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In the spring of , the Ottoman Turks advanced on Constantinople in pursuit of an ancient Islamic dream: capturing the thousand-year-old capital of Christian Byzantium. During the siege that followed, a small band of defenders, outnumbered ten to one, confronted the might of the Ottoman army in an epic contest fought on land, sea and underground. Roger Crowley read English at Cambridge before going to live in Istanbul. He now works in publishing and lives in Gloucestershire. His first book, Constantinople was published in OverDrive uses cookies and similar technologies to improve your experience, monitor our performance, and understand overall usage trends for OverDrive services including OverDrive websites and apps.

Constantinople: The Last Great Siege, 1453

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Constantinople : The Last Great Siege 1453

Without these cookies, we won't know if you have any performance-related issues that we may be able to address. These cookies help us understand user behavior within our services. For a year, Venice held out alone against the might of the Austrian empire. No English writer knows the highways and byways of 19th-century Italy better than Jonathan Keates.

Using French and German as well as English and Italian sources, he has written a vivid and masterful account of this forgotten struggle, also describing the war to free other north Italian cities, such as Milan, from the Austrian grip. By , Keates points out, Venetians so hated Austrian rule that it affected their food.

Cuttlefish and polenta, in the Austrian colours of black and yellow, and potatoes - Austrian soldiers' staple diet - were spurned for rice and peas, followed by strawberries. Thereby patriots showed their loyalty to the white, green and red of the Italian tricolour. Far from being frivolous and effete - as was their 18th-century reputation - most Venetians were prepared to fight "to the last polenta" in order to speak "those sacred words, 'We are Italians'".

When all other Italian states, even Piedmont, with its professional army, abandoned the fight, Venice resisted until August The great national leader Mazzini called it "the heart of Italy by virtue of her unyielding will".

Constantinople: The Last Great Siege, - Lib

The Cardinal Patriarch praised his city as "the very cradle and fortress of liberty". Unfortunately for the Venetians, they faced Austria at one of the rare moments when its army was capable of winning battles.


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The Austrian commander in Italy was the lethally efficient Field Marshal von Radetzky, a general with the common touch. The leader of Venice, an idealist in glasses called Daniele Manin, though honest and effective, could not compete.

The Siege of Venice is dominated by two struggles: between freedom and tyranny, and between cities and states. Were Venetians fighting for Venice or Italy? No city had a stronger tradition of independence and republicanism than Venice. No city fought harder to preserve it.

Fall of Constantinople

Keates brings back to life the many voices, on the left as well as the right, who criticised the idea of Italy as a united state. Manin preferred an independent Venice to a united Italy.

Venetians' vote for fusion with Italy in may have been motivated by the need for Piedmontese funds and soldiers rather than conviction. Some federalists claimed - and many Italians would now agree - that "to free Italy they wish to change its very nature".