6. The Fall of Constantinople

The Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks
May 29, 1453

By the year 1440 the Turkish threat was strongest than ever for the Christians of the East. At that time the union of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches for which the Pope had been working very hard, looked very good. And so on 1 January 1443 Pope Eugenious IV issued a encyclical calling the faithful to come and defend the Christian East against the Turks. The response was almost next to none, except from Poland, Wallachia, Burgundy, Hungary and Transylvania. The ruler of Transylvania John Hunyadi and King Ladislas of Hungary had been planning an expedition against the Turks for the summer of 1443. Heeding to the call, and joined by 20,000 men they began a march through the Balkans. They advanced through Bulgaria and besieged the coastal town of Varna which had been occupied by the Ottoman Turks.

Another force was on its way onboard twenty-four galleys sailed from the Dardanelles. The ships had been provided by the Pope, Duke Philip of Burgundy, Venice, Dubrovnik (Ragusa) and the Byzantine Empire.

The Turkish sultan Murad hurried to Varna's relief with a much larger army, which as rumors have it was transported by Genoese ships. On the 10 of November he destroyed the Christians in the battle of Varna. Ladislas of Hungary and the papal representative were killed.

Varna opened the way for the final onslaught on the Byzantine empire. The city of Constantine, Constantinople, fell to the hands of the Ottoman Turks on Tuesday, 29 of May, 1453. The remaining Christian settlements in the Aegean were thrown into a state of terror.

It took almost one and a half months, early July of 1453, for the terrible news to reach Rome. On the 30 of September Pope Nicholas V issued a new crusade encyclical and sent appeals to all the courts of western Europe. It was the first time that printing presses were used in Germany to print indulgences and appeals. One of the results was seventy years of intense activity and propaganda on the part of the papal curia for the recovery of Constantinople, similar to the efforts of earlier years for the liberation of Jerusalem.

Over the centuries the psyche of the Greek people has always been deeply inspired with the messages conveyed by folk - songs. The Homeric Epics, the songs of the Akrites (legends of Byzantine border guards) and the Paralogues (narrative songs) among many have strongly influence mold the character of the Greek. And no matter if they were written on the rocky shores of one of the Aegean islands, or under the shade of a maple tree next to the bubbling waters of a cool spring, high up on the Parnassos mountain, they all maintain the same theme. It is the triumph of good over evil, the Greek over the Barbarian, the brave over the worthless.

With the conquest of the Greek lands by the Crusaders, the Franks, the Venetians and finally the Turks, together with the spread of piracy, the popular muse began to add new elements to our folk lore. The lament. Lamenting for the loss of the mother-land, the slavery, the injustice and poverty, as well as the bitterness of living in foreign lands gave the Greek folk song the feeling of sadness. So It is no accident that our historic-narrative songs are nearly all in slow, free rhythm.

Examining the laments written about the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks however we begin to observe something of a paradox. The laments that have come down to us from that era are set mainly to folk dance rhythms and are as a rule pleasant to the hearing. This phenomenon is attributed by many to the high-mindedness and optimism of the Greek people, and their explanation is based on the final stanzas of many of these songs: "With the passing of years and in time they will be ours again".

For each song we could suppose that there is a separate explanation, however here only one will suffice. It is the special need that a Greek feels to be together with other Greeks so they can sing and dance.

And this is what Greeks have done for centuries. One historical fact is that the Greeks got together at weddings and religious festivals, especially Christmas and Easter and they sang and they danced. And especially the day after Easter, when they had the permission of the conquerors to assemble in open -air places and celebrate, most often without his presence. In doing so they have passed on to us by word of mouth their history, strong ancient customs and Christian traditions and beliefs. The folk song below sums their feelings soon after the City (Polis) fell to the Turks. The same song was arranged for mixed choir by Manolis Kalomiris, who faithful to the Greek ideals, composed it for his last opera "Constantine Paleologos", to the libretto of Nikos Kazantzakis.

	They took the City, they took it, took Salonica
	They took St. Sofia, too, the great monastery
	Which has three-hundred semandra and sixty
	Two bells...
	For each bell a priest, for each priest a deacon.
	Near the time the Sacred Vessels come out,
	and the king of all...
	A dove came down from heavens: Stop the
	Cherubic, and lower the Sacred Vessels,
	Priests, take the Sacramental and you candles
	blow out...
	For it is the will of God the City should fall to
	the Turks...

	Our Lady was disturbed and the icons tearful.
	Hush, Our Lady and you, icons weep not,
	With the passing of years and in time she 'll be
	yours again.