The style of the oriental Empire (4th - 15th century CE) continued its at an early stage Roman traditions yet architects also added new structures come their currently formidable repertoire, notably boosted fortification walls and also domed churches. Over there was, together well, a lot greater problem for the interiors of structures rather 보다 their exteriors. Christianity influenced advancements such together the switch of the secular basilica right into a magnificent church through an superior domed ceiling. Oriental buildings, in general, continued to rental the timeless orders however became an ext eclectic and also irregular, possibly originally because old pagan buildings were used as quarries to provide eclectic stone pieces for brand-new structures. This emphasis on function over type is a particular aspect of oriental architecture, which blended influences from the Near eastern with the well-off Roman and also Greek architecture heritage. Byzantine style would go on to affect Orthodox Christian architecture and also so is still seen now in church worldwide.

Roman Architecture

As byzantium was the eastern half of the Roman realm in its early period, that is not surprising the the roman traditions continued in architecture and other facets that culture. Byzantine urban areas were characterised by strong evidence of town planning, huge open spaces for commercial and also public use, large regular streets - many of which were paved and the important ones were given porticoes - and the usage of publicly monuments such as statues of necessary figures and also monumental arches and also city gates. The clip public services listed by a hippodrome, amphitheatre, and also public baths were every still present, however some Roman-era structures fell out of use, significantly the gymnasium and stadium for athletics and, eventually, too, the theatre together the bawdy pantomimes performed there met v the not say of the church. As these buildings, and especially the pagan temples, fell into disuse, their products were reused, providing rise to brand-new structures through an eclectic mix of columns and capitals in ~ the very same structure, i beg your pardon eventually became a defining feature of byzantine buildings, and the strict uniformity of classical buildings was abandoned.

Design drawings seem to have actually followed established conventions & to be sketchy, indicating a great deal of on-the-spot improvisation.

Roman villas with private inner courtyards ongoing to it is in the make reservation of the affluent while the poorer members of society lived in an easy multistorey buildings (insulae) wherein the floor floors were regularly used as shops and taverns. Most of the population, though, benefitted from accessibility to to run water, fountains, and also drainage systems, many thanks to a well-planned device of pipes, aqueducts, and cisterns.

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Architects & Materials

The construction of Byzantine structures was looked after by 2 specialists: the rarer and much more exalted mechanikos (or mechanopoios), a sort of mathematical engineer, and also the architekton, a master builder. One or the other of these numbers supervised a large group that craftspeople skilled in masonry, carpentry, wall-painting, and making mosaics. As with Byzantine artists, architects were commonly anonymous, and very few were named after the sixth century CE. If the building project affiliated an imperial structure or a church, climate the emperor or bishop was involved, in the case of personal sponsors, they too would have had actually a speak in what the structure looked like as soon as finished. Architecture drawings it seems ~ to have followed established conventions and been sketchy, indicating a great deal the on-the-spot improvisation.

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Capital v Protom that Pegasus
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin (CC BY-NC-SA)
Like roman inn architects, the Byzantines employed bricks for countless buildings, and it came to be the an easy element the construction. A small bigger than Roman bricks, those supplied in Constantinople, because that example, to be square and also measured approximately 38 centimeter (15 inches) follow me each side v a elevation of up to 6.5 centimeter (2.5 inches). Bricks were used to develop walls by laying two faces and pouring rubble and mortar in between them. The mortar to be made from lime, sand, and crushed brick or pebbles. Every so frequently a strengthening layer made completely of bricks runs v the entire wall. Unlike roman inn walls, the byzantine version walk not use a concrete (pozzolana) core, and so if the facing ended up being damaged, then, eventually, so also did the core. An additional difference is Byzantine builders used a much thicker great of mortar in between bricks, more than likely as a cost-saving practice as fewer bricks were climate needed. An unfortunate consequence of this is that together the mortar dried, the warped, and so plenty of Byzantine structures suffer from distortion or also partial collapse. Bricks were also used because that domes, arches and also vaults, frequently then use bricks of double the standard size.

An alternate to brick was ashlar stone blocks, i beg your pardon were much more popular in the eastern half of the byzantine Empire. Some buildings, particularly in the sixth century CE, an unified the two and had a lower component in brick and an upper component in stone cut blocks. These materials and also their use in Byzantine structures remained essentially unchanged appropriate up come the 14th century CE. Marble, an expensive material, was typically reserved for columns, capitals, cornices, architraves, and also decorative functions such together door frames, home window grills, and paving.

Some structure exteriors to be plastered, yet this was not common. Far much more attention was paid to building interiors where typically all the walls were spanned in plaster, stucco, thin marble plaques, paintings and mosaics. Imperial buildings and important sanctuaries were given more marble than almost everywhere else, through Proconnesian from the island the Proconnesus in the Sea the Marmara being the most common. The reputation of coloured marble ongoing from the western roman tradition, and also so it was imported indigenous such locations as Egypt and also Phrygia. Roofing in churches and houses to be most regularly made from timber.


