Monday, December 30, 2013

Istanbul: Byzantium's legacy

R. Ousterhout on Byzantine Istanbul:

While Istanbul has witnessed all sorts of salvage archaeology in the past century, there has been virtually no urban archaeology – that is, rigorous excavation to determine the basic features of the city, such as the street system, public spaces and housing, all of which remain poorly understood. Our view of the Byzantine city is consequently limited to discrete churches devoid of context, which present at best a distilled essence of the city’s historic greatness. For most of us, Constantinople seems more a concept than a reality. We have lots of isolated monuments, and even more broken bits, but we lack the big picture – so in a form of synecdoche, we know the city through its parts.
How then to envisage the big picture of Constantinople? Start with the churches. Nothing can replace the experience of Ayasofya’s (Haghia Sophia’s) immense spaciousness (page 148) or the intimate, jewellery-box quality of the Church of the Chora (which became the Kariye Camii and is now a museum, page 154). These two churches represent the yin and yang of Byzantine art and architecture. In spite of the ups and downs of scaffolding (finally down last year, up again this year), Ayasofya remains justifiably the most popular museum in the city, and an engineering achievement without rival.

In contrast, the Kariye is as intimate as the Ayasofya is grand. Its mosaics and frescoes still enchant with their odd combination of intellectual rigour and aesthetic refinement. Few images can rival the dramatic Angel of the Lord Rolling up the Scroll of Heaven at the End of Time in the funerary chapel.
But don’t stop there – visit some of the B-list churches as well, all of which survived as mosques. Ayasofya’s immediate predecessor, the church of Sts Sergius and Bacchus, now Küçük (Little) Ayasofya (page 160), is as spatially sophisticated as its namesake, with a dome half its diameter. Although it preserves no mosaics, its architectural sculpture is stunning, its geometry complex. Similarly, the funerary chapel at the monastery of the Theotokos Pammakaristos (Fethiye Camii, page 168) is the immediate predecessor of the Kariye’s, with colourful brick and stone ornamentation on its exterior and animated mosaics in its diminutive interior. Much is missing, but the visages of craggy, bearded monks crowded into the corners make it worth the visit. Painstakingly excavated from 1966 to 1978, the Theotokos Kyriotissa (Kalenderhane Camii, page 164) preserves a fine array of marbles in its spacious interior.
Not interested in churches? Recent research on the water system has shed new light on daily life in Constantinople. While less glamorous than a decorated church, the arcaded Aqueduct of Valens – after the Roman Emperor Valens – is impressive, representing a fraction of the 592-kilometre system of channels that brought water into the city (page 84). Once inside the walls, water was stored in dozens of cisterns, many built into the substructures of major buildings. The Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayı, page 66), across the street from Ayasofya, once supported the courts of law, now vanished. Tourists stare at the forest of damp, drippy, mismatched columns and ponder how the marble head of Medusa came to be stuck upside down in a far corner, but none of this was ever here for show; the marbles are simply remnants of the monumental public buildings upstairs.
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Monday, July 22, 2013

Three Dimensional Reconstruction of the Interior Sanctuary of Hagia Sophia

Three Dimensional Reconstruction of the Interior Sanctuary of Hagia Sophia

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Byzantine Cuisine: Flavors from Constantinople:

Byzantine Recipe

Byzantium cuisine was very fond of fragrant spices. Salt was a main export item and rare spices precious imports. The fragrant flavor of roses was also much loved. This spicy fragrant salt-mix will add a touch of Byzantine breeze to any of your dishes, and surely more so on your grilled fish. I get my spices from Ucuzcular Baharat No:51 at the Spice Bazaar. Ask the owners - sister and brother Bilge and Ahmet - about the pink peppercorns and dried rose buds, they also stock artificial musk (the real one is non-existent worldwide) and good quality Iranian saffron.

Put a handful of each dried roses and pink peppercorns into a blender together with a 2-3 cm stick of cinnamon, 2-3 pieces of mace, and a few cloves. Blend roughly, taking care that the mixture remains grainy rather than powdery. Mix with 2 cups of sea-salt. Put the spiced salt in clean mussel shells for a purple Byzantine touch on your table.

