On the 29th May 1453 the troops of the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Mehmed II successfully took control of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. The capture of the city effectively brought the last vestiges of the Roman Empire to an end and, for many historians, also marks the end of the medieval period.
The Ottomans began their siege of the city on the 6th April, but their enormous cannon was unable to break the walls and their ships were unable to cross the defensive chain that protected the Golden Horn. Even attempts to dig tunnels and lay mines to blow up the walls failed, because the Byzantines intercepted the tunnels before they were completed.
Despite these setbacks for the Ottomans, the continuing siege slowly weakened the resolve of Constantinople’s inhabitants. A Greek legend even says that on the 26th May, as the Ottomans began to plan their final offensive, the Holy Spirit left the Hagia Sophia under cover of a strange fog that had descended on the city.
Around midnight on the night of the 28th to 29th May, the first Ottoman troops attacked the city. Three waves of increasingly experienced troops made only limited progress but when Giustiniani, the commander of the Byzantine troops, was mortally wounded the city’s defence quickly began to collapse. When a Turkish flag was raised over the northern Kerkoporta Gate, the defence crumbled.
Three days of looting followed, although some Greeks managed to leave the city and move west. The knowledge and ancient documents they brought with them helped to fuel the Renaissance.