Beneath the walls of Constantinople

Several lecture cruises have recently allowed me to return to my ‘favourite’ city…istanbul…..and so a little history..

Beneath the walls of Constantinople

In 1453 the walls of Constantinople fell to a combination of cannon fire – courtesy of a mysterious Hungarian who went under the name of Orban or possibly Urban –  and the thousands of Ottoman Turks under the control of Mehmet II, ruler of all lands surrounding this last bastion of Christianity in the Middle East.

The siege had been brief as far as sieges go, only 6 weeks, and the defenders, who numbered at best 7,000, had done their best to defend their city against the several hundred thousand besieging it. Calls for help to the outside world had largely been ignored and the religious schism that had set the Byzantium Empire of Constantine apart from the church of Rome was to be its undoing. Apart from a few Venetian soldiers the aid offered to Constantine was far too little, and not just too late, but non-existent.

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In anticipation of a lecture cruise to Cape Town in November (2010), I am including an article written following a visit there in 2008.

Heading away up the coastal highway, north-east from Durban, the endless swathes of sugarcane give way to the milk chocolate expanse of the Tugela River. A formidable barrier when in flood and a sticky mess in the dry season this is the historic frontier between ancient white and black supremacy.

Crossing the bridge, tantilizingly close to the site of the ‘Ultimatum Tree’ – just around the river’s bend to the north – the Zululand of the imagination and reality beckons. At this ‘tree’ in 1878 the terms of effective surrender to colonial domination were put to the representatives of the Zulu king, Cetshwayo, by John Dunn, a trusted adviser to both camps. The good burgers of Natal, British, Afrikan and native, were ever fearful of the perceived threat just across the river, and following a series of land, border and incursion ‘difficulties’ had resolved to bring the ‘savages’ to heel. The ‘conditions’ stated were impossible for Cetshwayo to sign off and retain his authority – much like the conditions required of Serbia by the Austro-Hungarians in 1914!

Natal was spoiling for a fight. The British Government, heavily involved in trying to secure India’s northern border through it’s own incursion into Afgahnistan, was not!

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