Constantinople, or as it was commonly referred to by the public, Polis (Istin-polis/Istanbul), was established by Constantine I in place of the little Byzantium as “the first capital city of the Christian Empire”; throughout history this city was a sacred target and had utmost spiritual significance, particularly for the Muslim world. The conquest of this city, which is referred to as Kunstantiniyya in Islamic sources, was perceived to be paramount to a religious duty that had absolutely to be fulfilled as a sacred goal. In addition, the heralding of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, regarding the conquest of the city was present in the minds of many Muslim rulers and adorned their dreams. As the first large empire of the Islamic history, the Umayyads not only succeeded in entering Spain from the farthest Western point of Europe, but also followed a remarkable strategy in the East, aiming to conquer Constantinople, the holy city of the Christian World. Nevertheless, neither they nor their successors, the Abbasids, could succeed in conquering the city fortified by strong medieval walls.1 Within a perception that was strengthened by an image of an unconquerable city, “the ideal of conquest” was soon eagerly adopted by the Turks, at the same time the primary shapers of this ideal; the Turks had come from the steppes of Central Asia, established new large states in the Middle East and Persia. Originally they were not Arabs, but carried the characteristic of being the “sword of Islam.” Not only were the Muslims Turks targeting Constantinople, other Turkish clans (such as Pechenegs and Avars), flowing from the Northern steppes towards Northern Europe, focused on this city, creating a different situation in which the roots were not fed by an Islamic source.2 However, no state or community other than the Latins, who invaded the city in 1204, was able to take this strong city under complete control. This great and sacred task was going to be realized much later by the Ottoman Turks, who were fed from the tradition of Islamic conquest.

After the Ottomans, who had originally emerged as a small Turkmen principality immediately adjacent to the Byzantium Empire, succeeded in quickly entering the Balkans, they lay the foundations of a new state; now they forced Byzantium, which had already shrunk and lost almost all of its effective imperial power other than in the capital city, to become “an island” imprisoned in “its own sea.” Byzantium had been attacked from time to time, the first time in 1395 and a second time in 1422, but it had managed not to fall until the final campaign, which began in 1451. This last stage began with Mehmed II’s ascension to the throne; this sultan had been the pawn of the internal politics of his father, Murad II. However, Mehmed II recognized this and planned to transform his state into an empire; in order to realize this he dedicated himself to conquering Constantinople, well-known both in the West and in the East as a city with a great spiritual importance.3

1- Sultan Mehmed II’s accession to the throne

2- Rumelian castle with its barbican, its cannons which were in charge of stopping the enemy ships passing through Bosporus, and its settlement areas inside the walls (<em>Hünername</em>)

3- Rumelian and Anatolian Castles (Melling)

The Construction of the Rumelia Castle and Preparations for the Conquest

When the new ruler of the Ottoman Empire Mehmed II came to power for a second time, he was just 21 years old. However, after having been dethroned and sent to Manisa following his first ineffective reign between 1444 and 1446, Mehmed II based all of his plans on the conquest of Constantinople. He also had learned many things from the political circumstances of his first reign. When he took the throne for the second time, Mehmed immediately started preparations for the conquest of the capital city of Byzantium; thus he would be able to establish “his empire” with a strong central power. It is known that he made all military and technical preparations in Edirne. He had previously built the Rumelian Castle and already had the Bosphorus under control. This was the first serious indication that he was an important strategist. Construction of the Rumelian Castle was a sign that Mehmed II wanted to keep Constantinople under constant threat. He came to the place where the castle was to be constructed on March 26, 1452 in order to start and supervise the construction.4 Byzantines even learned that Mehmed II had left Edirne and that all the roads had been blocked. Indeed the sultan not only directed his 30 galleys and some other large and small cargo ships docked at the naval base in Gallipoli to the Bosphorus, he also arrived at the place of construction together with his viziers and soldiers. He himself had chosen the construction site, had the shortest way of the Bosphorus measured, and decided the dimensions and limits of the castle. In short he closely dealt with all technical aspects of the castle construction.5 He had assigned the construction of each section of the castle to one of his viziers. Halil, Saruca, Şehabeddin and Zağanos Pashas were to supervise the job.6 Halil Pasha was charged with the construction of the walls and the large bastion on the coastal side, as well as the design of the inner castle. The most important parts of the construction were under the control of this pasha. Thus, it is clear that Mehmed II did not see any problem with including his father’s former vizier in the project; indeed, the sultan gave him an important responsibility in the project he was planning. The responsibility of the construction of one of the bastions and the corner of the castle on the inland side was given to Zağanos Pasha, while the responsibility of the construction of another bastion on the third corner was given to Saruca Pasha. All three bastions were constructed for defense. The construction of the remaining walls and castle were to be supervised by Mehmed II. The materials, i.e. rocks and stones, for the construction, which had started quickly and continued with the same momentum, were brought from both the Anatolian side and from some of the ruins around the city. There are reports about that some large stones were taken from the ruins of churches located in old Byzantium; when rocks were taken from an old church devoted to Archangel Michael, some of the residents of Constantinople went outside the city walls to protest. All of these protestors were captured and killed.7

For the most part, the shape of the castle was designed to obstruct the passage of ships coming down the Bosphorus. Moreover, the location of the bastions was so that there would be complete control over the land. The construction of the entire castle, the first large bastions of which were completed towards the month of May, was finished in August.8 Thus, the castle was finished in approximately four months. All the necessary equipment and weapons were placed in the castle; in particular, fire arms were located in the castle so that even a small ship could not avoid their firepower. One contemporary historian reports that the large cannons were placed on the lower parts of the coastal side of the castle; they could be turned to the right or left with a cross firing system and the cannonballs of those that had been placed in the upper parts of the castle could fire as far as the middle of the sea, even reaching the other side of the Bosphorus if fired in such a way that they rebounded off the water.9 The historian Tursun Bey, who witnessed the conquest, informs us that twenty apertures were built for the cannons and the Bosphorus was cut off by those cannons.10

During the construction of the castle, the emperor of Byzantium was desperately trying to follow developments; he thought that trying to initiate diplomatic endeavors to keep the peace was the better path to follow. He even sent a letter to Mehmed II and asked him to take precautions so that his soldiers and workers did not to destroy the crops while they were going to and from the construction site. He also asked him to send guards to protect the villagers. In order to assuage Mehmed II, the emperor sent him various gifts, as well as food and drink. In response to these requests, the sultan immediately sent his men to stop those who had let their animals graze in the fields of the villagers and commanded that if the Greek villagers fought back, they should be prevented from doing so.11

The intense environment created by the construction of the castle and the presence of the Ottoman soldiers, who could be seen in the vicinity frequently, could lead to an incident at any moment. In fact, when the sultan was on his way back to Edirne after the completion of the castle, a fight between some of his guards and Greek shepherds took place. In response to this incident, the Byzantines, who were convinced that the peace agreement had been broken, closed the gates of the city walls and even captured some Turkish soldiers who were shopping and walking in the city, unaware of what had happened. After discovering that this was just a misunderstanding, the emperor tried to apologize for the actions of his men, but Mehmed II did not accept his apologies. This incident has been given by Ottoman historians as the main factor which led to the official declaration of war and the siege of the city. Mehmed II’s famous statement addressing the emperor, stating that “he should either give up the castle or see his head fall”12 is based on this incident. These words were more than just an excuse for a war, but rather a clear demonstration of the sultan’s determination. After this incident, the Byzantium emperor Constantine XI, who still had hopes, realized that war was inevitable. In fact, Mehmed II soon sent troops, 30,000 people, to carry out recognizance for the walls and sank some ships that were trying to pass from the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea with his cannons.

4- One of the cannons used in the siege of Istanbul (Rumelian Castle)

5- The portrait of Sultan Mehmed II painted by Levni (Topkapı Palace Museum, no. A. 3109)

Sultan Mehmed returned to Edirne and began to make the rest of the preparations from September 1452. While the sultan was concentrating on the groundwork for the conquest, six months prior to the conquest the Byzantine emperor Constantine had already carefully had the walls repaired, bringing neighboring villagers inside the city and transporting the recently harvested wheat to the city.13 Mehmed II, on the other hand, commanded the commander of the newly built castle, Firuz Agha, to detain all ships passing down the Bosphorus, no matter their type or which flag they were sailing under, to warn their crews to lower their sails and pay tribute, or else they would be struck by cannon fire. This was not merely the concern of the Byzantines; this would constitute a great problem for the Italian city-states that needed to go to Black Sea, where they had colonies. In this sense, Venetian and Genoese ships were under serious threat. The command even applied to the Ottoman ships. All the ships passing through the Bosphorus had to inform the castle of their passage. At this time, there were 400 Janissaries serving under Firuz Agha’s command;14 it can be assumed that some of these were using fire arms. In this way Mehmed II was able to clearly prove to all Western states his dominance over the Bosphorus.

6- One of the cannons used in the siege of Istanbul and stone cannon balls (Military Museum) A

6- One of the cannons used in the siege of Istanbul and stone cannon balls (Military Museum) B

After the completion of the castle, preparations in Edirne were sped up. It is known that Mehmed II carried out intensive preparations during the six-month period that lasted from the second week of September 1452, when he came to Edirne, and the March of the following year. After returning to Edirne, his intention to conquer Byzantium, which had been only known to himself and to his closest circle, became apparent to other administrators and soldiers, as well as to the general populace. There is virtually no information about what kind of preparations were carried out in Edirne during that six-month period. Only Kritovulos, who later wrote his history in the name of Mehmed II, narrated this period in detail, providing clues about the problems faced by the sultan.

According to Kritovulos, Mehmed II, who had returned to Edirne, constructed a summer palace outside the city on the banks of the Maritsa; meanwhile, the idea of conquering Constantinople took over his thoughts. However, first he needed to have this idea accepted by all. The bridges between the Ottomans and the Byzantines had already been burnt. The young sultan particularly came under the influence of the religious tidings about the conquest of Kunstantiniyya. Some people who claimed to prophesize were driving him towards this goal.15 Even though Kritovulos does not mention who these people were, the first to come to mind are Mehmed II’s teacher Molla Gürani and Molla Hüsrev, as well as Akşemseddin. Mehmed II was trying to have not only his own palace guards and governors, but also the religious circles and the general populace adopt the idea of conquering the city. As mentioned before, a common motif of ill omen had spread throughout the city. Even in commonly-read books about Islamic acts of worship, this conquest was listed as being one of the signs of the Day of Judgment.

Thus, it was necessary to eliminate any doubts that might be created by this belief. Halil Pasha and his entourage did not perceive any problems with spreading a number of excuses to prevent the conquest. When Mehmed II openly announced his intention and started preparations, he decided to gather a general “consultation” meeting to elucidate the matter and gain support from different sections of society. All state officials, viziers, governors, high-ranking soldiers, scholars and sheikhs were invited to the meeting. Even though we have no information about all of the attendees of this meeting, there can be no doubt that Mehmed II also invited the spiritual leaders of the time who would support him. Probably many groups of dervishes came to Edirne for this occasion.

In this meeting, Mehmed II made a long speech, explaining why he was attempting such a major task. He first stated that his forefathers had established the state and brought it to its current level, and provided examples from historical events. He then continued to discuss the hardships they had faced and how they had removed the obstacles one by one. He stressed their complete superiority, both in times of peace and war, and how they had sacrificed their lives, property, arms, ships and all they had, thus accomplishing a perfect state. He then expressed that it was his responsibility to protect his forefathers’ heritage and that he would never refrain from fulfilling this responsibility; finally, he turned to the topic of Istanbul. He explained in powerful language that everyone there had witnessed how the city had been left unpopulated and in ruins; the Byzantines were waiting in ambush to cause them trouble and to cause them damage. Finally, he reminded his audience how the Byzantines had sent Crusades against the Ottomans during his father’s reign. He talked about the importance of capturing the city, stating that this city was both openly and secretly engaged in a number of harmful activities and that this had reached an unbearable level. Mehmed II said that he had called this meeting to inform the attendees of what was happening; he was ready to do everything that he had to do to get ready for the war. Finally, he stated that he would do everything, even sacrifice his state, in the name of this endeavor.

After these words the sultan continued his speech by focusing on historical events and reminded his audience of the events which had happened during the attempts of his father, Murad II, and grandfather, Bayezid I , to capture the city. He stated that in those days powerful allies had come to the aid of the city and there had been a large number of armed forces; however, now there was no powerful force in the city and it would not be possible for the Italians to come to help, due to internal strife. Indeed, due to these fights the peace and tranquility of the city had been disturbed for quite some time. Mehmed II then brought forth the power of his state. He said that his soldiers were in perfect condition, the infantries and cavalry were armed and ready and that there were sufficient funds in the treasury. The sultan added that his forces were many times superior to the enemy in manpower and in arms; moreover, they had control of the land and sea. He concluded his speech by saying “Let us attack the city with determination and with all our power and we will not abandon the fight until we conquer the city or die if necessary.”16

Despite this persuasive speech, there were those who did not agree with the sultan. Some of the attendees of the meeting did not perceive the conquest from a spiritual aspect; rather, they were thinking about material gain and the positions they could attain. Some of them were pretending to support the sultan and planning to benefit from unforeseen circumstances. Some of them wanted to participate in the conquest because they were not very experienced in the art of war and they wanted to learn more about it. Those who were unsure what the result of the war would be, and thus were rather unwillingly, could not express their opinion due to the enthusiasm of the others; in the end, they were forced to join. Some of the opponents mentioned the strong fortifications of the city and argued that such an expedition would be as impossible as hunting the mythical phoenix or attempting “to conquer the sky.” The sultan, on the other hand, tried to silence these opponents, saying that victory and defeat were all in the hands of God, that with God’s aid they could achieve their aim; he was ready and waiting with all kinds of weapons and an army, and that his true intention was to raise “the flag of Islam over Kunstantiniyya.”

There were some opponents who had different concerns. These people most likely informed the sultan that their view was based on the rumors of the curse that hung over the city. This was so widely rumored that some scholars, giving apocalyptic themes as evidence, even argued that if the city were conquered, “the gates of the Last Day” would be opened.17 Another concern was most likely voiced by the border commanders. They clearly expressed their concerns that the central government would increase its power with the conquest of Constantinople. If the capital were to be moved to Istanbul from Edirne, it would weaken the ghazi spirit (holy war) because Edirne, which was a border city, kept this spirit alive. This would also weaken the position of the commanders. If Istanbul were to be declared the capital of the state, all the state’s energy would be directed to the navy, as the city was surrounded on three sides by sea. This in turn would hinder the expedition over land and to the borders. The capability of the commanders to move freely and carry out military campaigns would end; their hands would be tied if the state were to have Istanbul at its center.

It can also be assumed that Mehmed II might have changed his tune and delivered a speech calming his opponents. He probably made them feel that conquering Istanbul was a religious obligation and it would strengthen rather than weaken the ghazi spirit and military campaigns. In addition, he also stated that he would demolish the city and build a new one when he conquered it. He even implied that by destroying the city he would avoid the curse that was mentioned in the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. His statement “we will demolish it as soon as we conquer it,” seems very important in this context.18 He tried to show everyone that he had spiritual support by bringing scholars, dervishes, and sheikhs of Sufi orders. Akşemseddin, a great sufi scholar, known and respected by all of society, was to be his greatest support during the hard times to come.

It can be said that the young sultan did not expect opposition from the border commanders. Their attitude in this meeting was very important for him; he was able to demonstrate how clever he was here. It appeared that he could silence all his opponents for the time being, but he had to sort things out with Çandarlı Halil Pasha, whom he knew was the leader of the opponents. It appears that there was serious tension between Çandarlı Halil Pasha and Mehmed II at this time. What needed to be done by the sultan, who connected all these disagreements to Halil Pasha’s opposition, was, rather than trying to silence these opposing voices at once, to try win them over to his side. He also planned what kind of future he would prepare for them when he had the ability and strength. The state of war might make it easy for the sultan to attract the military class, allowing him to make promises about ghaza and booty. It can be easily understood that any profits which could be gained through the conquest of a large city like Kunstantiniyya would seduce the soldiers, including the frontier commanders. They had been an important part of the opposition during his father’s reign; now Mehmed II, as the representative of a new system, could bring these groups to his own side. Conquering the city would bring him a number of benefits, but above all, it would bring the unconditional support of the military classes and make this need felt by all the classes. All these activities, as well as open and secret promises enabled the sultan to bring a significant part of the opposition over to his side; however, there were still some groups about whom he could not be sure.

In particular, he needed to pay attention to Çandarlı Halil Pasha and his supporters. Even though not completely accurate, the clear narration by the Byzantine historian Doukas about Halil Pasha’s attitude is important because not only does it demonstrate how these rumors were reflected in the public domain, it also gives clues about the essence of the relationship between the sultan and Halil Pasha during this busy time of preparations. In a way, what Doukas narrated can be considered to be much later reflections of the impressions that Halil Pasha made both on the Turkish and on the Byzantine side. Similar to Doukas’ remarks, the idea that Halil Pasha accepted bribes from the Byzantines and he protected them led him to be characterized as “the partner of infidels” in the Turkish sources. This assumption about Halil Pasha, which was produced as part of the controversy with those who were supporting the conquest, while fitting into the larger picture to some extent, but does not prove that this was the reality. It is logical to assume that Halil Pasha was regarded by Byzantium as an experienced vizier who would prefer to continue the former sultan’s peaceful policy; various gifts would have been sent to him to maintain this. In historical tradition, the sending and receiving of gifts was a routine practice in many states. To refer to these as bribes imbues them with a political character brought about purely by the circumstances of the era. It is obvious that the power of Halil Pasha, who occupied the second most powerful position in the Ottoman State, was far above needing Byzantine gold. The main reason behind his opposition to the plans was his concern for foreign threats that might bring the state to the brink of collapse.

