On this day, 29 May in 1453, Constantinople (now Istanbul) – the seat of the Byzantine Christian Empire and surviving offshoot of the Roman Empire – fell to the invading Islamic Ottoman Turks after a bloody battle and siege that lasted 53 days.
Originally the city of Byzantium, it was named Nova Roma (Latin for “New Rome”, designed to be the Rome of the East) by then Roman Emperor Constantine I in 330 AD, who was the first Roman Emperor to support Christianity. The Greek-speaking locals soon renamed it “Constantinopolis” after him with the Latin-English version “Constantinople” later taking hold.
The fall of Constantinople was a massive blow to Christendom and Europe, having served as the chief bulwark against (and lightning rod for) the waves of Islamic expansion over the preceding centuries.
Constantinople’s sacking allowed the Islamic Ottoman Turk armies to advance north and west, deep into Christian Europe, and without an adversary to their rear. The Islamic surge into Europe was first seriously resisted in the Siege of Vienna in 1529. The Battle at the Gates of Vienna on 11-12 September 1683 began the long decline of this last Islamic Caliphate, which was wound up soon after WWI.
The fall of Constantinople was also a watershed moment in military history. Due to their use of gunpowder to power formidable cannons, the invading Muslims penetrated the city’s ancient walls, heralding the redundancy of these long-used barriers to enemy attack.
Monks and scholars fleeing west from the fall of Constantinople with their belongings, knowledge and transcriptions of centuries past were catalysts for the Renaissance in Western Europe.
After Constantinople’s fall, its magnificent “Church of the Holy Wisdom” was converted into a mosque of conquest (the Hagia Sophia) which, since the 1930s under secular leader Kemal Ataturk, has been a Turkish museum and popular tourist attraction. From its construction under Justinian I (537 AD) and right through the Middle Ages, this basilica was the main church of Orthodox Christianity – the seat and focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Hagia Sophia’s famous massive dome epitomised Byzantine architecture, the likes of which transformed this field.
Mourn/commiserate the fall of Constantinople and the Islamic takeover of its heritage by:
- visiting a cathedral (or church) in your vicinity
- watching a film featuring the ancient city, such as:
o the James Bond films Sky Fall, The World Is Not Enough or From Russia With Love
o Taken 2
o The International, or
o Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
- reading up on the Byzantine Roman and Christian Empire, or some famous fictional works commemorating the Orient Express which once ran from Europe’s north to Constantinople (eg Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express or Graham Greene’s Stamboul Train), and/or
- sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends and those proud of their Western Christian civilisation and values.