Philobiblon: The conquest of Constantinople

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The conquest of Constantinople

The second part of the RA Turks exhibition that particularly took my fancy was the gallery dedicated to Mehmet II, the conqueror of Constantinople. It is one of those cases when you realise turning your historical lens around 180 degrees produces interesting thoughts. Usually, of course, we are thinking about 1453 as the end, final and definitive, of the "Roman" empire, but what happened was the expansion of a culturally rich, booming empire across an important psychological point.

The commentary says that with the city repopulated with a multicultural, multi-ethnic mix, it resumed its place as a great cultural centre.

There is evidence of this in display of a few of the books that Mehmet commissioned, written in Greek, Latin, Arabic and Persian. Notable is a gorgeous map of Europe (pretty accurate) based on Ptolemy's Geography, by a Greek scholar who had converted to Islam, and two histories, one by another Greek Kritoboulos and the other by one of Mehmet's secretaries, Turstan Bey, both of which compare the Ottoman Sultan to Alexander the Great.

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