1453 and Çemberlitaş Myth

Written by TR Dergisi

Çemberlitaş is a historical monument left behind by the Byzantine… The story of this obelisk that rises on Divanyolu Avenue, right in front of Atik Ali Pasha Mosque is in fact the story of İstanbul.

It was 323 A.C. Constantine ascended to the throne of Roman Empire. Next to being one of the great emperors in Roman history, Constantine was the first emperor to bring Christianity under state mandate. By having Byzantion rebuilt todays İstanbul, after nearly six years of construction works, Constantine İ opened the city for settlement as the new capital of the Roman Empire on May 11th 330, and had İstanbul reconstructed as an image of Rome. With its great city walls, hippodrome, empire palace, the Million column erected in Augestion Square which marked the beginning of imperial roads and other monuments, İstanbul was on the rise as the new face of Rome in the east. The forums which were the centres of social life in Roman culture, could also be found in İstanbul. One of these forums, Forum Constantini bore the name of the founder of the new capital, as the name implies. İn the centre of this large square rose a porphyry column consisting of nine massive purple blocks. This column initially built in Anatolia was brought to Rome by the Romans, was erected in front of the Temple of Apollo, was brought to İstanbul centuries later, and the statue of Constantine İ was erected on top of it.


Çemberlitaş is one of the living witnesses of İstanbul history… The Greeks called it Constantine Column and the Ottomans called it the Obelisk… Today it is known with the name Çemberlitaş. Çemberlitaş tried to get accustomed to its new home in İstanbul, and faced its first true nightmare with the large-scale earthquake on August 24, 358 that devastated İzmit. As every inch of this delicate structure trembled with fear, it looked around after the nightmare ended and came upon a horrible scene. Divanyolu (Divan Road) referred to as Mese at that period, had fallen into ruins… This was the first disaster and it would not be the last. Çemberlitaş was hurt watching fires that broke out in the city, and hearing the screams rising from the burning houses… The incident that scared Çemberlitaş that faced many disasters the most, and caused it to lose all hope, was undoubtedly the Latin invasion.

On April 13th, 1204, İstanbul witnessed the most brutal days in its history. The new target of the Crusaders who wreaked havoc where they set their foot on under the pretext of”Holy War” was İstanbul. By command of Venetian Enrico Dandolo and other earls of Crusade, İstanbul was pillaged and plundered for days. There was nothing Çemberlitaş could do apart from watching these terrible days with dismay. The Latin rule in İstanbul continued until the Greeks recaptured the city. İn 1261, when İznik Empire forces took İstanbul back from the Latins, Çemberlitaş was in ruins and tears. There was nothing left to console it. İstanbul, the city was now looking forward to a new master to bring it back on its feet. Çemberlitaş awaited the city s beloved, İstanbuls predestined Conqueror… Where was he? When was he to arrive? Çemberlitaş asked this question every morning to breezes from the east… The morning breeze carrying the sign and odour of the conqueror, and news from the beloved, caused Çemberlitaş to become hopeful once again.


Byzantium was languishing. The sycamore that grew in Bursa in the same years, took root in the west over Edirne, and finally the first Ottoman soldier under the command of Yıldırım arrived at İstanbul city walls. Çemberlitaş was unable to contain itself. Was this the brave conqueror who came for rescue? But what a pity that this great sultan he regarded as its conquer was defeated by also Eastern ruler Emir Timur famous for his conquests, and he was dethroned. Çemberlitaş was shedding tears once again. İt was exhausted, and unable to endure so much grief and suffering. But despite everything, Çemberlitaş was still hopeful…

The Byzantines were worried about Turks conquering the city. Turks’ efforts to invade the city was alarming. After the first Ottoman-Turkish siege in 1359, it became clear that the city walls were unable to protect the cityproperly. The Byzantine Emperor had turned to the Latins for help, who had once devastated İstanbul and burnt it to the ground. The people reacted to the Emperor’s act. The Emperor Constantine Xİ considered uniting the Orthodox and Catholic churches to get support from the Latins. However the locals of İstanbul were unwilling to accept this union and preferred the Ottoman turban to Latin hat, like Çemberlitaş. Although 250 years hadpassed, Çemberlitaş couldstill see the deep scars left by the Latin invasion. These were terrible days he did not even want to remember… On December 12, 1452, the Emperor gave permission for a Catholic ritual by declaring a church union in Hagia Sophia to get support from the Latins… The people of İstanbul did not trust the Latins. A rumour believed by the locals was to protect the city. Çemberlitaş realized from the chats around him that it was also believed to constitute an obstacle to the “Turkish invasion”. It was surprised. It was in fact angry that the Greeks had such a belief about it. İt wanted to scream. But in vain … So, what was that belief? What did the Greeks put their faith in so that the Turks could not conquer their city?


İn those days, İstanbul was shaken by words of fortune tellers and diviners… The Byzantines listened to the fortune tellers who said “The walls of Constantinople will be breached,” in terror. This concerting statement was a disaster for them however a second one from priests comforted their hearts… “Turks will breach the walls but will not go beyond the column of Constantine. An angel will descend from the skies after Turks enter the city, and will give the sword in his hand to a poor and weak Greek man, and will say to him: ‘Avenge the God’s tribe with this sword!’ Later, Turks who enter the city will not go beyond the column of Constantine. They will drop one by one, and be thrown out of Constantinople first and later from Anatolia, and will be driven all the way to Iran.” The Byzantines were so convinced of this prophecy that those beyond Çemberlitaş during previous Ottoman sieges, felt safe. Although the people of İstanbul tried to find peace in their hearts with this myth, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet İİ had already set off from Edirne to become the Conqueror of Constantinople…


The only desire of janissaries who said, “We shoot the jug, sabre the felt, and make our way to Kızılelma!” was to conquer Constantinople, and to attain the Hadith-i Sharif. Çemberlitaş impatiently and excitedly awaited the events. Finally Sultan Mehmet’s army besieged the city both from the land and sea. The Latins arrived with large forces to prevent the city from entering Turkish rule. Because they knew well that if İstanbul was to fall, Europe was the next in line. Sultan Mehmet took action to capture the city as soon as possible. The Byzantine armys spirit, stronger with a great deal of help from Europe, was lifted also due to superior defence ability provided by city walls. Sultan Mehmet fought against the entire Europe in Constantinople. The siege that began on April 6th was brutal, and caused Çemberlitaş’s hopes to diminish each passing day. Despite all, the determination of Sultan Mehmet and his military genius tipped the scales in Ottomans favour. The launch of ships transferred from the land to Golden Horn, escape of İtalian Giustiniani who had come to help Byzantium, destroyed all hopes of the Emperor. Following the morning prayer on May 29, 1453, the Ottoman soldiers launched a general attack and finally entered the city after an uphill resistance. Upon seeing that the Ottoman soldiers entered the city, the city locals took refuge in Hagia Sophia with their faith in Çemberlitaş myth. The Byzantines waited for the angel to descend from the heavens to no avail. The Byzantines were scared of Allahuekbers thejanissaries chanted while entering the city instead of the sound of angel’s wings expected to descend from İstanbul skies. A new era had begun. Çemberlitaş was also aware of this. After resistance was completely defeated, Sultan Mehmet Han entered the city from Topkapı accompanied by a spectacular regiment with the title of Conquer. Çemberlitaş, who welcomed the conqueror with great propriety and respect, was now at peace…

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TR Dergisi

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