Thursday, November 30, 2006
Turkish entry into Europe
" IT WAS EARLY MORNING, with the waning moon high in the sky. The walls were strewn with the dead and dying; but of living defenders there was scarcely a trace. The surviving Greeks had hurried home to their families, hoping to save them from the rape and pillage that had already begun; the Venetians were making for the harbour, the Genoese for the comparative security of Galata. They found the Horn surprisingly quiet: most of the Turkish sailors had already gone ashore, lest the army beat them to the women and the plunder. The Venetian commander encountered no resistance when he set his sailors to break down the boom; his little fleet, accompanied by seven Genoese vessels and half a dozen Byzantine galleys, all packed to the gunwales with refugees, swung out into the Marmara and down the Hellespont to the open sea.
By noon the streets were running with blood. Houses were ransacked, women and children raped or impaled, churches razed, icons wrenched from their frames, books ripped from their bindings. The Imperial Palace at Blachernae was left an empty shell, the Empire's holiest icon, the Virgin Hodegetria, hacked into four pieces and destroyed. The most hideous scenes of all, however, were enacted in St Sophia. Matins were already in progress when the berserk conquerors were heard approaching. Immediately the great bronze doors were closed; but the Turks soon smashed their way in. The poorer and less attractive of the congregation were massacred on the spot; the remainder were led off to the Turkish camps to await their fate. The priests continued with the Mass until they were killed at the altar; but there are among the faithful those who still believe that one or two of them gathered up the patens and chalices and mysteriously disappeared into the southern wall of the sanctuary. There they will remain until Constantinople becomes once again a Christian city, when they will resume the service at the point at which it was interrupted.
Sultan Mehmet had promised his men the three traditional days of looting; but there were no protests when he brought it to a dose the same evening. By then there was little left to plunder, and his soldiers were fully occupied sharing out the loot and enjoying their captives. In the late afternoon, accompanied by his chief ministers, his imams and his bodyguard of janissaries, he rode slowly to St Sophia. Dismounting outside the central doors, he picked up a handful of earth which, in a gesture of humility, he sprinkled over his turban; then he entered the Great Church. As he walked towards the altar, he stopped one of his soldiers whom he saw hacking at the marble pavement looting, he told him, did not include the destruction of public buildings. At his command the senior imam mounted the pulpit and proclaimed the name of Allah, the All-Merciful and Compassionate: there was no God but God and Mohammed was his Prophet. The Sultan touched his turbaned head to the ground in prayer and thanksgiving St Sophia was now a mosque."
John Julius Norwich - A Short History of Byzantium pp. 380-1