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Monday, May 29, 2023

570th Anniversary of the Fall of Constantinople

This year - and indeed today - is the 570th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople. May 29, 1453, also marks one of the rare times when we can pinpoint an exact date of the events of one of John Bellairs's novels - namely, The Trolley to Yesterday (1989).

In Trolley, Johnny Dixon, Professor Childermass, and Fergie Ferguson use a modified street car to visit Constantinople in the hours before the siege. 

Medieval Manuscripts shares some of the city's rich history and what happened on that fateful day, lovingly illustrated:

From the 14th century, it faced the rising Ottoman Empire in an ever-weakening state. Sultan Mehmed II arrived at the gates of the city in April 1453 and started besieging the city.

The Emperor Constantine XI tried to secure help from the West, but the timing was very unfortunate. Europe was riven by warfare: the Hundred Year War was consuming France and England, Spain was involved in the last phase of the Reconquista, and the Holy Roman Empire was divided by internal wars. Apart from some volunteers and assistance from Venice, Genoa and the Pope, the Emperor was left on his own against the formidable  army of the Sultan. The British Library holds eye-witness accounts of what happened next, one of which is inserted in a 16th-century chronicle now attributed to Macarius of Melissa.

The battle started around midnight on May 29. The defenders were able to hold the walls for a while but when the general of the Genoan troops was wounded by an arrow, its defence was shaken. Parts of the army started to flee and the emperor was apparently left on his own. Chronicles from both East and West all agree that Constantine fought hard in the battle.

Some hours later the defence collapsed completely. Macarius noted the last words of the Venetian soldiers upon seeing the fall of the city: 'Shudder Sun and groan Earth, the city is taken'. The Sultan then entered the city and a desperate search to find the emperor began. Eventually Constantine who identified under a heap of corpses by the imperial eagle embroidered on his shoes.

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