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Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The fall of Byzantium

John VIII (1425-1448) and the Turkish menace

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The taking of Thessalonica by the Turks was also described in Greek verse by a high church official in Constantinople in his Chronicle on the Turkish Empire. Some Greek folk songs were composed on this disastrous event. The loss of Thessalonica impressed deeply both Venice and western Europe. The nearness of the decisive moment was of course also felt in the city of Constantinople. An interesting description of Constantinople was written by a pilgrim returning from Jerusalem, a Burgundian knight, Bertrandon de la Broquiere, who visited the capital of the Palaeologi at the beginning of the thirties, shortly after the fall of Thessalonica. He praised the good state of the walls, the land-walls in particular, but noticed some desolation in the city; he spoke for example of the ruins and remnants of two beautiful palaces destroyed, according to a tradition, by an Emperor at the command of a Turkish sultan. The Burgundian pilgrim visited the churches and other monuments of the capital, attended the solemn church services, saw in the church of St. Sophia the performance of a mystery on the subject of the three youths cast by Nebuchadnezzar into the fiery furnace, was charmed with the beauty of the Byzantine Empress, who came from Trebizond, and told the Emperor, who was interested in the fate of Joan of Arc, who had just been burnt at Rouen, the whole truth about the famous Maid of Orleans. The same pilgrim, from his observations of the Turks, believed it possible to expel them from Europe and even to regain Jerusalem. He wrote; It seems to me that the noble people and the good government of the three nations I have mentioned, i.e., the French, English, and German, are rather formidable, and, if they are united in sufficient number, will be able to reach Jerusalem by land.

Realizing the coming danger to the capital from the Turks, John VIII undertook the great work of restoring the walls of Constantinople. Many inscriptions on the walls preserved today with the name of John Palaeologus Autocrat in Christ, testify to the Christian Emperor's difficult last attempt to restore the fortifications of Theodosius the Younger, which had once appeared inaccessible.

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