This brings me to the Retracing Connections research programme. Songs are, as noted above, often much shorter than literary poems, novels and movies, and do not allow for the same detail as such media or paintings do. In all the songs, the City is mentioned directly or indirectly, but not described in any detail. Rather, we hear what is going on in the City at a certain, but not clearly defined period in time, at very general geographic locations (Galata, at the harem, in the [mind of] Hagia Sophia).
In other words, listeners are invited to imagine the world in which these sung stories take place. The songs invoke storyworlds that draw on the listeners creative imagination. I am quite sure that the way I imagine Sergios’ praise of the Mother of God in 626 or the lamenting church in 1454 has very little to do with historical realities.
I am also quite certain that I have a slight orientalist reading of the songs “O kaixis” and “U Stambolu na Bosforu”, when I imagine the pasha or women in the harem. My knowledge about the harem at the Sultan’s palace is very limited and the image that pops up draws on a visit to the Topkapı palace some years ago as well as some brothel-like scenes from old movies.
I am convinced that most listeners function in the same way. In their minds, the songs do not prompt a historically informed image of the City, but rather an imagined Constantinople/Istanbul, a semi-fictional storyworld that blends all kinds of images, stories and impressions available to each listener. One can even sing the songs without knowing much about the history or geographical locations.
This was the case for a friend of mine, who is a Greek singer living in Denmark. She had sung “Eche gia, panta gia” a thousand times at tavernas and parties in Greece. When I told her that I was staying almost literally between Pera and Galata, she was surprised that Galata was a part of the City. She had never thought about the exact locations of the areas mentioned in the song. For her, the City in the song was almost completely an imagined city.