The battle of Bapheus, fought just 50 kilometers to the east of Constantinople in 1301, marks the first recorded mention of the Ottomans in world history. Led by a man called Osman, this modest army of Turks won a stunning victory over their Byzantine opponents, routing them from the battlefield and driving them north to the edge of the sea of Marmara. The defeat shocked the complacent Byzantines, who had already been struggling for decades to maintain a grip on the region.

Over the next 150 years the strength and size of the Ottoman Empire grew, practically unhindered. Winning victory after victory, the Ottoman Sultans slowly but surely engulfed regions once controlled by the mighty Byzantine Empire - first in Anatolia (now modern Turkey), then in Thrace (present day Hungary, Greece, Macedonia, Albania, etc.). Over time, the Ottomans' increasing presence in Eastern Europe began to worry the West, and most especially irked the Vatican, whose hatred of the Eastern Orthodox church now seemed a mere quarrel over semantics in light of the encroaching Islamic Empire. But when push came to shove, even the Pope could not be bothered to send aid to the ailing Byzantine Emperor, whose Empire, by the middle of the fifteenth century, contained only the capital, Constantinople, and its surrounding villages.

Then, at last, in 1453 - after fifty-four days of fighting - Constantinople fell to the Ottomans too. Led by their Sultan, 21 year old Mehmet II, the Janissaries poured through a breach in the wall into the city. Upon entering the city center, the victorious Sultan headed straight for renowned Hagia Sophia. Reaching the ancient cathedral, he fell to the ground and sprinkled some raw earth over his turban as a sign of respect.

Eager to relocate the capital to the shores of the Bosphorus, Mehmet's first order of business was to rebuild Constantinople - now rendered as Konstantiniyye in Turkish, and colloquially called Istanbul by many of its residents - as a model city of a cosmopolitan Empire. In the decade after conquest, he was careful to preserve what he could of the old Byzantine capital while imbuing everything with a modern Ottoman meaning. In this, Sultan Mehmet must be considered a success, for in little more than a few decades the popluation exploded from a paltry 40,000 citizens to well over 100,000 Muslims, Christians, Jews and Romani. People flocked to the city from East and West, drawn to a capital bursting with commercial life, in the heart of an Empire that valued religious and cultural diversity not only by tradition but by rule of law.

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