SAH Blog

  • “Other” Romanesques and Gothics: Medieval Architecture in Croatia, Bari, and Venice

    Patricia Blessing, 2014 H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow
    Sep 28, 2015
    Over the course of the past three months, I have had many occasions to think about established narratives of medieval architecture, and how they can be challenged once we move away from well known sites in Germany, France, England, and northern Italy. In this post, I will use sites in several cities in Croatia—Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik, in Bari in southern Italy and in Venice to illustrate this point. 

    For centuries, Venice was the capital of a sea empire centered on the lagoon in northeastern Italy, but spreading far into the eastern Mediterranean. The coast of Dalmatia, today part of Croatia, was long under Venetian influence, as the large lion of St. Mark, the emblem of Venice, on the city gate of Zadar amply demonstrates (Figure 1).

    Figure 1: City gate, Zadar, Croatia (P. Blessing)

    In the interior of the city, however, much of the architecture appears Romanesque, even though the dates do not fit standard definitions. Examples are the ninth-century Church of St. Donatus (Figures 2 and 3) and the Cathedral of St. Anastasia (Figure 4), built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. I write “appears Romanesque” because that style of medieval art, as many other categories, responds to specific formal and chronological definitions that are not quite met in a region that generally is not part of the canon of medieval art as taught in survey course. Much of this essay is inspired by a seminar on “The Other Romanesque” that Slobodan Ćurčić and Nino Zchomelidse taught at Princeton when I was a graduate student there. The regions covered in the seminar included part of the Balkans, southern Italy, Spain, and Armenia under the premise of how, through study of architecture and sculpture in these regions, we can reach a new, more flexible understanding of the Romanesque. Roman heritage and its later adaptations play a central role. 

    Figure 2: Church of St. Donatus, Zadar, Croatia (P. Blessing)

    Figure 3: Church of St. Donatus. The bell tower belongs to the Cathedral of St. Anastasia. (P. Blessing) 

    Figure 4: Detail of portal decoration, Cathedral of St. Anastasia, Zadar, Croatia (P. Blessing)

    Further south along the coast, in Split, Roman heritage is strongly present: effectively, the entire old town consists of what remains of the palace of Roman emperor Diocletian (R 284–304). The beginning of construction is disputed; architectural historian Josip Belamarić suggests that the palace was begun in autumn–winter 298, after Diocletian’s campaign to quell a rebellion in Egypt ended. This contrasts with the generally accepted date of 293 for the beginning of construction, once Diocletian has established the Tetrarchy. According to Belamarić and Frane Bullić, the later date would suggest that Diocletian commissioned the palace once reorganization of the empire was complete, and not while is was still in progress. The reconstruction of the complex (Figure 5) shows elements of the complex including Diocletian’s mausoleum, a temple to Jupiter, and strong fortifications, while a photograph of the central section of the complex (Figure 6) shows the peristyle, the mausoleum—now the cathedral of Split, amidst the masses of tourists who visit the city.

    Figure 5: reconstruction of Diocletian’s palace as shown on site (in the well-preserved substructures). 

    Figure 6: Cathedral of Split—Diocletian’s mausoleum, view from back (P. Blessing)

    A large number of spolia from Egypt (Figures 7 and 8) were used in the mausoleum, the temple, and peristyle, including twelve sphinxes and numerous columns made of various types of marble. The presence of these elements, according to Belamarić, supports the argument that the successful completion of Diocletian’s campaign was the moment when the palace was founded. In addition to the variations in suggested dates, some controversy persists over the function of the site—often it is called a palace or villa. The contemporary aqueduct providing water to the site, however, is large enough to suggest that there was more than just a palace involved. It has been suggested that industrial production of wool fabrics, an activity that would have required large quantities of water, was involved.1 

    Figure 7: Sphinx on peristyle, Cathedral—Diocletian’s mausoleum, Split, Croatia (P. Blessing)

    Figure 8: Detail of columns around Cathedral—Diocletian’s mausoleum, Split, Croatia (P. Blessing)

    Figure 9: Mausoleum of Diocletian, cross-section, reconstruction of original layout, as shown in Split Town Museum 

    Just as fascinating as the issues involved in the construction of the Diocletian’s urban complex is its medieval appropriation. The mausoleum was turned into the city’s cathedral, and very few traces of its funerary function remain—a cross-section (Figure 9) shows the crypt and some changes that were made during its transformation into a church. Parts of the late antique sculpted interior decoration remains (Figure 10) and new sculptural elements were added to its entrance and façade (Figures 11 and 12). Here, issues of periodization once more emerge: sculptures, such as the lions that one might be tempted to classify as Romanesque, date to the thirteenth century, when the campanile was added. Other sculptures shown in the Split Town Museum further open the question of how style and periodization should be approached in order to create a more inclusive view of late antique and medieval art. 

