Leading Oxford professor of Byzantine Studies, Dr Mark Whittow, killed in car crash

Dr Mark Whittow

Leading academics and the president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, have paid tribute to Oxford University lecturer Dr Mark Whittow after he died before Christmas.

Dr Whittow is believed to have died in a collision on the M40 motorway on 23 December, in which a 29-year-old man from Warwickshire was also killed.

The 60-year-old medieval historian and archaeologist was last month appointed the next Provost of Oriel College – a role he was due to take on from September next year.

Oriel College’s flag was flown at half mast following the news and the college also paid tribute to the man who began his academic teaching there and was due to return next year.

It said: “Mark taught generations of Oriel students and we were looking forward to welcoming him as the College’s next Provost in September 2018.

“A huge loss, and our thoughts are with his family.”

Academics from around the country and across the world, as well as former students, paid tribute to the Corpus Christi College professor of Byzantine Studies.

Corpus Christi president Steve Cowley said “Corpus has taken the news of Mark’s death very hard.

“Mark was a deeply likable man, someone who was generous with his time and concern for other people – one of those rare individuals who plays such a large part in conjuring that mysterious alchemy that helps complicated communities like ours to work.

“Selfishly, we were not looking forward to the time when he was to move to Oriel, but now ours is a much deeper sorrow, rooted in the knowledge that we shall never again have the pleasure of spending time in Mark’s company.

“We send our deepest condolences to his wife Helen and his family, as well as those many people around Oxford and beyond into whose lives Mark brought such enormous pleasure as well as sharing with them his deep understanding of the Byzantine world. We are all going to miss him terribly.”

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Byzantine Monastery with Colourful Mosaics Unearthed in Israel

The remains of a 1,500-year-old monastery and church, complete with a colorful mosaic floor, have been unearthed in Israel.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced that the Byzantine monastery (the complex where the church was located) was uncovered during salvage excavations taking place ahead of construction in Beit Shemesh, a city west of Jerusalem.

“During the excavation, we uncovered before our eyes the remains of walls built of large worked stone masonry and a number of architectural elements, including a marble pillar base decorated with crosses and marble window screens,” Benyamin Storchan, director of the excavations, said in a statement. [See Photos of the Byzantine Church Remains]

The marble was not from a local source, but rather it had been shipped from Turkey, Storchan explained. In one of the church rooms, the team revealed “a beautiful mosaic floor decorated with birds, leaves and pomegranates,” Storchan said in a statement. In a related IAA video, Storchan said that the church likely “enjoyed a great deal of wealth in ancient times.”

Among the artifacts found during the excavations were a small bronze cross that may have been part of jewelry and ceramic oil lamps blackened by ancient charring.

The church seems to have been abandoned in the seventh century during the early Islamic conquest, Storchan said, but the researchers are still trying to figure out why the church went out of use.

Compared with other churches found in the Judean Shephelah or Judean foothills, Storchan said “this one has outstanding preservation” and it is one of the largest found in the region. “Often we only find little pieces of it, and we’re uncovering it complete.”

Christianity spread throughout Israel after the Byzantine Empire formed in the fourth century, Storchan said, and those early churches were often associated with biblical sites, or tombs of saints and martyrs. Just south of the church is the Ella Valley, which, according to the bible, is the place where David fought Goliath.

“Maybe they had a notion that this is the valley,” Storchan said in the video. “All this is speculation, but it’s completely possible.”

Posted in Byzantium in the News | Leave a comment

Saint Catherine’s Monastery library reopens

Saint Catherine’s Monastery

Egypt has reopened the ancient library at the famed St. Catherine’s Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in South Sinai, which holds thousands of centuries-old religious and historical manuscripts .

The inauguration ceremony was attended by Egyptian and western officials. It comes after three years of restoration work on the eastern side of the library that houses the world’s second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts, outnumbered only by the Vatican Library, according to Monk Damyanos, the monastery’s archbishop.

“The library is now open to the public and scholars,” said Tony Kazamias, an adviser to the archbishop, adding that restoration work is still underway without specifying a completion date.