In this meeting, experiences from earlier sieges undoubtedly headed up the list of objections made by the opposition group to Mehmed II’s plans. The events that had happened after the siege during the reign of Bayezid I had caused deep scars, the state becoming almost a small province. There were people who still remembered that period. In addition, the siege laid by Murad II in 1422 and the threat of the Crusades that followed immediately after this in 1443-1444 were still fresh in people’s memories. The fears that revived those images once again strengthened these fears. News of Byzantium’s diplomatic activities towards this end had already been conveyed to the Ottoman state council.

As a “cautious” vizier who had already experienced such calamities, Çandarlı Halil Pasha did not want the Ottoman State to pursue new adventures; perhaps he was thinking that the time and conditions were not right for conquest. Moreover, he had already clearly expressed his attitude against the young sultan’s internal politics. This had significantly strengthened the hands of both his enemies and competitors. It is not difficult to understand that they were relying on the conquest of Constantinople and dreamt about their own power in the future. Halil Pasha and his supporters were clearly aware of such thoughts. The result of this state of mind was that Halil Pasha continuously reminded the sultan what the consequences of such an enterprise would be and voiced his views at various gatherings. He was also aware of a great variety of rumors and assumptions that were spread by those who were eager to drive on the ghazi and other military campaigns. A similar situation can be observed on the Byzantium side and those who viewed the matter from the same perspective; that is, Halil Pasha’s pacifist politics were associated with the gifts and financial encouragement he received.19

At the same time, Mehmed II, who had successfully managed to soothe all such disagreements and convince his opponents, accelerated military preparations. In addition to deploying soldiers, it was important to arrange the necessary equipment as part of these preparations; the sultan sent orders to the Anatolian and Rumelian sanjaks. Unfortunately, there is no detailed information about this issue in the Ottoman sources. From the Byzantine sources that deal with this subject, Doukas seems to have been the only one to have witnessed the preparations of the Ottoman army. In this respect, his observations are important. Doukas writes that Mehmed II started making plans for the siege after he had received full authorization and had insured a consensus for the military campaign and siege. Every night he took up pen and paper, drew sketches of the city and walls and showed the experts where to place the cannons. He even marked where the barricades were to be made from the soil produced from the excavations and where to place the ladders. He determined where the trenches before the walls would be crossed. He examined everything in detail and worked on new inventions. Undoubtedly his main weapon was to be the cannons.20

7- Sultan Mehmed II’s sword (Topkapı Palace Museum)

8- Sultan Mehmed II’s sword (Topkapı Palace Museum))

Sultan Mehmed II left Didymoteicho in December and came to Edirne in January 1453; he now paid special attention to building cannons, a very important step for him. Byzantine historians give the credit to the building of cannons large enough to destroy the city walls to a certain Urban/Orban of Hungarian origin (in some sources it is said that he was born in Dacia). Some Turkish sources also provide a similar name as well as that of another cannon master, named Saruca. It is stated that he built a “300 kantar (about 17 ton)” cannon, and it is also mentioned that someone “named Dunan from the community of infidels” created a 300-kantar cannon.21 However, Saruca the cannon-building master is mentioned at the top of their list. This Saruca was mentioned in the sources of the period as a well-known person who had also worked in building cannons during the reign of Murad II.22 Thus, there can be no doubt that Saruca was the head of Mehmed II’s cannon-building team. According to Âlî’s records, Urban joined the team later, with his “invention” of new type of cannon. In other words it would not be accurate to cite only Urban in the building of canons.

Doukas, one of the Byzantine sources, writes that a trebuchet maker called Urban had escaped from the city and came to Edirne in 1452; he provides some information about this person. According to Doukas this man had come to Istanbul quite some time before, relayed his skills to the representatives of the emperor, who in turn conveyed this information to the emperor. The emperor paid him a salary that was much below what he deserved for his skills. Urban was not even paid enough to purchase his daily bread. Thus, this man lost his hope, left the city and went to Mehmed II, who welcomed him. When Mehmed II asked the trebuchet maker whether or not he could build a cannon that would be able to fire cannonballs large enough to destroy the city walls, Urban said that he could build a cannon, no matter how large it was needed. He even reported that he knew the walls better than anyone else, so the cannons he built would certainly destroy the walls, but he also added that he knew nothing about shooting or targeting. Upon this Mehmed II told him “you build the cannon and I will take care of the targeting.” Then Urban first prepared the cannon mold, and after he had enough bronze, he was able to complete this gigantic cannon in just three months.23

9- Oya A. Şirinöz’s painting whişch depicts drawing chains along the entrance of the Golden Horn in order to prevent the conquest (Istanbul Archeology Museum)

10- A piece from the chain drawn along the entrance of the Golden Horn by Byzantines in order to prevent the conquest of Istanbul (Istanbul Archeology Museum)

There is no doubt this detailed information given by Doukas is in general accurate. Mehmed II took special care to prepare a great variety of weapons and equipment to bring down the city walls and he was preparing the new equipment he had seen in books as well as conventional equipment. The sultan had large trebuchets produced; these could fire stones and cannonballs. There were also turtle-shaped approach tools made out of iron or wood, which could strike and shake the walls, and battering rams; in addition, there were designs for the large movable towers that were to be built in front of the walls and various types of climbing equipment and ladders made of wood or rope. Mehmed II probably collected and prepared all the tools and equipment that could destroy or tear down the city walls, which, according to the standards of the era, were very strong. Most of the equipment was prepared in pieces that would be put together in front of the city walls. Attempts to procure large numbers of camels, mules and other pack animals for transportation were made. Carriages for cannons and for the equipment and tools were prepared, and attempts to procure sufficient oxen to pull these carriages were made. As sufficient provisions to last the soldiers for a long siege were also important, people were asked to prepare enough stocks. These provisions would be piled in front of the walls during the siege. During the organization of all these routine tasks, Mehmed II’s most trusted weapon was the gigantic and novel cannon he had had cast.

The first test firing of this cannon was carried out in January; one cannonball weighed approximately 600 kg. The sound of its blast could be heard from long distances and the cannonball could be fired nearly a mile; it created a huge crater where it fell. In addition to this huge cannon, smaller cannons were also cast. These cannons of various sizes were probably designed in a way that they could be grouped as a battery. These cannons were to be used with a special combined firing technique, used for the first time in the history of war.24 It can also be said that light weaponry, such as a small musket-like weapon, which had to be carried by two people, was also produced.

In addition to all these preparations for the ground battle, the sultan, aware of the fact that the city also had to be surrounded from the sea, commanded the navy to be prepared accordingly. While constructing the Rumelian Castle, six completely equipped galleys, eighteen fusta (a type of ship smaller than a galley, kalyata), and 16 cargo ships sailed from Gallipoli, passing in front of the city, and entered the Bosphorus. This fleet returned to Gallipoli on September 6, after the construction of the Rumelian Castle had been completed.25 Mehmed II, however, was aware of that he was going to need more ships for the great task he was undertaking. The number of ships needed was so big that while ships were being built at the Gallipoli navy base, it is possible that new orders were given to the smaller shipyards, particularly that in the İzmit Gulf.26 There are some signs that during the construction of the Rumelian Castle the sultan also ordered other vessels to be prepared in the coves of the Bosphorus that were under his control. In fact, an eyewitness from the 1,500 troops that were sent by the Serbian despot, while describing the construction of the castle, mentions an order to build “a thirty-man ship” in a place close to the Rumelian Castle.27 According to what can be understood from this description, the preparations for some of the ships that were to be transported over land to be launched in the Golden Horn started at this time. The Beşiktaş cove or Kabataş side (Çifte Sütunlar) was to be the starting point for pulling the ships. In contrast to this, while providing information about the difficulties in building ships as justification, a literal interpretation of the phrase “the neck of Galata”, used in the Ottoman sources to define the route through which the ships were pulled, as the ships being pulled through Tophane in one night, is still popular in some studies.28 At the same time, according to the sources of the period some of the ships built in Gallipoli were coated with copper. Thirty or fifty double-oared, light and rapidly maneuvering ships were built; the manpower and equipment necessary for these ships were provided without any difficulty.29 There were 145 ships that came from Gallipoli to Istanbul.30

In this way, by March Mehmed II had completed the final preparations in Edirne. In March, the beginning of spring, he was ready to march directly to Kunstantiniyya with full force. The Janissaries, whom he had already taken under control in the capital and who were directly under his command, were readied for this great fight, and fully equipment. Clearly, the Janissaries, the select and best infantries of the sultan, in the end would play a very important role. The Janissaries numbered around 5,000 and they were the close guards of the sultan. The infantry and volunteers, with their swords and shields, would come in crowds to fight in the front rows. In addition, the groups of military engineers that were needed for the siege arrived in Edirne. Among these were not only Ottoman citizens, but also some troops sent by Christian lords who had paid tribute to the state. Among the sappers and miners, who were indispensable elements in castle sieges, were some sent by the Serbian despot.31 Since this job required certain expertise, getting help from the miners was the product of a practical approach. Tursun Bey mentions that “a fair number of private soldiers came from the marble mines with their pickaxes.”32 Moreover, there are some reports about Greek, Latin, German, Bohemian and Hungarian experts working for the Ottoman army.33

Mehmed II was trying to complete all the preparations after the expedition to Karaman while trying to quickly block the route along which support for the Byzantines would be sent. Meanwhile, the most important task he undertook was to try to prevent any assistance coming from the Peloponnese where the emperor’s brothers and sister lived. To this end, probably in November-December 1452, Mehmed II deployed Turahan Bey and his sons to the Peloponnese. In the meantime, he commissioned Halil Pasha to improve diplomatic connections with neighboring Western states. Because of the concessions granted by the Serbian despot, it would be out of question for Byzantium to receive help from there. Indeed, Mehmed II himself had received military support from the Serbian despot, and as mentioned before, under the leadership of the voivode Jakša Brežičić, a 1,500-man troop, including some miners who were experts in digging tunnels, had come to Edirne.34 The Hungarians’ attitude in this matter was of particular importance. They were expected to remain loyal to a previously-signed agreement. In addition John Hunyadi was working to solve the internal problems in Hungary, but he was experiencing problems due to the domestic activities of Emperor Frederick III.35 However, the necessary precautions along the Hungarian border were also taken into account. It seems that Halil Pasha’s diplomatic attempts had born fruit. Moreover, he encouraged the Bosnian king to look favorably on the Ottoman side.36 For Mehmed II, closer neighbors were more important. He already knew that it was hard for the further Western Christian states to prepare quickly to attack. The best example of this was that Mehmed II burnt the Venetian bridges. Now any help that would come from them could only be sent via sea. The sultan was thinking that he could easily stop them by means of the strong navy he had prepared.

At the same time, Mehmed II’s spies told him that the union between the Catholics and Orthodox had been still-born; the emperor, who was in a difficult position, had appealed to the Pope, stating that the Orthodox Church was ready for a union. In fact, the support that came from this pact was nothing more than a ship bringing a small number of archers from Napoli under the command of Cardinal Isidore. However, in January 1453, Giovanni Giustiniani set out to join the defenses of the city with 700 men, 400 of whom were from Genoa.37

What was important for Mehmed II was the fact that the long city walls were strongly fortified; a special plan was needed to surmount the walls. He planned to place the ground troops for 5.5 km stretching along the Marmara Sea coast, from Yedikule/Altınkapı to the Golden Horn, but he did not neglect the hill across from the Golden Horn. He placed a military unit, supported with mortars, on the Galata hills across from the weak walls on the coast of the Golden Horn. Alongside the walls there were trenches filled with water, which reached a certain height. These trenches now had to be filled with soil. Mehmed II was planning to concentrate on the land side of the walls that stretched over the rough terrain along the banks of the Golden Horn. After wearing down this section, he would concentrate on the area between Topkapı and Edirnekapı, and the stream (Bayrampaşa/Lycos Stream) there. The sultan knew that there was a thick chain stretched across the entrance of the Golden Horn from the Marmara Sea. Thus, he wanted to ensure that the Byzantine and Latin ships, which were in the harbor, were rendered even more motionless than they had been. The walls facing the Marmara Sea were to be entrusted to the navy. The main task of the navy, located in Çifte Havuzlar, Beşiktaş, was to prevent help coming by sea. Long before, Mehmed II had prepared a daring plan to enter the Golden Horn. He intended to take some of the ships and follow the stream through the Beşiktaş and Dolmabahçe bays,38 landing them in the Golden Horn; he had long since prepared everything to realize this during the siege. He even calculated that his precisely prepared plans would strengthen the spirit and morale of his soldiers, while breaking the defense and perseverance of the enemy waiting behind the walls. His entire objective was to conquer the city with the sword; this would bring him more honor and fame than if he did it by peaceful means. Of course, he was going to allow the emperor to surrender in accordance with Islamic principles, but the emperor’s stubborn behavior would make it easy for the sultan to pursue his intention. This was also important in silencing those who opposed the conquest of the city.

Mehmed II made his resolution clear to all the groups in a meeting held in Edirne and had succeeded to convincing his opponents; he set out from Edirne for Istanbul with approximately 100,000 men. Not all, however, were combatant forces. The number of select guards, the Kapıkulu and Janissaries were less than 10,000. These were the most professional groups in the army. Some of the Janissaries who served as infantry were even equipped with portable firearms. They were the first “military units with muskets.” The Kapıkulu forces were mounted troops; they would never abandon the sultan alone. This permanent military force was specially trained to strike the final blow in the battles. These infantry forces, which fought in front of the army, were armed forces equipped with swords, shields and lances. Their number is estimated to have been around 15,000. The other units were mounted troops that came from the provinces and they numbered around 20,000. The numbers given in Western sources have no historical accuracy; these give the Ottoman army as being quite large (the most optimistic one gives the number as being 300,000). Official Ottoman registers clearly show that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the maximum number of soldiers was around 50,000 to 60,000. In particular, it is stated that there were about 1,500 Serbian, German, Bohemian and Hungarian troops in the support services who were digging tunnels.39 These sappers were to play a very important role in bringing down the city walls. All the forces were aware that they would be fighting with approximately 30,000 armed Byzantine defenders. There were 8,000-9,000 highly professional fighters among these latter troops. When the invulnerability of the city walls is taken into account, the defenders had a five to one superiority over the attackers. However, the length of the walls delayed the deployment of the soldiers. In addition, the Ottoman attacks were not deployed in a disorganized manner, but rather were focused at certain points. The scarcity of the soldiers compared to the length of the walls probably constituted the most serious problem in the plans of Mehmed II.

11- The inscription for the restoration of the sea walls dated 1448(Istanbul Archeology Museum)

12- The inscription dated April 1, 1452 which was prepared for the restoration of Galata walls (Istanbul Archeology Museum)

During the Ottoman preparations, Constantinople was undergoing intense preparations. They were trying to carry out many tasks, such as fixing the walls, finding military support, and ensuring sufficient supplies of provisions. After determining the conditions of the soldiers and the civilians who would join in the defense of the city, the emperor carefully planned who would defend the walls under the leadership of Giustiniani from Genoa, and from which location they were to operate. First of all, how Murad II had laid siege to the walls from the landside in 1422 was not overlooked. In that siege, the Byzantine defense had been placed alongside the first outer walls and the Turkish attacks had been driven back. The Byzantines were thinking of a similar defense this time, set up alongside the outer walls.40 It was easier to fire from the towers and bastions located alongside the inner walls, but this would mean leaving the outer walls defenseless. Arguing the difficulty of defending the outer walls, Archbishop Leonardo di Chio, one of the members of the military council, suggested withdrawing the troops to the innermost walls and defending the city from there. In other words, it would be possible to mount a strong defense in the third inner walls after the first and second ones had fallen; however, his suggestion was not accepted due to the conditions of the inner walls. According to the archbishop, due to the defense of the city being planned from the outer walls, the repair of the inner walls had been neglected to date. Manuel Palaiologos and Hieromonk Neophytus of Rhodes had a role in this neglect. Supposedly these two men had abused their positions, embezzling the money collected for the repair of the city walls, making themselves rich. Their hidden gold would later be found by the Turks.41 However, it is stated that opposition to the union of the churches lay behind Leonardo di Chio’s accusations against these two men; Palaiologos was not only a relative of the emperor, but also a respected administrator. Indeed, he had already carried out repairs to the walls and his name had been written in the inscriptions of the repairs. Hieromonk Neophytus was also a close friend of the emperor and he had led a quiet life in the Charsianus monastery, without intervening in state affairs during the siege of the city.42 In fact, the defense of the city was to be carried out as stated above, and the conditions of the inner walls were sufficient. While the city was preparing for the defense, there was no significant deficiency for the Byzantines, except in manpower.

