20 CONSTANTINOPLE AND ITS ENVIRONS ;
Snakes are everywhere seen gliding through the rubbish, or rustling among the thicket
of shrubs that grow among them. Their exuviae are found deposited in every crevice, and
the alarmed traveller starts back, supposing that to be a living reptile, which he finds is
only the spotted skin from which the renovated serpent had extricated itself, and just
left behind. Jackals and wolves drag here their prey, as to a congenial spot, to devour
them; and vultures, " scenting their murky quarry from afar," are heard screaming in
the air, and seen hovering over the carcase, ready to alight, and snatch it from their rapacious rivals. Such is the almost universal aspect that every ancient theatre we have
visited presents to the traveller.
THE PRINCESS' ISLANDS.
The two straits by which Constantinople is approached, are marked at their entrance
by clusters of islands. The traveller, before he enters the Dardanelles, passes through the
Cyclades; as he approaches the Bosphorus, he finds himself among a similar group,
forming an Archipelago in the Propontis, if not so extensive, yet still more lovely than
that in the Egean.
The Cyclades of the Propontis was anciently called Demonesca, or the " islands of
spirits;" but under the Lower Empire they assumed another denomination. Irene, the
widow of Fl. Leo, had put out the eyes of her son, in order that she herself might reign
in his place ; for this she was banished by his successor, to these islands; and, having built
a monastery on one of them, to atone for her guilt, and erected edifices where females of
the imperial family were educated, the group was called, therefore, after her, the
"Princess' Islands." They are nine in number, of different sizes, and are distinguished
by Greek names, indicating some peculiarity of each. The four smaller are uninhabited ;
they lie between the European and Asiatic coasts, about 10 miles from each, and the same
distance from the mouth of the Bosphorus; and to the houses of the streets built on the
eminences, both of Pera and Constantinople, exhibit a picturesque and striking prospect.
The water which flows round them is not less pure than the air is balmy; they seem
to float in a sea of singular transparency, so clear and lucid that objects are distinctly
seen at the greatest depths; and the caique which glides over it seems supported by
a fluid less dense than water, and nearly as invisible and transparent as air. From various
circumstances, it is conjectured that the islands were originally one mass, and torn
asunder by some convulsion of nature; abrupt promontories in the one correspond with
bays and indentations in the opposite, and the space between is so deep, that the large
* The names were as follow: Prote, because it is the first met in sailing from Constantinople—
Chalki, from its copper mines—Prinkipo, the residence of a princess—Antigone, so called by
Demetrius Polyorcetes in memory of his father Antigonus—Oxy, from its sharp precipices—Platy
rom its flatness—Pitya, from its pines, &c.