the story of the city of Istanbul. As I had traveled there very recently after nearly two decades of waiting, I was excited to share my wonder for the place. However, throughout that post I omitted any discussion of the Hagia Sophia, which is the building that convinced me to visit the city when I was just 10 years old. I admire that building and those who built it, and the story leading up to it’s construction captivated me. It still does! I thought that it deserved it’s own uninterrupted story; but to tell it, I’ll need to tell you about the extremely violent sport of chariot racing, about a blood thirsty tyrannical Emperor, about massive riots and massacres, about engineering and scientific achievements, and about wars of conquest. This building has been through a lot.

Our story begins in 532 A.D. on a particular day at the Hippodrome of Constantinople, where some chariot races were taking place. Throughout the Roman Empire, public sports were perhaps even more popular than they are today. That is a bold statement, considering how seriously they are taken today, and by how many. But to make a point, back then, the world’s population was a lot smaller, but their stadiums were often just as big as they are today! We all know of Rome’s Colosseum and of gladiatorial games, but at this point in time, the most important sport in the empire was that of chariot racing. These races were held in hippodromes, where two long parallel tracks were tied together by semi circles at either end. In the hippodrome of Constantinople (now Istanbul), up to 100,000 people might be in attendance at once. But to give some perspective on how big these games could get; in the Circus Maximus of Rome, arguably the largest hippodrome ever built, around 250,000 people might have been able to attend; a quarter of Rome’s population at that time. Consider your local stadium, does it compare to what Rome could offer it’s people 2000 years ago?

As with most things that existed in antiquity, chariot racing is very little understood. So much is unknown to us about how it was organized, how the races went, and most of what we do know comes from poems and from mosaics and paintings. In the poems, we get wonderful imagery, describing the feeling of being at one of these games, but nothing is said about how the games were played. This is a common problem in history, because just like us today, people in the past took their world for granted. No one felt the need to describe something in detail that literally everyone understood very well. Ask yourself this: if you knew nothing about the sports common in the country you live in, but you could read the text messages exchanged between two of your friends about a match that they witnessed; could you guess at the rules of that sport? Chances are you wouldn’t even know that hockey was played on ice if you only had the correspondence between two fans to look at. That’s why history is such a puzzle sometimes. But back to the point; Chariot Races.

Our ancient poets nevertheless give us a wealth of information. Races normally figured teams of two or four horses, and depending on the arena, there could be up to twelve chariots racing at once. They tell us that the games were brutal, and that there were few rules; in other words, racing was violent. Some of the standard strategies in these races included striking horses and other drivers with whips and fists, slamming chariots into others, cutting off opponents and driving opponents into walls. Charioteers almost always started off as slaves, usually made to start racing around the age of 9 years old, and if they were successful, they could be freed and become fabulously wealthy. Moreover, these were some of most famous men alive in their world. Much like today, where everyone has heard of Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali, these charioteers could be better known than those ruling the nation. The same can be said of the horses. Though race days were horrific and brutal for these animals, their time in stables were made up of unbridled luxury. Horses were loved by crowds as much as were the drivers, and horses that won 100 races were publicly honored. But to be clear, crashes were part of the fun for the audiences. This was a blood sport as much as a competition, and pile ups involving many numbers of chariots were lovingly refereed to as Shipwrecks. We’re strange, aren’t we?

Did you know: The highest paid athlete of all history is considered to be Gaius Appuleius Diocles, a chariot racer who is estimated to have earned over 15 billion $ in today’s money. Compare this to the next in line; Michael Jordan is estimated to have earned 1.9 billion.

In this city, there were four main chariot teams: the Blues, the Reds, the Greens, and the Whites. Audience members supported their favorite team by wearing jerseys of corresponding color, much like today. But these teams and their fans weren’t like any sports associations you might see nowadays; these teams were the equivalent of political factions that brought together masses of civilians with street thugs and politicians. They had power. Normally they fought one another, but alliances and coalitions were common.

An artist’s depiction of the hippodrome of Constantinople, found of the Istanbul Tour Studio Website. The scale seems off to me, the raceway and stands are all much too small. However, it helps create an image in our minds. All entered the games for free. They were paid for by Emperors and politicians, and as many as eight games could be held in one day. A guide in Rome explained to me that seating in these stadiums was assigned by city district, so as to allow all citizens to attend in a rotation to a certain show during the day.

