Ivan The Great’s Lost Library


Over the centuries many ancient containing rare books, documents or maps have been destroyed. The ancient library of Alexandria was destroyed by Julius Caesar while the library at Carthage (having 20,000 volumes) was again destroyed by the Romans. Chinese Emperor Shi-Hwang-to burned all the books in China in 214 BC. Books and libraries have always been lost. But we are talking about a library that was saved at the last moment. In the middle of the fifteenth century the Ottoman Empire was conquering everything and spreading gradually towards the West. There was not much time before Constantinople was invaded. Constantinople had survived for almost two thousand years before it was threatened by the Turks. The city had survived many catastrophes over the years. City had even overcome the looting of Crusaders which was planned as a dress rehearsal for conquering Jerusalem. They had learned a lesson during this looting.

 

Books from Library at Constantinople were transported to Moscow

It was decided by the ruling emperor Constantine XI that the greatest treasures of the city are saved at all costs. But Mahomet II, the Turkish emperor had an army of over 150,000 men and Constantine had an army which was almost one tenth of his overwhelming enemy. Fall of Constantinople was inevitable. In a bid to protect the city niece of the emperor Sophia Palaeologa was married off to young Ivan III, who was the ruler of Russia. She took a huge entourage along with her to Russia. Her baggage included some of the biggest treasures of Constantinople including most rare books from Constantinople’s library. This library held books from Africa, Asia and Europe. There were books of various languages such as Greek, Latin, Arabic, Hebrew and Egyptian. Early writings of Pindar, Tacitus, Polybius and Cicero were some books in the library. There were seven hundred books that bound by the emperor with jewels encrusted on them.

 

Sophia Palaiologina brought the books with her to Moscow

This treasure made its way safely from Constantinople to Moscow. The alliance between Russia and Constantinople failed due to various differences. Troops of the Sultan blasted through the walls after limited resistance. There was vast massacre everywhere. Constantinople was converted into Istanbul and was made the capital of Turkish Empire. Hagia Sophia, one of the greatest Roman churches was converted into a mosque and there were other mosques built all through the city. Moscow had now become the head of Orthodox Christian Church.

 

Constantinople fell to Ottoman Siege

Sophia persuaded her husband to modernise Kremlin with the help of some Italian artists. Building of Kremlin was one of the greatest achievements of Ivan III. Earlier Kremlin was built with wood. Though it had withstood many attacks over the years, but it was impeded by frequent outbreaks of fire. Sophia understood that such fire would destroy all treasures she brought with her. There was an underground vault specially designed to keep the books. This was named as Liberia. Here the books were stored in safety.

 

Kremlin was re-built to accommodate the books

After the death of Ivan III the powers passed over to Ivan IV (who is better known as Ivan the Terrible). He detested the aristocracy and wanted to put an end to their powers. With a special taste for torture and killing the underground vault was expanded to accommodate prison rooms and torture areas. People of Russia were severely affected by the rule of Ivan IV. Everyone forgot about the Great library of Ivan III. From this time onwards the library was lost.

 

There were underground tunnels built and subway stations created during the times of Joseph Stalin. But no one ever discovered the great Liberia of Ivan III.

 

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