Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Harbors and the Maritime Neighborhoods of Constantinople

From the article by P. Magdalino, The Maritime Neighborhoods of Constantinople: Commercial and Residential Functions, Sixth to Twelfth Centuries, DOP 54, 2000
Constantinople, like New York, is a city not only by the sea, but also, to a large extent, in the sea. The effect of the sea on the fabric of the city is strongly pervasive, and it makes sense to start from the sea when investigating urban neighborhoods. By far the best evidence for the texture of urban neighborhoods comes from twelfth-century documents concerning the real estate conceded to the Italian maritime republics of Venice, Pisa, and Genoa—real estate that lay close to the shores of the Golden Horn. Since the sea is not far from any part of the city or its suburbs, and is indeed visible from almost anywhere within the Theodosian walls, it may well be asked what is meant by a maritime neighborhood. What distinguishes it from an inland neighborhood? Where does the one end and the other begin? Eleven of the twelve urban regions of the fifth-century Notitia urbis Constantinopolitanae bordered on the sea, but only Regions I and IX had a long coastline.1 Most of the other regions extended from a narrow stretch of coast to a narrow bloc of the city center. However, the regions were administrative rather than social or economic units. If we take into account the topography, the layout of public spaces, and the location of public monuments, we can draw a broad working distinction between those parts of the city that looked primarily toward the sea and those orientated toward the central avenue (Mese), the fora, and the great public buildings. Only in rare cases was a focal point such as the Strategion or the Leomakellon situated so close to the sea as to constitute a rival attraction.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Architecture of Chora Monastery

Byzantine Monastery

The Byzantine Monastery of Chora (or Kariye Camii), originally built in the 5th c. and rebuilt in the 14th c. stands today as one of the most beautiful monuments of Byzantine Istanbul. It also has some of the most exquisite mosaics surviving from the Byzantine period. Yet the changes operated throghout centuries altered its original shape.

Here is an article about its architecture and its changes. 

Like the mosaics and frescoes, the architecture of the Kariye is similarly artfully distorted, chaotic, asymmetrical, and decorative. If we isolate a single figure, for example, Joseph, from Joseph Taking the Virgin to His House, compositional attitudes similar to those seen in the architecture are evident. Students of life drawing would cringe at this figure – we are not sure if he is coming or going. Yet, if each specific feature is analyzed independently, it is more than satisfactory in itself. The artist is composing on a small scale, of individual bits and pieces, without attempting to relate the pieces to the whole.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Byzantine Istanbul in 1967 from British Pathé

A 1967 documentary of Istanbul includes several images of the walls of Constantinople and other interesting stuff about the people and places of the City.

Byzantine Constantinople in Medieval Greek Texts

Descriptions of monuments of Byzantine Constantinople appeared in several sources dating from the late antique and Byzantine period. The collection of the so-called Patria has been published in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series (Albrecht Berger, Accounts of Medieval Constantinople: The Patria. Dumbarton Oaks medieval library, 24.   Cambridge, MA; London:  Harvard University Press, 2013.  Pp. xxi, 357 ). Here is a review of this exciting and helpful volume: 
Accounts of Medieval Constantinople is a facing-page translation into English by Albrecht Berger of four texts from a group of five accounts of the medieval city known collectively as the Patria of Constantinople. The five texts, which were originally brought together as a compilation in the late tenth century, were first edited and published as a group by Theodore Preger as Scriptores originum Constantinopolitanarum (Leipzig 1902). They include in the following order a report on the early origins of Constantinople based on and attributed to the sixth- century author Hesychios of Miletos that was added to in the tenth century; an anonymously-authored eighth-century work known as the Parastaseis syntomoi chronikai (Brief historical notes) which records a series of observations and anecdotes about the city’s architectural and sculptured patrimony; a second anonymously-authored text of the ninth century about statues that not only relies heavily on the text of the Parastaseis for its materials but also shares its anecdotal format; a ninth- or tenth-century text about the city’s building in the same style; and, finally, a narrative account of the building of Hagia Sophia from the ninth century. The current volume, which uses Preger’s edition of the text with only the most minor and sensible of emendations, includes an annotated translation of Hesychios together with the ninth- and tenth-century accounts of sculpture and architecture, the narration on Hagia Sophia included. There being no need to reinvent the wheel, it excludes the Parastaseis, which was translated and published independently in a 1984 edition by Averil Cameron and Judith Herrin.1 A brief introduction by Berger accompanies the translation, elucidating the literary genre of patria and the particular nature of the Constantinopolitan texts before concluding with some observations on their usefulness as historical documents. A discussion of the Patria’s manuscript tradition together with a glossary of terms, a bibliography, and an index completes the volume.
Click here for the rest of the review 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Constantinople Civil Architecture: Valens Aqueduct

Constantinople's lack of sufficient water resources forced the rulers to rethink the system of water supplies. The construction of the main aqueduct, a work of fine engineering, which brought the much needed water was finished by the emperor Valens in the 4th c. AD.
Here is a map with its location in modern Istanbul:

And some pictures: 

The aqueduct was a landmark of the city in Ottoman times as well:

Friday, August 15, 2014

Column of Constantine the Great, Istanbul

This is a Roman column built in 330 to commemorate 
the emperor Constantine the Great (306-337). 
It is placed on the main street of Constantinople
 between the Hippodrome and the Forum of Theodosius.

