As was the case with each of his other journey’s, it is unclear how long Benjamin of Tudela stayed at the locations that he visited. Not long after his travels to Rome however, he made his way to Constantinople, with several stops along the way. From Abydos, Egypt it took him five days to arrive to Constantinople. He noted that the circumference of the city was 18 miles, half of which was surrounded by sea with the other half was surrounded by land. Constantinople was said by Benjamin to be situated upon two arms of the sea, one from Russia (the Black Sea) and one from the ‘sea of Sepharad’ (the Aegean Sea). Unfortunately we do not learn more about the practical or physical aspects of Benjamin’s journey. Yet given the substantial amount of detail in which he described the city’s cultural, societal and religious significance it can be assumed that Benjamin felt it more important to document his experiences throughout his trips rather than his physical journey.
In Constantinople, Benjamin paid great attention to the importance of the city. At the time, Constantinople served as the capital of Javan (otherwise known as Greece). He proceeded to describe the residence of King Emanuel the Emperor, as well as the ministers that served under him, and the hierarchy of the rest of the state of Javan. In general, Constantinople was a very busy city with all sorts of merchants coming from all over the world either by land or sea. Benjamin even compared it to Baghdad in terms of being a city of trade. Extreme wealth was brought to the city as a result of the two islands, several castles and villages that surrounded Constantinople. Benjamin then described the church of Santa Sophia and explained that Constantinople acted as the seat of the pope of Greece, since Greece did not follow the pope of Rome. He made note of all the traditions practiced and celebrated within the churches and the surrounding culture of the city, such as performances that the king and queen would host. Additionally, Benjamin told of the palace that King Emanuel built for the seat of his government, and paid especial attention to the extravagant use of jewels, silver and gold that went into the structure of this palace. He further explained the wealth of Greece and the fact that tributes are brought to all of the important edifices in Constantinople. Each year these tributes amounted to about 20,000 pieces of gold from shops, markets and/or merchants. Greeks were also very rich in gold and precious stones, in addition to being clothed in garments of silk and gold embroidery. Benjamin even went so far as to say that the Greeks looked like princes when they rode their horses. He concluded his account of Constantinople by claiming that the land was rich in clothing materials, bread, meat and wine. He didn’t believe that wealth of this kind could be found anywhere else.
Before moving on to the next location on his itinerary however, Benjamin added a final thought pertaining to religion. He stated that no Jews lived in Constantinople. Rather they lived in a Jewish quarter called Pera located behind an inlet of sea. The population of this Jewish quarter was made of 2000 Rabbinate Jews and 500 Karaïtes with a fence that divided the two groups. He then added that the Greeks hated the Jews and subjected them to oppression, even going so far as to beat them in the streets. The Jews in response were rich, good, kindly and charitable beings. This final account strikes as very interesting given that earlier Benjamin had almost glorified the Greeks for their wealth and their swagger when riding horses.
It seems that in this account, Benjamin was much more concerned with the culture of Constantinople, rather than its geography or the edifices of the city. However, he was still very much concerned with religion and the breakdown of Judaism within the city. Despite the fact that Jews were excluded from living directly in Constantinople and the way the Greeks oppressed them, Benjamin doesn’t seem to write with much distaste, anger or even bias, making his account seem all the more trustworthy.