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The Developments in Istanbul from 1321 to 1520

Various rulers have led Istanbul from the year 1321 to 1520. After Andronicus’ death on 15 June 1341, the country was ruled by John Cantacuzenus whose reign was characterized by various civil wars which Cantacuzenus himself considered to signify the beginning of the end of the Byzantium Empire. John Freely quotes Cantacuzenus who stated that the civil wars during the end of his reign were “the worst civil war that the Romans had ever experienced, a conflict that destroyed almost everything, reducing the Roman Empire to a feeble shadow of its former self” (162-163).

The effects of these civil wars, as well as the beginning of the end of the Byzantine Empire, were in itself apparent in the destruction of the architectural landmarks of Istanbul during that time. It was during this period, for example, that the Great Palace of Byzantium was slowly destroyed, leaving in its wake ‘half-buried remnants’ of the formerly glorious Byzantium Empire (Freely 163). The fall of the Byzantium Empire however can be specifically placed in the period of 1354 to 1453 (Freely 164). Cantacuzenus’ reign was followed by the reign of John V Palaelogus.

His reign heralded the ‘Byzantium’s last century’ (Freely 164). During his reign, several factors heralded the fall of the empire. These are as follows: (1) The Byzantium Empire’s bankruptcy, (2) The existence of internal conflicts [in the form of internal revolts] within the empire, and (3) The inefficiency of the empire’s tactics to quell the increase of the support of foreign invaders [i. e. the growth of the Turk’s strength] (Freely 164-166). Ultimately, it was the later reason which finally led to the Byzantine Empire’s fall which then led to the formation and expansion of the Ottoman Empire.

The formation and expansion of the Ottoman Empire however was initially halted during the 1400’s as the Mongols were able to crush the Ottomans as well as the Christian soldiers (Freely 169). This initial loss led to the leadership of Beyazit whose leadership was unable to attain stability as his sons led the eleven year was of succession for Beyazit’s throne after his death (Freely 169). The end of this eleven year war, through the victory of Mehmet I, however this did not lead to the complete fall of the Byzantine Empire as Mehmet I abandoned his siege after his failure to sever the Theodisian Walls on 6 September 1422 (Freely 169).

This initial failure, on the part of Mehmet I, led to a lull in the Byzantine Empire’s continuous fall. However, it was during this period that John VII died on October 1448 (Freely 171). John VII’s death led to the reign of Constantine XI, the reign of which led to the division of Morca as well as the peace agreement with Murat (Freely 172). It is interesting to note that it was also during this period that the Byzantine Empire opted for unionization as Constantinople argued that unionization provided the means through which the empire may be salvaged through the aid of the West.

The realization of Constantine’s plans however was not actualized since the death of Murat led to the reign of Mehmet who once again made plans for the conquest of Constantinople (Freely 173). As opposed to the failure of Mehmet’s initial attempt to conquer Constantinople, his second attempt led to the Ottoman’s conquest of Constantinople. On the spring of 1453, Mehmet was able to conquer the Theodisian Walls (Freely 174). Mehmet’s description of Constantinople as it succumbed to the Ottomans showed the manner through which the empire’s decline was evident in the physical state of the city itself.

He states, After this the sultan entered the City and looked about to see its great size, its situation, its grandeur and beauty, its teeming population, its loveliness, and the costliness of its churches and public buildings…When he saw…the wholesale ruin of the City, he was filled with compassion and repented… “What a city have we given over to plunder and destruction! (Freely 177) As the ruler of Constantinople, Mehmet II was known as the ‘Fatih’ or the ‘Conqueror’ (Freely 181).

As opposed to the usual practice of Muslim conquistadores, the ‘Conqueror’ only allowed the looting of Constantinople for a day. The reason for this may be traced to his aim to make Istanbul his new capital after it has been restored and repopulated (Freely 182). During the ‘Conqueror’s’ reign, the city was repopulated with Muslims, Christians, and Jews (Freely 183). Although individuals with diverse religions existed in Constantinople, the place was divided in ‘millets’ according to each individuals’ religion (Freely 183).

In addition to this, several structures were added which included a mosque “in the market quarter along the Golden Horn between the Galata and Ataturk Bridges” (Freely 183). In addition to the mosque, the Yekidule [the Castle of the Seven Towers] was also built during the 1400’s as well as the palace on the Third Hill known as the Eski Saray (Freely 184). Another mosque, named the Faith Camii, was built ten years after the initial mosque was built along with the mosque complex named Eyup.

The Kapah Carsi [Covered Bazaar] was also built during the reign of the ‘Conqueror’ which served as the commercial center of the city during that time (Freely 186). Mehmet II did not merely focus on the construction of buildings; he also focused on the development of diplomatic relationships with other countries. The first diplomatic treaty of the Ottoman Empire took place on 18 April 1454 as the ‘Conqueror’ “signed an agreement with the Venetians giving them the right to trade freely in Istanbul on the condition that they pay a customs duty of 2 per cent” (Freely 187).

The other treatise made during the reign of Mehmet II involved the development of relationships with the other European powers in the form of the construction of the Grande Rue de Pera (Freely 187). The other political developments within the Ottoman Empire, during Mehmet II’s reign, are apparent in the continuous expansion of the Empire to both Europe and Asia. This expansion however was halted as a result of the ‘Conqueror’s’ death. As can be seen above, the development of the Ottoman Empire was enabled by the fall of the Byzantine Empire.

It is interesting to note that this fall [the fall of the Byzantine Empire] may be attributed to the laters inability to create a stable market economy as well as a stable government. The Ottoman Empire’s growth, on the other hand, stands as a result of the Mehmet II’s recognition of the necessity to enable consolidation amongst the diverse cultures within the empire as well as his recognition of the necessity to develop diplomatic relations with the other world powers during his reign.

Work Cited

Freely, John. Istanbul: The Imperial City. Michigan: U of Michigan P, 1996.

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