Constantinople and other Byzantine Cities
The Byzantine Empire was the continuation of the Roman Empire in the Eastern Mediterranean. While it eventually was conquered by the Ottoman Turks, it was a remarkably resilient culture, surviving for more than a millennium after the Fall of Rome. While it is often overlooked or minimized, Byzantine culture - centered on Constantinople - is much more influential than commonly regarded.
Constantinople was the largest, wealthiest Christian city - in addition to being the most educated and erudite center of Christendom. As the Classical Roman era shifted towards the Medieval Era, Constantinople exerted tremendous influence on culture across the centuries, from the domed mosque of Islam and the onion dome of Russian orthodoxy to its library that saved much of the surviving ancient Greek drama, history, and philosophy.
Of course, Byzantine culture is merely the last expression of Roman culture, which itself was an agglomeration and accumulation of several cultures predating it like Hellenistic, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian cultures. While Byzantine culture saw a shift from Imperial Latin to Greek, it involved rich diversity of cultures, with even Emperors coming from Serbia, Spain, North Africa, Armenia and Syria. It was a multicultural society with close links to diverse peoples, from Hungarians and Venetians, to Armenians, Turks, and Mongols. More importantly, it was the city that oversaw the transformation of the pagan Roman into a Christian world. This site is dedicated to exploring Constantinople and its Byzantine Legacy.
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• St. Catherine's Monastery
While Constantinople was the largest European city for centuries, the Byzantine Empire also had other important cities. Of course, Rome, as the first capital of the empire, is where it all began. Much of Byzantine art follows the model of earlier Roman art. For example, Hagia Sophia would not exist without the Pantheon built before it. For a long time, Thessaloniki was the second largest city in the empire. Other cities also have great examples of Byzantine art and architecture, particularly Ravenna with its spectacular mosaics, as well as Thessaloniki with its many layers of heritage. Antioch and Alexandria, while once the greatest cities in the Roman Empire, were also great centers of Christianity until falling to the Islamic Empire. Anatolia (Asia Minor, now in Turkey) and much of Greece were once heartlands of the Byzantine Empire. Cities like Athens and Nicaea, long under Byzantine control, still have signs of the richness of Byzantine art and architecture.
Other cities are noteworthy examples of Byzantine influence continuing even after the fall of Constantinople. Nicaea, Trebizond, and Arta, as imperial alternatives after the sack of Constantinople in 1204, are also important in this regard. Once part of the empire itself, Venice's great church San Marco was modeled after the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople and still has the glimmering mosaics once common in Constantinople. It also has a great collection of Byzantine art in its treasury. Kiev (Kyiv), while never part of the empire, shows direct connections, as Byzantine artisans and artist came to help make it a Christian city. Even the Islamic world was deeply influenced by Byzantine culture especially in its earliest period, which can particularly be seen in Jerusalem and Damascus. In 325, Nicaea was the location of the First Ecumenical Council, which was instrumental in defining most of Christianity to this day. The painted monastery caves in Cappadocia now have some of the best examples of Byzantine art and architecture. Remnants of the Byzantines continued in Trebizond and Mystras a short time after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, since they had acted as capitals of distinct Byzantine successor states.