Byzantine Fork

Byzantine cuisine was all about sea food. They mastered the art of curing, drying, and conserving the bounty of the sea. The legacy of Byzantine still survives in certain delicacies in Istanbul. Both Doğa Balık and Cankurtaran in the Spice Bazaar stock good stuff. At Doğa Balık you can get good botargo, “balık yumurtası” in Turkish, cured, dried grey mullet fish roe sealed in beeswax. They also stock real caviar from the Caspian Sea, but you have to ask for the real stuff, not the fish flavored gelatine beads. At Cankurtaran you can find good quality botargo and also wonderful anchovy paste and fish roe in tubes, and sumptuous lakerda, cured bonito.

Byzantine Cork

Byzantines loved their wine with roses. Make your own wine punch with roses, this simple recipe is very feminine and will definitely make you feel like Empress Zoe. For a more masculine kick have some crushed peppercorns and a grating of cinnamon added, you’ll be amazed by the contrast of flavors. Mix in a large serving punch bowl or giant jug, ½ cup of rose syrup, ½ cup of rose water, 1 cup of vanilla flavored vodka, 2 bottles of rosé wine, all well chilled. Add plenty of ice cubes and a handful of unsprayed rose petals for decoration. If you can find, you can also use syrup of violets to give a purplish Byzantine hue.

Read more here

Monday, June 24, 2013

Art of Eternity - The Glory of Byzantium (BBC Documentary)

How should art depict the relationship between man and God? How can art best express eternal values? Can you, and should you, portray the face of Christ? For over a thousand years these were some of the questions which taxed the minds of the greatest artists of the early West. In this three-part series, art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon sets out to unravel the mysteries of the art of the pre-perspective era. Why has this world been so frequently misunderstood and underrated? His journey takes him from the mysterious catacombs of ancient Rome to Coptic Egypt, to the Orthodox Christian world of Istanbul and then onwards to medieval Italy and France.

In the second of this three-part series, Andrew Graham-Dixon travels to Istanbul to immerse himself in the tumultuous world of the Byzantine Empire. He reveals the art that emerged, decodes the iconography and explains its continuing relevance to everyday people.

Art of Eternity - The Glory of Byzantium (BBC Documentary)

Monday, May 27, 2013


THE conquest of Constantinople engendered Mehmed II's lifelong ambition to revive the ruinous city's ancient status as the prosperous capital of a world empire. This essay interprets the sultan's negotiation of the western and eastern cultural horizons of his rapidly expanding domains through visual cosmopolitanism, a process of "creative translation" and fusion that contributed to the construction of a multifaceted imperial identity. Mehmed II engaged with diverse artistic traditions in refashioning his public persona and self-image upon the reconstructed stage of his new capital, which continued to be called Kostantiniyye (Costantinopolis), alongside its popular name, Istanbul (from the Greek eis tin polin, meaning "to the city,,).l Strategically situated at the juncture of two continents (Asia, Europe) and two seas (Black Sea, Mediterranean), this was the center for an emerging empire that combined Perso-Islamic, Turco-Mongol, and Roman Byzantine traditions of universal sovereignty.


The artistic patronage of Mehmed II (r. 1444-46, 1451-81) was shaped not only by his personal tastes but also by the Rum? (Eastern Roman) geopolitical and cultural identity he was forging for his empire, a polity mediating between multiple worlds at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.,,2 By systematically promoting kuls (converted Christian-born slave to the highest posts of his increasingly centralized state, the sultan created a polyglot ruling elite no longer dominated by the Muslim-born <;andarh family of grand viziers. His viziers and grand viziers were predominantly kuls not entirely "foreign" to his non-Muslim subjects and European visitors to his court: the aristocratic ByzantinoSerbian Mahmud Pa§a Angelovic;:, whose Christian brother was a courtier of the Serbian Despot; the Greek Rum Mehmed Pa§a, who married a Turkic princess from the Anatolian Seljuk dynasty terminated by Mehmed II; and two descendants of the Byzantine Palaiologan dynasty, Has Murad Pa§a and his brother Mesih Pa§a. The sultan's governors included such renegades as the Italo-Greek lskender Bey: born from a Levantine Genoese father and a Greek mother from Trebizond,'he was married to the daughter of a Genoese merchant from Pera (the Genoese colony of Constantinople), where his brother continued to live as a Christian merchant dressed "all'[taliana." Mehmed II's intimates included sons of defeated rulers, among whom his Italian courtier Angiolello (attached to the imperial court between 1474 and 1481) counts the princes of Trebizond, the Morea, Bosnia, and Wallachia.