Starting with Constantine i (r. 306-337 CE) in the 4th century CE, churches were constructed everywhere to encourage the brand-new Christian religion and also impose royal authority on locations far and wide, indigenous the resources to Jerusalem. Another motivation to build churches and also shrines (martyria) to be to mark areas of significance to the Christian story and its saints, tombs of saints and also martyrs or your relics, and the site where a well known ascetic may have dwelt. Thus, churches from Thessalonica to Antioch became centres of pilgrimage in their very own right. Plenty of smaller churches and modest chapels were developed to serve smaller sized communities. Other structures closely connected with the church, particularly basilicas, were a baptistry, generally octagonal, and also sometimes a mausoleum for the founder that the church and also their descendants, a residence for a bishop, warehouses, governmental offices, maybe a shrine include a dig of a saint, and baths.

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Church of Saint Irene, Istanbul
Marsyas (Public Domain)

While brick, stone, or a mixture the both to develop decorative patterns were the products most regularly used for oriental churches, numerous were merely converted pagan temples or other secular buildings. A fine instance is the Rotunda church of Thessalonica, probably originally supposed as a mausoleum because that Emperor Galerius and built throughout his regime of 305-311 CE but converted into a church in the 4th-6th century CE. Many more buildings liberally reused the high-quality rock blocks and column north of Roman-era structures. Old capitals were likewise reused, back the Byzantines added an ext intricate and also deeper carved decoration come their very own Corinthian capitals, and also they often added an impost (from the 4th century CE onwards) over the funding itself. This was a plain rock which gave the larger base required to support heavy arches. Imposts are commonly trapezoid in kind and have actually a monogram or cross carved on them.

There was no official church blueprint applied by the church hierarchy, yet the cross-in-square setup became the most common with a dome built over 4 supporting arches.

Most at an early stage churches followed the roman inn basilica design, a structure used because that public gatherings, particularly law courts and also markets. The basilica"s long hall and also timber roof were sustained by columns and also piers on every sides. The columns produced a main nave flanked on every sides by one aisle. A collection ran about the first floor, and also later there to be an apse at one or both ends. From the fifth century CE, the basilica church was usual throughout the byzantine Empire. By the 6th century CE, the standard timber roof had given means to a dome-vaulted one in larger basilicas. There developed many sport in basilica style - they might have three, four, or 5 aisles, some have much darker interiors such together those in Armenia while rather in Syria room much more monumental and use massive stone blocks. Several hundred sanctuaries were built throughout the empire, with among the largest being at Lechaion close to Corinth. There the basilica of Saint Leonidas was 110 metres (360 ft) long and 30 metres (99 ft) wide. Among the best surviving basilicas is the Church of Saint Irene in Istanbul (mid-6th century CE and remodelled in the 8 hours century CE).

By the nine century CE churches were still being constructed in numbers but on a smaller scale as urban populations diminished and also the large basilica to be no longer needed. Currently a church only necessary to accommodate approximately 100 worshippers. There was no main church blueprint implemented by the church hierarchy, but the cross-in-square arrangement became the most common with a dome developed over four supporting arcs using pendentives - curved triangular develops to bridge the gap between adjoining arches and convert a square base right into a one one. The square basic of the structure then branched right into bays which could themselves have a half or full dome ceiling. Another common feature is a central apse v two side-apses in ~ the eastern end of the church.

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Hagia Sophia Interior
Mark Cartwright (CC BY-NC-SA)

Over time, the central dome was elevated ever greater on a polygonal drum, i beg your pardon in part churches is for this reason high it has actually the appearance of a tower. A fine example of this style, and additionally of patterned brickwork, is the early on 14th-century CE Church that the apostles in Thessalonica. The dome, then, became a suitably exceptional representation of heaven and also was decorated as such, through a representation of Jesus Christ an extremely often gift painted there. In addition, the structural necessity of the four arches supporting the dome produced a floor arrangement in the shape of a cross, another an effective symbol the the building"s purpose. This form of church was built across the oriental Empire, and also Greece, in particular, still has numerous fine examples in Athens, Thessalonica, Mistra, and also many that the islands.

The Hagia Sophia church is distinctive & was never ever matched in either dimension or architecture by any kind of subsequent oriental building.

Hagia Sophia

The largest, most important and also still most famous oriental church, or indeed any kind of building, is the Hagia Sophia that Constantinople, devoted to the holy wisdom (hagia sophia) that God. That was developed in 532-537 CE throughout the power of Justinian ns (r. 527-565 CE) on the site of two more modest execution dating back to the 4th century CE. The structure is unique and was never matched in either dimension or style by any subsequent Byzantine building (although it did come to be a model for footrest mosques indigenous the 16th century CE). Its an easy rectangular shape measures 74.6 x 69.7 metres (245 x 229 ft). Its vast domed ceiling is 55 metres over the floor and rests on 4 massive arches with 4 supporting pendentives. This to be a spectacular achievement, and Justinian boasted that had managed to outdo Solomon, however it to be all quite too an excellent to be true, and the dome broke down in 558 CE, its cracks catastrophically worsened by two earthquakes. A replacement - a structurally stronger ribbed and steeper dome measuring 31.8 metres in diameter - to be made which tho survives this particular day (despite partial collapses in 989 and 1346 CE). The Hagia Sophia was the best church in the people until the 16th century CE and one that the many decorated with countless of that is glittering mosaics and wall paintings tho wowing visitors today.


