No.22: The Palace of the Porphyrogenitus, Constantinople (Istanbul), 13th century.
The Palace of the Porphyrogenitus, also known by its Turkish name Tekfur Sarayi, was once an annex of the greater palace complex of Blachernae. It was constructed during the late 13th century, but by the 15th century it had suffered from terrible damage during the Ottoman bombardment. Magnificent in scale and built against the Theodosian land walls, it was probably the principal Imperial residence during the last centuries of the Empire. Of interest, is the sizeable courtyard that precedes it and its row upon row of arched windows.
The view of the palace above shows what it looked like before Ottoman restorations were completed in recent years, in which rectangular windows replaced arches, a tiled roof added and other significant changes made to masonry. Some critics have likened it to a 17th century Ottoman building or worse still as a holiday resort.
No. 23: The Our Lady of Vladimir, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
The Our Lady of Vladimir (Theotokos of Vladimir) is a medieval Byzantine icon of the Virgin Mary and Child. It is believed that the Icon was painted in Constantinople, some time during the beginning of the twelfth century, and was sent to the Grand Duke of Kiev as a gift. Soon after his death, his son Andrey Bogolyubsky plundered the Our Lady and many other religious treasures. Legend has it that the horses transporting the precious icon stopped near Vladimir and refused to move. So it seemed, with the Our Lady left stranded, Bogolyubsky had no choice but to build the magnificent Assumption Cathedral to safely house the icon. However by 1395, the icon was later taken to Moscow, to protect it from invaders from the east.
Today, she is regarded as the face of Russian Orthodoxy and often referred to as the protectress of Russia. On a personal note, I would say that she is one of my favourite icons.
No.24: Obelisk of Theodosius, Constantinople (Istanbul)
Whether it was for theatre, vanity or an attempt to mirror ceremony and greatness, Theodosius I oversaw the removal in 390 of the great Egyptian obelisk of Pharoah Tutmose III from Alexandria to Constantinople. (Emperor Constantius II flirted with the idea of shipping over the obelisk, but never got around to doing it?) Upon arriving in Constantinople, the ancient Egyptian obelisk was erected in the hippodrome, instantly becoming a flashy show piece. Today it remains one of the oldest and best preserved monuments in Istanbul. It sits on a base with imperial propaganda carved with four main scenes facing north, south, east and west. Interestingly, on one of the sides of the base, a relief shows Theodosius offering the crown of victory to the winner in a chariot race.
No. 25: The Psalter of Basil II, Venice, Italy.
From the pages of this rare psalter, Basil II is depicted as a warrior emperor receiving the submission of his enemies. From above Christ extends down a crown for Basil, which archangel Gabriel takes and precedes to place upon Basil’s head. St. Michael (on the left) hands Basil a lance, a symbol of power, that seems to frighten the enemies beneath his feet.
During his fifty year reign the Empire reached its pinnacle in power and wealth. He stabilised and expanded the Empire’s frontiers, he was much loved by the country farmer, where he sourced great pools of soldiers, and left the Empire a full treasury upon his death. But possibly above all else, he was best known for conquering the Bulgarians into complete subjugation with relentless campaigning year after year. He is therefore, more often that not referred to as Basil the Bulgar Slayer.
No.26 Column of Constantine, 4th century, Constantinople (Istanbul)
Constantine’s legacy is still dotted throughout modern day Istanbul, even though most of his original city has vanished. One landmark that still bares any resembles to fourth century Constantinople is Constantine’s Column. The column, made of ten porphyry drums or blocks, supported a bronze statue of the emperor showing him as the pagan god ‘Apollo’. Unfortunately, the staue itself was torn down by a storm in 1106 CE.
Originally it stood at about 50 metres in height, which included both the marble base and the statue on top. Legend has it that underneath the column, Constantine had buried important relics such as, the nails of the cross, Noah’s axe and the statue of Roman goddess Pallas Athena.
No.27: Steelyard Weight with a Bust of a Byzantine Empress, 5th century, The Met Museum, New York.
Byzantine steelyard weights of many different sizes were once used to weigh products, suspended from a Steelyard balance. This bust weight (above) with a bronze hook would have been moved smoothly along the Steelyard bar until it balanced, determining the price a customer would pay for most goods. Bust weights like this often took the shape of Byzantine empresses. The likeness of this particular bust is associated with the Theodosian dynasty.