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Byzantine Architecture

( Originally Published 1915 )

Byzantine architecture followed after Rome had declined. At this time in the world's history, the seat of power shifted to Constantinople, and because Constantinople is Eastern, or Oriental, we may expect architecture to follow the ideas of the Orient. Wherever power and wealth are located, there we see great buildings arise. The Byzantine, although it borrowed from the East, was largely original and became a living type of architecture. The Byzantine has been called the first of the great Christian styles. When Constantine's basilican church at Constantinople was burned, a new one was commenced there by Justinian in 532 and was dedicated in 537. This was Sancta Sophia, the great triumph of Byzantine architecture. From this time to the time when St. Mark's was built in Venice, that is, in I Too, a number of important churches and palaces were erected in this style, and its influence is felt in the world to this day. Among the important examples should be mentioned S. Vitale at Ravenna and S. Lorenzo at Milan.


One great feature of all Byzantine architecture is the large central dome, usually surrounded by other smaller domes. Moreover, the Byzantine dome was itself of a peculiar kind. It consisted really of two parts the top part being a semi-circular dome built on top of the lower part of a larger semi-circular dome which was be-gun but cut off at a certain point. The relative sizes of the two parts are determined mathematically. The lighting came from small windows in the dome. The ground plan represents a cross and is roofed by five principal domes. Byzantine churches were usually built first without ornament, and of plain masonry. The ornamentation was of the applied type, and might be added years after the structure was completed. Byzantine capital from the Church of San Vitale, at Ravenna, Italy. An important feature was the richness of the interior decoration, often of mosaic and full of oriental color. Instead of supporting their domes by the great thickness of the walls, they so made their walls, that one pressure might neutralize another, and out of this germ grew the abutment, the germ of the Gothic style.

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