Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture

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Early Christian and
Byzantine Architecture
Architectural History
ACT 322
Doris Kemp
Topics


Byzantine Architecture
The Ideal Byzantine Church
Central Plan
 Domes
 Lighting and Decoration



Hagia Sophia
Other Justinian Structures
Byzantine Architecture

In the years around 500 A.D. the Western
Empire laid in ruins


Rome had been sacked twice and Italy was in the
hands of the Ostrogoths
The Eastern Empire lived on

Constantinople was the capitol of the Eastern
Empire

Had been built on the Hellenic city of Byzantium
(modern day Istanbul, Turkey)
Byzantine Architecture

A formal shift from early Christian to Byzantine
architecture can be seen in the early sixth
century A.D.

Timber-roofed Latin basilican churches gave way to
domed, central-plan structures in the Eastern
Empire
Byzantine Architecture:
Ideal Byzantine Church


No two Byzantine churches were identical
Features of the ideal Byzantine church:
Central plan
 Pendentive dome
 String focus on structure, lighting, and elaborate
decoration

Byzantine Architecture:
Ideal Byzantine Church

Central Plan

The axis descended away from visitors


Leaves no possible active participation except weakly
around a central axis
In most Byzantine churches, the centralized building
core was square
Byzantine Architecture:
Ideal Byzantine Church

Domes
Central core of the church formed an integral part
of a larger structure that included supporting
structure and vaulting as well
 The dome complimented the spatial core of the
church
 Domes were generally placed over cylinders, as at the
Pantheon

Byzantine Architecture:
Ideal Byzantine Church

Domes

Occasionally, domes were placed over polygons or
even squares
Created certain structural problems
 Pendentive





Provided a way to set a circle (dome) atop a square
A Roman invention, though rarely used
Byzantines used pendentives very often
Domes were used to invoke powerful images of the
Christian heaven
Byzantine Architecture:
Ideal Byzantine Church
Photo: Sullivan
Byzantine Architecture:
Ideal Byzantine Church

Lighting and Decoration
Articulation was very important in Byzantine
architecture
 No visible surfaces were left in a natural state
 All was dissolved in color and light:

Glowing marble pavements
 Richly veined marble walls
 Extensive mosaic cycles
 Rich patterns of light created by glass and structural
features

Byzantine Architecture:
Ideal Byzantine Church
Photo: Sullivan
Byzantine Architecture:
Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia
Symbolizes the “ideal” Byzantine church
 Built as the new Cathedral of Constantinople by the
Emperor Justinian in 532 – 537 A.D.
 Intended to be the keystone of Justinian’s massive
architectural campaign

Byzantine Architecture:
Hagia Sophia
Photo: Sullivan
Byzantine Architecture:
Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia
Justinian believed that only natural scientists and
philosophers would be able to create the structure he
had seen in his dreams
 Designed by two men:


Anthemius of Tralles



Natural scientist
Mathematician
Isidorus of Miletus

Professor of stereometry and physics at Constantinople
Byzantine Architecture:
Hagia Sophia
Photo: Sullivan
Byzantine Architecture:
Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia
Built in an amazing five years
 Its first dome was destroyed by an earthquake and
rebuilt in 563 A.D.
 Was converted to a mosque by the Ottoman Turks

Byzantine Architecture:
Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Has some structural problems
Main piers are of excellent solidarity, built of massive
ashlar masonry
 Rest of the building, however, was built of brick in thick
mortar beds
 The dome generates tremendous pressure


Corners are supported by pendentives but the sides have little
support
Byzantine Architecture:
Hagia Sophia
Photo: Sullivan
Byzantine Architecture:
Hagia Sophia
Photo: Sullivan
Byzantine Architecture:
Other Justinian Structures


No other Byzantine churches approach even
half the scale of Hagia Sophia
Two churches bear a resemblance to Hagia
Sophia
SS. Sergious and Bacchus
 S. Vitale

Byzantine Architecture:
Other Justinian Structures

SS. Sergius and Bacchus
Located in Constantinople
 Built as a palace chapel between 527 and 536
 Many historians believe it was an experimental
version of the Hagia Sophia

Byzantine Architecture:
Other Justinian Structures
Photo: Sullivan
Byzantine Architecture:
Other Justinian Structures

S. Vitale
Located in Ravenna, Italy
 Very precise and strict double-shell form that
featured a dome
 Featured mosaics of Justinian and his queen,
Theodora, and their court

Byzantine Architecture:
Other Justinian Structures
Photo: Sullivan
Byzantine Architecture:
Other Justinian Structures

Church of St. John the Evangelist


Built at his tomb in the Hellenistic city of Ephesus on the
coast of Asia Minor
c. 548 A.D.
Photo: Sullivan
Byzantine Architecture:
Other Justinian Structures

S. Marco


Located in Venice, Italy
Although built in the
Romanesque Period (c.
1063 – 1094), it is
considered more
Byzantine in style than
Romanesque
Photo: Sullivan
References




Sullivan, Mary; http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/
http://www.brynmawr.edu/Acads/Cities/wld/wdpt1.html
Trachtenburg/Hyman; Architecture: From Prehistory to
Postmodernity
Wodehouse/Moffett; A History of Western Architecture
Early Christian and
Byzantine Architecture
Architectural History
ACT 322
Doris Kemp
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