Read here the rest of the essay

Friday, May 24, 2013

What are the secrets of Hagia Sophia mentioned in Dan Brown’s latest novel Inferno

Byzantine Istanbul

Dan Brown’s latest novel,sent to the protagonist Robert Langdon’s Inferno Istanbul for the Hagia Sophia which is an important place in world history, but do we realy know the Hagia Sophia.

On page 334 of Dan Brown’s new novel Inferno, Dan Brown’s tweedy Harvard iconographer Robert Langdon reveals to Sienna Brooks – a British-born misfit genius who gallops around three favourite tourist destinations with him in this latest adventure – that “We’re in the wrong country”. Cue a flight out of Venice, where a plot rammed to bursting-point with guide-book factoids and the vintage formulae of apocalyptic science-fiction has shifted from its opening location in Florence.

Readers will know soon enough that the third, and decisive, city of Inferno is Istanbul. Once there, we learn under the gilded dome of the cathedral-mosque-museum of Hagia Sophia that “the traditions of East and West are not as divergent as you might think”.

Dan Brown’s book says the status of the famous hero Robert Langdon inside  Hagia Sophia.Come take a look at 1500 years Istanbul landmark  Hagia Sophia.

Dan Brown Inferno:What is Hagia Sophia ?

The dome and minarets of Hagia Sophia are the symbols of Istanbul. This is the only building in the world to have served as a Catholic Cathedral and as the seat of two religions, Greek Orthodox Christianity and Sunni Islam.

The Hagia Sophia that we see today is to a great extent, despite the rebuilding work carried out after regular earthquakes, the building that was consecrated on the 27th December 537 by the Roman Emperor Justinian. It would be the greatest church in Christendom for a thousand years, until St. Peter’s in Rome was completed.

Hagia Sophia’s massive dome and gigantic proportions, visible in the image above, were believed by many to have been the work of the divine. It heavily influenced the architecture of mosques and churches and it’s grandeur was said to have led Russia to convert to Orthodox Christianity, not Catholicism. Relics such as the shroud of Mary, nails from the true cross and the tombstone of Jesus were some of its treasures, until the city was ransacked during the Fourth crusade.

Read the rest of the article here

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Byzantine coffee? Yes, please!

When I was in Istanbul in March, I stopped by a tiny cafe called Mandabatmaz, near Taksim Square. Ten Bulgarian tourists were inside, waiting for demitasses of rich, strong coffee "so thick even a water buffalo wouldn't sink in it," according to a translation of the cafe's name.

I ordered a cup of the velvety coffee, crowned with a bubbly froth.

"A beautiful Turkish coffee," said one of the Bulgarian tourists.

Back home in Bulgaria, as well as Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Iran and Israel, they do call this "beautiful coffee" Turkish. And they make it pretty much the same way: using coffee beans ground into a fine powder, then boiled in a little brass pot that the Turks call a cezve. The coffee is ready when it rises, bubbles and nearly overflows.

The style of coffee, also known as Arabic, first came from Yemen. An Ottoman governor stationed in Yemen in the 16th century fell in love with it and introduced it to Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who popularized coffee in Istanbul and beyond.

A century later, Sultan Murad IV outlawed coffee, calling it an indecent drink, and chopped off the heads of those who drank it. The coffee, obviously, won out.

But ordering Turkish coffee today doesn't go over well in some Balkan or eastern Mediterranean countries that were once part of the Ottoman Empire — even if their preparation of the coffee is remarkably similar.

In Armenia, where the Ottomans led a genocide against more than a million people between 1915 and 1923, it's Armenian coffee. In Sarajevo, Bosnia, I once ordered a "Turkish coffee" only to be corrected by the irritated waiter: "You mean a Bosanska kafa" — a Bosnian coffee. In Cyprus, which the Turks invaded in 1974, it's a kypriakos kafes — Cypriot coffee. (Except in the northern third of the island, which Turkey has occupied since 1974.)

In Greece, where I live and which has a tortured history with Turkey, you order an elliniko -- a Greek coffee.

"It wasn't always this way," says Albert Arouh, a Greek food scholar who writes under a pen name, Epicurus. "When I was a kid in the 1960s, everyone in Greece called it Turkish coffee."

Arouh says he began noticing a name change after 1974, when the Greek military junta pushed for a coup in Cyprus that provoked Turkey to invade the island.