At this moment, Constantinople was in an uproar, and everyone was furious with Emperor Justinian I. This emperor had been born a peasant, and had risen up to the greatest position of power existing in Europe at that time; needless to say, he was an astonishingly energetic man, and once he bore the mantle of empire, he set himself on making changes. He had a war to end with the Persian Sassanids, so he raised taxes. Next he went after all that he considered immoral; also known as fun stuff. He tried to eliminate all old pagan religious ceremonies, the study of ancient philosophers, adultery, prostitution, Christians that had different opinions, homosexuality, and the Jews. People didn’t like that, and all these people suddenly felt a little enemy of my enemy is my friend. These chariot races became the focal points from which their discontent was manifested. The greatest place that the citizens of Constantinople had to gather together was the Hippodrome, and the Emperor often attended from his palace balcony, which was integrated in the design of the hippodrome.

This pedestrian road in Istanbul shows what is left of the hippodrome of Constantinople. The ancient Egyptian Obelisk and the remnants of a metal spiral column (fore of the photo) once made up the center of the racetrack. One of my pictures from my trip this August.

One day, the normally opposed teams and fans came together and begun to chant a slogan towards the palace to voice their resentment. Nika; win, they chanted! These crowds were legendarily chaotic, but on this day, they rampaged into the streets, set fire to buildings, and besieged the Emperor in his palace for five days. Moreover, the politicians and aristocrats in the city saw this as a perfect opportunity to try to overthrow their Emperor. This was a perfect storm, and it is likely that the politicians had conspired through their team affiliations to make it happen this way. The ambitious emperor was stunned. We are told that he thought about running away; but no peasant that ever made himself emperor should be underestimated. He also had a pretty ruthless wife.

On the fifth day, Justinian sent soldiers to the Hippodrome, where the teams and rioters had been assembled in a pretense, that the emperor was willing to compromise and would meet them. There, under the leadership of the general Belisarius, loyal to his emperor, soldiers barricaded the stadium, entered in formation, and went to work killing every last man. It is said that 30,000 were killed in that place. By hand.

The Nika Riots, as they would come to be known, were over. In less than a week, half the city had burned to ashes, most of the population had been displaced, and tens of thousands had died. This was the greatest riot that this city ever faced in its history. However, now that Justinian’s power was uncontested, he was intent to show his people that he was worth the blood he had taken from them. He first sent armies west under the leadership of Belisarius. Though his promotion to commander of the western push was a reward for loyalty shown at Nika, it would eventually turn into a curse, for he had the monumental responsibility to reconstitute the old Roman Empire, which had fallen on dark times by now. Most of the Western Empire was now under the control of various conquering hoards. But the astonishing campaigns and bittersweet achievements of Belisarius are a subject for another post.

This achievement, though achieved under the direction of Justinian, belongs to Belisarius.

In addition to setting out to fight wars of reconquest, Justinian began a series of monumental building projects to cement his authority. Nothing say’s I’m in charge like I paid for that. One of these would be the crowning jewel of Justinian’s legacy.  The city’s Cathedral had been burned down during the riots, and Justinian would build the city a new basilica on the site of the old one. A devout Christian, Justinian decided that his engineers would build the greatest Church in the world.  Perhaps he felt as though he had some things to atone for. The fact is that Justinian was not so different from other Roman Emperors, or to other leaders all around the world at that time; dissent was crushed however it needed to be. Today we do that too, just more cleanly; we just throw tear gas at it and hope it goes away. Regardless, today we don’t remember Justinian for his ruthlessness, but for his building programs, which are still visible in their glory.

He tasked two professors of mathematics and physics with no experience in construction, Isidorus and Anthemius, with building the church. He only had two demands; that they build it very quickly, and that the building should be completely different from anything preceding it. Under pressure from a murderous emperor, the two set to work. After just six weeks, the two had a design and had begun constructing the largest building in the world. Forget how long it takes to begin construction anywhere in our day in age for a small building, Justinian was throwing all that was needed at this project, from slaves to materials. Interestingly, upon my own visit to the Hagia Sophia, I asked my guide why there were so many different types of columns in the church, and he answered that the builders had recycled many columns from older sites within the empire to cut down on the time to manufacture new ones, and since this church was so big, no single other location had sufficient matching columns to fulfill its building needs.

