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Middle Byzantine Architecture
Professor Ousterhout
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The architecture of the middle Byzantine period reflects changes in the nature of Byzantine society starting with the Transitional Period from the 7th to 9th centuries (plague, famine, Arab invasions, Iconoclast controversy, deurbanization, a cultural break). These societal changes led from an open to a closed society, from a public to a private character of Byzantine life. Developments in the architecture profession are reflected in the terminology of the period—a change from theory-based to practice-based. Modifications in worship practices dictated a smaller-scale to the buildings to serve private devotion. The symbolic importance of the dome continued, as with the two-axis, two-focus space expressed in the Hagia Sophia, but with a dramatic reduction in scale.

Thessaloniki, Hagia Sophia. Late 7th century(?), the cathedral of the city. Smaller scale, with a dome of only ca. 30 ft. in diameter. Structural problems found in earlier Byzantine architecture were corrected with the cross-domed system for the naos. The design becomes more centralized. Introduction of the pastophoria. Note new terminology: naos, bema, prothesis, diakonikon.

Thessaloniki, Hagia Sophia, Isometric diagram, Exterior view from the northeast
Thessaloniki, Hagia Sophia, Exterior view
Thessaloniki, Hagia Sophia, Interior view facing northwest

Istanbul, Myrelaion (Budrum Camii) built c. 920. A private family chapel for Romanos Lekapenos, attached to the palace. Textbook example of "classical" cross-in-square church, with pyramidal massing of elements, dome raised on a drum; insistently 3-dimensional in design. At the same time, there is a balance between components unified in the whole structure. Articulation of the exterior reflects the structural and spatial divisions of the interior. The Small scale is one of the key features of the period.

Structural Clarity: Compare Middle Byzantine architecture to Western Romanesque architecture

Istanbul, Myrelaion (Budrum Cami), Cross-sections and plans of upper and lower churches

Istanbul, Myrelaion (Budrum Cami), Exterior from the southeast

The diagram at the left of a Middle Byzantine sanctuary reflects changes in the liturgy, with more circular movements, visual and physical separation of bema. Two performance areas.

Istanbul, Theotokos of Lips (Fenari Isa Camii). The North Church was dedicated in 907. Monastic church constructed for a high court official. The cross-in-square plan, very similar in date and overall form to the Myrelaion, incorporates six subsidiary chapels for commemoration, veneration, and private devotion of the monks. This development emerges at the same time as the perfected cross-in-square church design.

Compare the subsidiary spaces in Middle Byzantine architecture to the Westen Medieval chevet.

Istanbul, Theotokos of Lips (Fenari Isa Cami), Plan
Istanbul, Theotokos of Lips (Fenari Isa Cami), Exterior

Istanbul, Theotokos of Lips (Fenari Isa Cami), Reconstruction view

Robert Ousterhout. Master Builders of Byzantium. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999
Robert Ousterhout. "The Holy Space: Architecture and the Liturgy." Heaven on Earth: Art and the Church in Byzantium. Ed. Linda Safran. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998, pp. 81–120

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