Meanwhile it is obvious that the emperor had difficulties in finding money to fund the defense and fortification of the walls. In contemporary sources it is stated attempts were made to pay the salaries of the soldiers in coins minted from the metals found in the churches and the palace. The silver coins of Constantine that have survived until today are considered to have belonged to this period. The inscription on these recently discovered silver coins refers to Constantine as “Lord (despotes) Constantine Palaeologus, by the grace of God, emperor of the Romans.” His crowned bust is on the coins. It is also mentioned in the contemporary sources that by the end of the siege, the emperor had financial problems and many rich Byzantines were hiding their money. The fact that there are very few coins from this date must be associated with the fact that the Turks confiscated them as war booty during the conquest.43

The emperor and his general staff established their defense lines on the walls against the Turkish attacks as follows: the task to defend the area from Marmara Sea to Porta Aurea fell to Andronikos Kantakouzenos and Yedikule was given to the Venetian Catarino Contarini. From Porta Aurea to the Gate of Pegae was given to the Genoese Maurizo Cattaneo, the Gate of Pegae was the duty of Nikolo Goudeles and Battista Gritti, or Nicolo Mocenigo, while the area of Polyandrio (Myriandrio) was the responsibility of the Genoese brothers Paolo, Triolo and Antonio Bocchiardi. St. Romanus was the duty of Giovanni Kantakouzenos. The most strategic area, that between St. Romanus (Topkapı) and Charisius (Edirnekapı), was left to the emperor himself, and Giustiniani and his 700 men were deployed on the right of this area. The Byzantine Leontaris Brienno and the Venetian Fabrizo Corner were in Charisius. The defense of the gates to the emperor’s palace were given first to the Venetian named Dolfin Dolfin and then to another Venetian called Giovanni Loredan. The defense of the palace was first the duty of Emperor Constantine XI, and then that of the Venetian bailos, Girolamo Minotta, and Giovanni Giorgi. The part of Kaligaria was under the protection of the Byzantine Theodoro Caristeno and then the Genoese Emanuele Goudeles, Leonardo de Langasco and Gerolamo Italiano. Teofilo Palaiologos, a Venetian, and a German (Giovanni Alemanno) were in charge of the region that stretched from here to the Golden Horn. Xyloporta was left to the Byzantine Manuel Palaiolog, while Gabriel Trevisan and his 400 Venetians and Nicolo da Drivasto were placed in the area stretching from the Kynegon Gate to the Fener Gate. In charge of the defense of the banks of the Golden Horn, from the lighthouse to Porta Basilica, were Ludevico, Antonio Bembo, and 150 Venetian soldiers; Notaras himself and his 100 Byzantine and Latin cavalier (in some sources 500) were responsible for Porta Basilica. Again the gates of St. Teodosia and Ispigas were left to the Byzantine commanders. Cardinal Isidore and Archbishop Leonardo, with 200 men, were in charge of the Historical Peninsula. A Catalonian group under the command of Pere Julia was on the coast, below the Hippodrome. It is most likely that in part of Port Eleutherius the Turkish prince Orhan and the Turks who were with him were stationed. On the Narlıdere side was Jacobo Contarini. A 1,000-man mobile unit would move around the city under the command of Demetrios.

13- The state of the walls of Istanbul during the Byzantine period. In front of the walls, there was a ditch filled with water. (Gurlitt)

The locations of these units would change in keeping with where the attack was mounted during the siege. Mesoteichion, where the Turkish attacks concentrated, were the main line of defense. At the same time, ten ships were in charge of protecting the chain that had been stretched across the entrance to the Golden Horn. Five ships were Genoese, three were Cretan, and the other two were Byzantine, from Ancona. This fleet was under the command of the Genoese Bartolomeo Soligo, who was responsible for pulling the chain across the Golden Horn. On April 2, the chain was pulled from the tower of Kentenarion (in the location of the former military deployment building in Sirkeci), close to St. Eugenius, to a tower of Galata Castle (probably the location of the Yeraltı Mosque) across the Golden Horn.44 On the other hand, the historian Kritovulos states that the chain was pulled from the Galata shipyard to the Eugenius Gate and thus the Hrysoun Keras, or the Golden Horn, was blocked at its narrowest point. It seems that this information is more accurate.45 In some other sources there is a mention of “a chain line pulled between the cape of St. Eugenius, somewhere near the Yalıköşkü Gate, in Sirkeci in front of the Historical Peninsula and St. Croix Tower of the Galata walls at the Mumhane Bay in the region of Tophane”.46 In this case, even though the place from where this chain, which covered a distance of about 780 to 800 meters, was stretched, which is somewhere around Sirkeci, the place to where it was pulled is not clear. It can be said that it was probably a tower somewhere near the end of Galata walls. Barbaro, an Italian doctor and chronicler of the siege, states that the chain was made of large, round wooden links, connected to each other with iron hooks, and bound with an iron chain.47 Years later, Ottomans would use this very same chain to prevent a raid by the Zaparog Kazakhs, blocking the Black Sea entrance to the Bosphorus.48 Behind this chain that was stretched over the entrance of the Golden Horn various types of ships were waiting. Barbaro states that behind the chain there were seventeen ships with crow’s nests, three Danube galleys, two or three Venetian galleys, five unarmed galleys belonging to the emperor, and several unarmed ships that were waiting on the coast.49

Thus, most of the preparations for the defense of the city had been completed. During these last moments of preparation, just before the siege, the historian Kritovulos tells us that the city paid attention to the defense of the walls on the side of the land; the main hope was dependent on the support that would come from the sea. He also tells us that there were many foreigners in the city at this time. Most of the wealthy and prominent members of the society preferred to hide their personal treasures and money either in their homes or in the temples. As a matter of fact, the equipment needed in the city was scarce and outside support was required. At the same time, there were some extraordinary incidents that led the public to lose hope. They came to a number of negative conclusions as the result of a variety of natural phenomena. Earthquakes, repeated lightning flashes, incessant rains, strong winds, strange lights appearing in the skies and shining stars were all interpreted as signs of impending doom. Depictions of saints in the temples, grave stones and statues were seen to be ‘sweating’; this was perceived as the harbinger of a dismal future. The soothsayers were talking about the curses that were approaching and inspiring greater fear in the public, which had already been shaken by the attempt at religious union. However, even though their spirit and morale was shaken by all these ominous signs, they were still resolutely preparing to defend their city.50 Among those who lost had their hopes, as well as the partisans of the Turks, there were those who preferred the city to be taken by the Latins who were familiar and who believed in Jesus and St. Marty, rather than letting it be taken by infidels. However, all this fear could not stop the manifestation of God’s destiny. The emperor was aware of all these developments, but he was ready to defend the city until his last breath.

From Edirne to Kunstantiniyya

Before Mehmed II set out from Edirne to Kunstantiniyya, he had the vanguard troops fix the roads. The gigantic cannon, which had started its journey from Edirne, was being pulled by 30 carts and 60 water buffaloes. Together, with other canons the most advanced firearms of the era were brought in front of the Istanbul walls. Mehmed II himself left Edirne on March 23, 1453 and reached the walls of Istanbul at the beginning of April. The Byzantines, who had been aware for a long time that their capital city was under threat, began a grand preparation to defend their city. Meanwhile, they received soldiers, equipment and weapons from Venice, Genoa and from some other Christian states; however, these were not enough.51 On April 2 the Venetian Bartolomeo Soligo prevented ships from entering the inner harbor by pulling a chain across the entrance of the Golden Horn. There were 17 ships, 3 Danube galleys, 2 small Venetian galleys and 5 unarmed galleys belonging to Emperor Constantine, as well as some large and small cargo ships in the harbor. On April 2, the Ottoman vanguards appeared in front of the city walls. Everything was planned so that the siege would be completed by April 6 Friday, which was a holy day for the Muslims. It is clearly stated in the fetihname that the siege began on 26 Rabi al-Awwal (April 6).52

Mehmed II calculated that the center for the Byzantine emperor’s defense forces would be somewhere between Topkapı (St. Romanus) and Edirnekapı. According to the intelligence reports, along with 700 men the Genoese Giustiniani was deployed on the right side of the place where the emperor was located. The Venetian representative Minotto and his assistants were in charge of the defense of Blachernae. The protection of four of the most prominent gates of the city was given to four Venetian commanders. There were fewer soldiers on the walls along the coasts of Marmara Sea. Langa Harbor was under the protection of Prince Orhan, one of the members of the Ottoman dynasty living in Byzantium, and a small unit of Turkish soldiers.53 Mehmed II was especially angry that his relative, who was a claimant to the throne, was siding with Byzantium. The information he had received was that there had been serious preparations before the siege and even that the union between the Orthodox and Catholic churches had officially been declared in the hopes of getting help from the Christian world; however, this situation led to strong reactions by the Orthodox population of Istanbul.54 There were even those who preferred the Turkish rule to a union with the Catholic Church; it was likely that the Turks were in contact with those people.

Mehmed II had the imperial pavilion erected on the hill to the left of Lycos; he then placed his troops a little farther away, thus establishing a battle-front. He also inspected the walls along the coastal region that stretched from the Marmara Sea to the Golden Horn, and placed his troops according to his earlier plans. He put Zağanos Pasha in charge of the troops that were deployed between Beyoğlu and Kasımpaşa; they would also put pressure the northern coastal region that stretched from Galata to Kağıthane, which had been a Genoese dominion, and the southern coastal region where the land walls began. It was even decided to build a bridge between Hasköy and the land walls on. Dayı Karaca Bey, the governor of Rumelia, was to be on the left and was responsible for surrounding the area that stretched from the Golden Horn to Blachernae and the walls, all the way up to Eğrikapı/Edirnekapı. There were large cannons in the area; their target was the single line of walls on the palace side and the intersection of the bastions and the Theodosian walls. İshak Pasha, the Anatolian governor, and Mahmud Bey were deployed in the region that stretched from Topkapı to Altınkapı, including Mevlanakapı, all the way up to Mermerkule on the Marmara coast. In the middle of the line that ranged from Edirnekapı to Topkapı and Mevlanakapı (Mesoteichion) the sultan himself and the grand vizier were positioned. According to the historian Kritovulos: “Sultan Mehmed placed his headquarters near Mesoteichion and Myriandrion/Mevlanakapı; very close to the walls, but outside the range of fire.”55 This was thought to be the weakest point in the walls and the best soldiers from the army were deployed there; all the large cannons and the one gigantic cannon were placed in front of these walls.

14- Ottoman forces in the siege of Istanbul (Panorama 1453 History Museum)

In addition to the preparations on land, there were also preparations at sea. When Mehmed II set out from Edirne to Istanbul, he also sent his command to Baltaoğlu Süleyman, the captain of the fleet in Gallipoli; these orders were to set sail with the ships that had been prepared for battle. In fact, some ships were already positioned in the neighborhood of Beşiktaş or close to Rumelian Castle, and were waiting to enter the Golden Horn. The fleet left Gallipoli probably sometime at the end of March, a few days after Mehmed II had left Edirne. It set out for Istanbul with joy and high morale; they played games and held various competitions, demonstrating their mastery in rowing and sailing during their journey. Their joyful shouts rang through the Dardanelles and spread terror and astonishment as they made their passage. Such a large fleet had not been seen until that time.56 It is not known exactly when the fleet arrived in Istanbul, however, it is logical to assume that it arrived while the land troops were gathering before the city walls, at the end of March or April, or more accurately before April 2, when the Golden Horn was chained off. This fleet, under the leadership of Baltaoğlu Süleyman Bey, was to try to navigate around the city walls and stop other ships that were coming for help. The fleet was also ordered to try to enter the Golden Horn. Barbaro informs us in his memoirs that the fleet came before the docks on April 12 and then moved towards the Anatolian side. Thus, the main base of the fleet must have been near Beşiktaş. Barbaro’s statement that “if the fleet had moved along the city walls on the Marmara coast towards the Golden Horn, they would have been disturbed by the Byzantine ships” is important here. His following statements also show that Ottoman fleet was stationed at the docks near the Diplokionion region (Kabataş or Beşiktaş.)57 According to Barbaro, the Diplokionion region was two miles from the city, towards the Black Sea. Barbaro states that the Turkish fleet consisted of galleys, galleons, and small ships. Twelve of these galleys were completely equipped and there were 70-80 sailboats and 25 paranders or small cargo ships. He also speaks of a large cargo ship with a 300-barrel capacity, (this number must be incorrect, as 300 barrels is the equivalent of 180 tons, a very small amount compared to the cargo it would have carried. It was most likely 1,300 or 2,300 barrels; i.e. 780 or 1,380 tons)58 which carried cannon balls, mats, straw, wood, etc. This last ship came from the Black Sea (the city of Sinop) and joined the Ottoman fleet.59 It is possible that this ship could have been the one that was sent by İsfendiyaroğlu to help. In fact, the Ottoman fleet had entered the Marmara Sea before, in the month of April, but it had been busy with securing the coasts of Thrace and preventing any help that could come via the Dardanelles during the deployment of the land troops.

Thus, the first fight before the Ottoman army appeared in front of the city and took up battle order would take place between the irregular troops and the besieged troops which had burst through the city walls. The Byzantines inflicted heavy losses on these irregular troops with sudden attacks, but in the end they had to retreat back inside the walls when reserve forces arrived. The Byzantines never found the courage, and thus such sortie attacks did not occur again. The repelled Byzantine troops locked themselves behind the city walls. Some of them were captured or killed by Ottoman forces.60 Mehmed II, who had completed all preparations in front the city walls, could now officially start the real battle. However, according to the principles of Islamic law, it is necessary to first offer the besieged city the possibility of surrender; in this way the city would be conquered in accordance with the rules of the treaty. Kritovulos states that the sultan showed great munificence and offered surrender to the Byzantines before employing weapons. His envoy to the Byzantines made them the following offer:

15- The plan of the siege of Istanbul (Coşkun Yılmaz – Erhan Afyoncu)

Let the Byzantines surrender the city in accordance with the rules of the treaty and under the patronage of the sultan. Let them continue their lives in the city in peace and tranquility, with their families and property; they can earn their livelihoods protected from all kinds of disturbances.

However, the people of the city refused this offer and supported their emperor’s decision to defend the city until the end.61 At this point some Ottoman historians state that the emperor sent an envoy to the sultan saying that he could take all the land around the city, but he should leave the city to the emperor; in return the emperor would accept the sultan’s dominion and pay tribute.62 Probably this response was given in return for Mehmed II’s offer to surrender. Of course, it could not be expected that Mehmed II would accept this counter-offer.

16- A drawing depicting the siege of Istanbul and moving the ships over the land (Broquiere)

The emperor and his staff, who were closely observing the military installations `of the Ottoman army, were anxiously reinforcing the city walls while trying to prepare a great variety of weapons to use in defending the city. Indeed, the defenders of the city had sufficient arrows, trebuchets and lances, as well as small cannons. They decided not to use the larger cannons, as this would cause a variety of problems in transporting them up to the walls, from where they had to be fired. However, they had some small portable musket-like weapons. The defenders of the city also had some effective defensive instruments, although not many; in addition they had a sufficient number of cannons.63 In his memoirs Barbaro tells us about the firearms that the defenders had, such as cannons and harquebuses.64 Nestor Alexander, who witnessed the siege from inside the walls, informs us that cannons and harquebuses were situated in locations that were correct for the defense of the city.65 The historian Doukas more clearly indicates that with musket-like light weapons and their walnut-size bullets, the defenders were able to inflict heavy losses upon the attackers.66

This clearly demonstrates that the defenders on the city walls had prepared a large number of these weapons. According to Archbishop Leonardo, however, cannons could not be used to a large extent due to the scarcity of gunpowder and cannonballs; in addition, the large cannon was for the most part idle due to the concern that the shock caused by the cannon might damage the walls. However, the balls it fired did inflict heavy losses on Turks.67 At the beginning of the siege the Byzantines wanted to use a set of cannons that could fire cannons of 60 to 70 livres (about 40-50 kg); they positioned one across from Mehmed II’s largest cannon. This large cannon went off and shook the walls much more than the Ottoman cannonballs did. In other words, it inflicted greater damage than the Ottoman artilleries. The largest Byzantine cannon was destroyed while still firing its first cannons. They blamed the artilleryman for this, accusing him with cooperation with the Turks, and wanted to kill him. As there was no proof or evidence to back up their accusations eventually he was released.68 As can be understood, Byzantium did not suffer a great deficiency as far as defensive weapons were concerned.

The Beginning of the Siege and Subsequent Stages

17- Panaroma 1453 about the siege of Istanbul in the light of historical evidences the scientific counseling of which was provided by Feridun Emecen (Panorama 1453 History Museum)

Recognizing that it was time for the opening stage of the battle, the first action between the two parties took place on Friday, April 6. While Mehmed II was busy with the order and organization of the deployed troops, the emperor investigated the Edirnekapı region, which he thought to be a weak place. On the same day the Venetian representative Minotto went to the emperor’s palace, Tekfur Palace, and watched the movements of the Ottoman troops from there. He was accompanied by many Venetian tradesmen and noblemen. On the command of the emperor, three Danube galleys and two other smaller galleys set out from the docks and sheltered in a harbor known as Chinigio/Kynegion (Avcıkapısı), near Ayvansaray. In these vessels there were 1,000 men, fully armed. They went into the presence of the emperor in the palace and discussed the situation. They talked about what their task was to be. The emperor sent them to the land walls. His object was for this armed and orderly unit to appear on the walls and thus have a negative effect on Mehmed II. After they walked over the walls and made an appearance, they returned to the harbor. It appears this show of force, rather than having a demoralizing effect on the Turks, helped build up the public morale of the city under siege; in any case, it did not take long for Mehmed II to respond. The next day the sultan took his troops a mile closer to the walls. His army was spread in a single row, over a wide area that ranged from from Yedikule to Chinigio.69 With this counter maneuver, it must have seemed as if the five kilometers of walls were surrounded by a wall of living beings.

