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by Archaeology Newsroom

«Kadirga», the last galley

The galley “Kadirga”, the only preserved example of its kind, is exhibited in the Nautical Museum of Istanbul. The vessel, of 43,5 tons displacement, 39.5 m. length and 5,75 m. width, is believed to bear an impressive resemblance to the ancient trireme. One hundred and fourteen oars provided the necessary power for the Kadirga’s motion. A shelter at the back of the ship was purposed for the sultan, his retinue and the steersman. This shelter, a real work of art, is made of very expensive materials and dates from the reign of Mohammed III (1595-1603) or IV (1648-1697). However, some other datable elements suggest a probable earlier date for the ship herself. The wood-carved ship embellishment is closer, stylistically, to Byzantine decorative art than to the Ottoman. In addition, the motif of the two small dragons adorning the”Kadirga”, belongs to the Byzantine repertoire and is frequently employed as decorative-symbolic element in Byzantine art (iconostasis, pastoral staff, etc.). Quite elucidating for this subject is the diary of the Venetian Nicolo Barbaro, which supplies information that the Christian fleet, in 1453, besides the big galleys, also included five small ones, called fustes, which belonged to the “Basileus”. These small galleys of 24 benches each, were the only remnants of the once mighty Byzantine fleet. According to tradition, they were built either in Genova or in Venice. Thus, the existence of the dragon-motif finds its explanation, which is further supported by the fact that Mohammed II, the Conqueror, had one of these fustes altered to an imperial yacht. Therefore, on the basis of this sound hypothesis we can reach the conclusion that the “Kadirga” must, in all probability, be the last vessel of the naval force of Constantine X Dragatzis-Palaeologue, the last Byzantine Emperor.