    Figure 10: detail of dome, Cathedral—Diocletian’s mausoleum, Split, Croatia (P. Blessing)
    Figures 11 and 12: Lions flanking entrance to Cathedral—Diocletian’s mausoleum, Split, Croatia (P. Blessing)

    Figure 13: detail of portal, Temple of Jupiter, Split, Croatia (P. Blessing)

    Figure 14: detail of vault, Temple of Jupiter, Split, Croatia (P. Blessing)

    The nearby Temple of Jupiter (Figures 13 and 14) became a baptistery, and retains much of its original sculpture. Even though I have now taken a path through Split that focused on its late antique and medieval monuments, the city is very much alive—not a museum town, but a place where old structures are inhabited and a lively market takes place close to the cathedral. The Museum of Fine Arts provides a detailed overview of art produced in the region from the thirteenth to the twentieth century, along with the work of contemporary Croatian artists. 

    Moving further down the coast to Dubvronik, the setting changes: the architecture of the old town (Figure 15), as it stands today, mostly dates to the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries, and the center is largely home to restaurants and hotels, crowded in summer but deserted in winter. Visiting, several sites were striking, particularly the thirteenth-century Franciscan Monastery (Figure 16), home to one of the world’s oldest working pharmacies, and the Dominican Monastery (Figure 17). In the latter, the fifteenth-century Gothic cloister is a refuge from a hot day, even though for the art historian it once more offers a point of reflection as to the nature of medieval art in this area. Paintings, reliquaries, and jewelry produced in the city from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries are also on view in the monastery. 

    Figure 15: town center, Dubrovnik (P. Blessing)

    Figure 16: cloister, Franciscan Monastery, Dubrovnik, Croatia (P. Blessing)

    Figure 17: cloister, Dominican Monastery, Dubrovnik, Croatia (P. Blessing)

    The most striking element of the city, however, is its location that permitted the construction of walls all around on a site exposed to the sea on three sides and with a tall mountain behind. In part, this topography allowed the city state of Ragusa, as it was known then, to maintain a great degree of independence in the face of both Ottoman and Venetian interest in the area. The harbor is important even today with ferries leading to several countries—I chose the one to Bari in southern Italy, mostly as a way to get reasonably close to Rome and Venice. 

    It turned out, however, that Bari itself had a lot more to offer than expected. Its Norman monuments built in the eleventh and twelfth centuries were thoroughly inspiring, particularly after a visit to the medieval buildings in Croatia described above. Having arrived tired and exhausted one evening, the old town with its tiny streets felt like a maze (Figure 18) but a walk around soon yielded new discoveries to be further explored. The monumental façade of the cathedral (Figure 19), built between the late twelfth and late thirteenth century, was intriguing enough, but the interior offered further surprises. 

    Figure 18: Bari by night (P. Blessing)

    Figure 19: Cathedral, Bari, Italy (P. Blessing)

    Figure 20: dome, Cathedral, Bari, Italy (P. Blessing)

    The dome over the crossing, seen from below (Figure 20) summarizes the point that connections across the Mediterranean, between Norman southern Italy and Sicily, and Fatimid Egypt were central in the twelfth century. The construction technique, with deeply recessed squinches forming the transition from dome to circle at the base of the dome, is the same that appears in many Fatimid buildings in Egypt, including the al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, founded in 970. Thus, in southern Italy, a very different Mediterranean appears on the horizon: not the Adriatic world of Venice and Dalmatia, but rather the connecting sea between Europe and North Africa. I will have occasion to return to this topic as I will travel to southern Spain, Morocco, and Sicily. 

