Byzantine Architecture

I essentially wrote and presented on Byzantine architecture and its impact on the architecture world; going from the basis that architecture is one of the most ancient of art forms. The Byzantines were the successors of the Roman Empire, and also the first empire to have christianity as its religion, 600 years after the death of christ. The Romans really took the greek arch and columns and went off with it, creating such feats as the Colosseum or Pantheon in Rome, so the Byzantines inherited all that and continued to use these styles, but in their own way. They were the ones who had to figure out what a church should look like, defining the classical church we often see today. We can also see the legacy of Byzantine architecture in modern buildings such as the United States Capitol in Washington D.C and orthodox cathedrals in Russia, even some granaries in the England. When an architectural style is revived it’s called “neo” style. The Neo-Byzantine style is characterized by the use of domes, multicolored bricks in their masonry, and the overuse of arches that clearly aren’t needed for structural support. The Roman Empire used this style profusely to show off how rich it was and to reinforce its claim as the “new Roman empire” (after the fall of Constantinople, what is now Istanbul). Going off of the basilica church, the Russians used a lot more domes and visible columns and arches, as well as building taller and using more expensive materials. But like with all styles, it faded away towards the 20th century.
The best example of Byzantine architecture, and coincidentally made a huge impact on the world, is the Ayasophia. Finished in 537, emperor Justinian I had the structure commissioned as the greatest church ever built, one that would also represent the might of the Byzantine empire and its grasp on the world. He hired greek architects to figure out how to have a massive dome, similar to the one in the Roman Pantheon, supported in the air on top of a square base that we see in basilicas. The result is a massive stone dome hanging 160ft above you, as if hung by the sky itself. The architects used pendentives to bring a smooth transition from the square base to the circular dome, as well as gave the dome some support, but the real cleverness was in hidden stone piers and semi-domes that give linear support to the massive dome. Its construction came with some hiccups, and several decades after completion it collapsed in an earthquake.The dome that hangs today was built in 558. It sits atop 40 arched windows that provide support but more importantly lets light in that enhances the mystical effect of the structure. Justinian had columns from conquered monuments brought in, tonnes of colored marble that swirls around, and mastercrafted mosaics that reflected light perfectly, all to absorb the individual in its grandeur, divine scale. Tales of the structure spread throughout the world and was a jewel to be captured by many, but alas the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II took it for his own in 1453, to be converted into a mosque. Most of the mosaics were destroyed or covered up by Islamic symbols or calligraphy. Interestingly, Islamic architecture was influenced by the Byzantines too in their masonry, mosaics, and use of arches and domes (many domes is the characterization of a classic mosque). Today the Ayasophia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where everyone can come a sit inside 1500 years of history.

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