The dome was another special feature in this building. It would be 100 feet across, about 33 meters, and the largest masonry dome in the world; and therefore extremely heavy, which is a major concern in building. The engineers would need to become very crafty in constructing this structure, because should the weight of the dome be badly distributed, the dome, or the building supporting the dome, would collapse.

The main dome of the Hagia Sophia.

You have to imagine that the weight of the dome created a force that pushed directly down on its supports. That’s difficult enough to engineer at a height over 50 meters, but the nature of a dome’s shape creates horizontal outward forces upon the supports as well. Lateral shearing forces. Now the supports have to withstand the downward force but also the secondary sideways force, all created by the weight of the dome. Supporting the sideways force is commonly referred to as buttressing. To do this they relied upon architectural structures called pendentives, which help distribute the weight of the heavy dome downwards. These pendentives can be described as four roman arches set up in a square, as shown in the pictures below. Rounded arches were a very standard architectural solution to the distribution of building weight, and allowed for very tall stone and brick building projects in the ancient world. The pendentive brought this solution one step further.

This is a cut view of the inner dome of the Hagia Sophia. Picture found on –

Pendentives were commonly used during the roman era to support the weight of smaller domes, but these mathematician architects brought the technology to a new level; they decided that if one set of pendentives was good, then more had to be better. They began to combine pendentive structures, layering them away from each other, almost creating a giant brick hill. The end result was a central pendentive supporting the world’s biggest masonry dome, followed by rows and rows of smaller pendentives extending away. The picture bellow shows a midsection cut view of the Hagia Sophia, and shows well how all the layered pendentive structures support the centre of the church.

A view from above would show that the church spreads of this way both north south and east west. It is mostly symmetrical along the x and y axis, if the z axis points to the sky. Notice how each level lower supports the one higher up, like a bike stand propping up a bike.
Picture taken from

As you can tell from this picture, the engineering elements which meant to prop up the ancient dome came to determine its unusual and exotic architecture. Nothing like this existed before it, and after it, the style became an architectural standard for much of the East Mediterranean Religions. Just look around Istanbul today for evidence of that.

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, featuring many similar architectural features

The construction of the church began in 532 A.D. It was completed in 537. This stunning construction time amazed all those that witnessed this site, but it probably also explains the fact that the dome collapsed in an earthquake in 558. The building had been built too quickly, and had some flaws. The dome had been too flat, which drove the weight disproportionately sideways, putting the buttressing ability of the pandentives beyond their limits. The new dome would be taller, and thus would drive its own weight as directly into the ground as possible. Since then the problem has been largely solved; however, another earthquake shifted the dome’s current alignment in the last few centuries. Guides in the Hagia Sofia like to bring tourists to the center point directly beneath the dome (it is indicated with a small X that was carved into the floor by Ottoman architects some 500 years ago, before this last earthquake) in order to point out that the displacement is visible. Indeed, a chandelier hangs directly from the centre of the dome and comes down from the ceiling to within 3 meters of the floor. It rests at least 50 cm away from the center mark in the floor.

But since 558, the same dome stands. In 565, Justinian would die and be remembered as Justinian the Great, and despite his amazing, bloody, and revolutionary life, this building is still the biggest reason that he is remembered today. Perhaps this is a lesson to any who would like to leave a mark on the world. No one remembers the name of those two architects nor those of any of the workers. I had to dig to find those. We only remember the name of the one who paid for it.

When the Hagia Sophia was built, it was the biggest building in the world, and it would remain the largest church in the world for nearly one thousand years. However, surprisingly it was not displaced as largest by the construction of a bigger church elsewhere. Those who read my previous article about Istanbul will know that in 1453, about 900 years after Justinian’s death, the city of Constantinople was conquered and occupied by a new empire; the Ottomans. Under the leadership of Mehmet II, troops had besieged the city for months before finally breaking into it by force of cannon.

Very large mosaic of Jesus. It was stunning and hugely tall, almost twice my height!