"The invasion sparked a lot of nationalism and anti-Turkish feelings," he says. "Some people tried to erase the Turks entirely from the coffee's history, and re-baptized it Greek coffee. Some even took to calling it Byzantine coffee, even though it was introduced to this part of the world in the sixteenth century, long after the Byzantine Empire's demise."

Read here the rest of the article from NPR

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A walk through Byzantine Istanbul

This is farther east and still in Europe than I’ve ever been, outside of Moscow—farther than Bucharest, farther than Athens. A lot like both, though—even though the place has been Islamic for five hundred years, it still feels pretty Orthodox as well—you can’t just disappear that 1300 years of Christianity. What it mainly feels like, though, is bustling. This is one busy city. Thank god for the excellent tram system. I’m a big fan of cities with trams anyway, and this one is superb. It makes Boston’s system look like the medieval relic it really is. And the traffic makes Boston’s look positively care-free.


Our hotel, though, is nicely located, a couple of blocks from just about everything, right in the middle of the Eminönü area. So we’re a block from the train station, the relevant tram stop, the ferries up the Bosphoros and into the Golden Horn, and no more than a fifteen minute walk to the Hagia Sofia and the Topkapi Palace. Lots of good restaurants nearby as well, with the only thing lacking being a place to get recent (ie since last Wednesday) English newspapers. But we’re fully wired—isn’t everyone these days, including what appears to be every resident of Istanbul, each and every one of whom apparently has a mobile phone? Packing for trips these days has become an exercise in wire management—we have the ipad charger, the laptop charger, the charger for the phone, which fortunately is the same as for my Blackberry from work, the battery chargers for the two cameras, the little box for uploading photos from cameras and phones and ipads onto laptops…what could I possibly have left off this list?

And, since it’s Easter, I had to bring along The Book of Common Prayer, to compensate for the fact that we haven’t been to an Easter service for years, and here we are, in a country where the Orthodox Easter won’t come around until May. Plus we spent the entirety of Easter visiting mosques. These cultural markers do mean something after all.

The mosques are quite neat, and not quite what I expected, at least the larger ones. These are large palaces of light, really, designed to be as open and as bright as possible. I’m still trying to sort out Islamic aesthetics, which I imagine will tell me why many of the interiors we’ve seen—especially at Topkapi—seem designed to not blend with each other—to just be, as Mrs W put it, bright and shiny, with no sense of overall room design. Well, that’s probably just us—and it certainly isn’t a criticism that could be made of the mosques that we’ve been in. These are big and airy, with high domes (everyone literally trying to outdo Hagia Sofia, apparently), lots of windows, and sublimely tasteful settings of verses from the Koran.

So far we’ve done most of the major mosques, including some designed by the master architect of mosques, Koka Mimar Sinan (“Great Architect Sinan”). Sinan was appointed Chief Imperial Architect by Suleyman and held the post for more than half a century. His output was astonishing, including 81 large mosques, more than half of which were in Istanbul. The major ones are the Süleymaniye, probably the largest and best known of Istanbul’s mosque complexes, and the Şehzade Camii (Camii is Turkish for mosque), which Suleyman had built in memory of his son, who died at 21. These are grand constructions. I would have to say that if I had a favourite, it was this one—the nicest balance of light and space of all of them. But this is subjective, obviously.

They are also interesting socially. This is a patriarchal culture and religion, so no surprise that there is a separate prayer area for women. Still, people are wandering around everywhere—except at our last mosque, where they asked visitors to stay in the back. But this wasn’t the case at other mosques, and people were just wandering around at most of them. Men were praying, yes. But men were also chatting up a storm, talking on their mobiles, and taking pictures of each other. Families were sitting around talking—not loudly, but certainly not whispering either. Children were running around all over the place. Maybe it’s because it was Sunday, and that’s a social day—you meet the neighbours at the mosque, have a nice chat, and move on. But what it most reminded me of is what medieval cathedrals were supposed to be like—large spaces where everyone got together regularly, and lots of stuff happened, not just services.

