Architecture of Byzantium

Architecture and applied art of Byzantium — “the golden bridge between East and West”. The artistic culture and architecture of Byzantium is the result of the fusion and combination of ancient techniques and traditions and new trends of the East. It combines Late Roman, early Christian and Oriental architecture. The decoration was an expression of the combination of the achievements of the classical world and the forms of the Christian Orthodox Church.

The houses of the poor were built of small stone, reeds and clay, the earthen rammed floor was smeared with clay, the roofs were covered with reeds or straw. Sometimes the walls were made of willow, smeared with clay. The Byzantine aristocracy could not live in the provinces and therefore lived in the capital — Constantinople, building residences for themselves. The exterior of the building received a simple treatment: the facades were not plastered, decorated with brick and yellowish limestone stone. Brick was the main and only building material that determined the appearance of buildings and their facades, there was not enough good stone.

Concrete technology was not accepted in Byzantium. The walls of the buildings were built with brickwork on thick layers of lime mortar with the addition of finely crushed cement bricks, which were added to give strength and hydraulic resistance. The brick had the appearance of a flat thin wide plate – plinths, its thickness is about 5 cm. A mortar was laid in the base of the wall, from which the plinths sucked water and corrected the direction of the masonry. Such masonry with wide pink stripes of mortar and layers of brick (sometimes stone) was called Byzantine. Sometimes rows of plinths alternated with layers of hewn stone. This was the beginning of the processing of facades with figured brickwork and alternating light and dark stripes of facings.

Only in very rich mansions the brickwork was plastered or finished with marble. The technique of marble cladding consisted in laying the thinnest plates close to each other, revealing the pattern and veins of marble. The flat surfaces of Byzantine houses are either columns, pilasters, capitals and cornices. The cross and cylindrical vaults were decorated with mosaics and paintings.

Arched windows had two or three windows separated by columns, and a common arch was made above them. The arcade along the facade was placed on high columns with capitals. The buildings were characterized by Byzantine basket-shaped capitals, the surface of which was covered with decorative relief.

The houses of the aristocrats were located at the back of the street, devoid of windows. The Byzantines were extremely careful when admitting outsiders into their home. The inner central courtyard could be accessed through iron or bronze doors. The house has become a real defensive structure.

The large houses of the rich inherited a closed antique layout with the center of the house in a hall or courtyard. The main rooms were grouped around the peristyle. The center of the manor house was a spacious main hall, around which there was an indoor (winter) garden, terraces and balconies. The manor house had large rooms with a domed ceiling supported on four columns. Long enfilades of rooms connected galleries and passages. Adjacent to the house was a church with a dome on eight columns, with choirs and a marble floor. Near the house there were marble-lined baths, barns, stables and stables.

The main living rooms were located on the second floor, reached by stone or wooden stairs. The doors were made monumental, bronze figures of horses were usually placed at the door: they were supposed to protect the peace from noise and anxiety. The bronze doors were fastened with a wooden frame.

The main attention was paid not to the exterior of the buildings, but to the interior. The interiors were decorated by means of monumental painting – frescoes and mosaics. All images were deployed on a gold or dark blue background. The walls were lined with marble and tiles of green and yellow colors. The floors in the house were made up of marble slabs with plot and ornamental motifs. Geometric figures, images of birds, griffins, leopards, plant shoots, and vines served as ornaments. The floors were covered with carpets and strewn with roses.

The ceiling was built of wood, decorated with carvings and gold. The ceilings were also decorated with mosaics. The Byzantines used mosaics more widely than the Romans. Colored marble, semiprecious stones were used for the mosaic: lapis lazuli, agate, chalcedony, porphyry and rock crystal. The Byzantines put sheets of glass on top of the mosaics. Lamps on copper chains were suspended from the ceiling.

The inner chambers were well protected from the cool winds of the Bosphorus. In the damp winter, the walls with wooden panels and fabrics kept the rooms warm. The Byzantines used fabrics that gave comfort to the premises. Curtains were fastened on crossbars in arched and doorways. When the openings were opened, the curtains were wrapped around the columns. The rooms were heated with brick stoves, and the humidity level in the rooms was regulated by a system of grooves, drainage and sewage pipes.

According to oriental tastes, silk played a big role in the atmosphere. Silk was made in Constantinople itself; the fabric was distinguished by a complex ornament and color sophistication. Silk patterned fabrics with embroidery occupied a significant place. Curtains, bedspreads, tablecloths, soft decorative pillows on armchairs and sofas were made of them. Low sofas of the ottoman type, borrowed from the East, have become widespread. The fabrics covered chairs, armchairs, benches and sofas. Carpets are an important import item from Persia. The luxury of the interiors of Byzantine houses contrasted with the modest decoration of their facades.

The Art of Byzantium
The Art of Byzantium
The Art of Byzantium

In Byzantium, Roman furniture was used for a long time, heavily overloaded with decorations. Over time, the Eastern way of life penetrated into Byzantium. The furniture was characterized by an abundance of decorations and the use of expensive materials. The furniture even in the houses of the nobility was quite simple and primitive — seats, beds, chests and tables. These products, simple in their forms, were complemented by wooden supports and backs, miniature colonnades and arcades. In furniture, as in architecture, a system of semicircular arches connected by one or more columns has been preserved. This system was used for decorations in chairs, beds, writing tables. Gold, silver, ivory, inlaid metals with smalt, enamel, non-ferrous metals, color painting and gilding were used for decoration.

Stools and folding chairs were common. They also sat on the lids of chests. The Byzantines inherited the chairs from the Romans. The throne chair of the Byzantine emperors was distinguished by an unusually luxurious finish and brilliance. The chair had a high platform. The seat was decorated with carpets and a canopy. The lion’s heads represented supreme power. Couches, stools, thrones were also decorated with oriental fabrics and high pillows.

It was the Byzantines who began to use the bed only as a bed, unlike the Romans. They slept on beds covered with mattresses stuffed most often with hay. They were covered with expensive bright (red, yellow) fabrics and carpets. Men often slept in beds arranged in wall niches, women – on separate beds. Icons played a significant role in the interiors.

For the construction of roofs, tes was used, which was laid interspersed, or a plowshare – short planks capable of covering any roof structure. The ends of the ploughshare were either sharpened or rounded. The ends of the adzes on the roofs and polices were also cut out with openwork and gave an openwork shadow. The roof was also made of shingles — long split pine planks arranged along the roof in horizontal rows with a slant. Shingles were also used — small plates, the thin edge of one plate entered the groove of the thick edge of the other.

To prevent leaks, the tes on the roofs was laid in two rows and laid with birch bark. The pediment was called an eye. The ends of the beds facing the facades were covered with carved boards, the joint between which was closed with a vertical carved board, which was called a towel. That roof structure was strong and did not need frequent repairs.

The floors were made of boards – tesin. In the lower floor, the floors were laid on logs, and in the upper floors – on beams – mats. The central beam-matrix must be reliable. There is a proverb about this: “A thin matic is a mess for the whole house.” From below, the ceiling was squeezed smoothly, as well as log walls in residential buildings. The floor was made in the direction of the door – window facade, it serves longer and such a floor is more convenient for revenge.