White Tower, Thessaloniki

White Tower, Thessaloniki

The Lefkos Pyrgos (White Tower), down by the seafront, is the symbol of Thessaloniki. It originally formed part of the city walls before they were demolished in the late nineteenth century.

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Byzantine Istanbul in 10 iconic monuments

Great post from Tom Sawford on the Byzantine monuments in Istanbul as at 1200.

Byzantine Blog

Long before it was Istanbul or even Constantinople, the great city that is now Turkey’s undisputed cultural capital was Byzantium, the city on the Bosporus founded by Megaran colonists in 637 B.C.

As the Roman Empire became larger and more unwieldy, it was on this eastern city that the eyes of Emperor Constantine alighted in 330. Given his stamp of approval, it was renamed Constantinopolis and went on to become the heart of the Byzantine Empire that evolved out of the eventual collapse of the Roman Empire.

Today traces of the Byzantine era litter Old İstanbul inside the battered old land walls. The most conspicuous and most visited of those traces is, of course, the great church of Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) that bestrides Sultanahmet Square. But with many of the old buildings given new uses (specifically the churches as mosques) and with no museum devoted to the city’s Byzantine history…

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Arch of Galerius and Rotunda in Thessaloniki

Arch of Galerius

The Arch of Galerius was built in 298-299 AD to commemorate Galerius’s victory over the Persians and is in remarkable condition. The pillars are decorated with friezes celebrating the victory.

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Arch of Galerius-4The central arch spanned the old Via Egnatia, the road built by the Romans in 2nd century BC to connect Dyrrachium (now the city of Durres in modern Albania) on the Adriatic coast to Byzantium. Dyrrachium was a Roman colony and opposite the Roman ports of Bari and Brindisi on the other side of the Adriatic.

The Arch formed part of the road that connected the Palace of Galerius and the Rotunda. The Rotunda itself is a very impressive circular red brick structure built by Galerius in 306 AD. It’s not clear whether it was intended to be a mausoleum for Galerius himself or as a Temple to Zeus.

Rotounda-10It is one of the few intact Roman buildings in Greece. In the Christian area it was turned into a church (Agios Georgios) and later still a mosque after the city fell to the Turks in 1427 – a single minaret is still standing.

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Inside it is vast, with 6m thick walls and domed roof (originally with an opening or oculus in the centre) which is an impressive engineering achievement.. In the Christian era the dome would probably have depicted Christ Pantocrator, but this is no longer visible – possibly removed when it was turned into a mosque.One of the few figures that can be made out is the head and tops of the wings of an archangel.

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In the dome there are some wonderful scenes of buildings and peacocks.

Rotounda

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I managed to take the shot below of Christ appearing to the disciples, but most of the faces have been obliterated. This was a frequent occurrence when churches were turned into mosques, in accordance with the Islamic injunction against depicting the human form.

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The inside of the building was undergoing a lot of restoration work, so it is hard to convey the interior through photographs (apart from the fact that it is also very dark).

Interestingly I saw this cross on one of the entrance arches into the Rotunda. During the period of Iconoclasm in Byzantium  (8th century) there was a major theological dispute in the eastern church over whether it was acceptable to depict Christ and the saints. Opponents of images (the Iconoclasts) quoted the 2nd commandment to support their case and pointed to Muslim successes in battle against them as evidence that the prohibition of images would enable them to stem the Muslim advance. Wall mosaics and frescoes depicting figures were replaced by this simple form of cross.

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Finally as I left the building I noticed a feature which seems to sum up the history of this ancient city. Over one of the entrance doors, carved into the stone lintel, was Arabic calligraphy (presumably a quotation from the Quran) – and above that an icon of St George and the date 1912, the year when Thessaloniki became part of Greece again.

Rotunda with Arabic calligraphy and icon