    On the façade of the Bari cathedral, multiple animals, sculpted in stone, watch over the square in front (Figure 21). Animals—cows and elephants, among others, also appear on the twelfth-century Basilica of S. Nicola, dedicated to Bari’s patron saint, St. Nicholas of Myra. Here, they are centered on portals and windows (Figures 22 and 23) 

    Figure 21: figures around central rose window on portal façade, Cathedral, Bari, Italy (P. Blessing)

    Figure 22: Cow figure on main portal, Basilica of S. Nicola, Bari, Italy (P. Blessing)

    Figure 23: Elephant figures on window in rear façade, Basilica of S. Nicola, Bari, Italy (P. Blessing)

    Figure 24: Elephant sculpture carrying the obelisk on in front of S. Maria sopra Minerva, Rome (P. Blessing)

    A very different elephant—carved in the seventeenth century in the workshop of Gian Lorenzo Bernini to carry an obelisk from Pharaonic Egypt—stands near the Pantheon in Rome (Figure 24). But fear not, reader: I will not embark on a discussion of sculpted elephants now that this inroads is completed. As everyone who has visited the city knows, Rome has almost too many sites to see, and certainly too many to write about in a single blog post. (I will use some further impressions from Rome in December, when I plan to write about collections of Islamic art in Europe and their display.)

    Figure 25: exterior, Ara Pacis Museum, by Richard Meyer, Rome, Italy (P. Blessing)

    Figure 26: interior and view of the Ara Pacis, Ara Pacis Museum, by Richard Meyer, Rome, Italy (P. Blessing)

    Now, however, I would like to share an image of a contemporary building, the Museum of the Ara Pacis, designed by architect Richard Meier. The building, completed in 2006, holds the Ara Pacis of Roman emperor Augustus (R 19 BCE—14 CE), a monumental altar covered in sculpted reliefs, dedicated in 9 BCE (Figures 25 and 26). This foray into museum architecture brings me to my next site, Venice, where the Biennale is still in progress. Located in the two main sites in the Arsenale and the Giardini, along with multiple exhibits spread over the city, the Biennale is nothing short of overwhelming, and I spent hours and hours wandering through the displays of contemporary art. Considering that architecture is the main theme of my blog, however, I have decided to select two works that I found particularly relevant. The first is “Plan for Greater Baghdad” by Jordanian artist Ala Younis, a project about which she spoke at length in the context of its appearance at the Biennale. Because of copyright issues, I will point viewers to the photographs included in the artist’s account of her work. Suffice to say that one of the themes, Le Corbusier’s trip to Baghdad in 1957 after he had been commissioned a design for a stadium complex, provides a link to H. Allen Brooks’ work on the Swiss architect’s early years. 

    Figure 27: View of S. Marco from Arsenale, one of the sites of the Biennale (P. Blessing)

    Figure 28: Sta Maria della Misericordia, Venice, Italy (P. Blessing) 

    Also part of the Biennale is—or rather, was—a project by artist Christoph Büchel to transform the deconsecrated church of Sta Maria della Misericordia (Figure 28) into a temporary mosque (as the Icelandic pavilion). Very soon, the mosque was shut down—officially on the grounds that permits were insufficient, and visitors’ safety not ensured due to overcrowding. I was not able to see the interior before it closed, and hence can only show the exterior of the church; no sign points to it as a site connected to the Biennale. The closure of the site, and the complete rejection of its presence—as small as this may seem within the large context of the Biennale—is perhaps symptomatic as Europe struggles with its identity, in the face of the increasing numbers of refugees arriving from Syria and elsewhere. 

    Arriving at the center of the city, in Piazza S. Marco (Figure 29), I once more do not have photographs of some of my favorites: the interior of the Basilica of S. Marco, and especially its treasury, where photography, alas, it not allowed. At the same time, such restrictions are sometimes useful as it pushes me to observe and remember without having the camera’s lens between the object and me. Within the treasury, many Byzantine objects are the trace of Venetian involvement in the Fourth Crusade and the plundering of Constantinople in 1204. On the face of the basilica, the four famous bronze horses and the porphyry sculpture (Figure 30) of the tetrarchs, the four rulers at the head of the Roman emperor under the system instituted by Diocletian, are testimony to the same event. I will take leave of the reader here; my next blog will focus on the Islamic architecture of al-Andalus, in southern Spain. 

