After nine Crusades spanning nearly 200 years, the successful Muslim Siege of Acre finally expelled the Christian armies from the Middle Eastern coast in 1291. Over time, Turkish armies spread westward, intent on spreading their religion throughout Europe. In 1453, Turks captured the mighty Byzantine city of Constantinople, opening a gateway to the west. In 1523, the Ottoman Empire under 28-year-old Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent besieged the island of Rhodes, at the time defended by order of the Knights Hospitaller, off the southwest coast of Asia Minor. Despite a valiant stand, the Knights eventually ran out of supplies and were forced to withdraw, first to Crete, and then to island of Malta, just south of Sicily. In the years that followed, the Christian Mediterranean kingdoms were under near-constant assault by the Ottoman forces, most notably by ships commanded by the infamous corsair Turgut Reis. In 1551, Reis invaded Malta, but after only a few days, he abandoned the attempt and seized and ravaged the neighboring island of Gozo instead.
On a clear spring day in June of 1559, two massive horses thundered toward each other as their armored riders lowered their lances. The crowd cheered as the competitors clashed and pieces of broken lance flew into the air, signifying a score for one of the lancers. The jouster dressed in black and white tottered, then steadied himself in the saddle. As attendants rushed out to assist the wounded man, cheers turned to gasps as pieces of his opponent's shattered lance could be seen projecting from his visor. Blood spilled from the helmet; the tilt had taken a deadly turn.
On May 6, 1527, Pope Clement VII ran for his life. Spirited through a secret passage in the wall of St. Peter’s Basilica, he fled for 800 meters down the Passetto di Borgo, a narrow, arched corridor that runs within the Vatican City’s exterior wall. Behind him, an invading army committed the harshest atrocities upon the Eternal City in its existence.