According to Barbaro, a new measure needed to be taken after the activities of April 9, when the chain was pulled across the entrance to the harbor. Probably while Mehmed II was taking his men closer to the walls and preparing his siege instruments, he also gave the order for his navy to put pressure on the Golden Horn. Byzantines and Venetians who received the news of this placed 9 or 10 Genoan, Venetian, Ancoran and Cretan ships parallel to the chain. From here they could easily observe the activities of the Turkish navy from the Galata Tower and the tower on the city side, and thus take action accordingly.70

It is possible to state that between April 6 and 12 Mehmed II did not begin actual operations against the walls; rather he spent his entire time positioning the cannons and the army. The Ottoman historian Neşri talks about the fact that the Ottoman soldiers dug outworks and prepared bulwarks around the walls. They placed cannons and soldiers with muskets here.71 According to the historian Kritovulos, they also determined the locations of the saps and cast small and medium cannons with the materials they had brought.72 Thus, it can be understood that the larger cannons had been brought from Edirne and the smaller ones cast in the army camp in front of the walls. Barbaro gives the date for Mehmed II’s positioning of cannons, or more accurately the date for pulling them in front of the walls, as April 11. Barbaro also describes the locations of the cannons. Kritovulos states that the cannons were positioned so that they would bring down more than one part of the walls and explains the reason for this as the desire to conquer the city as soon as possible. According to Kritovulos, the largest cannons were placed in front of the sultan’s main encampment. Three of these cannons were directed towards the walls in that area, while the rest of the larger cannons were distributed to various locations.73 Barbaro, however, explains the locations of the cannons more clearly. According to him four main locations were chosen. First of all three cannons were located across the walls in front of the emperor’s palace; another three were located in front of Pegae (Pigi, Silivrikapı), four were placed in front of St. Romanus (Topkapı) and two in front of Cresu (Porta Aurea/Altınkapı).74 According to another author, three of the cannons were located at Kaligaria (Eğrikapı), three of them at St. Romanus and another three between Porta Aurea and the Pegae Gate.75 This indicates that the cannons were place in groups of four and concentrated near Edirnekapı-Eğrikapı, between Topkapı and Yedikule. Even though it can be deduced from these numbers that there were 9 to 12 cannons, these were only the larger caliber ones. In this mixed system it can be argued that there were also smaller caliber cannons. We do not have information about the exact number of these smaller cannons. Some historians talk about 24 and others about 36 cannons.76 Tedaldi, as an eye witness, talks about 10,000 musket-like small cannons, as well as many regular cannons.77 These numbers, however, are most likely exaggerated. It can be estimated that the real number of cannons was between 40 and 50 and the musket-like small cannons numbered around 500 at most.

The following day, after the placing of the cannons, there was activity in the sea; the fleet that was waiting near the Sütunlar region set out towards the Golden Horn harbor. This caused panic among the ships waiting in the harbor; however, the Ottoman ships then withdrew. It can be understood that this maneuver was, in a way, a tactic to evaluate the condition of the ships waiting in the harbor. In fact, on the very same day cannonballs were fired from the ships and the walls were the target of intense volleys of stone cannonballs. Barbaro states that there was no great activity before April 18, but just continuous cannon fire. It can be understood that Mehmed II was trying to break down the walls with cannon fire, thus lowering the spirits of the defenders of the city. During this time, there were some isolated attacks on the walls by small groups. These types of attacks, particularly those against the Byzantine defenders in the front rows, were just attempts to test the strength of the opponent. The Ottoman infantry that approached the walls were met by musket and arrow fire. The bodies of the dead and wounded Turkish soldiers were carried away fearlessly by their comrades who followed them. The Ottoman army could risk losing ten soldiers just to cart away the bodies of dead Turkish soldiers.78

18- The fight before the walls (Panorama 1453 History Museum)

Barbaro’s contemporary description is probably of the Ottoman vanguards, in particular the description of attacks mounted by volunteer and special forces. It appears that the Byzantine defenders were astonished by the undeterred attacks of the Ottomans. On the other hand, there are indications that the cannon volleys seriously damaged the morale of the city population. However, there are also reports that the gigantic cannon cracked after its first shot and needed to be repaired. It is known that after these repairs the cannon was used again. There are also some details about how this cannon was brought in front of the St. Romanus Gate and how it hit the target. It was able to gauge distance and the target thanks to volleys from the smaller cannon placed next to it. The target was determined in keeping with the type of small cannon, and the barrel of the large cannon was lifted with chains so that it could fire to the correct distance.79 In this combined cannon system, which was used to determine the target, the smaller cannon was placed to the fore and larger ones were placed on higher ground behind them. The volleys from the small cannon were aimed at certain targets. The volleys on the right and left of the target were followed by a cannonball being shot from the large cannon. This would hit the target directly, and the result was complete devastation. The first cannonball shot from the cannon, and the terrifying sound caused huge panic among the public; everyone started praying, saying “Dear Lord! Have mercy upon us.”80 The sound of the cannon could be heard from a distance of 40 stadios, and everywhere was shaken. One Byzantine source states that the large cannon was fired seven times a day and once at night.81

It can be understood that in addition to the effective volleys from the cannon, saps also began to be dug. This job, however, required certain mastery and experienced miners were employed. It was also important not to let the other side know that digging was taking place. If the tunnels were not properly supported, they could easily collapse. Some writers state that the collapsed saps were immediately covered with brushwood and grass in order to hide them. There were some people who thought digging tunnels was an old and useless method. In particular, Kritovulos informs us that soldiers entering the city through tunnels did not attract much interest because of the belief that it would be unsuccessful, and for this reason, they focused on the cannons.82 As we can see in the following pages, those tunnels were as effective as the cannons in the destruction of the walls.

According to Kritovulos’ reports, Mehmed II also conquered the Tarabya Castle on the coast of the Bosphorus between April 12 and 18; after it was bombarded with cannons the approximately 40 people living in that small castle surrendered without any resistance. From there, they moved on to another castle known as Studio (Burgaz) and, with the aid of cannon, conquered it as well. Meanwhile Baltaoğlu Süleyman moved to Prinkipo (Büyükada), and lay siege to the castle here; however, he did not make any progress for the Ottomans, due to the strong resistance mounted by 30 armed men. Thus, the inner castle was set on fire; the people were unable to escape the fire. In this way the castle was conquered.83 The objective of this operation must have been to destroy all the military bases that were in close proximity and could come to the aid of the city.

It can be understood that by April 18 the city walls suffered heavy cannon fire and had been partly destroyed. The Byzantines, however, worked through the nights to repair the damage, supporting the collapsed walls with timber and stones and preparing bulwarks along the outer walls against future attack. In particular, they formed a defensive line along that part of the walls by placing sand-filled barrels, sacks and pikes. In order to reduce the effect of the cannons, animal skins and cotton bales were hung from the walls. The cannons, however, were very effective and parts of the walls were destroyed. The cannon shots fired at the two walls and towers behind the front-approach wall were effective and the bastions were brought down; the debris was used to fill the trench in front of the wall.84 It was obvious that a general attack would follow this week of intensive cannon fire. The emperor frequently walked around the city, encouraging his soldiers and commanders.85

According to Barbaro, the first general attack was carried out on Wednesday April 18. It would however be more accurate to say that it was on the following night; that is the attack occurred on the Thursday night and thus, the correct date is April 19. The attack began at 2 am and continued until 6 am. However, it is more probable that the attack began around the time of the dawn prayer, as this was the tradition, and continued for 2 to 3 hours. Ottoman soldiers took advantage of the dark and approached the walls; they began the attack with terrifying sounds of screams and beating drums. These noises could be heard everywhere. Some soldiers approached the walls by rope and wooden ladders, or used other various weapons. Some of them brought machines to tear the walls. The sound and smoke from the cannon and harquebuses covered everywhere and the Byzantines on the other side of the walls began to fight with all their might to defend the city. The fight continued on and before the walls. The Byzantine counter-attacks were rather effective. In the end nothing could be seen due to the smoke and the Ottoman soldiers withdrew before sunrise.86 When this attack was unsuccessful, the Ottoman soldiers probably tried to pull down the Byzantine barricades with their long hooked spears and ropes, thus destroying the bulwarks protecting the Byzantines. While being baited with cannon and arrow fire, some of the Ottoman soldiers tried to protect themselves with shields and made efforts to climb the empty spots on the walls with ladders.87

In fact, with this general attack Mehmed II wanted to measure the power of endurance after the intensive cannon fire. As proven by the first attack, the Byzantine defense did not appear weak. This clearly showed Mehmed II that he needed to put some other plans into action. It also made clear which parts of the walls were weak and which parts could put up a strong resistance. In this respect, it is significant that after this attack Mehmed II relocated the artillery. Recognizing the conditions of the walls, the sultan relocated the cannons to more suitable places between Topkapı and Edirnekapı. Meanwhile, he calculated that by mounting false attacks at other points, he would be able to keep the Byzantine defenders busy in other areas, distracting their attention from the main attack sites. He had two essential plans to realize this aim: firstly he wanted to get the fleet into the Golden Horn and secondly he wanted to keep the part of the walls alongside Marmara Sea busy with the “movable towers” which were so large that it was almost impossible not to see them.

During a heated moment of the battle, an incident that caused a great spiritual breakdown on the side of the Ottomans took place. This incident became a historical turning point in regards to the siege. Ottoman historians mention that on April 20, with the help of the wind, three ships from Genoa and one Byzantine ship, which were coming to help, were able to pass through the Ottoman navy and enter the Golden Horn. According to Barbaro, who witnessed this incident, Baltaoğlu’s galley directly attacked the Byzantine cargo ship, got behind and rammed into it, thus starting a great battle. Every one of these four ships was surrounded by five galleys and 30 smaller ships, as well as 40 reserve ships that tried to form a barrier around them. The conflict continued in this way for about three hours. By evening the fighting ships were drifting towards the harbor in front of the city. When it turned dark, two galleys moved to take in the four ships behind the chain. These galleys were trying to make the Ottoman ships think that they were greater in number by beating drums and making noise. Finally they succeeded in taking the four ships under their protection and bringing them into the harbor. Now it was completely dark and the Ottoman navy had to return to its base, unsuccessful.88

As can clearly be seen, the reason for the success of these four ships was not the courageous fight put up by the crew, but rather the wind from southwest, which started to blow once again. The sculled galleys were not able to proceed and make maneuvers in such strong wind. Thus, the ships coming to help the Byzantines could easily enter the harbor. Mehmed II, however, who had been watching everything from the land, regarded this incident as a great failure. The Byzantine historian Doukas states that the sultan was very angry and he rode his horse into the sea, whereas Kritovulos informs us that the sultan calmly watched the battle from the land and then quietly left. The information that the Ottomans lost 10,000 or 12,000 men in this battle is completely inaccurate. It can be argued that the casualties numbered no more than 200. Baltaoğlu Süleyman states that their loss was 115. Kritovulos mentions that the Christian losses numbered 22, and records that more than 100 Ottoman sailors died, with about 300 being wounded.89

This loss not only damaged morale, but also became the cause behind which those who were opposed to the conquest came together; this group was led by Çandarlı Halil Pasha. Even Mehmed II, enthusiastic due to his youth, started to lose hope and seriously think about lifting the siege. On the night of April 20, an uneasy time started for Mehmed II. Although it is not clearly expressed in the sources, it can be understood that that night there was serious tension between the sultan and his supporters and those who opposed the plan. This caused a disturbance among the soldiers and they were divided into two groups. Those who had opposed the siege from the beginning argued that they could not win the war against such a strong enemy, while the others said they would be victorious in the end. One of the Ottoman historians, İdris-i Bitlisi states that Halil Pasha’s supporters increased as a result of this clear failure and many people agreed that the siege should be lifted and a treaty struck with the enemy:

19- Moving the ships over the land (Rycaut)

20- The fight over the walls (Panorama 1453 History Museum)

21- Destruction of the walls which were thought to be indestructible (Panorama 1453 History Museum)

The residents of the city were pleased; unable to reach the Muslim warriors, they started to insult them over the walls. Indeed this incident caused great disappointment among the Muslims. Those who had not supported the siege perceived this incident as evidence that supported their stance, and tried to encourage the sultan to abandon the siege. In fact, most government officials agreed with grand vizier Halil Pasha about lifting the siege and suing for peace. However, with the help of his zeal and together with his few supporters, Sultan Mehmed was still making great efforts to realize the conquest. A few religious scholars, in particular Akşemseddin, the ustad al-qurra wa’l-muhaddisin (master of Qur’an recitation and traditions the Prophet) Molla Ahmed Gürani, and Vizier Zağanos Pasha, supported the sultan in this respect. They were absolutely opposed to making a peace treaty with the infidels. The sultan had made great efforts to conquer the city and they did not see the making of a peace agreement as appropriate.90

That night Mehmed II convened a council to bring an end to the discussions and to secure the continuance of the siege. In the general meeting, one in which all viziers, beys, prominent commanders and scholars were present, he stated that the arrival of those four ships did not mean anything, that the Ottoman soldiers should not be discouraged, and that battle fatigue should not be accepted as an excuse. By presenting examples from the Qur’an and the hadiths, Mehmed II made an inspiring speech: “he narrated and reported many sayings from the Prophet, verses from the Qur’an, parables, and stories.”91 These extremely uneasy hours ended with the suppression of opposing voices. For a while, probably under the influence of Halil Pasha, the leader of the opponents, Mehmed II even thought to lift the siege. The letter sent that night by Akşemseddin from the headquarters to the sultan before the meeting was very important. Here Akşemseddin stated that the failure had caused great disappointment, cast clouds on their good intentions on the path to successfully concluding the siege, and had pleased the enemy. He wrote that the young sultan had played a part in this and accused him “of being weak in executing his rule.

This letter strongly criticizing the young sultan is in a way a result of what had happened that night. Akşemseddin’s advice to the sultan at a time when he was experiencing doubts was very important for those who supported the conquest. Mehmed II was to win this psychological battle; the very next day he was to relieve Baltaoğlu from his duties and appoint Hamza Pasha in his place. Thus, not only would he intimidate his opponents, he would also clear his name of “being incapable.” At this point, Akşemseddin and Zağanos Pasha played great roles. It would not be wrong to assume that people who had influence on the young sultan, such as Şehabeddin Pasha, Turahan Bey, and Molla Gürani acted together with the sultan in this regard. In some sources it is stated that these men lifted the spirits of the soldiers and ensured the continuance of the battle.92

During that sleepless night, Mehmed II made great efforts to maintain the siege while trying to encourage his soldiers; at the same time he concentrated on new plans to disperse the disappointment and the bad morale that had formed. He sent commands to finish preparations, some of which had previously been started, as soon as possible. The most important of these preparations was to ensure that the ships were not left alone in the harbor. In particular, it was decided to use mortars and to keep the ships under cannon fire. Archbishop Leonardo, one of the eyewitnesses, states that Ottoman artillery did their best to hit the ships; meanwhile, due to the fact that they harm could be caused to some merchant ships from Genoa that were docked in Pera, these ships made contact with the sultan. However, the cannon fire continued. During the bombardment a loaded ship belonged to someone named Barnaba was sunk and upon this other ships were withdrawn towards Galata, out of cannon range. Leonardo, who states the number of cannonballs as being 150, also adds that some houses in Galata were struck, but only one woman lost her life.93

On April 21, or the day when the ships came under cannon fire, intense canon fire continuing raged throughout the day, particularly around the region of St. Romanus. This bombardment was so intense that it was impossible for the defenders to put their heads above the walls, which were breaking into pieces, and it was difficult to see due to the dense smoke that covered everywhere. The damage inflicted on a large tower in this region caused great fear among the Byzantines. They started to think that a massive attack was to follow this bombardment. The optimistic air, happiness and joy that had been created by the entrance of the ships into the harbor had given way to a deep pessimism. The devastation of walls that had been thought indestructible revitalized the prediction about the fall of the city, spreading it among people. In contrast to expectations, however, the intense cannon fire was not followed by a general attack. This allowed the Byzantines to repair the damage. Byzantines and Venetians were trying to seal the heavily damaged parts of the walls with stone and soil, making stocks of soil and water-filled barrels. They also started to dig a new trench behind this newly formed barricade. The soil dug from the trenches was mixed with stakes, brushwood and branches, and used to construct another barricade behind the first. Pikes were erected in this barricade. The soil barricade made out of argil became as strong as a stonewall. On the other side of these fortification works the bombardment on the gate of St. Romanus continued. The gigantic cannon had been positioned there. The cannonballs fired from this was supported by the smaller cannons, with balls being shot from the harquebuses, as well as arrows, stones and burning materials sent from slingshots and trebuchets; all these projectiles darkened the skies.

This intense bombardment targeting both the ships in the harbor and the land walls was in fact an operation to mislead, masterfully hiding Mehmed II’s great project. While the intense cannon fire was occupying the Byzantine defenders, the first steps for the realization of the master plan, the preparations of which had already been completed, were being taken. This was to pull the ships over land and launch them into the Golden Horn. This plan clearly shows that Mehmed II had knowledge about similar attempts made previously. The Ottomans were familiar with the efforts of Aydınoğlu Gazi Umur Bey, who had carried out a similar operation. Mehmed II had probably read a book about his heroic deeds. It is possible to assume that Mehmed II knew other similar practices (such as Venetians transporting their ships to Garda Lake) in addition to those of Gazi Umur Bey. None of those, however, was on such a large scale as Mehmed II’s project. In fact, the structure of the land between the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn had been examined during the construction of the Rumelia Castle. Ships from the Ottoman navy set up bases in the coves along the Beşiktaş coast. In those coves, preparations for the construction of small ships were even made. This is clearly narrated in a source mentioned below. It can be argued that these ships would not be required for major tasks; the majority had been built to be used side by side to form a bridge over the Golden Horn.

Some of the Ottoman sources agree that transporting the ships to the Golden Horn over land was planned to erase negative memories caused by the defeat in the naval battle; however, some, for example, contemporary Byzantium and Latin sources, date this event as occurring sometime before April 20, when the naval battle took place. The reason for the transportation of the ships is most likely related to the battle. In Ottoman sources this event is clearly presented as the most important response of Mehmed II to the previous failure. Unfortunately, however, no details are given about this incident in these sources, nor in the Byzantine or Latin sources. The point, however, that all sources agree upon is that the ships were transported over land and they were brought down to the Golden Horn on April 21-22.