    Figure 29: Piazza San Marco, column with lion of St. Mark (P. Blessing) 

    Figure 30: Tetrarchi, Basilica of S. Marco, Venice (P. Blessing) 

    Suggested readings: 

    Belamarić, Josip. “The date of foundation and original function of Diocletian’s Palace in Split,” Hortus Artium Medievalium 9 (2003): 173-186

    Brown, Patricia Fortini. Venice & Antiquity: The Venetian Sense of the Past (New Haven, 1996).

    Cambi, N., J. Belamarić, and T. Marasović (eds.) Dioklecijan, tetrarhija i Dioklecijanova palaca o 1700. obljetnici postojanja - Diocletian, Tetrarchy and Diocletian’s Palace on the 1700th Anniversary of Its Existence, proceedings of the International Conference held in Split from September 18th to 22nd 2005 (Split, 2009). 

    Ćurčić, Slobodan. Architecture in the Balkans from Diocletian to Süleyman the Magnificent (New Haven, 2010).

    Et ils s’emerveillèrent: L’art medieval en Croatie, Catalogue de l'exposition présentée au Musée de Cluny, Musée national du Moyen Age, du 10 octobre 2012 au 7 janvier 2013 (Paris, 2012). 

    Harris, Robin. Dubrovnik: A History (London, 2003).

    The Treasury of San Marco, Venice: Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art ( Milan: Olivetti, 1984), available online at:, accessed 19 September 2015. 

    1. Belamarić, 176-81.

    Go comment!
  • Monuments of Balkan Empires: Ottoman and Habsburg Architecture in Zagreb, Sarajevo and Mostar

    Patricia Blessing, 2014 H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow
    Aug 27, 2015
    I begin where I left off in my first post a month ago, in the city of Poreč in Croatia, where both fifth-century Byzantine and nineteenth-century Italian heritage are present. The theme of this post is the architectural presence of two of the empires that, over the last 1600 years, have ruled in the Balkans. The conflicted history of the region is particularly present this year, in 2015, with the 20th Anniversary of major events during the Yugoslav wars—most importantly the massacre of Srebrenica (now in Bosnia-Hercegovina) in July 1995. I will return to this point below, in my report on Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo. The anniversary of the beginning of World War I last summer also returned the city to the center of worldwide media attention. 

    From Poreč, my journey took me to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. The city center, near the main train station, is dominated by the nineteenth-century architecture of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire. Buildings such as the current home of the Archaeological Museum are part of the monumental aspect of the city in this period (Figures 1 and 2), but also show intricate details such as the stairwell decoration within the museum. Originally the city palace of Baron Dragutin Vranyczany, the building was completed in 1880 and opened as a museum after World War I.1

    Figure 1: Detail, Façade of Archaeological Museum, Zagreb (P. Blessing)

    Figure 2: Detail of stairwell decoration, Archaeological Museum, Zagreb (P. Blessing)

    Figure 3: St. Mark’s Church, Zagreb (P. Blessing)

    In the upper part of the city, the colorful roof of the thirteenth-century St. Mark’s Church (Figure 3) stands out against the sky. More familiar, yet quite similar in its aspect, is the roof of St. Stephen’s cathedral in Vienna, a fourteenth century construction restored in 1831, yet several late 19th- and early 20th-century examples exist within the former Habsburg possessions in the Balkans. According to architectural historian Dragan Damjanović: “These distinctive roofs became symbols of the places and the times in which they were built, and in Croatia and elsewhere, the bright tiles often reflected nationalist aspirations.”2  Effectively, these monuments became symbolic of the cultural development and growing national consciousness in late 19th-century Croatia, but were also part of an increased interest in medieval architecture, as Damjanović further explains. In the 1870s, architect Friedrich Schmidt was commissioned with the restoration of St. Mark’s Church, where he subsequently created the current, multicolored roof that specifically expressed Croatian identity.3 At the same time, the roof project also engaged in contemporary discussions about the revival of folk art, in that traditional embroidery and weaving patterns served as model for some of the motives used on the roof. This aspect of the project also connected it to architect Gottfried Semper’s argument of textiles as Urkunst that was current at the time.4 Overall, the restoration of the roof was symptomatic of Croatia’s position within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and of the discussions in architecture and design in this period. Nevertheless, the architecture of the period was not exclusively historicist, as buildings such as the Archaeological Museum or the bank building shown in (Figure 4). 

