The 700 Club
The Fall of Constantinople
By Gordon Robertson
The 700 Club
May 31, 2011
CBN.com - "There is only one thing I want: Give me Constantinople." -Sultan Mehmet II
In AD 330, the Roman emperor Constantine did the unthinkable: He moved the capital of the empire from Rome to Asia Minor, now modern-day Turkey. There, Constantine built a new Rome: the city of Constantinople. For more than a thousand years, the city was the capital of the Byzantine Empire and the center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
In Constantinople, Christianity permeated every aspect of life. Even the chariot races held in the Hippodrome began with the singing of hymns. The center of worship was the Hagia Sophia, the Church of Holy Wisdom. The Byzantine emperor Justinian commissioned the current building in AD 532, making sure it was the largest in the world.
“On dedication day, Justinian made the remark, ‘O Solomon, I have outdone thee.’ And in many ways, he certainly had,” says Dr. Paul Maier, the author of The Constantine Codex, an historical novel that takes place in the Hagia Sophia. “He provided a structure that has been a major landmark in the history of the world ever since.”
The Byzantine Empire reached its height in the 11th century; then, like Rome before it, the empire collapsed slowly from within. In 1204, Crusaders from Western Europe invaded and left Constantinople in ruins. Then in 1347, the Black Death killed a third of the population. By 1453, the city was in debt and disrepair, and the Byzantines, overwhelmed by their own problems, overlooked the growing threat rising in the East.
For more than a century, the Ottoman Turks had been gaining power and taking land from the Byzantines. In 1451, a new sultan took the Ottoman throne. Mehmet II was only 19 years old, a devout Muslim determined to prove himself. His goal was to conquer the strategic bridge between Europe and Asia and make Constantinople his new capital.
“He was a follower of sharia law, very definitely,” says Maier. “It was ultimately a religious drive that urged him on to conquer the city.”
In the spring of 1453, Mehmet wrote to his rival, the Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI Palaiologos, and offered him a chance to surrender the city. Constantine refused. In his letter to the sultan, he wrote, "As it is clear that you desire war more than peace, I turn now and look alone to God... and closing the gates of my capital, I will defend my people to the last drop of blood. "
On April 6, the Ottomans began to bombard the city walls. The Byzantine army was outnumbered ten to one, and with each passing day, panic grew inside the city. The siege of Constantinople had begun.
“Of course when the siege takes place, when the aqueduct water is cut off and you can’t buy food anymore, then of course a terrible malaise hits the city,” says Maier.
In spite of the constant attacks, the Byzantines still believed they would win, until they saw a series of bad omens. An old Byzantine prophecy said that as long as the moon was in the sky, the city would not fall. But on the night of May 22, a lunar eclipse darkened the moon over Constantinople.
The next day brought a furious storm with thunder and lightning, and that night, a strange, ghostly light surrounded the dome of the Hagia Sophia. Some witnesses said it was a sign of the Holy Spirit departing from the cathedral.
As the Turks closed in on the city, hundreds of refugees fled to the church for safety.
On May 28, priests began the last Christian service that would ever be held there.
Just before midnight, Emperor Constantine arrived at the Hagia Sophia. He said his final prayer and returned to his post.
While the emperor prayed, the sultan ordered the final attack. By sunrise, the city's famous double walls had been breached. Advisors urged the emperor to escape, but Constantine refused, saying, "I cannot leave the great churches in such a plight.
What would the world say about me? I am resolved to die here with you."
Constantine led his men in a final charge against the Turks, and he was never seen alive again. A few days later, a headless corpse was found, wearing boots embroidered with the double eagle, the emblem of the house of Palaiologos, the Byzantine royal family. By the end of the day, the Ottomans had taken Constantinople. As a reward, Mehmet gave his soldiers the run of the city.
“Mehmet, as a matter of fact, chivalrously limited the looting of his men to three days,” says Maier. “So they really had to work hard in terms of their pillage. And they did. “
The soldiers started in the Hagia Sophia, where hundreds of Christians were still seeking shelter. With the arrival of the Turks, the church that had once been a refuge became the scene of unimaginable horror.
The sick and elderly were killed on the spot. Most of the others were tied or chained together, while soldiers raped both women and young men. Some of the nuns ran away and jumped down well shafts, preferring martyrdom to rape. Then without warning, Mehmet called an early end to the looting and entered the city.
The sultan rode into Constantinople through the Adrianople Gate and proclaimed himself the new "Caesar of Rome," a reference to Constantinople’s Roman origins. He changed the city's name to Istanbul, the new capital of the Ottoman Empire.
“The first thing he did after conquering Constantinople was to go to Hagia Sophia and take an ax and break down the Christian altar there to prove that another faith had taken over,” says Maier.
Sultan Mehmet declared that the building was now a mosque, and his imam recited an Islamic oath called the Shahada: "There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet."
The Muslims added four minarets to the church and covered the priceless mosaics with plaster, erasing nearly a thousand years of Christian history. The Hagia Sophia remained the religious center of Istanbul for nearly 500 years, until the Ottoman Empire was replaced by the new Republic of Turkey. In 1935, the mosque was turned into a museum, an order from Turkey’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
“He wanted to bring Turkey kicking and screaming into the 20th century, and for that, he wanted to secularize the state,” says Maier.
New renovations revealed the hidden mosaics under the plaster: the Virgin and Child, the archangel Gabriel, and the Deësis, a famous image of Christ designed to show His compassion for humanity. In 2009, the face of one of the cathedral's four seraphim was unveiled to the public for the first time in hundreds of years.
However, dozens of Christian mosaics are still hidden by Islamic calligraphy,
a symbol of the city’s struggle between Christianity and Islam.
“Look what happened when Constantinople fell,” says Maier. “This was the cork in the bottle of Islamic expansion. They wanted to remove the cork because they’re after conquering Europe.”
Five hundred years later, the Islamic goal of conquering Europe is still alive because of a well-known Muslim prophecy.
“There is a passage in the Koran which has Mohammed claiming that indeed there will be an attack on the two great Christian capitals,” says Maier. “Constantinople will fall first, and then he hopes that Rome in the west will also fall.”
Constantinople fell in 1453, and today, some Muslims say it’s time to fulfill the second half of the prophecy and conquer Rome, not with the sword, but with conversion.
“Expansionism has always been a part of Islam,” Maier concludes. “They also want to conquer the world, as witnessed in so many of their flags. Look at the Turkish flag, with the crescent moon and the star symbolizing the universe, meaning Islam will conquer the universe. There you have it advertised: that is their goal.”
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