The ancient library holds around 3,300 manuscripts of mainly Christian texts in Greek, Arabic, Syriac, Georgian, and Slavonic among other languages. It also contains thousands of books and scrolls dating to the 4th century.

At least 160 of the manuscripts include faint scratches and ink tints beneath more recent writing, according to Kazamias, who believes the palimpsests were likely scraped out by the monastery’s monks and reused sometime between the 8th- 12th centuries.

During the library’s renovation, archaeologists apparently found some of Hippocrates’ centuries-old medical recipes. The ancient Greek physician is widely regarded as the “father of western medicine.”

The officials also inaugurated the Mosaic of the Transfiguration in the basilica of the monastery. The mosaic features a rich chromatic range of glass paste, glass, stone, gold and silver tesserae. It was created in the 6th century at the behest of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, who also requested building the monastery.

St. Catherine’s, where the monastery is located, is an area revered by followers of the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Like the Old City of Jerusalem, it has become a popular destination and an attraction not only for monks and pilgrims but also tourists from the world over.

The 6th century monastery, one of the oldest Christian Orthodox monasteries, is home to a small number of monks who observe rituals unchanged for centuries. Its well-preserved walls and buildings are of great significance to the studies Byzantine architecture. It’s situated at the foot of Mount Sinai, also known as Jebel Musa or Mount Horeb, where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments.

First published in Business Insider.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

UNESCO: Every Person Must Visit these 18 Greek Monuments

You can’t argue that this is indeed an impressive list. What would you add?

UNESCO advises travellers to Greece to visit 18 monuments that are an absolute must as World Heritage Monuments, out of a total 1,073 sites graded as World Heritage Monuments.

Read more here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Complete set of A Short History of Byzantium audio for sale

DSC06907There is a very rare opportunity to purchase the hugely enjoyable and authoritative  complete and unabridged audiobook of John Julius Norwich’s “A Short History of Byzantium”, brilliantly narrated by John McDonough. From its beginnings in A.D. 330, this audiobook provides listeners with a spirited, gripping, and original account of a great lost civilization and its magnificent artistic heritage. The audiobook consists of 16 cassettes in very good condition offering 23.5 hours listening time. I have listened to them and they are all in excellent order. This was a library copy, but clearly barely ever issued or played. If you love Byzantine history you will enjoy this.

The best way to preserve the audio is to convert to a MP3 format on your PC or Mac and retain it in your iTunes or similar to listen from iTunes etc. It is a very simple process. You can purchase converters for very modest cost on Amazon – see here.

I have searched around and not found this audio format anywhere else. This is very rare.

If you are interested in purchasing, please email me tsawford[at]btinternet.com with your best offer. It will be possible to post this to international locations with cost to be confirmed. Payment by PayPal.

DSC06909

DSC06910

Posted in History | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Hagia Sophia in Trabzon – update

When it was announced that the small, but beautiful Hagia Sophia in Trabzon was to be turned back in to a mosque on 2013, there were fears that it’s many treasures of frescoes and mosaics may be destroyed.

This report in the Guardian, whilst confirming that some have been covered up, appears to confirm that no major damage has occurred to the Byzantine marvel.

If you have recently visited or know more, it would be great to hear you views.

Posted in Byzantium in the News | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Repost – The must-see art museums of Athens

23-hamish-bowles-guide-to-art-in-athens-greeceVogue’s Hamish Bowles visits the Must-See art museums of Athens.

This year I sandwiched a blissful break on a remote Greek island in between trips to Athens—a city that, although beleaguered by the country’s economic travails, remains a hotbed of creative activity and cultural excitement.

As ever, it is the pluperfect place in which to explore millennia of creative achievement. My first stop was the National Archaeological Museum of Athens and its embarrassment of treasures, along with the Acropolis Museum (with a surprising and stirring exhibition, “εmotions”). I also explored the fascinating Byzantine and Christian Museum for the first time—and found it to be still further testament to Greece’s many layerings of cultural influences.