    Figure 4: Bank in Zagreb’s city center (P. Blessing)

    Some aspects of the architecture seen in Zagreb also apply in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia-Hercegovina, yet differences in historical context create major differences. Seen from the top of the citadel hill, Sarajevo today is a combination of the old Ottoman town, Habsburg architecture, Communist era buildings, and newly built skyscrapers and shopping malls (Figure 5).

    Figure 5: view of central Sarajevo, with old town at the center of the image (P. Blessing) 

    Even in this overall view, the Ottoman past of Sarajevo is visible in the domes and minarets of several mosques. Most well known are the Gazi Hüsrevbeg Mosque and its adjacent monuments—extant parts of the complex include two mausolea, a madrasa, and a bedesten (marketplace). Founded in 1531 by Gazi Hüsrev Bey (d. 1541), then the Ottoman governor of Bosnia, it is dominates the old Ottoman center of Sarajevo (Figures 6, 7, 8). The mosque was badly damaged during the war and restored in 1996–97. 

    Figure 6: Dome and minaret of the Gazi Hüsrevbeg Mosque (P. Blessing)

    Figure 7: Roof of the Gazi Hüsrevbeg Madrasa (P. Blessing)

    Figure 8: Bedesten, part of Gazi Hüsrevbeg Complex (P. Blessing) 

    Next to the madrasa stands the new building of the Gazi Hüsrev Begova Library; even though large parts of the collection were destroyed during the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s, it still houses an important collection of Ottoman archival documents and manuscripts, including the collection that belonged to the mosque complex and is an essential resource for scholars. 

    Walking from the Gazi Hüsrevbeg Complex through the old town to the Miljecka river, one observes numerous restaurants, cafés, and souvenir shops in an area frequented by tourists and locals alike. On the waterfront own both sides of the river, nineteenth-century monuments predominate; one of the most striking ones is the Sarajevo City Hall or Vijećnica (Figure 9).

    Figure 9: Vijećnica, Sarajevo, view (P. Blessing)

    The building immediately strikes the viewer with its architecture, inspired by an eclectic array of medieval Islamic monuments, ranging from the eleventh-century Fatimid mosques of Cairo to the fourteenth-century Alhambra in Granada. Built in as the city hall 1892–94 based on a project by Austrian architect Alexander Wittek, it is a monumental testimony to late-nineteenth-century interest in Islamic architecture. (For the Ottoman historians among the readers: if anyone knows whether the architect is in anyway related to Paul Wittek, I would love to know). The building is perhaps symptomatic of the Habsburg Empire’s struggles to integrate a region with a predominantly Muslim population, after it had occupied Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1878. 

    Figure 10: Vijećnica, Sarajevo, staircase (P. Blessing)

    Figure 11: Vijećnica, Sarajevo, stained glass over central courtyard (P. Blessing)

    In 1949, the building became the National and University Library, a function it still helf when it burned down after being shelled by Serbian forces in 1992; nearly 2 million books were destroyed. The building was meticulously restored and reopened to the public in 2014. For a timeline and photos of the construction and restoration until 2008, please visit

    In the interior (Figures 10 and 11) the building is a combination of various elements that are inspired by Islamic architecture, but in no way related to the Ottoman monuments in Sarajevo or elsewhere in the Balkans. To what extent this was a deliberate rejection of the Ottoman heritage of a region now under Hapsburg rule is question that I plan to explore further. Monuments using similar stylistic elements are found elsewhere in the city, along with other elements that might be deemed Orientalist, such as a the figures in Ottoman and local costumes (Figure 12) on a 1902 building along Obala Maršala Tita.

    Figure 12: Detail of decoration on a residential building Obala Maršala Tita, Sarajevo (P. Blessing)

    Continuing along the same street, which leads from the historical center towards the train station, the visitor stops before a striking glass structure (Figure 13), the monument to children killed during the siege of Sarajevo. This is only one of the many reminders of the war that are still present in Sarajevo, together with ruined buildings bullet holes on facades. The monument is one of the many signs of the inescapable reality of death in the city—the Ottoman gravestones in the park behind the monument (Figure 14) are another one. 