And Turkey is certainly a family place. There are kids everywhere. When we were visiting Topkapi Palace on Friday, it seemed as if every school group in Istanbul was there as well, not to mention about ten thousand mothers with strollers. What is lacking is lots of Disney stuff—we haven’t exactly been looking for it, but so far no kids in Little Princess outfits. However, there do seem to be LOTS of Burger Kings and McDonalds, which I suppose is inescapable these days. Still, plenty of good food pretty much everywhere. We’ve already had some excellent real meals, and some excellent light fare from the kebab shop down the street. This a city with of 12 million people or whatever it is, so you can get pretty much whatever you want here, so long as it’s lamb. But not just the lamb—Turkish cuisine is full of nuts and seeds, and not only do they spice everything up nicely, but it’s also good for you. Forget all that crap about the Mediterranean diet. It’s what they eat here that’s good for you—olive oil, dates, figs, olives, and lots of seeds and nuts. I could eat this stuff forever.

Read more here

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Basilica Cistern in Istanbul

The name of this subterranean structure derives from a large public square on the First Hill of Constantinople, the Stoa Basilica, beneath which it was originally constructed. Before being converted to a cistern, a great Basilica stood in its place, built between the 3rd and 4th centuries during the Early Roman Age as a commercial, legal and artistic centre.[2] The basilica was reconstructed by Ilius after a fire in 476.

Ancient texts indicated that the basilica contained gardens, surrounded by a colonnade and facing the Hagia Sophia.[3] According to ancient historians, Emperor Constantine built a structure that was later rebuilt and enlarged by Emperor Justinian after the Nika riots of 532, which devastated the city.
Historical texts claim that 7,000 slaves were involved in the construction of the cistern.

The enlarged cistern provided a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople and other buildings on the First Hill, and continued to provide water to the Topkapi Palace after the Ottoman conquest in 1453 and into modern times.

This cathedral-size cistern is an underground chamber approximately 138 metres (453 ft) by 64.6 metres (212 ft) - about 9,800 square metres (105,000 sq ft) in area - capable of holding 80,000 cubic metres (2,800,000 cu ft) of water. The ceiling is supported by a forest of 336 marble columns, each 9 metres (30 ft) high, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each spaced 4.9 metres (16 ft) apart. The capitals of the columns are mainly Ionic and Corinthian styles, with the exception of a few Doric style with no engravings. One of the columns is engraved with raised pictures of a Hen's Eye, slanted braches, and tears. This column resembles the columns of the Triumphal Arch of Theodosius I from the 4th century (AD 379-395), erected in the 'Forum Tauri' Square. Ancient texts suggest that the tears on the column pay tribute to the hundreds of slaves who died during the construction of the Basilica Cistern. The majority of the columns in the cistern appear to have been recycled from the ruins of older buildings (a process called 'spoliation'), likely brought to Constantinople from various parts of the empire, together with those that were used in the construction of Hagia Sophia. They are carved and engraved out of various types of marble and granite.

Fifty-two stone steps descend into the entrance of the cistern. The cistern is surrounded by a firebrick wall with a thickness of 4 metres (13 ft) and coated with a waterproofing mortar. The Basilica Cistern's water came from the Eğrikapı Water Distribution Center in the Belgrade Forest, which lie 19 kilometres (12 mi) north of the city. It traveled through the 971 metres (3,186 ft)-long Valens (Bozdoğan) Aqueduct, and the 115.45 metres (378.8 ft)-long Mağlova Aqueduct, which was built by the Emperor Justinian.[7]
The cistern has the capacity to store 100,000 tons of water, despite being virtually empty today with only a few feet of water lining the bottom.

The weight of the cistern lies on the columns by means of the cross-shaped vaults and round arches of its roof.

The Basilica Cistern has undergone several restorations since its foundation. The first of the repairs were carried out twice during the Ottoman State in the 18th century during the reign of Ahmed III in 1723 by the architect Muhammad Agha of Kayseri. The second major repair was completed during the 19th century during the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II (1876–1909). Cracks to masonry and damaged columns were repaired in 1968, with additional restoration in 1985 by the Istanbul Metropolitan Museum. During the 1985 restoration, 50,000 tons of mud were removed from the cisterns, and a platforms built throughout to replace the boats once used to tour the cistern. The cistern was opened to the public in its current condition on 9 September 1987. In May 1994, the cistern underwent additional cleaning.

The Hippodrome of Constantinople

Byzantine Istanbul

The Hippodrome of Constantinople was a circus that was the sporting and social centre of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. Today it is a square named Sultanahmet Meydanı (Sultan Ahmet Square) in the Turkish city of Istanbul, with a few fragments of the original structure surviving. It is sometimes also called Atmeydanı (Horse Square) in Turkish.