Barbaro, an eye-witness to this event, tells us that the crews of the ships cleared a path from the area known as Sütunlar or Çifte Sütunlar to the hill beyond Pera. They leveled the path from the Marmara Sea to the Golden Horn, placed timbers or other round objects and greased them, thus preparing a proper path for the passage of the ships. First the smaller ships were placed upon these wheel-like round objects, and rolled forward. With this experience, work to pull the 15 to 20 larger double-oared ships began. According to Barbaro, the number of ships pulled over the land was 72. The peace agreement with the Genoese who were living in Galata played a role in the realization of this plan.94 Doukas, one of the Byzantine sources, gives us similar information that the area from Çifte Sütunlar to Kosmidion (Eyüp) was leveled, two rowing ships were placed on wooden wheeled platforms and brought from Bosphorus (Beşiktaş) to the Golden Horn; all this was done with the sails unfurled. There were about 80 ships.95 At the same time, Kritovulos writes that the Golden Horn was a distance of 8 stadion from Beşiktaş, that the path for the ships was prepared by a great number of people, that rafters were placed under the ships and tied with ropes, that the ships were moved with the help of pulleys and their sails were unfurled and that this is the way they were transported to the Golden Horn; in addition, he tells us that there were 67 ships.96 Tursun Bey, author of one of the Ottoman sources, states that various instruments were used to pull the ships. He too writes that while their sails were set, the ships were transported to the Golden Horn on the path prepared due to the great efforts of the engineers. He, however, does not provide information about the number of ships and dates this event as being before the naval battle.97 This event is similarly reported in other Ottoman sources.

After presenting this information we will turn to the debates about this event. In particular, some scholars have recently argued that the ships were not pulled over land, but were constructed somewhere either in the Golden Horn or near Okmeydanı. The route of the passage is also a matter of debate. In fact, there is no reason not to believe that the ships were pulled over land and launched into the Golden Horn. The important point here is the question of how this was done. The commonly accepted view focuses on 50 to 60 ships being pulled from Tophane to Kasımpaşa in one night. Some researchers state that the ships were pulled from the Tophane docks, down the Kumbaracıbaşı slope, going from Asmalımescit to Tepebaşı, and from here to Kasımpaşa, from where they were launched. Calculating the terrain of this 2 to 3 km path, some researchers have preferred a flatter path going from Dolmabahçe (which was a cove at the time) or from Beşiktaş, over Harbiye, and then to Kasımpaşa or to Eyüp.98

First of all, no matter how short the distance was, pulling the ships in one night seems impossible, even with the technological means of today. Preparations for this work were probably done long before and the ships had been prepared for being transported. Contemporary writers who witnessed the ships being launched into the Golden Horn all at once might have thought that they had been pulled in one night. In fact, the route of the transportation seems to have played a role in this assumption. It is clear that all these preparations were done somewhere far from Byzantine attention. The route between Tophane and Kasımpaşa thus is not probable, as it would not have been suitable for such preparations. This location is not only close to the Galata walls, but can also be seen from across the sea. It also includes an unimaginable activity, such as launching the ships in a place where Byzantine ships had established their base. However, the route must have been somewhere behind these locations, allowing the preparations to be comfortably carried out. Thus, it could have been where the Ottoman fleet had set up its base, which was the region extending from the Beşiktaş cove to Dolmabahçe/Kabataş. At this time Beşiktas was a cove that went well inland.

As we have already mentioned Mehmed II built ships during the siege preparations and part of this construction work was carried out in the hidden coves of the the Bosphorus while the Rumelia Castle was being constructed (the date of completion for this structure was in August, 1452). This matter is clearly referred to by a contemporary observer. The preparations for some of the ships that were to be pulled over the land and launched into the Golden Horn must have started during this period. Today’s the cove of Beşiktaş or the Dolmabahçe/Kabataş side (Çifte Sütunlar) would have been the starting point for pulling the ships over this route. There are also sources which indicate that the ships began to pull over land from Beşiktaş.

When all this information is evaluated together, we can come to the following conclusion: some of the ships had probably been built in the stream bed just behind the Beşiktaş cove, where the fleet was anchored, and then were pulled, one by one, though the path that had been prepared for them to the Golden Horn, somewhere across from Eyüp and around where the third bridge over the Golden Horn stands today. In fact, the reports that the ships were not pulled over land but constructed somewhere close to Okmeydanı probably were the result of this route. The suggestion that the ships were built in Okmeydanı only appear in later Ottoman. The following statement appears in Mehmed b. Mehmed’s Nuhbat al-tawarih at the beginning of the 17th century: “they took the ships from the place called Okmeydanı and transported to the sea behind Galata.”99 We can find the most detail later in Evliya Celebi’s work.100 This information, however, presents a character that is conflict with narrations from later periods. Even though the transportation of ships into the Golden Horn was an idea thought up by a genius, these ships did not play a decisive role in the battle. They only made some defenders of the walls come down to the sea and weakened the defense of the land walls. In fact, these ships were not battleships; rather they functioned as a portable dock and a siege instrument. In fact it is understood that these were tied to each other and used as a bridge, and they even used as a bastion which extended all the way to the walls and soldiers and cannons were placed on. Wooden towers were even placed on the foretops of some of them and arrows and bullets were shot from there.101What is certain, however, is that seeing the Ottoman ships in the Golden Horn caused a deep demoralization among the Byzantines and on the Ottoman side, made the pain of the sea failure forgotten and brought a new enthusiasm and energy.

The appearance of the Ottoman fleet in the Golden Horn was a major surprise for the Byzantines and Latins. Now there was a fear that the main navy would be waiting in front of the Golden Horn to carry out a joint operation. The owners and commanders of the Byzantine and Latin ships were waiting in great vigilance; whenever they heard something about movements of the Ottoman navy, they would immediately move their galleys forward. On April 23 a decision was taken to eliminate the threat posed by the ships in the Golden Horn. Giacomo Coco, the owner of a Trabzon galley, reserved two ships, each of which had holds that could take 500 barrels; he wrapped them in sacks of cotton and wool. In this way the ships would be protected against cannon balls. He also prepared two small galleys. This raid operation was carried out on April 28, two hours before sunrise. The two ships wrapped with cotton and wool moved forward and a galley owned by Gabriel Trevisan and one owned by Zacaria Grioni escorted them. Three vessels loaded with explosive and flammable materials captained by Silvestro Trevisan, Girolomo Morosini and Giacomo Coco, followed. These boats had rowboats tied behind and were to be driven into the Turkish ships to set them on fire. This fleet set out towards Ottoman ships. Coco sailed his galley faster in order to gain the honor of being the first to attack the Turkish ships, however a cannonball directly hit his vessel and it quickly sank. The entire crew, 70 oarsmen and 16 warriors either drowned in the sea or swam ashore, where they were captured and put to death.102 Because of the smoke and musket-fire the others did not realize that Coco’s ship had sunk. Gabriel Trevisan’s ship was also struck and floundered. Witnessing this situation, the rest of the fleet retreated. This triumph gave the Turks morale and they held a celebration. This victory also strengthened the convictions that the fall of the city was approaching.

Towards the Final Attack

22- Ottoman army’s attack to walls by moving towers (Panorama 1453 History Museum)

There were no other serious battles in the month of April after the battle in the Golden Horn. Mehmed II did not intend to attempt a second large attack before completely removing the Byzantine defense. All attention, accompanied by intense cannon fire, was focused on the land walls; from this time the cannons on the bridge that had been constructed in the Golden Horn were shooting at the weak walls along the Golden Horn and next to the emperor’s palace. At the same time, the food shortage in the city worsened in the early days of May. On May 3, Byzantines positioned two cannons by the gates on the sea, and attempted to fire on the ships in the Golden Horn in order to hinder their maneuvers. The defenders, however, were severely in need of help. Committees were organized to distribute provisions, and food rations were reintroduced. Archbishop Leonardo explains this as an effort to prevent the defenders, who were worried about their wellbeing, from abandoning their posts; some had begun to abandon their positions worrying that their families were suffering from hunger. Some opportunists, who wanted to profit from the situation in the city, were hoarding food and selling it at higher prices. Even the emperor was deeply pessimistic. The introduction of severe measures was probably a sign that manpower was needed for the defense of the city.

23- Ottoman units’ general attack to walls (Panorama 1453 History Museum)

On May 5, Ottoman artillery forces started to aim at the ships docked in the harbor from the direction of Pera. One Genoese ship sank; the rest were trying to escape the cannon fire by changing position. Galleys were damaged by the day-long cannon fire. Then the position of the cannons was changed, being moved to the St. Romanus region, where the conflict intensified. The long period of silence was finally broken on May 7. Thursday morning, immediately after the dawn prayer, the second general attack began. The point where the attack intensified was the Mesoteichion (Middle Wall) region, i.e. the region that covered Edirnekapı, Topkapı and Mevlanakapı region. This attack, carried out by 30,000 men, continued until 7 in the morning. Trenches filled with the debris from the damaged walls created a suitable ground for the attack; however, despite all efforts, no successful results were achieved. This attack did not demonstrate the characteristics of a full-out war. It was probably aimed at breaking the weakened fortifications and wearing down the defense on the walls. Meanwhile, the activities on the sea continued. The cannon fire damaged the walls near St. Raomanus region, which was defended by Giustiniani; a breach was opened in each of the three walls. Because of these breaches, the Turks immediately attacked, and place hand-to-hand combat ensued in this narrow.

Meanwhile, on the following day, May 8, the Venetians discussed taking the trade goods out of the harbor and transporting them to a more secure place. However, the crews of the Danube galleys carrying this merchandise objected to unloading it from the ships. They said that they were not going to unload the ships and that their home would be wherever the goods were; however, if the goods were unloaded and put into storage facilities on land, the Byzantines would lay claim to them. The Venetians said that when this happened, they would be free to go or stay, but as the city was soon to be captured by the Turks, they did not want to leave their galleys and went ashore.103 The repercussions of this event continued for a few days. On May 9 Gabriel Trevisan and his 400 men went ashore to support the defense on the land. The protection of the ships in the harbor was left to Alvisio Diedo. After this, on May 12 Ottoman started a new attack against the emperor’s palace. The severity of this midnight attack so concerned the Byzantines that everyone started to think the city was about to fall. Barbaro mentions a widespread prophecy uttered by Constantine I: the city would never fall during a full moon unless the moon was obscured, or unless only half the moon could be seen. The battles and the course of events did not hold out much hope for a conclusion that would contradict this prophecy.104 Some Turkish sipahi (cavalry) even succeeded in riding into the city. Giustiniani and the Byzantine commanders fought with them and repelled them. However contrary to reports, Turkish soldiers entered the city a few times not after, but before the last attack and they had skirmishes; however, probably due to a lack of support, they were forced to retreat.105

While all these were happening, new activities took place around the harbor. On May 13 Gabriel Trevisan inspected the damaged parts of the walls and fought on the walls until the last moment. After that, the Turks transported all their cannons across St. Romanus. Barbaro states that this part, which had been hit by the cannon fires since the beginning of the siege, was the weakest point of the walls. Byzantines were working day and night to repair the damaged parts, placing dirt and barrels, driving stakes, and digging trenches. They were appointed 300 fully armed men for the protection of the damaged gate. All of those men were good archers and harquebus users and had all kinds of war equipment.106

Barbaro provides information about the tunnels that were dug by the Ottomans on May 16; like previous writers state, those tunnels did not prove to be effective. In fact, since the beginning of the siege Mehmed II had calculated that the tunnels which went under the walls and across the city would create a serious threat; he immediately started digging the tunnels while making preparations for the siege; he also took some precautions to prevent the people on the walls seeing what they were doing, by making wooden curtains or soil barricades. The earliest reports in the Byzantine sources about the tunnels, which were very difficult and arduous to dig, give the date of May 16. Barbaro writes that the tunnels began to be dug about half a mile away from the walls; they went under the walls and went as far as Porta Kaligaria (Eğrikapı).107 He tells us that the Turks wanted to secretly bring soldiers into the city via the tunnels. When the sounds of pickaxes were heard in the city, the tunnel was made collapse by digging a counter tunnel. The boards holding the earth were broken and the Turks in the tunnel were buried under the earth. Barbaro informs us that along with Giustiniani, a German engineer, Johann Grant, helped and ensured the collapse of this and other tunnels that were discovered later. Digging the tunnels, particularly those towards Porta Kaligaria (Eğrikapı), where the emperor’s palace was located, and the focusing on this matter probably was the reason why tunnels dug in other areas went unnoticed. Between May 21 and 25 five other tunnels were discovered in the region of Porta Kaligaria and they were made collapse, burying those who were digging them. In addition to taking soldiers secretly into the city, another aim of these tunnels was to empty the earth under the walls, start fires or use them to stockpile and blast explosives, thus bringing down the walls and bastions.

At the same time, the Ottomans put the large movable towers to use, allowing them to approach the walls and the bastions at the same height. While a small Turkish fleet attacked and heavily bombarded the ships that were waiting behind the chain, a large movable tower was built; it was almost level with top of the second wall. Barbaro admiringly narrates that this tower was built in a very short period of time, approximately four hours, and says that he had never seen anything like this in his life. This tower was built so rapidly that even the watchmen on the walls could not realize what was happening. On the following morning, when they saw this enormous tower, they were surprised. The wooden tower was wrapped with animal skins, and half of it was filled with stones. Its outer surface was spattered with mud, thus protecting the movable tower, which was located in front of Xylokerkos, that is the Belgrade tower. The movable tower was drawn towards the walls, coming up to ten feet from the wall. The tower could easily be entered from a covered road. Those who were inside the tower constantly filled the trenches with dirt, with no danger coming from outside; thus being able to construct them as high as the second wall.108

This tower was in fact different from those used in earlier sieges. In other words, unlike earlier towers, which were drawn close to the walls and used to enable the soldiers climb on the walls via ladders, this tower was slowly pulled along the trenches and used to fill them up to the height of the walls. Thus, it was designed so that the soldiers could reach the level of the walls without need for ladders or ropes. Barbaro even stated that this tower, which was overshadowed by the cannons in the history of siege, played a very important role in reaching the walls. The archers and musketeers on the tower rained bullets and arrows on the defenders of the walls. Even though the tower was partially damaged, it still played an important role in filling up the trenches in the area and keeping the other defense lines busy. It is known that other similar towers were used to approach the walls during the general attack; however, this movable gigantic tower was not only an instrument of offense, it also became a tool for making some tasks easier, such as digging saps and piling soil.

24- Ottoman navy and cannons (Panorama 1453 History Museum)

While Mehmed II was putting his new plans into action on the Yedikule-Silivrikapı front he did not refrain from initiating some activities against the walls from the Golden Horn. While keeping the ships in the harbor under pressure, he constructed a portable bridge on buoys, probably stretching from Kasımpaşa to the place where the walls of the Golden Horn stood. He kept this bridge ready in front of the Chinigio/Kynegion (Küngüz) Gate. His aim was to pull this portable bridge nearer during the general attack and thus enable the soldiers to approach the walls along the Golden Horn. The bridge was wide enough to allow five people to pass at the same time (about 4.5 m) and measured 370 m long. The construction of this bridge and its being pulled in front of the gigantic cannon, the intense cannon fire from the other ships as well as the efforts to fill the trenches and raise the level of ground to the height of the walls, the small skirmishes to the main gates, coming almost up to the walls, the digging of tunnels and the regular maneuvers of the fleet at the entrance of the Golden Horn were all signs of an approaching general attack. The historians of the period report that the Byzantine defenders, whom the Ottomans were trying to tire out and demoralize during this period expended extraordinary efforts to repair the damaged sections of the city wall. Parts of the city walls were brought down by cannon fire and probably by the blasting of the saps that had been dug underneath them; great efforts were made by the Byzantines to fill these with brushwood, pieces of barrels, vine stocks, pottery pieces and soil. The repair work was supported by men and women, children and adults, everybody in the city. A cannonball however was able to destroy all the fortifications made of soil. The Turks did not even leave the cannonballs where they fell, but took them back and reused them; the Byzantine defenders could do nothing to prevent them.109

25- Ottoman soldiers climbing over the walls (Panorama 1453 History Museum)

On May 21 the heavy bombardment continued while the Byzantines were working on collapsing a newly discovered tunnel. The following day they discovered two more tunnels. These were also destroyed. On May 23 another tunnel was added to the list of discovered and collapsed tunnels. This last tunnel, which had been discovered close to the emperor’s palace, was blasted with fire; most of the Turks in it lost their lives. Barbaro says that two of them were captured alive. They were tortured and forced to tell the locations of the other tunnels. After making them tell the locations of the tunnels these Turks were also killed. Their heads were thrown towards the Turkish military encampment.110 This was the final success achieved by the Byzantine defenders, because the ship which had been sent on May 3 to scout the ships that were coming with aid managed to evade the Ottoman navy, got into the harbor and brought the bad news. The happiness of the Byzantines, who thought that this ship was the vanguard of the Venetian support ships, soon turned into a deep disappointment. On the previous night strange lights had been seen in the sky, and the moon appeared at 1.00 a.m. According to the calculations it was the date of full moon, however, this looked like a two or three-day old moon; indeed, the sky was clear and there was no reason why the moon should appear like this. Then the moon slowly transformed into a full moon, completing its form at 6 am. This relieved the Byzantines a bit, as there was a widespread belief that the empire would end during the reign of an emperor with the same name of the first emperor of the empire. However, it was also believed that the fall of the empire was impossible as long as there was full moon. This half lunar eclipse seemed likely to signal this situation. Influenced by not receiving good news from the support ships, the Byzantines, who regarded the two to three hours of darkness in the skies before the evening as a bad sign, organized a large religious ceremony. They made their final invocations to God and started to circulate the sacred icon of Mary in the streets. Soldiers joined the parade, but just then something unexpected happened. While the parade was proceeding, the icon slipped from the hands of its carriers and dropped. It was very hard to pick it up, as if it had gained weight. After long efforts they picked the icon up and placed it again, continued their parade. Just then it started to rain, and even hail. Streets were flooded with rain and it became almost impossible to walk; thus the ceremony had to be cut short. These incidents were followed by a heavy fog on the next day. It was considered to be a sign that God had abandoned the city.111 After the mist had cleared, some strange lights were seen over Hagia Sophia. These lights could be seen from the Turkish side as well. The Byzantines interpreted these as a bad omen, while the Turks perceived them as the light of Islam coming down on Hagia Sophia and as an indication of tidings of the conquest.112 At this last moment everybody was trying to interpret bad omens from signs that had not previously attracted attention.