A reconstruction of the original column 
with the representation of the emperor
 as the pagan god Apollo

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

New Book: Constantinople: Archaeology of a Byzantine Megapolis

Reviewed by P. Magdalino on Bryn Mawr Classical Review:

This book is in essence described by its subtitle: it is the final report on a rescue survey of Byzantine remains in the western areas of the historic peninsula of Istanbul. It is impossible to go far off the beaten tourist track in old Istanbul without eventually coming across stray pieces of Byzantine stonework or bulldozed buildings that reveal the stumps of Byzantine brick structures. It is difficult for anyone with any attachment to Byzantium not feel the urge to become an archaeological vigilante, ever watchful for the next bulldozed site. In the mid 1990s, Ken Dark set himself the admirable task of prospecting all the previously unknown Byzantine surface remains that were either becoming exposed by construction work, or reported hidden behind the facades of twentieth-century buildings. He enlisted the help of a local art historian, Ferudun Özgümüş. This book is the fruit of their collaboration from 1998 to 2004, though much of it was anticipated in previous publications, and the collaboration generated independent surveys by Dr Özgümüş whose results are only partially summarised here. Dr. Dark claims entire responsibility for the text and the views expressed therein. Chapter 1 rapidly surveys the physical geography of the Byzantine city, and chronicles in some detail its archaeological investigation up to 2012. Chapter 2 sets out the history, organisation and methods of the reported project. It explains the constraints that led to the choice of study area—the space between the Theodosian Land Walls and the Atatürk Boulevard—and the obstacles in the way of the systematic identification and recording of reported remains. Chapter 3, ‘The Southern Part of the Study Area’, catalogues the finds of worked stone and Byzantine brick substructures in the area between the Adnan Menderes Boulevard (formerly Vatan Caddesi) and the Marmara coast as far east as the Yenikapı excavation site; this is briefly discussed, but most of the material in the chapter comes from the western part of the area. By contrast, the coverage of Chapter 4, ‘The Northern Part of the Study Area’, is more evenly spread between the area within the (hypothetical) line of the first, Constantinian wall, and the area enclosed by this and the Theodosian Wall. To the east of the former, it includes some major, previously undocumented structures in the area of the Column of Marcian, as well as minor finds in the vicinity of well-known Byzantine monuments (the Lips and Pantokrator monasteries). West of the former Constantinian wall, the sites investigated were at the Mihrimah Camii, around the Chora monastery (Kariye Museum), and near the cistern of Aetius, where the material is discussed in connection with the search for the site of the Petra monastery. Chapter 5 is devoted to the site of the Blachernae Palace in the modern neighbourhood of Ayvansaray. Chapter 6, ‘The Church of the Holy Apostles’, is devoted mainly to arguing that the strips of limestone wall beneath the present structure of the Fatih Camii belong to the Byzantine church that was demolished to make way for the mosque in the fifteenth century. Chapter 7, the conclusion, bears the title of the book as a whole, and “addresses some of the wider implications of the data from this project for understanding Byzantine Constantinople”(p.97). There are three Appendices: 1, ‘The first phase of construction at Fatih Camii’; 2, ‘The church of Zoodochos Pege’; 3, ‘The 2000 “Fener-Ayakapı – Cibali – Unkapanı” Survey (summary of one of the independent surveys conducted by Ferudun Özgümüş). There follow a ‘Catalogue of Material of Roman or Byzantine Data Recorded in the Study Area during the Project’s Work in 1998-1999 and 2001-2004’, a series of 14 area maps (drawn by Nigel Westbrook), a 25-page bibliography, and an index. The text is illustrated throughout by 104 black and white photographs and plans (including the area maps) and there are 41 colour plates between chapters 6 and 7.

Click here for the rest of the review

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Constantinople in the fourth crusade

The capture of Constantinople by the armies of the Fourth Crusade was one of the most remarkable episodes in medieval history. One of their number wrote, ‘No history could ever relate marvels greater than those as far as the fortunes of war are concerned’. On April 12th, 1204, an army of perhaps 20,000 men and a fleet of about 200 ships crewed by Venetian sailors and warriors, broke in and began to loot the greatest metropolis in the Christian world. Constantinople’s mighty walls had resisted numerous onslaughts as the Avars, Persians and Arabs had tried to assail its defences over the centuries. Yet always ‘the queen of cities’, as the Byzantines described their capital, had survived. What had brought the crusaders to attack their fellow Christians and how did they manage to succeed? The crusaders understood their success as a manifestation of God’s will. One commented, ‘There can be no doubt that the hand of the Lord guided all of these events’. 
There was a history of difficulties between the two parties, dating from the 1054 Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. This concerned matters of doctrine, religious practice and papal authority and gave an added sharpness to future disputes. The advent of the crusades in 1095 brought further tensions often created by large and sometimes ill-disciplined armies passing through the Byzantine Empire en route to the Holy Land. Greek purges of the Venetian (1171) and western (1182) communities in Constantinople added to this record of troubles. 
Relations between Byzantium and the West at this time were often characterised as a clash of cultures. The Greeks viewed themselves as civilised superiors to the barbaric and violent westerners; the people of Europe regarded the Byzantines as unwarlike, effeminate and duplicitous. In the fullest sense, of course, these stereotypes were inaccurate: the Latin West produced thinkers of the calibre of Anselm of Bec and St Bernard of Clairvaux; magnificent buildings such as the 531-feet long abbey of Cluny testify to practical and artisitic qualities as well. Equally, brutality was not exclusive to the westerners; the Byzantines were capable of extraordinary unpleasantness. The death of Emperor Andronicus I Comnenus in 1185 bears witness to this. With one eye gouged out, his teeth pulled out and his right hand severed, he was paraded through the streets of Constantinople, pelted with excrement before being hung upside down, having his genitals hacked off and finally killed by sword thrusts into his mouth and between his buttocks.

Read here the rest of the story