The Ottomans brought with them another religion that they would vigorously encourage in their empire; and yet the Hagia Sophia amazed the conquerors. Mehmet never even thought of tearing down this church. That was not standard practice at that time in history. The Ottomans were rather pragmatic, and converted the world’s biggest church into… just another mosque. Mosques were already really big. But I think many mosques dedicate quite a bit of room to open air sections that count towards this size calculation, whereas most churches don’t have significant open air spaces considered part of the church. Regardless, after World War One, the nation of Turkey was born, and its leader, Ataturk, converted the Hagia Sophia into a museum, as it still is today. However, upon opening the Hagia Sophia to the world as a museum, Ataturk also had the plaster covering the Christian symbolism removed. Naturally, the conquerors had covered up the Christian symbolism in the Hagia Sophia when they converted the church into a mosque. It is quite a blessing that they did not destroy it instead, because the Roman mosaics and paintings are beautiful. Today, the Hagia stands as one of the only buildings in the world to incorporate both Christian and Islamic symbolism in a harmonious manner, with the giant name of Muhammad and Allah framing a picture of Jesus and Mary on a throne.

Now I love this building. So much has happened around it, and if you could be a fly on the wall in a building like that through history you would gain such a significant sight into the past. My point is that, the building was so astonishing that it became a focal point for so many famous individuals, emperors, charioteers, generals, scholars, architects, slaves, peasants, worshippers, tourists, and people from all over the world at all times in history since it was built. The Romans who built this structure had an empire ranging from Egypt to the Balkans; you can be certain that individuals from all those places visited and spent time in this building. And then imagine all the visitors from the bordering regions.

One of my favorite stories about the Hagia Sophia involves graffiti. There are two places where there is runic graffiti in the Hagia Sophia. Runic was the writing style of people we think of as Vikings; what was it doing there?! This might be explained by the fact that the emperors of Constantinople were all protected by a legendary bodyguard made up of Norsemen, named the Varagian Guard.  As part of a diplomatic agreement with the Norsemen that ruled the territories of modern-day Russia, the Emperor was protected by some Norse fighters sent from the north, who would come to be known as some of the best soldiers in the Mediterranean.  Though hardy fighters, they lived up to their stereotypes; one story about them tells of a Norse leader visiting Constantinople; upon spending time with the guards, he gave them a speech in which he reprimanded them for drinking too heavily and being so rowdy.  He told them that they should moderate their drinking to present a better image of the Norsemen.  He said that to the personal body guards of the most powerful man in Europe. 

Well, these men had to accompany the Emperor everywhere, even to church, and probably from one of these guards, bored on duty, maybe even hung over, we have the runic graffiti which reads : “Halfdan was here”. Carved into the Hagia Sophia.

Halfdan could have written that anywhere, but then none of us would have known about Halfdan. The Hagia Sophia, and the city of Istanbul, are great testaments to the collective achievements of humanity thus far; but they are also portals through which we can know our ancestors. I don’t want us to stop improving because we’ve done enough; but take a look a monument some day. A striking building, or perhaps even an ordinary one; pause and try to see time pass through it. Try to imagine all that might have happened there because someone decided to build something.

The Hagia Sophia has been undoing renovations constantly for the past 12 years. Despite the stunning building speed, it seems as though repairs are not to be rushed. In fact, the main project of the renovators is painting. The humid sea air appears to destroy all paint applied to the walls. After just a few years, new coats need to be reapplied.

Book Review: The Story of my Experiments with Truth, by Gandhi

Some individuals tower over the rest of us by nature of their ability to influence the world. While most of us merely suffer the ebb and flow of history, others appear to possess the unnatural mythical ability to command the sea. One of these individuals was Mohandas K. Gandhi.

Unlike most others who fall into this category of world mover, Gandhi was not a conqueror. He was not a politician, he was not a general, he was not a scientist, and he never sought fame for its own sake. Despite that, he managed to push the world towards his ideals through simply engaging in activities he considered right and true. He became a body of wisdom that carried such weight, humanity could not help but to gravitate around him.

Herein is a review of Gandhi’s Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Despite the label of Autobiography, the book is not a full account of Gandhi’s life. The book was originally published in the form of weekly publications from 1925-1929 following his release from prison. It describes his early childhood in India, his years studying abroad in London, his most troubling encounters with racism as a barrister in South Africa, and it concludes with his first steps back in India in 1921 until his arrest and imprisonment.