    Figure 13: monument to children killed during the siege of Sarajevo, Veliki Park, Sarajevo (P. Blessing)

    Figure 14: Ottoman grave stones in Veliki Park, Sarajevo (P. Blessing)

    Many others of these grave markers are found in the cemeteries around the Ottoman mosques of Sarajevo, where they are joined by new burials often from the Yugoslav wars. One example is the cemetery of the Ali Pasha Mosque (1560–61), a building that is one of the many marks of the Ottoman past of Sarajevo (Figure 15). 

    Figure 15: Ali Pasha Mosque and cemetery, Sarajevo (P. Blessing)

    Despite the presence of these cemeteries throughout the city center, nothing prepared me for the cemeteries on the slopes of Kovači, between the old town and old citadel (Figures 16 and 17). Here, on Ottoman cemeteries going back to the fifteenth centuries, graves of those killed during the war in 1992-95 cover large areas in a site that also serves as a war memorial. In a central position, the tomb of Alija Izetbegović (1925–2003), the first president of Bosnia from its independence in 1992 until 2000, is covered by an open dome (visible at the left of figure 17). 

    Figures 16 and 17: cemeteries, Kovači, Sarajevo (P. Blessing)

    These cemeteries are among the sites that leave the visitor unsettled, and I have certainly grappled whether to include photographs of the graves. The easy way out of course would have been to say that the cemeteries are not strictly speaking architecture, and hence not closely related to the theme of my fellowship and travels. I decided against this excuse since it is impossible to visit Sarajevo today without encountering reminders of its painful past. 

    Figure 18: Old Bridge (Stari Most), Mostar (P. Blessing)

    The same was true in Mostar, where the famous sixteenth-century Old Bridge over the Neretva river (Figure 18) is the central monument to be viewed. The site is a major tourist attraction offered as a daytrip for the vacationers on Croatia’s beaches, some of them less than 100km away. Destroyed in 1992 during fighting between Croats and Bosnians, the bridge was completely rebuilt and completed in 2004. The arch, built by a pupil of sixteenth-century architect Sinan, is one of the masterpieces of Ottoman architecture (Figure 19). At the same time, other monuments in the old town were reconstructed as part of a major project involving the World Monuments Fund and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture

    Figure 19: detail of arch, Old Bridge (Stari Most), Mostar (P. Blessing)

    Also damaged in the war and subsequently restored was the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque (Figure 20), built in 1618. Located at very edge of the cliff above the river, the mosque is best viewed from the Old Bridge, and itself offers a great perspective on the latter. 

    Figure 20: Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque, Mostar (P. Blessing) 

    Nearby, the Karadjoz Beg Mosque, built in 1557 (Figures 21 and 22) was also restored, although other sites in the city still need to be completed; it is here that I take leave from the reader with much still to think about. 

    Figures 21 and 22: Karadjoz Beg Mosque, Mostar (P. Blessing)

    Selected Bibliography

    Damjanović, Dragan, “Polychrome Roof Tiles and National Style in Nineteenth-century Croatia,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 70, No. 4 (December 2011), pp. 466–491, accessed 27 June 2015. 
    Donia, Robert J. Sarajevo, A biography (London: Hurst & Co., 2006)
    Eren, Halit, Amir Pašić and Aida Idrizbegović Zgonić, Restoration of Mosques in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Istanbul: IRCICA, 2013)

    Kreševljaković, Hamdija. Sarajevo Za Vrijeme Austrougarske Uprave (1878–1918) (Sarajevo: Arhiv Grada, 1969), English abstract in: Aptin Khanbaghi (ed.) Cities as Built and Lived Environments: Scholarship from Muslim Contexts, 1875 to 2011 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University in Association with The Aga Khan University, Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, 2014), p. 115.

