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On 29 May 1453, Constantinople fell into the hands of the Ottoman Turks and the Byzantine empire finally ceased to exist. News of the event, which brought profound sorrow to Christians everywhere, was rapidly spread throughout the whole of the world and was transformed into legend; since then, it has inspired literature and art in a manner varying with the particular historical moment. Constantinople, New Rome, had been the centre of the world for centuries.

The capture of Constantinople by the soldiers of the Fourth Crusade in 1204 struck an irreparable blow at the reputation of the empire. Even after 1261, when the Byzantine capital was recaptured and the empire revived, nothing was in fact as it had been. In the consciousness of peoples, however, Constantinople retained its old glory and continued to be regarded as the centre of Orthodox Christianity, and the city itself persistently asserted its right to play its old regulatory role.

The capture of Constantinople, which was to result in the final dismemberment of the empire, was unavoidable. Despite all the efforts of the last emperors, the situation in the 15th century had become irreversible.

The siege of the capital undertaken by Mohamed II in April 1453 was short – less then two months – but it was enough to deliver the coup de grace. The final attack began before dawn on 29 May. Five hours later, after two unsuccessful assaults on the land walls, Mohamed sent in the janissaries and the defense line on land broke at two points. By the afternoon the city had been completely captured and Constantine Dragasis Palaiologos had fallen in the battle. Early in the evening, Mohamed entered the church of Hagia Sophia in victory as his forces paraded in the streets.