The church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople was the location of the mausoleum of the emperors. It doesn’t exist any more, as it was demolished by the Turks after 1453 and a mosque built on the site, the mosque of “Mehmet the Conquerer”.
I’ve seen the statement online, made in such a way as to palliate the destruction, that the church was a ruin before the Turks demolished it. But I did wonder what the evidence was.
Well, I’ve been working away at Van der Vin’s marvellous book on medieval travellers to Constantinople, which I mentioned earlier. The website on which it resides did a splendid job and scanned the missing half of the book and fixed the upload in a day! And this gives us the answer.
From Cristoforo Buondelmonti (ca. 1414-1422), Liber insularum archipelagi:
Next to the church of the Holy Apostles stands the fifth column, the top of which bears an angel of bronze and Constantine on his knees.
The aforesaid church, already ruined by time, contains the sumptuous tombs of the emperors, cut out of purple marble, notably the vast sarcophagus of Constantine. The column to which Christ was attached for the flagellation may be seen there.
This statement, however, is our only such statement. Buondelmonti refers to ruins all over the place in Constantinople.
In fact the city was largely in ruins and extensive areas within the walls were just fields and olive groves. the population had shrunk to a mere 40,000, living in 13 villages scattered here and there over the immense area.
The population estimate comes from an anonymous account written in Munich in 1437.
Ibn Battuta, an Arab traveller who visited the city in 1332 as part of the entourage of a Greek princess, says that the citadel and palace are “is surrounded by the city wall, which is a formidable one and cannot be taken by assault on the side of the sea. Within the wall are about thirteen inhabited villages.”
Buondelmonti tells us that the Constantinoplitans are “very few” and concerned with nothing but food. In 1432 Bertrandon de la Broquiere, a Burgundian nobleman on pilgrimage, tells us that “the city is made up of villages and that there is much more open than built-up.” Pero Tafur, a Spanish nobleman on pilgrimage who visited around 1437-8, writes:
The city is sparsely populated. It is divided into districts, that by the sea-shore having the largest population. The inhabitants are not well clad, but sad and poor, showing the hardship of their lot which is, however, not so bad as they deserve, for they are a vicious people, steeped in sin. …
It must have been a sad place, full of ruins and poverty, and an impoverished emperor and his court. Yet how we would love to see it!
- J.P.A. van der Vin – Travellers to Greece and Constantinople. Ancient Monuments and Old Traditions in Medieval Travellers’ Tales (PIHANS 49), 1980. [27 cm, softcover; IX, 751]. ISBN: 90-6258-049-1. Online at the Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten – Netherlands Institute for the Near East site.↩
- Van der Vin, p.688.↩
- P.254, 443. The text is Terre hodierne Grecorum et dominia secularia et spiritualia ipsorum; see “Neos hellenomnemon” 7 (1910), p.361. It reads: “habitantes in ea, ut extimo, quadraginta milia hominum vix possunt interesse, qui in tempore guerrae de suis internis vineis, pratis et ceteris necessariis vivere possunt, prout frequenter probatur.”↩
- Van der Vin, p.669.↩
- P.684: I am not entirely certain of the translation of the old French “Tout ainsi que les grosses carraques peuvent venir devant Pere, semblablement font à Constantinoble[sic]. Et est cette cite cy faicte par villaiges et y a beaucop plus de voide que de plain.” Edition: Ch. Schefer, Le voyage d’Outremer de Bertrandon de la Broquiere, Paris, 1892.↩