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"Put the camera down immediately because it is forbidden in this place". The guard's tone didn't take any objections. A few hours ago, when we were among tourists from all over the world at the ground floor of Saint Marcus's temple in Venice, no one prevented us from taking pictures of the place. When we got on the balcony, though, where pieces of art that had been snatched from Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1204 were being kept, after its conquest by the crusaders, we were almost treated as criminals.
The tourists from Far East beside us were having a quick look at the Byzantine masterpieces and then they went back to the ground floor in order to photograph the Catholic priests with the impressive cassocks. We might have done the same if we were passing in front of the samurai paintings, in a museum of Tokyo. Whatever has to do with our beloved Constantinople, though, is always enchanting and painful to us. That's why we insisted".
The spoils of the crusaders
We were standing a distance of half a meter away from the four authentic and physical sized gilded horses that were once decorating Constantinople's race circus. We had seen some small photos of them in travel guides, but at that moment we could see them before us, enormous and delicate at the same time.
The museum's guard was chatting with some other tourists and we got the opportunity to take photos of the famous horses. Afterwards we passed before dozens of Byzantine sculptures and mosaic paintings, clumsily cut into pieces by the crusaders and transferred to the palaces of Europe. They reminded of Byzantium and ancient Greece at the same time, as they contained an amazing colour mixing of white light and earthly Byzantine shades.
The Byzantine artists were ungenerous concerning the colour charge of their works in order to preserve the sense of unity, just like the ancient Greeks used to do. They were moderately using colours because they didn’t want them to rule over the ascetic figures of the saints and they didn't attempt to add any unnecessary underlines, except for some invisible veils which need to be penetrated by the spectators in order to reach the work's core.
Unlike the circus's gilded horses, the lighting over the sculptures and the mosaic paintings was dim into the hall and that's why, before secretly photographing them, we adjusted on the camera a lens which swallows even the barest light, just like the eye of the owl does.
While taking pictures, we were also watching the guard's movements. When he finally got aware of our presence,he verbally attacked us and led us to the exit. We of course, already had into our pockets the chip with the pictures of the seldom seen Byzantine jewels of Saint Marcus.
Of course we never used flashes and we didn't cause the slightest burden to the exhibits. Besides, we are Greeks; we could never harm Byzantine works of art, these great links to the long-lasting Greek legacy. The fact that the crusaders took them under their protection in order to impose themselves as the head of the Christian world doesn't make them less Greek.
TEXT-PHOTOS: GEORGE ZAFEIROPOULOS