Originally written in Gujarati, the book does not describe an exciting adventure filled with danger and romance, and frankly it can be dull in some isolated passages. But these stories are deeply insightful, and sometimes can truly be filled with absolute danger and violence, where whole communities square off against profoundly troubling injustice! Other passages however describe his dietary contemplations in details sometimes exasperating to the author of this review. Gandhi’s purpose in writing this chronicle was to explain to his Indian readers how he came by the ideas that formed his mind and character. In a world as divided as was India by colonial oppression, caste exclusivity, and religious intolerance, he thought it necessary to explain his beliefs on inclusivity, respect, and on the importance of thoroughly examining one’s own beliefs for lies and half-truths.

Gandhi would go on to become the leader of the Indian Independence Movement against British rule of India. Though he would be tragically assassinated following the success of this just cause, his role in shaping the modern world and the current lives of more than a billion Indians and Pakistanis is undeniable. Still today, seven decades since his death, his name carries more weight than that of any current politician, dictator, or celebrity.

It is good that we should know how the best of us came by their ideas. In reading Gandhi, we cannot help but find ourselves wanting in comparison to him. He inevitably provides us with a standard of goodness to which we cannot help but aspire. This being said, he was not perfect, his ideas sometimes seem outdated, but nonetheless, we are fortunate to have his words.

It is relevant to note that Gandhi begins the book by stating that he had to be convinced to write the autobiography since he deemed it a silly idea. Gandhi did not understand why he should put down his ideas on paper for posterity since he was certain that some of them would change in the future as he further examined their validity. In the increasingly ideological world we live in today, a few lessons from Gandhi should be deemed essential to any who claim to think.

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Book review: The Winter King, by Bernard Cornwell

Some stories have been told to us so many times that they possess an intrinsic hold upon us. These stories are woven into the fabric of our culture; the characters exist in our minds as though they were acquaintances; and the morals and lessons of the tales inform and dictate our very nature.

One of these deeply rooted stories is that of King Arthur and of his round table. This story has held a place in our culture and collective imagination since its first telling in the 9th century. Over the years it has taken many shapes and colours; Arthur has been seen as a folkloric superman who fought off hundreds of foes singlehandedly; Disney cast Arthur as a young and timid boy; Hollywood has seen him as both a Roman Officer and as a back-alley tramp in two different recent adaptations.

Yet none of these versions manage to deliver a telling of his tale that live up to the importance of the icon. All fail with the exception of Bernard Cornwell’s The Warlord Chronicles. The first installment in this trilogy is entitled The Winter King. This chronicle tells the tale of a brutal, cold, and miserable Britain, torn apart in the centuries following Rome’s abandonment of the Isles. Petty struggles for domination between neighbours have kept the Britons from coalescing and convalescing, and the lives of the people are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”, as Hobbes might have put it.
The book begins as the light of the Britons, Uther, dies. Uther was a King who managed to bring order in his lifetime, and with his death, disorder and chaos between the Britons emerges anew. This time however, to add fuel to the fire, the Britons face an existential crisis. Saxon hoards from across the English Chanel have begun their invasion of Britain, and the Britons must set aside their differences and come together to fight off their foes.

The story is told from the eyes of Derfel Cadarn, who is an orphan in the care of the Sorcerer Merlin at the start of the novel. As he comes to manhood in the unequaled battle sequences of Cornwell, he tells a story full of all one might hope from such a tale as Arthur’s. It is a story filled with wonder, bravery, cowardice, betrayal, love, violence, tenderness, but most of all; it is a story filled with hope.

Few authors take the care that Cornwell does when presenting a story cast in a historical era. His Warlord Chronicle tells a story that is impossible to set aside or put down. Nothing but the next page can satisfy the curiosity and thrill he instills with each and every word. While you are cold and gloomy this winter, consider picking up Bernard Cornwell’s The Winter King. It will bring a purpose to your day, and if nothing else, it can make you thankful that you are not born in the Dark Ages. But if you had, you would want to be at Arthur’s side.

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The City of Three Empires

I finally made it to the legendary city of Istanbul. I have been waiting since I was 10 years old to see this city, and in August, just a few weeks ago, I was there for over two weeks.

The land upon which Istanbul is built has been occupied by humans for at least 5000 years, but the site does not appear to have experienced any significant development until the Greeks founded a colony here in 657 B.C. The Greeks named the site Byzantium, after the king Byzas, who founded the colony. This is considered to be the city’s first name, and it bore it for nearly a millennia. Though the Romans would eventually give the city a new name, the city would remain primarily Greek speaking for the next two thousand years.

