Bob Hawke PM Centre, 11 August 2016
It was said that a Greek, Byzas, founded Byzantium about 658BC. It is accepted that Constantine the Great (converted but not baptized after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge had shown him the sign Hoc Vince) appropriated it for his ‘new Rome’ in 330 and called it Constantinople. The Christian Centre in the East endured till its fall in 1453, when the great city became the prize of the Ottoman Empire (til 1922), Istanbul being a Turkish transfiguration. Mehmet II wisely retained much of the infrastructure, converting Sainte Sophie into the famous mosque.
Enter (2014) Richard Fidler, former Doug Anthony All Star and, by his Conversations programme on ABC Radio, a scion of the old-school style of interviewing (you know, where you follow the path on which answers take you rather than reading off a sheet of set questions). Fidler undertook a history trip to the great city with his young son, Joe, and his book Ghost Empire (review in due course) seems to be a combination memoir and short history. Encouragingly, the extensive bibliography reveals that Fidler has consulted his Norwich and his Runciman, although not the Chronographia of Michael Psellus. It might be merely history-porn – time will tell, but Fidler’s engaging and interested talk gives us optimism that we will get a sympathetic and factual account of a great city, brought right up to date. And we like his call, to each member of a large and enthusiastic crowd, to look lovingly at the person on their left, and run their fingers across his/her face!