The Byzantines were unaware that the pessimistic air from which they were suffering also had permeated the Turkish side, although in a somewhat different form. In fact they were receiving intelligence, and some of the commanders, and consequently the emperor, were aware of the discussions being held in the headquarters. In fact, Mehmed II and his supporters experienced a serious crisis before the general attack, which had been planned weeks earlier. And the longer the attack was stalled the more the opponents began to increase their pressure. In fact, on the one hand the news that the support ships from Italy were on their way while the reports that the Hungarians had convened an army and had crossed the Danube to save Constantinople created another crisis, similar to the one that had taken place during the sea battle of April 20.

26- The fight by the walls (Panorama 1453 History Museum)

The opponents were angered by the delay in arranging the general attack and claimed that they were facing great problem due to the postponement of the attack. As always, Grand Vizier Halil Pasha reminded the young sultan that he should give up the siege. He told him that the strong city walls could not be conquered and the Byzantine and, in particular, the Latin defenses were very strong. According to recent reports, all the Christian kings and princes were coming to provide assistance, and thus a new threat was present. However, the second vizier Zağanos Pasha objected to this view, mentioning his master’s lofty nature and the fact that nobody could withstand this majesty. The Byzantines were already weakened. The cannon fire and daily attacks had tired and wore them down. In particular, the walls had been destroyed by the cannonballs. Now victory could be gained. Waiting for help from Italy was pointless. The Genoese were fighting amongst themselves and the Venetians had been attacked by Milan; thus neither could send help. The commander of the Rumelian akıncı (scouts), Tunahan Bey supported Zağanos Bey and said that the planned attack would be successful. While all these discussions were circulating, the decision to make the final attack was taken; Mehmed II sent a new offer to the Byzantine emperor. His envoy was İsfendiyaroğlu İsmail Bey, who was also one of his relatives.113 These final diplomatic attempts, however, did not bear fruit. These dialogues probably took place between May 23 and 25.

In fact, Mehmed II saw that, in accordance with the Islamic rules, it would be necessary to send an envoy and ask the enemy to surrender before he could take up the sword. He also wanted his envoy to bring him detailed information about the situation inside Byzantium. Mehmed II, who was probably fully aware of the poor state of Byzantium after this last diplomatic attempt, was convinced that he would be successful in a final general attack. The annoying discussions seemed to come to an end as everyone went to their posts and started eagerly to do what was necessary for the great preparations towards the final attack. Now it was time to finalize the plans for the final attack. First of all, the sultan met with the commanding committee about the attack, bringing together his commanders and explaining the situation to them.

While these developments were taking place, on May 24 a tower-like instrument was brought towards Eğrikapı in order to set the bastions on fire; however, this plan did not bear fruit. On the same day the intense cannon fire continued. Barbaro records that there were great celebrations organized in the military encampment. This was a sign that the decision to make the final attack had been taken and the soldiers had probably been informed about it. On May 25 the intense cannon shots continued. Although a significant part of the walls was destroyed, this was immediately repaired by the defenders. The following day, at 1.00 a.m in the morning, large fires were set in the encampment. Everywhere was illuminated as if it were in the morning. Fearsome shouting and screams were added to this light, which shone all over the military encampment. The noise and light created a complete air of terror among the people in the city. On that day the gigantic cannon started to fire towards the gate of St. Romanus, continuing throughout the day. Three of the cannonballs almost completely destroyed most of the walls in that area. On the following day the Byzantines tried to set fire to the Turkish wooden bulwarks that had been set up near the walls and to the towers that were approaching them. In response to this intense cannon fire began, and the gigantic cannon was pulled before the most damaged part of the walls; the bastion there was completely destroyed. It is likely that these walls were the ones in the Topkapı region. The destruction of the bastion seemed to open a path for the attackers in the final raid.

Apart from these small conflicts on the eve of the final general attack, the heavy bombardment of the artillery opened a large breach in the walls, particularly in the direction of Topkapı; this was the direction that the final attack would take place. It was for this reason that the Ottomans attacked this area with cannons, muskets, arrows and occasional small raids, thus preventing the enemy from repairing the damage. Everything was prepared for a general attack to take place on the Tuesday, towards sunset. The soldiers would probably have rested on May 28. Barbaro writes that the Turks did nothing on that day; rather they only piled a large number of ladders close to the walls. There were about 2,000 ladders in all. Then they happily started to beat drums and cymbals. Mehmed II walked among the soldiers, determined their positions, ordered the commanders to stay under the banners of the beys and not to abandon their positions. By evening, all the weapons had been prepared and piles of arrows had been piled up. Mehmed II also inspected the navy and decided what they were to do before the general attack. At this time, seeing all these as indications of a coming general attack, the defenders of the city started to prepare with great intensity. The Venetians had prepared seven cartloads of wooden shields that would be placed in the battlements and brought them to the square; however, nobody was willing to carry these shields up to the walls unless they were paid in advance. Thus a conflict began between the Byzantines and the Latins. Finally, the Venetians paid the money out of their own pockets and had the shields transported; however, as it was already dark, they could not position them properly. On the afternoon of the same day the Venetian representative asked all of the Venetian warriors to go up the walls and join the fight. The Byzantines, children and adults, were carrying stones to the walls.114

When the decision for the final attack was taken, great joy started to spread across the military encampment. Everybody’s morale was very high, because the damage to the walls and the breach that had been opened at Topkapı appeared to have remained. It seemed as if the hastily established reinforcements could be destroyed with a just a few small cannonballs. Moreover, Mehmed II was very eager for this mission to be completed; the refusal of his final offer for surrender to the Byzantines made it clear that in accordance with the Islamic principles the city could only be taken by war. He gave his soldiers the permission to loot the city for three days. While making his final preparations before the final attack, Mehmed II was also making encouraging speeches to his commanders and leading soldiers. The spiritual leaders were keeping the morale of the holy war alive via their sermons. The Ottoman historians İdris-i Bitlisi and İbn Kemal provide information that highlight the role of Akşemseddin in giving glad tidings of the conquest. İbn Kemal states the following:

The time to conquer the castle arrived on the following day. Akşemseddin stood by Mehmed II to support the soldiers, who were accustomed to victories, with his prayers. The sultan sent Mehmed Veliyyuddinoğlu Ahmed Pasha to inquire as to there was an indication that the castle could be conquered or not. Akşemseddin sincerely responded that such a large Muslim army would certainly be able to attain its goal and raise the banner of Islam high with the conquest of this city. This news did not satisfy the sultan much. Then he sent Ahmed Pasha to the sheikh one more time and asked for a clear and concise answer. The sheikh contemplated for a while, then his blessed face reddened and he said “tomorrow morning let us move with ardor from such and such a place to the castle; the glad tidings will become apparent before dawn and the warriors will perform their dawn prayer in the castle. The sword of holy war will burn the infidels in fire.” With this news the sultan was relieved and convinced that he would attain his goal. That night the sultan, viziers, and beys convened and ordered looting after the conquest; they informed everybody of their decision.115

İdris-i Bitlisi describes Akşemseddin’s role in similar words and writes that the sheikh went into seclusion with some spiritual people, informing the sultan of his inspiration that he attained through contemplation, stating that the castle would fall on a certain date and that the call for prayer would be recited by one of those who heeded his sermons. Upon this the sultan announced that the city could be looted for three days and declared that the war booty would belong to whoever took it. According to religious rules, except for the common needs for the believers, such as water and land, all movable goods would belong to the warriors; as land and endowments could not be looted or inherited, they would be included in the sultan’s share. Then the sultan decided the time of attack; this was to be carried out in the early hours of May 29.116

Mehmed II planned how the soldiers would move from the land and the sea. He spent the entire night working on these plans. First he had the equipment that would be needed on the following day prepared. In particular, the ladders that helped the soldiers reach the top of the walls and that would play an important role in the plans were readied. He commanded the sappers to pile gunpowder in the tunnels that had been dug underground. He ordered the rope masters to prepare their ropes. He also decided the locations for the archers and spear masters. He appointed the musketeers to hit the enemy if they put their heads over the walls. He ordered the artillerymen and the trebuchet masters to wait in their positions across from the walls, ready to attack. He then made the following speech to the entire army:

Today is the day to display heroism and bravery. It is a moment to obey the verse “fight with the infidels and hypocrites.” It is time for the Muslim warriors to hold their heads high, while lowering the heads of the infidels. Let those who have reached the happiness of this world and the Hereafter take out their courage and bravery, like a sword, and be proud in fighting and holy war. Let them paint their prosperity and bravery with the enemy’s blood, like the rays of a sun.

After finishing his speech, the military band started to play. According to the sultan’s plans, if the attack was to be carried out before sunrise, as planned, a large number of soldiers needed to light torches close to the city walls. These would remain burning until morning. The guards on the walls would be kept busy by these and the burning arrows. A large group of soldiers received this order and immediately fixed a torch onto the tips of their spears; they kept the guards on the walls busy with burning arrows and exhausted them. Again, fearsome sounds were made, drums were beaten, and the defenders were thus prevented from resting. In this way the men on the walls were forced to wait wearily until morning.

27- The fall of Istanbul (Rycaut)

Mehmed II’s speech to the commanders and the soldiers on that night appears both in the Ottoman and Byzantine sources that record this event. Some of these accounts are very long, like the one in Kritovulos. Even though the text is an adaptation of ancient Greek rhetoric, there are some points related to military strategy. Here Mehmed II’s warning to his soldiers is remarkable. It can also be understood from the text that news had been received that the breaches in the walls were wide enough for the horses to pass through, that the state of the defenders was not good and that there were only two or three men on the towers and the spaces between them. It can also be understood that it was intended for the soldiers to make constant and successive attacks. Kritovulos also mentions Mehmed II’s orders about the coordination of the attacks. First of all, everybody would rest, then organize their units and wait. The attack would begin after the military band started to play marches. Hamza Bey would move to the front of the walls along the sea, getting within the fire range, and shoot arrows, cannonballs, and musket-balls. Some of the ships would provide access to the walls by putting ladders against the wall. Zağanos Pasha would cross the bridge, and keep the wall along the Golden Horn under pressure, using the ships in the harbor to this end. Karaca Bey would approach the destroyed parts of the walls and put pressure upon the defenders in the breaches, while İshak Pasha and Mahmud Bey would attempt to cross the trenches and climb over the walls. Halil Pasha and Saruca Pasha would stay with the sultan and they would also carry out defensive attacks to prevent aid coming from the other side while the soldiers were entering the city through the damaged parts of the walls.117

28- Ottoman soldiers taking control of the walls (Panorama 1453 History Museum)

29- Sultan Mehmed II’s entrance to the city (Zonaro)

According to these plans Zağanos Pasha was to attack the walls along the Golden Horn, Karaca Pasha would be on his right side and attack from the center, in the region that stretched up to the Golden Horn, İshak Pasha and Mahmud Bey would attack from the area that stretched from the center to the Marmara coast, and the sultan’s forces would attack along the walls that went over the Bayrampaşa stream. The region between Topkapı and Edirnekapı would be the central point of the attacks. When news of these great preparations was heard by Byzantium, Giustiniani ordered the cannons under the command of Notaras to be moved to the place where the Ottoman central forces had been deployed. Even though Notaras objected to this, for he thought that the attack would be from the direction of the Golden Horn, the cannons were moved to the place where Giustiniani wanted on the orders of the emperor.118 Meanwhile, the breakdown in morale had reached its zenith; however, everyone tried to defend the city despite the great number of disagreements. The Greek, Italian, Orthodox and Catholic people demonstrated their solidarity by performing religious ceremonies together. Those who gathered in Hagia Sophia, particularly the clergymen, joined in ceremonies side by side, trying to demonstrate that they had already made a union with the Vatican. People were flocking to Hagia Sophia. This was the first time since the union that the Orthodox, leaving behind their disagreements and conflicts, had come to Hagia Sophia. The supporters and the opponents of the union joined in the ceremony side by side. They participated in the confession together. By organizing meetings the emperor finalized his preparations, decided a defense plan and then ordered his commanders to take their positions on the outer walls; he had all the gates of the inner walls shut behind these defenders. The long-awaited inauspicious day had arrived. After his meeting, the emperor went to Hagia Sophia with those who were with him, joined the ceremony, prayed after confession, and then everybody swiftly went back to their positions. He even had the inner gates shut to prevent people from fleeing. The emperor himself went to his palace in Blachernae. He summoned the servants of the palace, said goodbye, and asked their forgiveness for any errors, conscious or unconscious. When it was midnight, he went to examine the walls together with Sfrancis and determined that everything was in order. On his return to the palace, the emperor dismounted near Eğrikapı and went up one of the towers to observe the preparations of the Turkish army. From here he could easily see Mesoteichion (Middle Wall) and the Golden Horn region.

On the night of May 28 the Ottoman army, which had organized celebrations and illuminated everywhere with candles, suddenly extinguished all the lights that had been so terrifying to the Byzantines, turning night into day, thus completing their preparations. The defenders immediately tried to take precautions against these preparations. The emperor and Giustiniani were in the region between Topkapı and Edirnekapı, where the walls had been destroyed. With them there were up to 3,000 Latin and Byzantine soldiers, while Notaras was at the Balat Gate with 500 men. He was expecting the main attack to come from this part of the city. 500 archers were deployed to the area that ranged from the gate on the right side of the Golden Horn (from Xyline Porta) to the tips of the Historical Peninsula (Oraia Pyle). There were also archers deployed to the walls along the Marmara Sea down to Altınkapı; none of these archers could sleep that night but had to wait on alert.119

While these events were unfolding in the city, Mehmed II, who had prepared his plans and acted accordingly, preformed the dawn prayer and then sent his soldiers to their positions. The large cannons were positioned immediately across from Topkapı, as well as near the location of the large bastion that had been destroyed by igniting explosives that had been placed in a tunnel that ran underneath it (this was Baccaturea bastion, which took its name from Bahadir, a warrior who was of Seljukid origin and who worked for Andronikos).120 As we mentioned before, there was a large breach in this part of the walls. It seemed as if this part had been strongly fortified with sharpened pikes; immediately behind these pikes were the Latin soldiers.

The Fall of the City and the Conquest

On May 29 the final general attack began immediately before sunrise. The navy put the walls along the Marmara Sea up to Samatya under siege and occasionally landed sailors to join the attack; this attack had begun with full force against the damaged and partially repaired walls along the Bayrampaşa valley which ran between Edirnekapı and Topkapı. The Ottoman army attacked this region in three groups. Contemporary authors who approach this event from the Byzantine perspective in particular state that the irregular troops attacked along this front. They were followed by infantry units from the regular army, and then the cavalry, finally followed up by Janissaries or the sultan’s leading soldiers.121 The first groups rested ladders against the walls; the defenders would try to prevent those who were climbing the ladders by throwing stones down on them. When one group withdrew, the other groups would follow. As a matter of fact, what can be understood from a comparative analysis of all sources is that the attack did not begin on one front, but rather on all fronts at once; however, the main attack was concentrated on the Topkapı region. During the general attack, cannons and small cannon-like muskets/harquebuses did not stop firing. While the heavy artillery aimed at the main bastion and hastily erected obstacles, the small artillery targeted the defenders on top of the walls and in the battlements, 20-25 meters away. It is also known that the defenders resisted by using similar firearms from the battlements. Since it is easy to change the location of this type of light artillery, the weapons were brought close to the walls, sometimes even almost coming inside the walls. Giustiniani, the leader of the Italians who were defending this region, was even wounded by a bullet fired from such a weapon. Trebuchets were used alongside cannon in the siege and the digging of saps continued. Various firearms, crossbows that could shoot large arrows and firearms filled with gunpowder were all used in this war. A portable tower that was similar to the one that was brought to the walls near Silivrikapı, but was burned, was used in this attack. While this portable tower was being pulled towards the walls, the soldiers under its protection succeeded in safely climbing over the walls and bastions. Although those who witnessed this incident from the Byzantium side record that the tunnels dug by the Ottomans under the walls were made useless by the digging of counter-tunnels, there is no doubt that such tunnels proved effective in digging approach trenches and destroying some parts of the city walls. An Ottoman historian, in contrast to what is written by the Byzantine historians, indicates that these saps were very effective in the destruction of the walls. In fact, there were so many tunnels dug under the walls and bastions that they appeared to be floating in the air. The cannon grass and gunpowder piled under them were blown up just before the general attack, and the walls were brought down with a great clamor.122

The waves of attacks by marines and irregular soldiers were followed by charges mounted by the infantry and Anatolian soldiers. When these two offensive waves hit the walls, the Janissary units, directed by Mehmed II himself, followed. In fact, what can be understood from all these records is that these three offenses were carried out successively. They were not separated from one another and all three forces were supported by the subsequently following forces, thereby completely destroyed the defense. It is certain that the continuing cannon fire during the attack and the broken and scattered walls caused losses of life from both armies. It has also been confirmed that Mehmed II came to the walls and personally commanded the battle, encouraging the soldiers during the attack. In fact, the historian Kritovulos writes that Mehmed II, who came to the breach where there was a heated battle between his soldiers and the defenders, saw that the defense had been weakened around the collapsed walls and the area surrounded with stakes; he addressed his soldiers as follows:

My comrades! We have captured the city, let us retain it; the enemy has not been able to withstand and is fleeing. There is nobody left on the walls. The city will be ours with a little effort. It is not the time to relax. Show yourselves by continuing to fight bravely up until the last moment; I am with you.123

After this effective speech the sultan went to the front row and personally commanded the soldiers. And thus his soldiers removed or broke the pikes that stood before the completely collapsed defense line, thus opening a path for themselves. They took control of the area between the second and third walls. By wounding Giustiniani, the resistance of the Latins was broken. Giustiniani was immediately taken to his ship. When Guiustiniani was no longer in his position, the soldiers were seized with fear and began to flee. When the emperor realized the situation, he was worried. It was at this time that defeat by the Ottomans became unavoidable.