Over time, this insignificant town called Byzantium would catch the eye of a Roman Emperor. The Romans had been increasingly struggling to manage their enormous empire from distant Rome; worst of all, most of the Empire’s wealth lay in the Eastern provinces. For these reasons, the Emperor Constantine wanted a more central location than Rome from which to engage in Empire. Constantine eventually decided that the site of Byzantium would become the next Roman capital in 330 A.D. The central location that the city occupied, literally forming the border between the European and Asian half of the Roman Empire, made it the perfect location from which to administer the empire. He would spend lavishly on building up the city as a rival to Rome, and as is the prerogative of emperors, Constantine renamed Byzantium after himself. It would be known as Constantinople, or Constantinopolis, for the next thousand years.

The aqueduct of Constantinople. The longest ever constructed by the Romans, at about 240km long. Aqueducts were monumental achievements in engineering, bringing water over great distances from elevated water sources down to cities using nothing but the power of gravity. Near Rome, one particular aqueduct constructed about 600 years before this one only dropped 10m over a distance of 16.4km. Where needed, the Romans continued their aqueducts through mountains, tunneling into them just as precisely.

As the Western half of the Roman Empire fell to repeated raids and corruption over the next two hundred years, the Eastern half of the Empire remained strong, administered behind the fortress that was Constantinople. The Roman Empire would survive in the east until the 15th century. History remembers this entity as the Byzantine Empire, but they thought of themselves as Romans, pure and simple.

The city spent centuries fending off foreign attacks, by northern barbarians, horse nomads from the Far East, and would even be the victims of crusader treachery. The Byzantines have a fantastic and exciting history: the Emperor had legendary viking body guards named the Varangian Guard; the Empire is largely responsible for the development of Russia; the Byzantine navy and army had flamethrowers that threw a still unknown substance that could not be extinguished by water; and they were fabulously wealthy and literate.

Over time, through corruption and subpar leadership, the Byzantine Empire was whittled down until nothing was left except the city of Constantinople itself. The word “Byzantine” is today understood to mean excessively complicated. In many ways, this statement can shed light on why it might have become impossible to maintain such an empire.

The Blue Mosque from a rooftop. It was a wonderful backdrop to get some writing done on a Bluetooth Keyboard .

However the empire atrophied, in 1453, the Ottoman conqueror, Mehmed II, at 21 years of age, led an army in the siege and capture of the city, using some of the first cannons seen in Europe to batter down Europe’s greatest fortifications. Three sets of massive walls lined one behind another separated by deep moats; an entirely fortified seaside; as well as a chain dragged across the sea at the mouth of Golden Horn to hold back naval invasion into the city ports. These fortifications had held off one thousand years of would be conquerors, but they could not withstand the coming of the age of gunpowder. From this point on, the city would be renamed Istanbul, and would become the Capital of its third empire, the Ottoman Empire.

Interestingly, the name Istanbul might have Greek origins. Though meaning something along the lines of Plenty of Islam, or Find Islam, in Turkish, the local Greeks might have refereed to the city by something sounding quite close to Istanbul, meaning in their language To the City. They would use this name the same way we often refer to our closest city when we live in a suburbs or nearby village. Historians suggest that Mehmed and his entourage might have found inspiration upon hearing the Greek speakers refer to the city this way.

Istanbul at night, from a spot near the Galata Tower.

With Istanbul as its capital, the Ottoman Empire rose to a massive size, stretching from Baghdad to Yemen to Morocco to Hungary. Over time, the empire became stagnant, swamped in bureaucracy and given to poor leadership. History teaches us that this is the fate of all empires. It was dissolved at the end of the First World War, in which the Ottomans fought a heroic and loosing campaign alongside the Germans. Legendary figures, were born in this fighting: people like Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Lawrence of Arabia had their stories set in one of the world’s most ancient places. As such, they share their legacies with greats such as Cyrus of the Persians, Alexander of Macedon, Julius Ceasar, and Salahadin. Indeed, the cosmopolitan and ethnically diverse population of Istanbul reminds us that we all do, as human beings.

