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Byzantine Constantinople


Books about Constantinople, Byzantium, Istanbul, Suleiman, and the Ottomans









This is the stunning book of the stunning Royal Academy exhibition "Byzantium", which was on at the Royal Academy in London in 1998-99.

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Photo from "Byzantine Art" by Jannic Durand - see bottom of page

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Santa Sophia - the Emperor Justinian's "Greatest Church in Christendom" (more photos)

The Emperor Constantine (c274 - 306 - 337 (63)), founder of the Eastern Roman Empire based on the small Greek colony and port  town of  Byzantium, which he called New Rome but which quickly became known as Constantinople. 

Constantine is shown on the left in Gold (3.4 cm diameter), above left with his mother Helen (Santa Helena - searcher for the True Cross in Jerusalem and Patron Saint of archaeologists) (Icon in the Byzantine Museum, Athens, copy in Casa Paradox), and (above) in a marble head, the surviving piece of a several meters high colossal statue of Constantine as Cosmocrator (Museo Conservatori, Rome). 


Byzantium became, along with Baghdad, the biggest  (around half a million people) and greatest city in the medieval world, until in was brought down by the Fourth Crusade in 1203.




Above and Below:  The Emperor Justinian (483 - 527- 565 (82)), Emperor of Byzantium at the height of its powers  (mosaic in the Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna).





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Justinian - Successful conqueror (with the help of his famous General, Belisarius), lawgiver, builder of the greatest church in Christendom, etc ..... and behind the facade a nasty little tyrant at the beck and call of his ex-prostitute wife?


Procopius, secretary for many years to Belisarius, and latterly official war historian for Justinian, also kept a little black book (left) in which he spilled the beans about what (he said) really went on .... Interestingly, Justinian, Belisarius and Procopius all died in the same year.









Left:  This is the stunning book of the stunning Royal Academy exhibition "Byzantium", which was on in London early in 2009.




Above:  A different and rather more chubby view of Justinian from a contemporary medallion. 


Source: Catalogue of the Exhibition "Encounters - Travel and Money in the Byzantine World"  which was viewable at the British Museum in late 2006.


The Empress Theodora, courtesan, sexual performer and Justinian's wife and love (mosaic in the Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna).  She also saved Justinian's throne for him in 532 (early in his 527 - 565 reign) by facing down a rebellion after he had given up and was preparing to flee .




On the right and below is the church of Hagia Sophia (Sophia as in Theia Sophia - the Holy Spirit of the Trinity) in Istanbul, built by Justinian on the site of Constantine's grand church which was burned down in the riots of 532.  The task was carried out by over ten thousand workers and teams of hunter gatherers scouring the sites of ancient Asia Minor such as the Temple of Artarmis at Ephesus  for "spare" columns (which partly explains why this, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, now has only one column left). 


The work took just six years, and was celebrated by an opening feast (or sacrifice as they called it) of 100 Oxen,  600 Stags, 1,000 Pigs, 6,000 Sheep, 10,000 Hens, and 10,000 Roosters.  The mosaic above shows Justinian giving a model of the church to the Virgin Mary, a representation common in churches throughout the middle ages.


Over the years the mighty structure of Santa Sophia has survived earthquakes, fires, crusades, riots, sieges and impoverished monarchs of both Christian and Moslem persuasion.  On many occasions it has had to be reinforced and buttressed.  Even though it is not in good decorative nick today, it is really remarkable that has survived at all.


The column, capital and arch on the right give one some feel for the scale and grandness of the space inside S Sophia, and what it must have looked and felt like in its prime - in a word, awe inspiring.


The mosaic face of Jesus in the Deesis Trinity (Mary, Jesus and John the Baptist) in Hagia Sophia,  probably one of the best known images in the world.


Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos and wife and joint Empress Zoe, who was just a bit older than him, having previously been married twice - once to an earlier emperor whose head is thought to have initially occupied the mosaic space later taken by Monomachos.


