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  4. Architecture Guide
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  6. Byzantine

c. 400 – 1453
Constantinople (Istanbul) and the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire)

Influences: Romans and Christianity

Classical Roman techniques are evident in Byzantine architecture—use of the arch and dome, mosaics, basic basilica form—style elements that developed during the spread of Christianity.

Byzantine Istanbul, Turkey

After the division of the Roman Empire, the Eastern Empire established its capital in Byzantium as “New Rome,” which had been renamed Constantinople in the year 330 under Roman Emperor Constantine who had converted to Christianity. The Ottomans conquered the city in 1453, referring to the city as İslambol (“the city of Islam”), then İstanbul from the 10th century on. In 1930, the city was officially renamed Istanbul after the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.

Byzantine architecture evolved use of Roman elements and symbols to elevated levels of refinement. The solid Greek cross shape of equal arm lengths lent a sturdy base for the basilica to support a vast dome, connected by triangular pendentives at the corners. Gilded mosaics emphasized a sense of spiritual transcendence.

Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia (meaning “Holy Wisdom” in Greek) has remained one of the most profound wonders of my study of architectural history and one that I always dreamed to visit in person. Fortunate to make this reverie a reality, I was struck with awe by its massive size, vast interior space covered by a 184-foot-high dome, antiquity (you…

Istanbul, Turkey

The vast city of Istanbul fascinated me with its complex Byzantine and Ottoman history. As the largest of Turkey’s cities, it is filled with architectural and cultural wonders worth visiting. They range from mosques, churches and palaces to museums, parks and bazaars.  Magnificent monuments gain roots from the once Roman capitol of Constantinople, followed by the Muslim conquest by the Ottoman sultans who transformed…

Byzantine Italy

In the year 404, the Roman Empire had been firmly divided with Ravenna as the new capital of the West. During the decline of Rome and the Western Empire, by the end of the 5th century, early Christianity had become well-established in the East with Constantinople (previously Byzantium) as the capital of the East Byzantine Empire.

While much of Rome was being reduced to ruins by invaders who took hold of the West, the East Byzantine Empire still controlled nominal parts of Italy through the 7th century, including a stronghold in Ravenna, one of the richest and most powerful cities of its age. As churches were being constructed, a primary Byzantine feature is the Christian imagery made of colored and gold mosaics, particularly found in the apse behind the main altar.


  • Rome: Santa Maria Maggiore (5th c.), Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere (5th c.), Basilica di Santa Cecilia in Trastevere (founded in 3rd c. as 1st Christian worship house in Rome for namesake martyr)
  • Ravenna: San Vitale, Sant’Apollinare, Battistero degli Ariani
  • Venice: San Marco