    1. U Arheološkom muzeju otvorena izložba ''i Palača i Muzej,” accessed 26 August 2015. 
    2. Damjanović, “Polychrome Roof Tiles,” 467. 
    3. Damjanović, “Polychrome Roof Tiles,” 472–76. 
    4. Damjanović, “Polychrome Roof Tiles,” 476–78.
    Go comment!
  • Byzantium on the Adriatic: From Ravenna to Poreč

    Patricia Blessing, 2014 H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow
    Aug 4, 2015
    My journey begins in Italy, in the city of Ravenna where I have spent time before. Planning my itinerary for July and August, it was a convenient point of departure for a round-trip overland (except for a ferry ride) that will take me to Croatia and Bosnia and will end in Venice. This is the first stop of an Adriatic itinerary that will take me from Italy to Poreč, inland to Zagreb, back to the coast in Split (Spalato), inland to Bosnia, to the coast in Dubrovnik (Ragusa), across the Adriatic to Bari, from there to Rome and finally to Venice. I will write about most of this journey in my post at the end of August, but now will start with Ravenna and Poreč, setting out some of the premises for my travels over the following weeks. Even though I specialize in Islamic art, I have strong interests in Byzantine and medieval architecture and hence have planned this trip which will allow me to see monuments that are not directly related to my research and have hence had to remain by the wayside so far. For this first blog entry, I will focus on monuments that are easily labeled late antique or Byzantine but, perhaps due to their respective locations in Italy and Croatia, are not such much at the center of attention as Byzantine architecture in Istanbul—Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman empire from the fourth century until 1453. But more about this later, in my winter 2016 posts from Turkey— now, I will turn to the fifth- and sixth-century monuments of Ravenna, many of which are part of the UNESCO World Heritage. From 540 until 752, Ravenna was the center of Byzantine territories in Italy. The city was closely connected to Constantinople, where mosaics predating the tenth century are exceedingly scarce. Hence, the monuments of Ravenna are essential for any study of fifth- and sixth-century Byzantine mosaics and their restoration, and they have in fact been the subject of many studies.


    Figure 1: San Vitale, Ravenna, view (P. Blessing)

    Visiting Ravenna, I move around the city and its major monuments with a fresh eye. The first stop is the sixth-century church of San Vitale (Figure 1). Inside church, the mosaic decoration has been preserved in the apse, but not in the dome (Figure 2).


    Figure 2: San Vitale, Ravenna, part of apse mosaic (left) and 18th-century paintings inside the dome (right)

    In both sides of the apse, mosaics show, to the left, the court of Byzantine emperor Justinian (r. 527–565) and, to the right, of his wife Theodora. Accompanying Justinian, we see bishop Maximianus during whose tenure (546–556) the basilica, commissioned by his predecessor Victor in 528, was completed (Figure 3). A detail of the court of empress Theodora shows the elaborate dresses and jewels with which both men and women of the court were represented (Figure 4).


    Figure 3: San Vitale, Ravenna, mosaic showing Justinian’s court (P. Blessing)


    Figure 4: San Vitale, Ravenna, mosaic showing detail of Theodora’s court; the empress is shown at far left (P. Blessing)

    The next stop, just behind San Vitale, is the mausoleum of Galla Placidia (Figure 5), a small structure that houses another example of the splendid mosaics that Ravenna is famous for, although this is even earlier than San Vitale. The mausoleum was built for Galla Placidia, a sister of Roman emperor Honorius who moved his capital to Ravenna. According to local lore, she died in Ravenna in 452 and her sarcophagus was placed in the small structure, under a mosaic sky with gold stars (Figure 6).

    Figure 5: Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, view (P. Blessing) 


    Figure 6: Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, interior view of dome (P. Blessing)

    At the basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, mosaics extend along the upper section of the central nave and into the apse. Begun in 493, construction of the church now dedicated to Ravenna’s patron continued into the early sixth century. The initial dedication to the Saviour was not changed until the early sixteenth century. Most notable—at least for historians of architecture— are the two representations of monuments that are included in these monuments. The first, to the right as one enters the church at its western end, is a symbolically complex representation of an imperial palace, one of many found in late antique and Byzantine art.1 Clearly labeled “Palatium” (palace, in Latin), the structure has open doors and windows with curtains flying in a light breeze (Figure 7).


    Figure 7: Detail of mosaics in Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, showing palace (P. Blessing)


    Figure 8: Detail of mosaics in Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, showing harbor of Classe (P. Blessing)

    Facing the representation of the palace is one of a fortified city and harbor (Figure 8). Shown here is the harbor of Classe, near Ravenna. Even though it is no longer directly on the sea nowadays due to changes in water levels and silting, Ravenna and its port of Classe were important naval bases in the fifth and sixth centuries. The port of Classe, a 15-minute drive from central Ravenna, is a major archaeological site. Together with local art historian and archaeologist Maria Cristina Carile, I was able to attend the opening of the Archaeological Park of Classe (Parco Archaeologico di Classe) (Figure 9).