Hidden away in the basement galleries, I might almost have missed the Techni Group exhibition, a tribute to the centenary of the group show of artists led by Nikolaos Lytras and his friends (among whom I particularly admired the work of Pavlos Mathiopoulos, Konstantinos Parthenis, and Lykourgos Kogevinas) that established modernism in Greece under the patronage of the visionary prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos. Thank goodness I managed to see it, because the work of the artists—evoking by turns the fashionable swagger portraits of Boldini and Sargent, the theatrical drama of Bakst, and the charm of the plein air painters of late-19th-century France—comes together as a powerful statement for a new national identity through art.

Onward to the Benaki Museum—one of my favorite museums not only in Athens but in the world. After my first visit a decade or so ago, I was so inspired by its beautifully displayed collections of vernacular Greek costumes (among many other treasures that span the millennia) that I raced to Paris to tell John Galliano about it. He sent a posse from his design team to research—and subsequently based one of his eponymous collections on the pieces (think: stiff wool dirndl skirts and rich embroideries). The museum has recently expanded its displays, so there are even more treasures to admire in its intimate rooms, and on this latest visit I was also lucky to catch the exhibition “Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor: Charmed Lives in Greece,” which is centered around the friendship of the artists John Craxton and Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, whose spiky, highly colored works exemplify mid-century style, and the brilliant travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, who met one another in the 1940s after the war and were drawn together not least by their love of Greece.

The show, elegantly curated by Evita Arapoglou, Sir Michael Llewellyn-Smith, Ian Collins, and Ioanna Moraiti (and in collaboration with the Leventis Gallery and the Craxton Estate), brings together not only their work but also images of the remarkable houses that they created: Nikos and Barbara Hadjikyriakos-Ghika’s Baroque colonial finca on Corfu and Neoclassical mansion on Hydra; the ineffably stylish stone house that Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor built above the craggy coastline of Kardamyli in their beloved Mani region of mainland Greece; and Craxton’s modest fisherman’s house on the Venetian harbor of Chania in Crete. Video—along with still images of these enduringly inspiring places and interviews with friends of the late artists—brought their worlds of fecund imagination brilliantly to life and created a moving tribute.

Thence to the truly astonishing Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, the inspiring new home to the Greek National Opera and the National Library of Greece. Difficult as it is to imagine without the photographic evidence, the original site was apparently grim—a flat expanse of wasteland and concrete latterly used as parking for several of the stadiums built for the 2004 Athens Olympics and hemmed in by motorways that blocked the view of the Bay of Phalerum and the sea beyond. With a flourish of his pen and a giant bound of his imagination, master architect Renzo Piano envisaged the plot as a verdantly planted hill rising in a gentle slope the length of the site, and at its 33-meter peak it now soars far above the choking Athenian traffic below and offers heart-stopping views not only of the Aegean waters but a panorama of the city itself, along with its famed hills and the Parthenon. Beneath the slope, Piano placed the National Library of Greece and a sprawling, soaring cultural complex of performance and concert, dance, and operatic rehearsal spaces to house the Greek National Opera. (The ensemble that Piano has planned is meant to evoke the cultural meeting place of an ancient Greek agora.) The heart of the opera house is the 1,400-seat Stavros Niarchos Hall. The theater’s cherrywood and its scarlet fabrics evoke a classic 19th-century theater, but its state-of-the-art acoustics and Platinum LEED rating, along with Susumu Shingu’s mobile (which rises before performances much like the Swarovski Sputnik chandeliers at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Opera), place it firmly in the 21st century.

Social spaces and terraces on the upper floors, meanwhile, provide breathtaking panoramic views of the sprawling city itself and of the newly created park, the work of landscape architect Deborah Nevins, whose spectacular plantings of Mediterranean cypress, olive, almond, and pomegranate trees and stalwart maquis vegetation—including the sage, laurel, and rosemary that give the Greek islands and mainland landscapes their unique fragrance—have created a throbbing green heart in the city. I cannot wait to see a performance here.

Read the full article and look at the lovely images here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment