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The Bard of Byzantium

Sir Steven Runciman was a supreme storyteller, whether at the dinner table or in the majestic sweep of his historical writing. Fellow-Byzantinist Anthony Bryer recalls an elegant figure for whom history was about the destinies of man

  • Runciman in the 1920s photographed by Cecil Beaton

Steven Runciman first saw the skyline of Istanbul, marching out of the mist from the gasworks at Yedikule to the minarets of Ayasofya, from the deck of his grandfather’s three-masted schooner, the Sunbeam (itself a historic yacht) in April 1924.

For a twenty-year-old Cambridge undergraduate, it was the only way to arrive. He never forgot the scene.

True, he missed meeting the last caliph (for they had inconsiderately deposed the sultan’s heir a few weeks before), but he complained rarely, and camels still swayed over the Galata Bridge, there were rather fashionable veils on the Grand’ Rue de Pera, and families such as the Whittalls flourished all over the place. Outside the then still unencumbered Theodosian Walls, a gypsy told him that he would have illnesses but would “survive to a ripe old age”.

The fortune-teller was right.

The Hon Sir Steven (James Cochran Stevenson) Runciman, born July 7, 1903, died November 1, 2000; Professor of Byzantine Art and History, Istanbul University, 1942–­45; President of the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara, 1962–95; President of the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies, 1983–2000.

To read the full article, purchase Issue 22

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Issue 22, 2000/2001 The Sultan’s Chalet
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Other Highlights from Cornucopia 22
  • Painter to Four Tsars, Two Sultans and a Pope

    The Russian artist Ivan Aivazovsky may have been derided by the avant-garde, but his dreamy seascapes and atmospheric panoramas won him patrons in high places. Ivan Samarine rediscovers a 19th-century virtuoso

  • Music to a Sultan’s Ears

    Visitors to 1830s Istanbul were astonished to hear the strains of Rossini and Donizetti performed by Ottoman bands. As Emre Aracı reveals, Western music was the passion of Mahmud II

  • The Sultan’s Chalet

    The world’s grandest chalet was built by Abdülhamid II for the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1889 and was a powerhouse of political activity in the final years of the empire. Today the house in the grounds of Yıldız Palace, on a hill in Istanbul, is all but forgotten. Philip Mansel treads softly through its silent halls. Photographs by Fritz von der Schulenburg

  • Hot news from Kula

    To save its fine architecture, a volcanologist has come up with a plan: to turn Kula into an elegant spa town by tapping its plentiful thermal springs. By Roger Williams. Photographs by Jean Marie del Moral and Roger Williams

  • Meatball Wizard

    Three köftes still stand out in my memory. Just thinking of them makes my taste buds ache. The first was in my early childhood: freshly grilled cizbiz kofte, a round patty the size of a flattened walnut, so named because it makes a delicious ‘jiz-biz’ sizzling sound as it cooks…
    More cookery features

  • The Secret Garden of Kasnak

    High in the Toros Mountains, Chris Gardener finds the remote Kasnak Forest carpeted with peonies in spring. Photographs by Kate Clow

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Issue 22, 2000/2001 The Sultan’s Chalet
£8.00 / $10.22 / 330.10 TL
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