The question about where the Ottoman army entered the city for the first time and who was the first person to climb the walls is a matter of discussion today. As a result of an examination of the sources it can be understood that the Ottoman army passed over the walls not from one place, but from several points; however, it is clear that the main area through which the army entered was the Topkapı breach. Tacizade, an Ottoman historian, clearly speaks of how the Ottoman soldiers defeated the enemy at the breach near Edirnekapı and how 5 to 10 soldiers climbed over the walls and raised the Ottoman flag; all those who saw them rushed into the city.124 Some writers claim that the army entered from the walls along the sea or the Golden Horn, which were weaker; however this is not true. In fact, after the entrance from the Topkapı side, the defenders retreated from the walls; when the rest of the army found no resistance they could easily pass over the walls. In other words, the main entrance was Topkapı and Giustiniani, having been wounded and left his position in the defense line, weakened the resistance. The story titled “The Gate that was Left Unlocked,” mentioned in the work of the Byzantine historian Doukas is not accurate either, rather being merely an adaptation of a very old legend of the Ottoman conquest. Many modern researchers, however, have tended to favor this narration. For instance, in addition to Hammer, who mentioned this subject, Babinger bases his account on the story of the little gate. Similarly D. Nicol also writes that fifty Janissaries entered through this small gate which was called Kerkoporta, that the gate was bolted and that the first entrance was made through this gate; if the situation had not been so confused due to the fighting on the walls, this small group of Janissaries could have easily been recognized and killed.125 In the popular books written about the history of wars it is commonly stated that the Byzantine soldiers mounted a sudden attack from a small gate and then they forgot to lock it again when returning; it was through this gate that the Turks poured into the city.126 Thus, it has been claimed that a small gate, which had been left unlocked changed the destiny of the world; however, this information was not mentioned in any contemporary Byzantine or Latin sources except for Doukas, and did not appear in Ottoman sources either. The resemblance of this story to one from a previous Arab siege is remarkable. In that story a Muslim unit of 500 men, including Abu Ayyub al-Ansari reached an agreement with the emperor and entered the city to visit Hagia Sophia. Then the emperor plotted to kill them; when the Muslim soldiers learned about this plot, they went out of a small gate that had been miraculously left open, thus escaping with their lives. On the other hand, narratives of a Byzantine legend about how the invaders were going to break down a gate called Xylokerkos to enter the city was popular among people; this must have formed the basis of the story about the small gate that had been left unlocked.127

The information that the first entrance to the city was from the Golden Horn side is most likely not correct either.128 After passing over the walls on the land side, Zağanos Pasha’s soldiers put pressure on the walls along the Golden Horn, and the defenders left their positions in panic; it is likely that the Ottoman soldiers entered the city from here. Barbaro states that the Turks entered the city from the St. Romanus Gate when the sun was rising; meanwhile, the Turkish fleet had come in front of the chain an hour before sunrise, and the fleet that was commanded by Zağanos Pasha, which was in the Golden Horn, landed some men who, after seeing the Turkish flag raised in the city, swiftly entered the city. According to Barbaro, the Ottoman fleet moved from the Sütunlar district and came up to the chain, but when it saw the Latin galleys were waiting, it sailed towards Yedikule and started to work on the walls along the Marmara Sea; Zağanos Pasha meanwhile came to the Fener district with his ships and when he saw the Ottoman flags were waving in the air, he took his soldiers ashore.129

On the other hand, the identity of the first soldier who climbed over the walls is also a matter of discussion. The record that it was Ulubatlı Hasan cannot be found in any of the contemporary sources other than the large chronicle attributed to Sfrancis.130 Bihişti, one of the Ottoman sources, states that father of Karıştıran Süleyman Bey was one of the first soldiers to enter the city and because of this Mehmed II even appointed him as the subaşı (lieutenant) of the city after the conquest. In another report it is stated that Balaban Bey (Balaban Badera), who later was sent as the commander of the forces against İskender Bey in Albania in 1465, was the first soldier to climb over the walls.131 The name Ulubatlı, which become prominent among these names, is not mentioned in the original copy of Sfrancis. This information appears in the copy of his book that was created in the sixteenth century and should be regarded as a reflection of a widespread narration among people rather than a fabrication. Moreover, why would the person who expanded this copy in the sixteenth century fabricate this name at such an early period when the national identities had not yet been shaped and such myths would not have had any effect on his audience? This should be the main focus of the discussion. On the other hand, we should not forget the fact that over time new functions are placed upon history and new national heroes have been created throughout the process of the formation of national identities; this story was widespread among people in the nineteenth century. In this respect, instead of categorically refuting the name of Ulubatlı, it would be more appropriate to perceive him as a legendary public hero and to evaluate this incident within its own logical context.132

On the other hand, there are various reports, particularly in Byzantine and Latin sources, about how the emperor lost his life. In most of these reports, it is stated that he lost his life while bravely fighting against the enemy;133 however, it is obvious that nobody had clear knowledge about how he died during such a time of chaos. It is stated in the Ottoman sources that while the emperor was returning to Yedikule, he rode his horse over a wounded Ottoman soldier; however, his horse tripped and the emperor fell, dying under his horse.134 After entering the city, a group of Ottoman soldiers who had joined the Janissaries, left them and went towards a deserted part of the city in order to distance themselves from the Janissaries. At this time, they saw the emperor and his unit, who were secretly trying to reach the shore. While the emperor was fighting with a wounded Ottoman soldier, his horse lost its footing and fell. The emperor fell under the horse and was killed by the wounded Ottoman marine, who was not aware of whom he was killing.135

There are different reports in the Byzantine sources: Nestor Alexander tells us that after the Turks entered the city the emperor first went to the church and prayed; he then invited “those who were ready to die for the church and Christian belief to come with him”. The emperor then mounted an Arabian horse and went towards Yedikule. He had 3,000 warriors with him and when he came close to the gate, he encountered a large group of Turkish soldiers, all of whom he killed. The emperor fought until nightfall, but in the end he lost his life.136 Doukas says that the emperor, who had very few men left with him, shouted, saying: “Are there no Christians to separate my head from my body?” During the fight he found himself alone fighting against the Turks with his shield and sword in hand; he was wounded by two strikes from a Turkish soldier’s sword and fell down. However, this soldier, unaware that he had just struck the emperor, assumed him to be a regular soldier.137

As can be understood from the sources, after Giustiniani left his position (somewhere between Pempton and St. Romanus) and went to his ship, the news that the Turks had entered the city and that the emperor had run to the area was received, but it was too late. The forces of Bocchiardi, which were defending this area against the Turkish units, could not withstand for long. Upon this, the emperor was forced to retreat towards the bulwarks in the Bayrampaşa valley. He, his cousin Theophilos Palaiologos, and his close friend Ioannes Dalmata joined the forces fighting against the Janissaries and began to fight near the small gate through which Giustiniani had passed. After this, no news was received about the emperor. It is obvious that he lost his life as mentioned in the Turkish sources.

30a- The first in the history of the celebrations of the conquest: 562<sup>nd</sup> anniversary of the conquest was celebrated by the highest official attendance (30 May 2015). Scenes from the celebrations organized by Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Istanbul governorship, and T. R. Presidency and realized with the attendance of Prime Minister, Chairperson of the Parliament, and the President of Turkey (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality)

31b- The first in the history of the celebrations of the conquest: 562<sup>nd</sup> anniversary of the conquest was celebrated by the highest official attendance (30 May 2015). Scenes from the celebrations organized by Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Istanbul governorship, and T. R. Presidency and realized with the attendance of Prime Minister, Chairperson of the Parliament, and the President of Turkey (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality)

32c- The first in the history of the celebrations of the conquest: 562<sup>nd</sup> anniversary of the conquest was celebrated by the highest official attendance (30 May 2015). Scenes from the celebrations organized by Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Istanbul governorship, and T. R. Presidency and realized with the attendance of Prime Minister, Chairperson of the Parliament, and the President of Turkey (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality)

33d- The first in the history of the celebrations of the conquest: 562<sup>nd</sup> anniversary of the conquest was celebrated by the highest official attendance (30 May 2015). Scenes from the celebrations organized by Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Istanbul governorship, and T. R. Presidency and realized with the attendance of Prime Minister, Chairperson of the Parliament, and the President of Turkey (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality)

After the first light of the day, the Ottoman soldiers began to move through the streets of the city. Although the date given for the fall of the city in the Ottoman sources is inaccurate, it is meaningless to try to ascertain another date based on the information in these sources. The information that the Turkish forces entered the city on Tuesday 20 Jumada al-awwal 857 / 29 May 1453 is clearly stated in the fetihnames or other official sources of this great event is in keeping with the dates given in the Byzantine and Latin sources. This shows how useless debates in this respect are. Similarly, some Ottoman historians, like İbn Kemal, also indicate the same date.

The fall of the city was announced with the hanging of Ottoman flags from the bastions. The flags with the Byzantine eagle and the Venetian lion that had been hanging from the walls and the bastions were taken down, one by one. The people of the city, who witnessed this, were running in crowds towards Hagia Sophia. There were still some who believed that the old prophecy would come true. Tuesday was the feast of St. Theodosia;138 how could a city fall on such a sacred day? God would protect them with aid from the saints. According to ancient beliefs, would the enemies not find angels in front of them when they came to Hagia Sophia? Would these angels not drive those infidels out of the city and save it? Such expectations for miracles were the only hope, other than those who were actually fighting and resisting the Turks, of the people in the city; but these expectations did not give way to the harsh truth.

The fighting continued as the Turks entered the city. The Bocchardia brothers and their men fought a little longer from their position near Kerkoporta, but when there was no point left in resisting, they withdrew to the Golden Horn. Paolo was caught and killed. Antonio and Triolo boarded a Venetian ship and saved themselves by taking refuge in the city of Pera.139 Minotto and most of his Venetian men who had surrounded the region around the emperor’s palace, could not escape with their lives, but Minotto was captured. One of the important figures of the siege, İsidore from Kiev, was wounded in the head by an arrow and captured while fighting near Aya Dimitri; however, he succeeded to keep his identity secret. İsidore was taken to Galata, his ransom was paid and he was saved. He hid for about eight days, and then boarded on a Turkish ship that went to Phocaea, one of the Genoese colonies. After he was recognized by some people there, he was taken to the island of Chios, and from there to Kandiye (Heraklion) and finally to Italy. He died in 1463 in Rome.140 On the other hand, Georgios Skolaris (Gennadious), an ardent opponent of the union, was in his cell in the Pantocrator monastery. He too was captured and sold to a Turk in Edirne. When Mehmed II entered the city he immediately looked for Georgios Skolaris. Much later he learned what had happened to him, and had him brought to Istanbul, giving him the seat of the patriarch (1454).

According to Islamic tradition, the conquest of the city by sword meant that it was open for looting; soldiers had the right to loot for three days. Entering the city from different gates and directions and taking captives the Ottoman soldiers converged in Aksaray and moved towards Hagia Sophia. In the meantime, some of the local residents and Italians succeeded in reaching the ships on the Golden Horn and sailing towards the Marmara Sea. The Venetian ships and a few Genoese battle ships took advantage of the Ottoman soldiers landing, removed the chain and escaped. Barbaro, who was on board one of the ships, colorfully describes their exit from the harbor. According to him, the Latins and the ship captains who were on board asked the Genoese podesta for permission to leave; however, the latter informed them that he would send an envoy to Mehmed II to let him know and that they had to wait. The Venetians thought he was stalling them and thus they boarded their ships, cut the chain and sailed towards the Sütunlar district. There they waited until noon for the rest of the ships to exit the harbor. After that, the Ottoman navy entered and took control of the harbor only in the afternoon.

Occasionally there were some civilian groups who resisted the Ottoman entrance to the city. Some of them went onto their roofs and threw stones, tiles and burning wood down on the soldiers who were entering the city. Soldiers killed some of those who resisted, but they preferred to take them captives; during these times of disorder some soldiers went into the churches and vandalized them. However, everything was under control by nightfall; the looting had stopped and everything was calm. Mehmed II, who had earned the title of conqueror, entered the city that afternoon, saw the situation, and ordered that the necessary precautions be immediately taken. He sent sergeants everywhere to bring the soldiers under discipline. In the contemporary sources there are some exaggerated figures about the loss of Ottoman forces, quoting as many as 60,000. Although Kritovulos gives the number as 500, it can be estimated that this should be 5,000.141 The military and civilian losses of the Byzantines are stated as being around 4,000, again by Kritovulos. In some sources, the number of losses on both sides is given as about 3,000 each.142

Almost all of the Byzantine and Latin sources, as well as modern research and popular books that have been based on these sources, narrate that the Turkish soldiers carried out a massive massacre when they entered the city. Among these, the style of Doukas seems to have greatly influenced modern writers.143 Indeed, Babinger quotes the information given by Doukas word by word, finding the Pseudo-Sfrancis narration to be consistent with the truth.144 The environment after the fall of Istanbul is generally depicted by almost all modern Western writers in a deplorably romantic atmosphere. This can even be observed in some history texts. In one of these books, while ignoring everything that was done in the city during the Latin invasion in 1204, merely saying “the city was looted and plundered with impunity,” in the section about the Turkish conquest metaphors like “blood flowed in abundance” is used.145

It is in fact clear that the soldiers were allowed to loot the city for three days as it had been conquered by the sword. Most of the soldiers who entered the city started looting, killing those who resisted them, and taking most of the people as captives in the hopes to exchange them in the future for ransom. In fact, even Doukas could not refrain from saying that the Turks killed about 2,000 people and that these soldiers, who were fond of money, preferred taking captives for ransom or to sell them.146 Undoubtedly, there were losses among the civilians during these times of chaos and looting, however, it can be understood that the number was not as high as stated in these sources, and that there were also a great number of captives. It is known that the sultan, who entered the city on the very same day, cut the three-day looting period short and sent his commanders to bring the situation under control.147 The destruction of the buildings was prevented, and later many captives were set free in return for ransom; indeed, Mehmed II himself paid the ransom for some of them.148 His aim was to turn Istanbul into a crowded city befitting the capital of the empire; in order to realize this he needed manpower and the identity of this population was not important. Therefore, statements about a grand-scale massacre should be approached with caution. On the other hand, it is remarkable that most of the churches and monasteries were not touched but allowed to continue their functions.149 This issue later caused serious debates among Ottoman scholars.

When Mehmed II, mentioned in the sources as fearlessly commanding his army,150 entered the city accompanied by 200 close guards. That afternoon he arrived at Hagia Sophia, observing the city as he went. Kritovulos informs us that when Mehmed II saw the destruction wreaked upon the city, he regretted the permission he gave to loot it. He became emotional and shed tears due to this situation. According to Kritovulos, Mehmed II said that they had turned the beautiful city into a ruin, and he was extremely disturbed by the destruction and tragic events he witnessed.151 There is no reason to doubt what Kritovulos wrote, because Doukas also clearly narrates Mehmed II’s severe treatment of a soldier who was trying to destroy the marble in Hagia Sophia. The sultan called the soldier, who was trying to break the marble, over to him and asked him why he had been doing that. When the soldier responded that he was doing this because of the religion, the sultan became very angry and touched him with his sword, saying: “the treasures and captives you have taken are enough for you, the buildings of the city belong to me.”152

In this main church of the city, Mehmed II immediately had someone recite the call for prayer and performed a prayer of gratitude as part of the rituals of the conquest and in accordance with Islamic principles. Thus, he converted this church into a mosque. Meanwhile, he guaranteed the people and the clergy gathered there that safety would be ensured. Then he ordered everyone to go to their homes in safety; upon this the people started to empty the church around 3 pm. When the sultan saw the crowd assembled in the square, he was surprised to see so many people seeking refuge in the church.153 As mentioned before, this information is an important reflection of Mehmed II’s plans for the city, which he wanted to be the capital city, and it is very possible that this information is accurate.

Mehmed II concluded this short trip by going to the emperor’s palace. In the meantime sergeants were busy gathering the soldiers who had scattered throughout the city. At the same time, security measures were being taken in various parts of the city and guards were being appointed. After ensuring the safety and security of the city, Mehmed II left the city and returned to the military encampment. The following day he took the captured noblemen, commanders, prominent members and officials of the city under his own protection and personally paid the ransom for most of them, setting them free. According to Doukas, the sultan paid 1,000 akçe per person. Then he brought Notaras into his presence and complimented him, asking him about the fate of the emperor; he then had his men search for the emperor’s body. Doukas writes that two Janissaries came to the sultan and said that they had killed the emperor. Upon this the sultan ordered them to find the emperor’s body; they went and found the body and brought the emperor’s head to the sultan. The grand duke Notoras, who was there at the time, and some other captives identified the emperor’s head.154 There are also reports that the emperor’s body was identified by his purple pedila (a type of stocking). In some sources it is even reported that his beheaded body was supposedly identified from his purple stockings; the emperor was buried in an undisclosed location.155

On June 1 Sultan Mehmed reentered the city with a grand procession. He performed the first Friday prayer in Hagia Sophia, which had been converted into a mosque. A sermon was delivered in his name as a symbol of his rule; the sultan was now thinking about what he would do to transform this city into the new center of the empire. He would maintain the cosmopolitan characteristic of the city. He was eager to return this city back to its magnificent former glory, most of which it had lost since the invasion in 1204. In order to realize his goal the sultan needed manpower, no matter what their religious or national background was. He even saw himself as the heir to the ancient Eastern Roman Empire. Now Byzantium would be able to develop in the hands of its new owners. Even the Ottoman historians did not see any problem in referring to Mehmed II as the “Roman Caesar.” The third Roman Empire was beginning in the hands of the representatives of a different religion. To this end, Mehmed II even reactivated the seat of the patriarch, thus, in a way, becoming the new protector of the Orthodox world. He probably thought this an important maneuver against the Catholic world. It is a remarkable development that he had Georgios Skolaris, an ardent opponent of the union, found, brought him back to Istanbul, and placed him in the empty post of patriarch, giving him the title Gennadius. From that time on, the city was known as Kunstantiniyye in the language of its new owners and soon after the name “Istanbul”, which had been commonly used among local residents, was adopted. Thus Istanbul turned into an imperial capital city, which reflected the cosmopolitan nature of an empire that spread over three continents. The fall of Istanbul created great grief in the Western world, while not being enthusiastically welcomed by the rulers of rival Muslim states in the East. However, throughout the Muslim world this event caused great joy and the place and significance of the Ottomans came to the fore. Now it was time for Mehmed II to restructure the great empire with Istanbul at its center.


