501 Treasures of Byzantium: No. 13-18.

No.13: The city-fortress of Dara (Anastasiopolois), Mesopotamia, 6th century.

The city-fortress of Dara, was built by Emperor Anastasius, at the conclusion of his wars with Persia in 506. Its intended function was to keep in check future Persian aggression along the frontier. It was strategically built opposite the Persian stronghold of Nisibis. The Persians bitterly expressed disapproval of its construction, but their protests fell on death ears.

The city-fortress construction was unfortunately rushed, probably due to the fear of the Persians breaking the truce, and subsequently had to be further strengthened years later during Justinian’s reign. It would later play an important part in the coming wars between Byzantium and Persia. Today, portions of its walls, granaries and cistern still stand.

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No.14: The Icon of the Ladder to Paradise of St. John Climacus.

This Icon, on a wooden panel (41×29 cm) is a wonderful treasure from the Monastery of St. Catherine. It is a representation of the difficult path monks must go along with in order to attain ‘moral perfection’. As they climb the ladder, they are continuously assaulted and harassed by shadowy devils, symbolic of sins and temptations. These devils do their best to make the monks fall from grace.puerta_derinkuyu.jpg

No.15: A heavy stone door in the Derinkuyu underground city, Cappadocia, Turkey.

There are several underground cities in Central Anatolia that make Cappadocia truly an amazing place. The Kaymakli and Derinkuyu underground cities, for instance, are connected through miles of tunnels. Derinkuyu is said to be large enough to shelter a staggering 20,000 people together with their food stores and valuable livestock. During times of conflict, especially during the Byzantine-Arab wars, the Cappadocians took refuge in these underground cities, often blocking entrances with heavy stone doors and setting traps for intruders.

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No.16: The Antioch Chalice, probably from Antioch or the Syrian village to the south, named Kaper Koraon, mid 6th century.

 Discovered in 1910, near the ancient city of Antioch, the silver gilt Antioch Chalice, was once promoted as the possible cup of Christ, by a New York dealer in an attempted to attract interested buyers, today seems like stuff of legends. Undoubtedly, there would have been many people willing to believe the existence of a sacred drinking cup used by Jesus and his apostles at the Last Supper. By 1950, those theories were thrown out the window and it was brought by the Metropolitan Museum of Arts. Reappraised by more experts and scholars, it is thought to be now a magnificent creation from the first half of the 6th century, which was probably used for the Eucharist. Other scholars more recently have come to the conclusion that the drinking cup is fact not a chalice, but a standing lamp, typical of lamps used in churches during the 6th century.

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No.17: The Gate of the Spring (Pege)

The Gate of the Spring (Pege) or Selymbria Gate, through which Michael VIII’s Byzantine army secretly entered through a passage and then attacked the wall from the inside and opened the gate in their recapture of Constantinople on July 25, 1261. Micahel VIII would himself enter into the city some 20 days later in triumph.bust_of_theodora_-_museo_darte_antica_-milan_2014_2-1.jpg

No.18: Bust of a Byzantine empress, possibly Theodora, 6th century, Sforza Castle, Milan.

I almost feel silly explaining who was Empress Theodora, nonetheless, she was arguably the most powerful woman of the middle-ages and Byzantine history. Her intelligence and abilities to make shrewd political decisions made her Justinian’s most trusted adviser. Almost by default, she stands along side her husband emperor Justinian as one of the most recognized faces of Byzantine art. The best-known representation of her exists in the Church of San Vitale as a mosaic portrait for the all whole world to see. I cannot think of any other representation of her that exists, other than the interesting bust of a Byzantine empress in the Sforza Castle Museum, in Milan, believed to be possibly Theodora. When you compare the bust, up against her Ravenna mosaic, there is a striking likeness.

Photo credit: Every effort has been made to trace and acknowledge appropriate credit. All images are in the public domain except the Dara city-fortress, Romanos Ivory and the image of Byzantine church peacock mosaic in Nahariya, which are all used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license. The Antioch chalice is used and license under the terms of the Metropolitan Museums of Arts terms of use (for personal enjoyment, study, educational purposes and scholarly publication).