The Dome of Santa Sophia - Justinian's "Greatest Church in Christendom", built in the 500s in an earthquake zone, is 107ft in diameter.  The highest and widest masonry dome ever constructed (142ft diameter) is Brunelleschi's Dome on the Duomo in Florence, built nearly 1000 years later.  The Rome (and ancient Roman) Pantheon is also 142ft, but is made of concrete and being a spherical section is not nearly as high.  Michelangelo's St Peter's in Rome is 132ft, and Wren's St Paul's in London is 112ft.



John II Commenus, Emperor for 25 years from 1118, with the Virgin Mary and Jesus and blonde pink cheeked Empress Irene, daughter of King Lazlo of Hungary.  Incidentally, the white dots on the two mosaics above are little craters where precious and semi precious stones used to be!


A part of a courtyard in the Imperial Palace of Justinian, expanded in the first half of the five hundreds.  You are looking at a rare Tigress Griffin eating a lizard, with leopards having a snack in the background - maybe it was a dining area.  This courtyard was uncovered by a team from Edinburgh University in the mid nineteen hundreds, and is the only part of the Imperial Palace which has been excavated and is open for viewing.



The Cistern Basilica, a huge underground water storage area near Hagia Sophia, whose 10,000 square meter dome is supported by 336 marble columns (with capitals) recycled from all over the place (probably some from Ephesus, left over from the rebuilding of Hagia Sophia!).  Built by Justinian in the early five hundreds  to ensure the mighty city's water supply - now open (complete with cafe) for tourist visits.



One of the reasons to make the Monastery Church (now museum) of St Saviour in Chora one of the first ports of call in Istanbul (after lunch at Pandelis in the Egyptian Bazaar) is above - the Anastasis (Revival aka Harrowing of Hell) fresco over the apse of the Parecclesion (annexed grave chapel) - as transparently beautiful as anything you will find in Italy!  The frescoes would have been painted in the first half of the thirteen hundreds, the same time as Giotto, the Lorenzetti brothers and Martini were at work in Siena and Florence.


The Church had enjoyed several lives after Justinian built it in the five hundreds on the site of a smaller church by the City walls (outside Constantine's walls, but inside those of Theodosius built in 413) that had been flattened by an earthquake.  Rebuilt again from ruins in 843, and yet again by the mother-in-law of Emperor Alexios in around eleven hundred, it was then partially destroyed in 1204 when the Fourth Crusade, turned from Saracen to treasure hunting, decided to loot Constantinople and destroyed all the churches there as a demonstration of good Christian crusading values.


Luckily better times were in store, and it was rebuilt to roughly its present form around 1300, the main donor being Theodore Metochites - poet, man of letters and treasury auditor.  He is pictured in the mosaic in the traditional pose of presenting a model of the church to Jesus.  His generosity to God did not prevent his exile to Didyma when the next change of Emperors came around, but he was eventually allowed to return to spent his last days as a poor monk in the church he had created, and lies buried inside the inner door.


The Museum of Chora also exhibits one of the richest collections of Byzantine mosaics in existence, all of which had been plastered and whitewashed over in the church's years as a mosque, and have been painstakingly restored over the last fifty years with the active support of the American Byzantine Institute.  Wish we could get back there with the digital SLRs!





The church of SS Sergius and Bacchus (now a mosque) is also known as the "Little S Sophia".  It was built in 527 (you guessed, by Justinian and Theodora) and in some ways can be seen as a trial run for the main thing.  Like its senior sister, it has been subject to the ravages of earthquakes and history, but remains a beautiful space to experience.  (nb Sergius and Bacchus were Roman Centurions who converted to Christianity and were martyred.    Justinian credited them with (posthumously) saving his life by interceding in an enemy's dream on his behalf).



Publisher Könemann reappears with this superb coffee table tour de photo of Constantinople (only part of cover shown)


An excellent high quality book which includes stunning photos of Byzantine gold coins and medallions.

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