One cannot overestimate the importance of Anadoluhisari (Anatolian Castle) and Rumelihisari (Rumeli Fortress) for the Ottomans in conquering of Constantinople in the 15th century.
Middle Ages saw the turmoil in Europe, the crusades, the fighting over lands, and for political and religious power. The great Eastern Roman Empire was reduced to small territories in and around the city of Constantinople – the capital of Byzantium. While the fighting for power was going on in Europe, Ottoman Turks were advancing and increasing their territories around Byzantium. It was clear that Ottomans held Constantinople in their sights. In the final years of the 14th century Sultan Bayezid I had the fortress built on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, completed in 1394. It was the narrowest part of the strait – 660 metres wide. The fortress was to be called Anadoluhisari. Ottomans made attacks on Constantinople over the years but as it was known to be the best protected city of its time, their attempts were unsuccessful.
Construction of Rumelihisari
Over fifty years went by and Bayezid’s grandson young Sultan Mehmed II built another fortress on the opposite side of the Bosphorus from Anadoluhisari, completed in 1452. The new fortress on the European side of the strait was called Rumelihisari. As the sultan was only 19 years old in the year of his ascension to the throne in 1451, the Byzantines and the Latin West were not too worried as they thought him to be too young and inexperienced to be a serious military threat. However, they were proven wrong. The two fortresses were built to block any naval traffic passing through the strait without the Ottomans’ approval. That meant that in time for the siege of Constantinople no ships could pass through the Bosphorus to help the Byzantines in battle or in bringing provisions to the city.
Fall of Constantinople
And so the last bastion of the Byzantium, the magnificent city of Constantinople, was conquered by Islamic Ottoman Turks in 1453, a mere year after the Rumelihisari was built. The siege had lasted for 53 days, with attacks from both the land and the sea. That marked the end of the Eastern Roman Empire. The residents who managed to escape and hide from the soldiers were pardoned and allowed to go back to their homes (or what was left of them). The Hagia Sophia church was converted into a mosque and other Islamic symbols were erected in the city, but the Greek Orthodox Church was preserved. The city rebuilding works started and it became the capital of the Ottoman Empire, with the new name Istanbul.
Birth of Renaissance
As for the Europe, it is thought that the end of Byzantium brought the end to Middle Ages and caused the birth of Renaissance. Many intellectuals of the great Byzantium fled from Constantinople to Italy. Italy became blessed with the wealth of highly advanced scientists, philosophers, artists, poets, musicians, architects, artisans and other skilled and educated people who brought light into the dark times in Europe and thus the Renaissance began to flourish.
Back in the 15th century both the Anadoluhisari and Rumelihisari fortresses were built in the outskirts of the city, in rural settings. We visited Anadoluhisari recently this spring and it is now engulfed by the city of 15 million inhabitants. The castle itself was closed and we walked around it along the narrow busy streets filled with residential houses, cafes, restaurants and other businesses. The small Göksu stream is flowing by one side of the castle where the fishing boats and yachts are moored. Nearby there is a green area for the local people for recreation. It is a busy but charming neighbourhood of the city, now part of Beykoz district. Anadoluhisari is the oldest surviving Turkish construction in Istanbul.
Rumelihisari these days
A few summers ago we had visited Rumelihisari on the European side of the Bosphorus and that was open to public as a museum. Also it is a venue for open-air summer concerts, art-festivals an other events. An impressive site of medieval architecture and military might, it is also now just a small part of the huge vibrant city of Istanbul. Now it is situated in a leafy seaside district of Sariyer, dotted with beautiful old villas.
Modern skyscrapers and bright city lights may overshadow these two medieval castles, but their significance in the history of this ancient metropolis cannot be overshadowed nor forgotten.