Examples of Byzantine Architecture Still Around Today

The architecture of the Byzantine Empire (fourth to fifteenth centuries C.E.) preserved early Roman traditions, but builders also added new constructions to their already formidable repertoire, such as reinforced fortress walls and dome-topped churches. In addition, the interiors of buildings were of considerably greater care than their exteriors. Byzantine buildings, in general, maintained to adopt Classical orders but became more eclectic and irregular, possibly because old pagan buildings were employed as quarries to provide new ones with eclectic stonework. This emphasis on function above form is a distinctive feature of Byzantine architecture, which combined Near Eastern and Roman and Greek architectural traditions. Byzantine architecture went on to influence Orthodox Christian architecture, and is therefore still evident in churches throughout the world today.

1. Zeyrek Mosque

Zeyrek mosque

Istanbul’s Zeyrek Mosque is a magnificent example of middle Byzantine architecture. It gave its name to the Zeyrek neighborhood in the city’s Fatih neighborhood. The mosque, which was created by uniting two Eastern Orthodox churches and a chapel, is the second-largest Byzantine structure still standing in Istanbul.

The original construction was commissioned as a monastery by Byzantine Empress Irene of Hungary. It was built between 1118 and 1124 and included a hospital and a library. Multiple domes adorn the structure, which was created using the characteristic Byzantine recessed brick technique, resulting in extraordinarily sturdy walls.

2. Hagia Irene

The “Holy Peace”-meaning Hagia Irene is one of the earliest churches constructed in the Byzantine capital. Emperor Constantine I ordered its construction near the end of his reign. It was purportedly constructed in 377 AD on the site of a pre-Christian temple. Similar to the more famous Hagia Sophia, it was destroyed in 532 during the Nika riots. Emperor Justinian I rebuilt Hagia Irene in 548, and Emperor Constantine V renovated it following an earthquake. It is one of the few churches in Istanbul that has not been transformed into a mosque and is positioned in the outer courtyard of the Topkap Palace.

3. Hosios Loukas

Hosios Loukas

In Greece, the Hosios Loukas monastery is located on the slopes of Mount Helicon near the village of Distomo (near Delphi). It was constructed during the reign of the Macedonian dynasty and is one of the greatest examples of Middle Byzantine architecture. The monastery was founded by a hermit named Venerable Saint Luke, who foresaw the conquest of Crete by Romanos. It is lavishly decorated with mosaics, frescoes, and marble. The church’s cross-in-square layout is the oldest of its kind on the Greek mainland. The monastery’s Church of the Theotokos and St. Luke’s (who died in 953) main shrine have traditionally been a popular destination for travelers. The Hosios Loukas is adjacent to the Katholikon, a larger cathedral church.

4. New Sant’ Apollinare Basilica

The Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy, was constructed as an Arian church in the early sixth century by Theodoric the Great, King of the Ostrogoths (475-526). Justinian I had it transformed into an Orthodox church and consecrated to Saint Martin of Tours after the Byzantines conquered Italy during the Gothic War (535–554) The basilica was given the name Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo in the middle of the ninth century, when it became the repository of Saint Apollinaris’ relics. In 1996, the church was listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list as part of the site of “Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna” due to its magnificent early Byzantine mosaics.

5. Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia, the most famous and outstanding example of Byzantine architecture, was constructed between 532 and 537 to replace a church from the early 5th century that was burned down during the Nika riots of 523. At the time of its completion, it was the world’s largest and most majestic church, a title it held until the Ottoman takeover of the Byzantine capital. Following the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the basilica was turned into a mosque and utilized for religious purposes until its closure in 1931. Since its reopening as a museum in 1935, Hagia Sophia has been accessible to the public.

6. St. Mark’s Cathedral

St. Mark’s Cathedral

St. Mark’s Basilica, often referred to as the Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of St. Mark’s Basilica, is an exceptional example of Byzantine architecture. It is an example of Italo-Byzantine architecture, an Italian version of the Byzantine style. The cathedral, which is located near Piazza San Marco, is heavily influenced by the Hagia Sophia. After the Fourth Crusade, some artifacts in the cathedral came directly from the Hagia Sophia.

Since the 11th century, the church has been known as Chiesa d’Oro, or Church of Gold, due to its magnificent interior decoration. This drama is largely influenced by Byzantine architecture, but it also has many Gothic and Renaissance characteristics.

7. Sangarius Bridge

The Sangarius Bridge is one of a few of Byzantine-era bridges still standing. During the time of Justinian I, the bridge over the Sakarya River was constructed. The span of the bridge exceeds 1400 feet (429 meters), and it is supported by 7 bigger center arches and 5 smaller outlying arches. It was constructed using the same methods as numerous other later-built medieval bridges. Justinian the Great commissioned the bridge to facilitate transport to the empire’s eastern territories. The bridge made it much easier for troops and supplies to travel from the capital to Anatolia. Although the majority of the bridge once spanned the expansive Sakarya River, the river’s flow has shifted over the centuries, and the majority of the bridge now rests on dry land.

8. The Constantinople Walls

Constantinople Walls

The walls of Constantinople (Istanbul has been known as Constantinople since 1923) were the last big ancient defense system. Constantine the Great in the 4th century and Theodosius II in the 5th century were responsible for the major buildings, though they were regularly changed over time. The walls surrounded the entire city, forming a great land wall on the western edge and a smaller but still powerful sea wall along the eastern, northern, and southern edges. The sea walls, which protected against naval attacks from the waterways of the Bosphorus and Golden Horn, were less spectacular than the western land walls, and remnants of them can be difficult to detect in modern-day Istanbul. The western land wall, constructed mostly between 404 and 458 CE by Theodosius II, was a gigantic three-tiered system of walls, towers, and moats that was a marvel of military engineering. These walls are often known as the Theodosian Walls and are mainly intact to this day. For about one thousand years, they assisted the Byzantine Empire in defending Constantinople against countless sieges. After a seven-week siege, the Ottoman Empire was able to capture the city in 1453 with the use of cannons.

In the past 1500 years, Byzantine Architecture has been one of the most significant architectural styles. Byzantine architecture pushed the boundaries of construction, engineering, and aesthetics. This list will aim to shed light on this exceptional period in architectural history by analyzing the huge number of structures left behind by the Byzantines.