Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Fall of Constantinople

A single city with three names - on the shores of the Bosporus. The Bosporus is a straight which connects the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea. The Black Sea flows into the Bosporus, the Bosporus flows into the Sea of Marmara, and the Sea of Marmara flows into the Dardanelles. The Dardanelles is a straight which connects the Sea of Marmara to the Aegean Sea. The Aegean Sea opens onto the Mediterranean. The Bosporus, then, as a segment of the route between Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, has had economic, military, cultural, and political significance for over 3,000 years.

The Bosporus has been the scene of bloody fighting. The city which surrounds it has been attacked more often than most cities. This history is reflected in the city's names: Byzantium, Constantinople, and Istanbul. Each political or military wave wanted to leave its imprint on the city - some more successfully than others - and one way of doing that was to rename the city. Historian Dinesh D'Souza writes:

Constantinople used to be a Christian city, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. When Mehmet the Conqueror captured Constantinople in 1453, he rode his horse into the Hagia Sophia and proclaimed that the cathedral would henceforth become a mosque. Mehmet then gave his soldiers permission to loot the city for three days.

The cultural heritage of the city quickly evaporated. Priceless paintings, marble statues, and the accumulated civilization of over a thousand years was turned into rubble. The Muslim soldiers made their way through the city, raping women and girls, and destroying what they could not carry away. Drunkenness, rape, theft, and destruction: a painful memory of Islamic invaders, kept alive to this day by the building, the Hagia Sophia, once an impressive cathedral, still an impressive piece of architecture, but robbed of its paintings, deprived of its statues, and denied the music of genius composers which once resounded in its arches.