Whether it be a void smothered in the stars’ illumination, a hauntingly still pale blue canvas, or an ever-changing ballet between form and formlessness, few things have seized the imagination of mankind in such a firm vice as has the sky, and the concept of the great beyond. No matter how close we have come to discovering this beyond, that final destination has always managed to elude us. Every horizon we reach only exposes another horizon. Yet, as hopeless a cause as it may seem, it is the journey itself which has left the mark of humankind upon the world. Nowhere did this universal fascination with the beyond manifest itself as clearly as when I had the chance this summer to visit Greece and Istanbul.
That chance was a two week study abroad course held by the Honors Program, which focused mainly on the art and architecture of Classical Greece, Byzantine Constantinople, and Early Ottoman Istanbul, in addition to the exposure and participation in their contemporary cultural counterparts. I could have asked for no better traveling than all of the students, administrators and professors I was fortunate enough to accompany on this trip.
Within Greece, we trudged through the rustic charms of Athens, falling further, and further under her spell with every corner we passed. We plunged headlong into the ‘wine-dark’ Mediterranean Sea, gazed out from above the mountainous Temple of Delphi, raced upon the stadium track at Olympia, passed under the Lion Gate of Mycenae, and found Lord Byron at the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion.
In Istanbul, we stood in awe under the mesmerizing tiling of the Blue Mosque and theRüstem Pasha, both of whose intoxicating floral designs hold a beauty photographs will never be able to capture. We basked in the opulence of the Topkapi Palace, set foot within the Basilica Cistern, wandered through the expanse of the Grand Bazaar, strolled through the Hagia Sophia, experienced the golden splendor of the mosaics within the Chora Church, and met the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I.
However, despite the numerous sites we visited, it is that concept of the beyond and mankind’s relation to it that I had witnessed in the skylines of Athens and Istanbul, that remain the most memorable. In Istanbul, Minarets dominate the skyline, outstretched towards the heavens, tethered down only by the sheer weight of its own marble, while in Athens, the Parthenon, atop the Acropolis of Athens, still looms over the skyline, always watching. Although these structures never truly reach the heavens, they do serve as a testament to the concept of the beyond being the ultimate destination, and the idea that the closer one gets to that beyond, the more significant, or even divine the location is. However, no matter how far one is able to outstretch their arms to the heavens, or how deep into the sky one may gaze, that beyond will never be something gained, only something strived for.
Ed Millar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org