Although the Hippodrome is usually associated with Constantinople's days of glory as an imperial capital, it actually predates that era. The first Hippodrome was built when the city was called Byzantium, and was a provincial town of moderate importance. In AD 203 the Emperor Septimius Severus rebuilt the city and expanded its walls, endowing it with a hippodrome, an arena for chariot races and other entertainment.
In AD 324, the Emperor Constantine the Great decided to move the seat of the government from Rome to Byzantium, which he renamed Nova Roma (New Rome). This name failed to impress and the city soon became known as Constantinople, the City of Constantine. Constantine greatly enlarged the city, and one of his major undertakings was the renovation of the Hippodrome. It is estimated that the Hippodrome of Constantine was about 450 m (1,476 ft) long and 130 m (427 ft) wide. Its stands were capable of holding 100,000 spectators.
The race-track at the Hippodrome was U-shaped, and the Kathisma (emperor's loge) was located at the eastern end of the track. The Kathisma could be accessed directly from the Great Palace through a passage which only the emperor or other members of the imperial family could use. The Hippodrome Boxes, which had four statues of horses in gilded copper on top, stood at the northern end; and the Sphendone (curved tribune of the U-shaped structure, the lower part of which still survives) stood at the southern end. These four gilded horses, now called the Horses of Saint Mark, whose exact Greek or Roman ancestry has never been determined, were looted during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and installed on the façade of St Mark's Basilica in Venice. The track was lined with other bronze statues of famous horses and chariot drivers, none of which survive. The hippodrome was filled with statues of gods, emperors and heroes, among them some famous works, such as a Heracles by Lysippos, Romulus and Remus with their wolf and the Serpent Column of the Plataean tripod. In his book De Ceremoniis (book II,15, 589), the emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus described the decorations in the hippodrome at the occasion of the visit of Saracen or Arab visitors, mentioning the purple hangings and rare tapestries.

Throughout the Byzantine period, the Hippodrome was the centre of the city's social life. Huge amounts were bet on chariot races, and initially four teams took part in these races, each one financially sponsored and supported by a different political party (Deme) within the Roman/Byzantine Senate: The Blues (Venetoi), the Greens (Prasinoi), the Reds (Rousioi) and the Whites (Leukoi). The Reds (Rousioi) and the Whites (Leukoi) gradually weakened and were absorbed by the other two major factions (the Blues and Greens).

A total of up to eight chariots (two chariots per team), powered by four horses each, competed on the racing track of the Hippodrome. These races were not simple sporting events, but also provided some of the rare occasions in which the Emperor and the common citizens could come together in a single venue. Political discussions were often made at the Hippodrome, which could be directly accessed by the Emperor through a passage that connected the Kathisma (Emperor's Loge at the eastern tribune) with the Great Palace of Constantinople.

The rivalry between the Blues and Greens often became mingled with political or religious rivalries, and sometimes riots, which amounted to civil wars that broke out in the city between them. The most severe of these was the Nika riots of 532, in which an estimated 30,000 people were killed[citation needed] and many important buildings, such as the second Hagia Sophia Church, were destroyed. The current (third) Hagia Sophia was built by Justinian following the Nika Revolt.

Constantinople never really recovered from its sack during the Fourth Crusade and even though the Byzantine Empire survived until 1453, by that time, the Hippodrome had fallen into ruin. The Ottoman Turks, who captured the city in 1453 and made it the capital of the Ottoman Empire, were not interested in racing and the Hippodrome was gradually forgotten, although the site was never actually built over.

The Hippodrome was used for various occasions such as the lavish and days-long circumcision ceremony of the sons of Sultan Ahmed III. In Ottoman miniature paintings, the Hippodrome is shown with the seats and monuments still intact. Although the structures do not exist anymore, today's Sultanahmet Square largely follows the ground plan and dimensions of the now vanished Hippodrome.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Golden Gate Istanbul/Constantinople

