The fascination of the cobbled streets of old Istanbul,
the tiled magnificence of Topkapi Palace
where lived the spoiled sultans of the Ottoman Empire,
the delicate grace of the minarets,
the massive domes of the mosques,
tempt one to think only on the last five hundred years
of this haunting city.
And yet, the Ottoman Empire is only one part of the story.
Founded as the Greek port Byzantium in 600 B.C.,
the city was transformed in 330 A.D. into the Christian stronghold
of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great,
who named it after himself--
Constantinople – rival to Rome as the seat
of the Holy Mother Church.
The Byzantine Empire lasted 1,123 years and 18 days,
when it fell to its last conqueror, Sultan Mehmet II.
During the Fourth and last Crusade, in the year 1203,
proud Constantinople, rich in literacy, culture and art,
was virtually destroyed by fellow Christians.
The Pope could not tolerate Constantinople´s challenge
to the authority of Rome.
The Franks and the Venetians breached the formidable walls,
vandalized, ravished, murdered—
the majestic Church of St. Sophia stank with blood and ordure
as the Crusaders mocked and looted.
The Venetians, however, were connoisseurs of art and beauty.
Rather than destroy, they took back with them
as many magnificent treasures as they could carry –
including those four mighty bronze horses
that have towered over the Piazza of St. Mark's in Venice
for eight centuries.