Places specifically specialized to monastic communities appeared from the fourth century CE. They typically formed tiny villages fastened by a high perimeter wall and including a free-standing church, refectory because that communal eating, baths, library, workshops, accommodation and also sometimes one inn because that pilgrims. Monasteries could likewise be developed in cities; Constantinople boasted 30 through the mid-6th century CE. Many oriental monasteries are still in use today, mountain Athos (from the ninth century CE onwards) in Greece being one spectacular location. One more excellent instance is the well-preserved mid-6th-century CE monastery of Saint Catherine, mountain Sinai, Egypt.

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St. Catherine"s Monastery, Sinai
Marc!D (CC BY-NC-ND)


Bridges were, as in previously Roman times, essential connectors in the oriental road and also aqueduct system. A well 6th-century CE example survives end the Sangarius (Sakarya) flow in Turkey. Constructed using huge ashlar blocks, it stretches 428 metres (469 yards) and also includes seven arches, each spanning roughly 23 metres (75 ft). The leg once had actually a significant gateway measure 10 metres (33 ft) in height. An instance of a single arch bridge might be seen near Elazig, east Turkey. Again date to the 6th century, it arcs 10 metres above the river and stretches over a an are of 17 metres (56 ft).


The 4th century CE witnessed an boosted threat indigenous those cultures which neighboured both halves that the roman inn Empire. Emperor Constantine I began the process of far better defending Constantinople by expanding the sea walls and building a brand-new land wall across the peninsula on i beg your pardon the funding stood. To rise the an are within the city"s fortifications, Theodosius II (r. 408-450 CE) developed a second, larger wall which ended up being known as the Theodosian Walls. A line of 3 walls v a security ditch, the third wall was the most enormous being 5 metres thick, 12 metres high, and having 96 projecting towers. Each tower to be placed approximately 70 metres remote from another and also reached a elevation of 20 metres. Developed using bricks and also limestone, these wall surfaces would defend the biggest city the the Middle ages for over 800 years.

The sixth century CE saw a massive structure project of forts, walls, and also towers to better protect the more vulnerable sections of the empire"s boundaries (which were just around everywhere native Mesopotamia to Balkans). Plenty of Roman fortifications were regularly kept such together those in ~ Nicaea in northwest Anatolia whereby the city"s walls were repaired in the 8th, 9th, and also 13th century CE. A couple of of these fortifications stay in an excellent condition quiet today, for example, at Zenobia (Halabiye) ~ above the Euphrates.



Very couple of remains make it through of byzantine domestic architecture. Most residential housings to be made from wood and mud bricks, but rock was offered for the wealthier homeowner. Villas continued along roman lines until the 6th century CE, and also thereafter the tendency is towards smaller homes, also if part irregular large houses did continue to it is in built, periodically with second-floor balconies. Most homes would no have had running water, but better houses in urban usually had actually their very own toilets emptying into a cesspit. It to be a particular Byzantine habit to spruce up an ext drab structures with fine silks and wall hangings. Paintings, especially icons, were another source of decoration.

Cites continued to be supplied with water via aqueducts (Roman ones were still used and also regularly repaired) and also cisterns. One of the most impressive byzantine architectural success which have the right to still be checked out today are the secret cisterns of Istanbul with their thousands of columns supporting arched and domed ceilings. The best examples are the 5th- and also 6th-century CE Jere-batan Serai and also Bin-bir-derek cisterns.


The affect of Byzantine style was spread out via conquest and imitation. Constantinople was, for centuries, the capital of Christianity, and Christian rulers anywhere sought to record the reputation of that is glorious buildings in their very own cities. Thus, the 11th-century CE Basilica of Saint mark in Venice, for example, duplicated a byzantine model which to be by then already 500 year old. Russian princes were similarly impressed and also built orthodox churches which were byzantine in style. Even those areas with a strong architectural heritage of your own, such together Armenia and Georgia, took in elements of byzantine architecture. Climate there were the priest themselves who duplicated the established byzantine church and also monastery layouts and ensured your survival even when the byzantine Empire had long since collapsed. Hundreds of churches were destroyed when the realm was conquered, plenty of were converted right into mosques, too, yet enough make it through to expose the ambition of oriental architects and their sponsors. Further, in places where Christianity has returned, restorations have actually been brought out, and so plenty of Byzantine buildings are still really much in use now from Corfu to Sinai.

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Mark is a history writer based in Italy. His one-of-a-kind interests encompass pottery, architecture, human being mythology and also discovering the principles that all worlds share in common. The holds one MA in political Philosophy and also is the publishing Director at WHE.