On 24 of July 2020, when Hagia Sophia was officially converted into a mosque, is the day Greek patriots wished the “Marbled King” would wake up, conquer Constantinople again and have Turks return to their homeland, the Red Apple Tree. The “Marbled King” is Constantine XI Palaiologos, the last Byzantine Emperor, a hero who died during the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans and was killed on the day the capital of the Byzantine empire fell on 29. May 1453.
Ever since the fall of the city on the 7 hills, the Marbled King, Constantinople and Hagia Sophia are the symbols of lost grandeur.
Palaiologos’ bravery during the Fall of Constantinople has made him into a legend, still alive in the Greek folklore.
The popular legend which endures for centuries is that Constantine XI Palaiologos had not actually died. He has been rescued by an angel and turned into marble. The body of the Marbled King has been hidden beneath the Golden Gate of Constantinople awaiting a call from God to be restored to life, reconquer both the city and bring the old empire to its previous glory.
The “Marbled King” will rise from his sleep, liberate the Byzantine capital and go to Hagia Sophia to pray and be crowned Emperor again.
The Apple under the Red Apple Tree
Another myth in the same context is the one of the Red Apple Tree, the Κόκκινη Μηλιά.
According to the same Greek folklore, the Red Apple Tree is a mythical site, undefined geographically, and the place to which the Turks will be expelled from Constantinople, once the Marbled King returns to life.
The location is vague, somewhere east of Ankara, or even better (for the Greeks) beyond Anatolia, beyond Persia and even beyond.
The Red Apple Tree was the prevailing state ideology of the Greek “Great Idea” – Μεγάλη Ιδέα – during the Greek-Turkish War of 1920-1922, with the Greek Army aiming to reach the Kokkini Milia, that is to expand in Asia Minor. According to this second version, the “Red Apple Tree” was located somewhere near Ankara, in the North-East.
According to historian N. G. Politis, the “Red Apple Tree” corresponds to the “Monodendrion” of the Byzantines, a probable homeland of the Turks on the Persian borders.
Some Greeks write that Turkish archives revealed that at that time the Ottomans used the expression “Red Apple” for every large and powerful city, and so they called Constantinople before its fall and occupation. Apparently, befre 1453 the Red Apple was believed to be the globe held in the right hand of a giant statue of the Emperor Justinian in front of Haghia Sophia.
Through the Turkish history, Red Apple was a goal one desires to achieve.
The Marbled King Legend
It was 15th-century Byzantine historian Laonikos Chalkokondyles’s The Histories, who finished his account of Byzantine history with hope for a time when a Christian emperor would rule over the Greeks again.
In the late 15th century, the legend originated among the Greeks was Constantine had not actually died, but was merely asleep and was waiting on a call from heaven to come and rescue his people. This legend eventually became the legend of the “Marble Emperor/King” (Greek: Μαρμαρομένος Βασιλιάς).
According to historians, the Turks later walled up the Golden Gate, as a precaution against Constantine’s eventual resurrection: when God wills Constantinople to be restored, the angel will descend from heaven, resurrect Constantine, give him the sword he used in the final battle and Constantine will then march into his city and restore his fallen empire, driving the Turks as far away as the “Red Apple Tree”, their legendary homeland.
According to the legend, Constantine’s resurrection would be heralded by the bellowing of a great ox that will “swim in Turks’ blood.”
In 1625, English diplomat Thomas Roe, sought permission from the Ottoman government to remove some of the stones from the walled-up Golden Gate to send them to a friend, who was collecting antiquities. Roe was denied permission and observed that the Turks had some sort of superstitious dread of the gate, recording that the statues placed on it by the Turks were enchanted and that if they were destroyed or taken down, a “great alteration” would occur to the city.
The other Constantine Kings
The prophecy of the Marble Emperor endured until the Greek War of Independence in the 19th century and beyond. It was fuelled when the King of the Hellenes, George I, named his firstborn son and heir Constantine in 1868.
His name echoed the emperors of old, proclaiming his succession not just to the new Greek kings, but to the Byzantine emperors before them as well. Once he acceded to the throne as Constantine I of Greece, many in Greece hailed him as Constantine XII instead. Constantine I’s conquest of Thessaloniki from the Turks in 1912 and his leadership in the Balkan Wars 1912–1913 seemed to be evidence that the prophecy was about to be realized; Constantinople and the Red Apple Tree were believed to be Constantine’s next goals. When Constantine was forced to abdicate in 1917, many believed he had been unjustly removed before completing his sacred destiny.
The hope of capturing Constantinople would not be completely dashed until the Greek defeat in the Greco-Turkish War in 1922.
Hope revived when King Paul named his first -and only son- Constantine, officially Constantine II. He reigned 1963-1967 and was the very last King of Greece with this or another name.
There was a myth surrounding him that he had 6 fingers like the Palaiologos, a sign from God that he was the right Constantine to fulfill the historic mission. The myth, however, proved to be just a myth spread by royalists, this Constantine maybe had 6 toes and mixed much too much in the politics making grave mistakes that led also to the Colonel’s dictatorship in 1967. He had to resign and go to exile.
In 1973, Greeks voted in a republic referendum that they do not want Constantine or any other King to rule the country, that they do not fancy any kind of monarchy. The constitutional monarchy was abolished once for all.
Decades later the aging and fragile former king was allowed to return to the country and reside as a common citizen.
PS History has apparently shown that the majority of Greeks preferred to dream of the myth than to live it in their real lives. And at the end of the day, if Greece conquers Constantinople again, what will happen with the 15-20 millions of Turks in the city? They will outnumber the Greek population. Nobody wants this, right?
So better its child continues living in its own yard.
sources: wikipedia, Greek folklore we learned at school and my father.