1 Marius Canard, “Tarih ve Efsaneye Göre Arapların İstanbul Seferleri”, tr. İ.H. Danişmend, İstanbul Enstitüsü Dergisi, 1956, vol. 2, pp. 213-259.

2 İbrahim Kafesoğlu, “XII. Asra Kadar İstanbul’un Türkler Tarafından Muhasaraları”, İstanbul Enstitüsü Dergisi, 1957, vol. 3, pp. 1-16.

3 Feridun M. Emecen, Fetih ve Kıyamet: 1453, Istanbul: Timaş Yayınları, 2012, pp. 79-140.

4 Sfrancis, İstanbul’un Fethinin Son Tanığı: Yorgios Sfrancis’in Anıları, tr. L. Kayapınar, Istanbul: Kitabevi, 2009, p. 270.

5 Kritovulos Tarihi, 1451-1467, tr. Ari Çokona, Istanbul: Heyamola Yayınları, 2012, pp. 65-67.

6 İbn Kemal, Tevârih-i Âl-i Osman, ed. Ş. Turan, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1957, Register 7, p. 34.

7 Emecen, Fetih ve Kıyamet, p. 178.

8 E. H. Ayverdi, “Rumeli Hisarı ve İstanbul’un İlk Osmanlı Kitabesi”, Fatih ve İstanbul, 1953, vol. 1, no. 1, p. 63-68. Barbaro, who was in the city at the time, informs us that the construction was completed in August. (Niccolo Barbaro, Kostantiniye Muhasarası Ruznâmesi, tr. Şemseddin Talip Diler, Istanbul: İstanbul Fethi Derneği, 1976, p. 15) For general information about the construction of the Rumelia Castle and its military significance, see: H. Dağtekin, “Rumeli Hisarı’nın Askerî Ehemmiyeti”, Fâtih ve İstanbul, 1953, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 117-137; 1953, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 177-191.

9 Kritovulos Tarihi, p.71

10 Târîh-i Ebü’l-Feth, ed. M. Tulum, Istanbul: İstanbul Fetih Cemiyeti, 1977, pp. 44-45.

11 Doukas, Tarih: Anadolu ve Rumeli 1326-1462, tr. B. Umar, Istanbul: Arkeoloji ve Sanat Yayınları, 2008, pp. 214-215.

12 Târîh-i Ebü’l-Feth, pp. 46-47.

13 Doukas, Tarih, p. 217.

14 Doukas, Tarih, pp. 217-218.

15 Kritovulos Tarihi, p. 77. (Here what is meant by the statement translated as “prophesies, signs, and indications shown by those who can predict the divine signs and future” must be the religious dignitaries and sheikhs close to him. The translator’s interpretation that they were astrologers is not appropriate.)

16 Kritovulos Tarihi, pp. 77-109.

17 Emecen, Fetih ve Kıyamet, pp. 76-78.

18 See Emecen, Fetih ve Kıyamet, pp. 356-357.

19 For all these developments see Emecen, Fetih ve Kıyamet, pp. 188-192.

20 Doukas, Tarih, p. 222.

21 Âlî, Künhü’l-ahbâr, ed. Hüdai Şentürk, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Yayınları, 2003, vol. 2, p. 9.

22 Gazavat-ı Sultan Murad b. Mehemmed Han, ed. Halil İnalcık and Mevlüt Oğuz, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1978, pp. 47-48.

23 Doukas, Tarih, p. 219.

24 Kelly De Vires, “Gunpowder Weapons at the Siege of Constantinople 1453,” War and Society in the Eastern Mediterranean, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1997, pp. 343-363.

25 Niccolo Barbaro, Kostantiniye Muhasarası Ruznâmesi, tr. Şemseddin Talip Diler, Istanbul: İstanbul Fethi Derneği,1976, p. 16.

26 Kritovulos talks about an order for making new ships and repairing old ones: Kritovulos Tarihi, p. 123.

27 Bir Yeniçerinin Hatıratı, tr. Kemal Beydilli, Istanbul: Tarih ve Tabiat Vakfı, 2003, p. 57.

28 Feridun Dirimtekin, İstanbul’un Fethi, Istanbul: Türkiye Turing ve Otomobil Kurumu, 1976, pp. 169-170; Selahattin Tansel, Fatih Sultan Mehmed’in Siyasi ve Askerî Faaliyeti, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1953, pp. 77-78; Mahmut Ak and Fehamettin Başar, İstanbul’un Fetih Günlüğü, Istanbul: Tarih ve Tabiat Vakfı, 2003, p. 54; İdris Bostan, “Fatih Sultan Mehmed ve Osmanlı Denizciliği”, Türk Denizcilik Tarihi, ed. İ. Bostan and S. Özbaran, II vol., Istanbul: Deniz Kuvvetleri Komutanlığı, 2009, vol. 1, p. 86.

29 Kritovulos Tarihi, p. 125.

30 Barbaro, Ruznâme, p. 36.

31 Bir Yeniçerinin Hatıratı, p. 57.

32 Târîh-i Ebü’l-Feth, p. 47.

33 Zorzi Dolfin, “1453 Yılında İstanbul›un Muhasara ve Zaptı”, tr. Samim Suat Sinanoğlu, Fatih ve İstanbul, 1953, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 28-29.

34 Bir Yeniçerinin Hatıratı, p. 57.

35 Franz Babinger, Fatih Sultan Mehmed ve Zamanı, tr. Dost Körpe, Istanbul: Oğlak Yayınları, 2002, p. 75.

36 Halil İnalcık, Fatih Devri Üzerinde Tetkikler ve Vesikalar, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1954, pp. 123-124.

37 Emecen, Fetih ve Kıyamet, pp. 204-213.

38 The name of the stream is mentioned in the sources as Kozluca Rivulet or Kozluca Stream (Neşrî, Kitab-ı Cihannüma, ed. F. Unat and M. A. Köymen, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1957, vol. 2, p. 691). Today Cevizdere, the name of a street in the Şişli/Bomonti region, has come more to the fore. These two names can be said to be the same. There is also a possibility that this stream is a branch of the Kasımpaşa Stream.

39 Bir Yeniçerinin Hatıratı, p. 57. For details about the number of soldiers, see: Emecen, Fetih ve Kıyamet, pp. 228-232.

40 Chalkokondyles, Histoire de la decadence de l’empire Grec, et establissment du celuy des Turcs, tr. B. de Vigenere, Rouen: Berthelin, 1660, p. 153.

41 Yedi Çağdaş Rivayet: 1453 İstanbul Kuşatması, ed. J. R. Melville Jones, tr. C. Tomar, Istanbul Yeditepe Yayınevi, 2008, pp. 36-37; cf. İstanbul’un Fethi: Çağdaşların Tanıklığı, ed. A. Pertusi, tr. M. Şakiroğlu, Istanbul: İstanbul Fetih Cemiyeti, 2004 2004, vol. 1, p. 17 (Pertusi does not provide the last information).

42 Steven Runciman, Kostantiniyye Düştü, tr. D. Türkömer, Istanbul: Milliyet Yayınları, 1972, p. 148.

43 D. M. Nicol, The Immortal Emperor, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 72-74.

44 Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 1, p. 303.

45 Kritovulos Tarihi, p. 119.

46 Runciman, Kostantiniyye Düştü, p. 142; Dirimtekin, İstanbul’un Fethi, p. 143.

47 Barbaro, Ruznâme, p. 30.

48 J. W. Zinkeisen, Osmanlı İmparatorluğu Tarihi, tr. N. Epçeli, ed. K. Beydilli, VII vol., İstanbul: Yeditepe, 2011, vol. 4, p. 343.

49 Barbaro, Ruznâme, pp. 34-35.

50 Kritovulos Tarihi, pp. 115-117.

51 For more information about the siege and its preparations, see: K. Hanak and M. Philippides, The Siege and Fall of Constantinople in 1453: Historiography, Topography and Military Studies, Surrey: Ashgate, 2011.

52 A. Ateş, “İstanbul’un Fethine Dair Fatih Sultan Mehmed Tarafından Gönderilen Mektublar ve Bunlara Gelen Cevaplar”, TD, 1953, no. 7, pp. 24-25.

53 Kritovulos Tarihi, pp. 239-240.

54 Doukas, Tarih, p. 233.

55 Kritovulos Tarihi, p. 133.

56 Kritovulos Tarihi, p. 125.

57 Barbaro, Ruznâme, p. 35; cf. Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. I, p. 104.

58 See. Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 1, footnote in p. 305.

59 Barbaro, Ruznâme, p. 36; cf.. Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 1, p. 104.

60 Tursun Bey, Târîh-i Ebü’l-Feth, p. 50.

61 Kritovulos Tarihi, p. 133.

62 Hoca Saadeddin Efendi, Tâcü’t-tevârih, Istanbul: Tabhane-i Âmire, 1279, vol. 1, p. 421.

63 “1453 Yılında İstanbul›un Muhasara ve Zaptı”, p. 28-29.

64 Barbaro, Ruznâme, p. 37.

65 Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 1, the text on p. 241.

66 Doukas, Tarih, p. 235.

67 Melville Jones (ed.), Yedi Çağdaş Rivayet, p. 19.

68 Melville Jones (ed.), Yedi Çağdaş Rivayet, p. 57.

69 Barbaro, Ruznâme, pp. 31-32; cf. Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 1, p. 103.

70 Barbaro, Ruznâme, p. 35.

71 Neşrî, Cihannüma: Osmanlı Tarihi 1288-1453, ed. N. Öztürk, Istanbul: Çamlıca Basım Yayın, 2008, p. 311.

72 Kritovulos Tarihi, p. 139.

73 Kritovulos Tarihi, p. 151.

74 Barbaro, Ruznâme, p. 35.

75 Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol.1, p. 71.

76 Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 3, p. 110.

77 Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 1, p. 181.

78 Barbaro, Ruznâme, p. 37.

79 Neşrî, Cihannüma (Öztürk), p. 310.

80 Doukas, Tarih, p. 241.

81 Chalkokondyles, Histoire, p. 154; Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 2, p. 99.

82 Kritovulos Tarihi, p. 153.

83 Kritovulos Tarihi, p. 153.

84 Doukas, Tarih, p. 243.

85 Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 1, p. 242 (Nestor Alexander).

86 Barbaro, Ruznâme, p. 37; Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 1, p. 243.

87 Kritovulos Tarihi, p. 161.

88 Barbaro, Ruznâme, p. 38.

89 Kritovulos Tarihi, p. 171-179; Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 1, p. 345; Runciman, Kostantiniyye Düştü, pp. 166-167.

90 M. İ. Yıldırım, “İdris-i Bitlisî’nin Heşt-Bihişt’ine Göre Fatih Sultan Mehmed ve Dönemi”, Ph.D dissertation, Mimar Sinan Üniversitesi, 2010, translated text, p. 125.

91 Tâcizâde, Mahruse-i İstanbul Fetihnâmesi, TOEM addendum, İstanbul: Ahmed İhsan Matbaası, 1331, p. 16.

92 Yıldırım, “İdris-i Bitlisî’nin Heşt Bihişti”, p. 125.

93 Melville Jones (ed.), Yedi Çağdaş Rivayet, p. 27. For another narration of the incident, see: Kritovulos Tarihi, pp. 167-169.

94 Barbaro, Ruznâme, pp. 41-42.

95 Doukas, Tarih, p. 239.

96 Kritovulos Tarihi, pp. 181-185.

97 Târîh-i Ebü’l-Feth, p. 52.

98 Babinger, Fatih Sultan Mehmed, p. 91.

99 A. Sağırlı, “Nuhbetü’t-Tevârih ve’l-ahbâr ve Târih-i Âl-i Osmân”, Ph.D dissertation, Istanbul University, 2000, p. 84.

100 Seyahatname, ed. R. Dankoff, S. A. Kahraman and Y. Dağlı, Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2006, vol. 1, pp. 42-44.

101 Melville Jones (ed.), Yedi Çağdaş Rivayet, p. 29 (Archbishop Leonardo); Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 3, pp. 110-111 (Da Sarzana)

102 Melville Jones (ed.), Yedi Çağdaş Rivayet, p. 29 (Archbishop Leonardo).

103 Barbaro, Ruznâme, p. 51.

104 Barbaro, Ruznâme, pp. 52-53.

105 Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 1, p. 250; cf. The Tale of Constantinople, tr. K. Hanak and M. Philippides, New York: Caratzas, 1998, p. 57.

106 Barbaro, Ruznâme, pp. 53-54.

107 Barbaro, Ruznâme, pp. 54-60.

108 Barbaro, Ruznâme, pp. 55-56.

109 Melville Jones, Yedi Çağdaş Rivayet, p. 35 (Archbishop Leonardo).

110 Barbaro, Ruznâme, p. 60.

111 Kritovulos Tarihi, pp. 191-193.

112 Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 1, p. 252; The Tale of Constantinople, p. 63.

113 The information that he was a Christian convert appointed to the governorship of Sinop district (see Runciman, Kostantiniyye Düştü, p. 196) is wrong.

114 Barbaro, Ruznâme, pp. 63-64.

115 İbn Kemal, Tevârih, Register 7, pp. 61-62. The author has presented the original statements in the translation.

116 “Heşt Bihişt’e Göre Fatih Sultan Mehmed Dönemi”, p. 130.

117 Kritovulos Tarihi, pp. 195-209.

118 Dolfin, “1453 Yılında İstanbul›un Muhasara ve Zaptı”, pp. 39-40.

119 Doukas, Tarih, p. 251.

120 Melville Jones, Yedi Çağdaş Rivayet, p. 21 (Archbishop Leonardo); Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 1, p. 343.

121 Barbaro, Ruznâme, p. 65.

122 Neşrî, Cihannüma (Öztürk), p. 313.

123 Kritovulos Tarihi, p. 227; Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 2, p. 112.

124 Mahruse-i İstanbul Fetihnâmesi, p. 20.

125 Bizans’ın Son Yüzyılları, translated by B. Umar, Istanbul 1999, p. 416; Nicol, The Immortal Emperor, pp. 67-70.

126 Dünya Savaş Tarihi: Ortaçağ 500-1500, edited by Bennett and Bradbury et al, translated by Ö. Kolçak, Istanbul 2011, p. 209.

127 S. Yerasimos, “Ağaçtan Elmaya Apokaliptik Bir Temanın Soyağacı”, Cogito, 1999, no. 17, p. 297.

128 S. Tansel, Fatih Sultan Mehmed’in Siyasi ve Askeri Faaliyeti, Ankara 1953, p. 89.

129 Barbaro, Ruznâme, pp. 69-70.

130 Şehir Düştü, tr. K. Dinçmen, Istanbul 1992, p. 95.

131 W. Zinkeisen, Osmanlı İmparatorluğu Tarihi, vol. 2, p. 280.

132 Feridun M. Emecen, “Menkıbe-Tarih İlişkisinin Çarpıcı Bir Örneği: İstanbul’un Fethinde Surlara İlk Çıkanın Kimliği Meselesi”, İ. Aydın Yüksel’e Armağan, İstanbul 2012, p. 251-260.

133 In the big chronicle attributed to Sfrancis who was with the emperor during the siege but admitted that he did not witnessed its final moments there is information that he and his men died while fighting and showed great bravery. (Şehir Düştü, p. 96-97).

134 Tursun Bey, p. 58-59; İbn Kemal, Tevârih, Register , 7, p. 72.

135 Târîh-i Ebül-Feth, p. 58-59.

136 Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 1, p. 260.

137 Doukas, Tarih, p. 254.

138 Doukas, Tarih, p. 260.

139 Melville Jones (ed.), Yedi Çağdaş Rivayet, p. 46 (Archbishop Leonardo).

140 Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 1, pp. 129-130.

141 Kritovulos Tarihi, p. 245.

142 Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 3, p. 20 (chronicle of the city of Bologna).

143 Doukas, Tarih, p. 255 ff.

144 Fatih Sultan Mehmed, p. 96.

145 Dünya Savaş Tarihi, vol. 1, p. 232.

146 Doukas, Tarih, pp. 254-255.

147 Doukas, Tarih, p. 264.

148 Doukas speaks of noblemen who were saved from captivity because their ransoms were paid by Mehmed II (p. 270). See also Kritovulos, p. 107; Sfrancis writes that permission to stay freely in their houses was given to the public who had hidden there. (Şehir Düştü, p. 105)

149 For an interpretation of this issue, see: Runciman, Kostantiniyye Düştü, pp. 237-239.

150 Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 3, p. 112 (Da Sarzana’s letter).

151 Kritovulos Tarihi, pp. 245-246.

152 Doukas, Tarih, p. 264.

153 Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 1, pp. 262-262; The Tale of Constantinople, pp. 91-93.

154 Doukas, Tarih, p. 265.

155 Pertusi, İstanbul’un Fethi, vol. 1, p. 390.

This article was translated from Turkish version of History of Istanbul with some editions to be published in a digitalized form in 2019.

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