    Figure 9: Poster for Parco Archaeologico di Classe, opening events summer 2015.

    After viewing a brief video about the history of the site, visitors are able to walk along a path leading through the site. Illuminated at night, foundations of storage magazines in the port are visible, and reconstruction drawings printed on glass panels allow for an impression of the buildings as they may have stood (Figures 10 and 11). Due to summer heat, the site is only open in the evenings, but will be accessible during the day as of September 1.


    Figure 10: Parco Archaeologico di Classe, view of site from visitor center (P. Blessing)


    Figure 11: Parco Archaeologico di Classe, informative panel with architectural reconstruction (P. Blessing)

    Further down the road stands the basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, another sixth-century monument with rich mosaic decoration (Figure 12). With this, I take leave from Ravenna to move on to Croatia.


    Figure 12: Sant’Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna, view towards apse (P. Blessing)

    From Ravenna, by train and bus, I travelled to Poreč, a seaside town that is brimming with visitors in the summer months, many of them attracted by the beaches and islands of Istria. The promenade along the peninsula where the old town is located features both remains of city-walls and late nineteenth-century villas and hotels (Figure 13). My main reason for visiting, however, was the Euphrasian Basilica and nearby episcopal palace (Figure 14). Originally built in the fourth century, the basilica received its current form and rich mosaic decoration (Figure 15) in the sixth century, during the tenure of bishop Euphrasisus. The palace was the residence of the bishop for Poreč
    for over 1300 years. Conservation and restoration program begun in 1989 when bishop’s residence and offices were moved to a new building nearby.2


    Figure 13: Poreč, promenade along the old town (P. Blessing)


    Figure 14: Euphrasian Basilica, Poreč, interior towards apse (P. Blessing)

    Henry Maguire and Ann Terry studied the mosaics were studied in detail beginning in 1997; one major difficulty was to determine the extent of several nineteenth-century restoration campaigns.3 As I was sitting in the basilica during a piano concert and recital that I had happened upon, I could not help admiring both the structure, and the gleaming gold of the mosaics, effective even with electric lighting, and think what the basilica would have looked like 1500 years ago.


    Figure 15: Euphrasian Basilica, Poreč, detail of sixth-century apse mosaic and thirteenth-century ciborium (P. Blessing)

    Selected Bibliography

    Carile, Maria Cristina. The Vision of the Palace of the Byzantine Emperors as a Heavenly Jerusalem. Studi e ricerche di archeologia e storia dell'art, 12. Spoleto: Fondazione Centro Italiano di Studi sull'alto Medioevo, 2012.

    Jäggi, Carola. Ravenna: Kunst und Kultur einer spätantiken Residenzstadt: Die Bauten Und Mosaiken des 5. und 6. Jahrhunderts. Regensburg: Schnell Steiner, 2013.

    Matejčić, Ivan. “The episcopal palace at Poreč: results of recent excavation and restauration,” Hortus Artium Medievalium 1 (1995): 84-89.

    Prelog, Milan. The Basilica of Euphrasius in Poreč. Zagreb: Associated Publishers, 1986.

    Terry, Ann and Henry Maguire. Dynamic Splendor: The Wall Mosaics in the Cathedral of Euphrasius in Porec, University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007. 

    Terry, Ann and Henry Maguire, “The Wall Mosaics of the Cathedral of Eufrasius in Poreč: Third Preliminary Report,” Hortus Artium Medievalium 7 (2001): 131-166.

    Terry, Ann and Henry Maguire, “The Wall Mosaics of the Cathedral of Eufrasius in Poreč: Second Preliminary Report,” Hortus Artium Medievalium 6 (2000): 159-182.

    Terry, Ann and Fiona Gilmore Eaves. A Century of Archaeology at Poreč (1847–1947), Zagreb: University of Zagreb, 2001.

    1. See Carile, The Vision of the Palace.
    2. Matejčić, “The Episcopal Palace at Poreč,” 84-85. 
    3. Terry and Maguire, “The Wall Mosaics of the Cathedral of Eufrasius,” 159-162.
SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Fund at The Chicago Community Foundation for its operating support.
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