Though the war was lost, the Turkish nation appears to have found its own identity in the conflict, and in individuals such as their father, Ataturk. Since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, Istanbul has not been the capital of any state, but remains one of the world’s critical arteries. In world trade and Turkish politics, the city retains a loud and stern voice. Today the city is often considered to be the world’s 3rd largest city by population. Yet I found it to be clean, safe, progressive and welcoming. Finally, she and I have been acquainted.

See my Instagram post, with the same featured photo, for more of my pictures of this great city!

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A post shared by Nicolas Lemay (@nicolas_lemay1) on Aug 18, 2019 at 12:05pm PDT

A market near the Blue Mosque late at night. The city was clean and safe.

Why and What?

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

Thomas A. Edison

Why have I started a blog, and what kind of content can you expect to find here?

I have been writing 500 words a day consistently for the past couple years. I took up this habit at the suggestion of a friend: after completing my philosophy degree in 2015, I was at a loss for what to do with my life and time. Upon visiting this particular Swiss in Montreal one summer day, he asked me what skill I believed I possessed that I desired to improve. I answered writing. Philosophy proved to be quite a stern teacher of writing. The topics were difficult to understand and even more so to express, but clarity was primordial.

Clarity served me as much as it did my school work because I found that I best understood a topic after I tried to put it to paper. In this way, I wrote for myself first, and for my teachers second. The holes in my reasoning were as obvious to me while writing as they were when discussing a topic with an adversary or friend. As it was, I began to write my daily quota, merely to maintain two toes dipped in the art. But, I got bored.

After about two years of writing for myself, I found that there was something missing. “Why do I spend so much time on this?”; “Who the hell do I think I am, some kind of writer?”; “What is the point?”. I harassed myself this way until I stopped writing altogether. I was busy with lots of stuff anyways. But once it was gone, I felt myself lesser. Worst, I felt anxious, just as we feel when we put off a task too long. Writing had taken an important role in my life. The role of understanding and release. I resolved against throwing away such a tool. Measures had to be taken.

This blog is my way to attempt to develop a skill into an art. I don’t know if it’s in me to do so, but I’ll try. If invention really needs a good imagination and a pile of junk, I’m counting on both those being in my head right now. As such, this blog’s audience should expect a great variety of subjects from me, because I’ll write about anything that grabs my attention, and I also tend to get bored. My blog will cover subjects ranging anywhere from sweeping stories of significant historical events, all the way to articles about the surprisingly fascinating industry of recycling. I will write about my travels, and the lessons they taught me. Moreover, I will post a number of book reviews, and not only my own. My final goal will be to incorporate a spoken word compliment to this blog in the form of a podcast.

In the meantime, I mean to post one short, regular contribution every week as well as longer texts when possible. I am a full time engineering student in my final year of study and have many interests, so time is not one of my luxuries. Never the less, this blog will be a high priority of mine, and is already a joy to work on.

Stay tuned, and subscribe!

Using an amazing and portable Bluetooth Keyboard to get the blog ready while traveling in Turkey this August. I cant recommend this type of device enough. I write much faster on keyboards, and I hate bringing laptops with me traveling. The fear of loosing them, breaking them, or just of spending too much time on them is very real.

Hello World

“You are an explorer, and you represent our species, and the greatest good you can do is to bring back a new idea, because our world is endangered by the absence of good ideas. Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness.”

Terence McKenna

My name is Nicolas Lemay. I am a 26 year old french Canadian, I have traveled a lot, I have studied a lot, I’ve played a lot of music, and I am about to embark upon a technological adventure within these pixels. This website is an extension of me, but soon, it will become and extension of you as well. As I write them, and as you read them, these words will change the both of us.

Within these lines, we shall fray some understanding of our strange world, and we shall do this for the same reasons as all our curious fore bearers before us; because the world is beautiful. This blog is for any who might find themselves bewildered by the vastness of the universe. It is made for all those who have ever tried to wrap their head around the enormity that it’s cataloging would entail. But mostly, it is made for any that believe in learning. It is the not the vastness, nor the impossibility of understanding the world which deters us, because we do not expect to become masters. We are merely artists who love our muse, and find satisfaction in elaborating its curves. We cannot help it.

As we can all tell, there is much for us to learn together. Subscribe so that you don’t miss any compelling content from this blog. Never stop wondering.