Following the walls from south to north, the Golden Gate (Greek: Χρυσεία Πύλη, Chryseia Pylē; Latin: Porta Aurea; Turkish: Altınkapı or Yaldızlıkapı), is the first gate to be encountered. It was the main ceremonial entrance into the capital, used especially for the occasions of a triumphal entry of an emperor into the capital on the occasion of military victories or other state occasions such as coronations. On rare occasions, as a mark of honor, the entry through the gate was allowed to non-imperial visitors: papal legates (in 519 and 868) and, in 710, to Pope Constantine. The Gate was used for triumphal entries until the Komnenian period; thereafter, the only such occasion was the entry of Michael VIII Palaiologos into the city on 15 August 1261, after its reconquest from the Latins. With the progressive decline in Byzantium's military fortunes, the gates were walled up and reduced in size in the later Palaiologan period, and the complex converted into a citadel and refuge. The Golden Gate was emulated elsewhere, with several cities naming their principal entrance thus, for instance Thessaloniki (also known as the Vardar Gate) or Antioch (the Gate of Daphne), as well as the Kievan Rus', who built monumental "Golden Gates" at Kiev and Vladimir.
Byzantine Istanbul

The date of the gate's construction is uncertain, with scholars divided between Theodosius I and Theodosius II. Earlier scholars favored the former, but the current majority view tends to the latter, meaning that the gate was constructed as an integral part of the Theodosian Walls. The debate has been carried over to a Latin inscription in metal letters, now lost, which stood above the doors and commemorated their gilding in celebration of the defeat of an unnamed usurper:

    Haec loca Theudosius decorat post fata tyranni.
    aurea saecla gerit qui portam construit auro.

(English Translation)

    Theodosius adorned these places after the downfall of the tyrant.
    He brought a golden age who built the gate from gold.

Curiously, the legend has not been reported by any Byzantine author. However, an investigation of the surviving holes wherein the metal letters were riveted verified its accuracy. It also showed that the first line stood on the western face of the arch, while the second on the eastern. According to the current view, this refers to the usurper Joannes (r. 423–425),[53] while according to the supporters of the traditional view, it indicates the gate's construction as a free-standing triumphal arch in 388–391 to commemorate the defeat of the usurper Magnus Maximus (r. 385–388), and which was only later incorporated into the Theodosian Walls.

The gate, built of large square blocks of polished white marble fitted together without cement, has the form of a triumphal arch with three arched gates, the middle one larger than the two others. The gate is flanked by large square towers, which form the 9th and 10th towers of the inner Theodosian wall. With the exception of the central portal, the gate remained open to everyday traffic.[64] The structure was richly decorated with numerous statues, including a statue of Theodosius I on an elephant-drawn quadriga on top, echoing the Porta Triumphalis of Rome, which survived until it fell down in an earthquake in 740. Other sculptures were a large cross, which fell in an earthquake in 561 or 562; a Victory, which was cast down in the reign of Michael III; and a crowned Fortune of the City. In 965, Nikephoros II Phokas installed the captured bronze city gates of Mopsuestia in the place of the original ones.

The main gate itself was covered by an outer wall, pierced by a single gate, which in later centuries was flanked by an ensemble of reused marble reliefs. According to descriptions of Pierre Gilles and English travelers from the 17th century, these reliefs were arranged in two tiers, and featured mythological scenes, including the Labours of Hercules. These reliefs, lost since the 17th century with the exception of some fragments now in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, were probably put in place in the 9th or 10th centuries to form the appearance of a triumphal gate. According to other descriptions, the outer gate was also topped by a statue of Victory, holding a crown.

Despite its ceremonial role, the Golden Gate was one of the stronger positions along the walls of the city, withstanding several attacks during the various sieges. With the addition of transverse walls on the peribolos between the inner and outer walls, it formed a virtually separate fortress. Its military value was recognized by John VI Kantakouzenos (r. 1347–1354), who records that it was virtually impregnable, capable of holding provisions for three years and defying the whole city if need be. He repaired the marble towers and garrisoned the fort with loyal Catalan soldiers, but had to surrender it to John V Palaiologos (r. 1341–1391) when he abdicated in 1354. John V undid Kantakouzenos' repairs and left it unguarded, but in 1389–90 he too rebuilt and expanded the fortress, erecting two towers behind the gate and extending a wall some 350 m to the sea walls, thus forming a separate fortified enceinte inside the city to serve as a final refuge. In the event, John V was soon after forced to flee there from a coup led by his grandson, John VII. The fort held out successfully in the subsequent siege that lasted several months, and in which cannons were possibly employed. In 1391 however, John V was compelled to raze the fort by Sultan Bayezid I (r. 1382–1402), who otherwise threatened to blind his son Manuel, whom he held captive. Emperor John VIII Palaiologos (r. 1425–1448) attempted to rebuild it in 1434, but was thwarted by Sultan Murad II.