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.

Advertisements
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

Over 60 pristine shipwrecks, many Byzantine, found in Black Sea

1506544911-screen-shot-2017-09-27-at-44113-pmWhat claims to be the biggest ever maritime expedition, led by British Professor Jon Adams of the University of Southampton, set off to investigate climate change in the Black Sea three years ago, but found many ancient shipwrecks as well.

The project originally set out to investigate the changes in the ancient environment of the Black Sea region including the impact of sea level change during the last glacial cycle. During the three year-long expedition, the team discovered century’s old shipwrecks by chance, including vessels from the Byzantine era, Middle Ages and the Ottoman Empire.

Watch to video to find out more.

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

Nine things you didn’t know about love and marriage in Byzantium

dhxmqswajd4-178x266Byzantine civilization has long been regarded by many as one big curiosity. Often associated with treachery and superstition, their traditions and contributions to the ancient world are often overlooked. Referencing A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities, we’ve pulled together nine lesser known facts about love and marriage in Byzantium.

By Anthony Kaldellis

First published in the Oxford University Press Blog

Beauty pageants

The imperial court would often organize bride shows, basically beauty pageants, to find a wife for the heir to the throne, who would give the winner a golden apple. The most famous show was for the Byzantine Emperor Theophilos. He was allegedly smitten by the beautiful but sharp-tongued Kasia, and tested her by saying, “the worst evil came into the world through woman,” referring to the temptation of Eve. To this she responded, “And so did the best of the best,” referring to the promise of salvation, Jesus, born of Mary. Theophilos didn’t like the riposte and chose Theodora instead, giving her the golden apple.

Rules and restrictions

By the eleventh century, the Church had put in place a complicated set of restrictions on marriage. Among other rules, marriage was forbidden between two persons who were connected by up to seven degrees of genealogical relation, counting inclusively. Additional rules prohibited marriage between persons related via spiritual kin­ship, especially that established by baptism, or by the prior marriage of mutual relatives. It was a complicated enough business that special treatises were required to sort it all out.

A Cinderella story

Court officials touring the provinces in search of suitable brides for the imperial prince were apparently given a painting of what a perfect or ideal match should look like, and they tried to match it to the candidates they met. They also carried an impe­rial shoe of the right length for the ideal bride and tested it on their feet.

Men and divorce

By law, a man could ask for divorce if his wife had questioned his mas­culine honor—say, through infidelity or immoral behavior; caused him bodily harm by attempts on his life through magic or physi­cal violence, or jeopardized his attempts to procreate. He could also demand divorce if his wife was incapable of fulfilling her conjugal duties due to an incur­able illness— say, madness or leprosy. Madness was sometimes distin­guished from demonic possession, which did not constitute grounds for divorce.

Women and divorce

Women could demand divorce if the marriage threatened their chastity— say, through incitement to prostitution or accusations of infidelity; or their bodily integrity by attempts on their life through magic or physical violence; or if the man could not fulfill his duties because of an illness (again, madness or leprosy), was implicated in serious crimes, or was sexually impotent for more than three years or absent for more than five. A woman could also ask for divorce if her husband was convinced that she was cheating on him and persisted in this belief even after discovering that he was wrong.

Fertility

Ecclesiastical writer and priest Anastasios of Sinai used soil as an analogy to explain why some rich people desire to have children but cannot, whereas many poor people can easily have many children: soil that has received too much water is not fertile, whereas soil that has been watered mod­erately is.

Chastity

There was a statue of Aphrodite near the hospital of Theophilos in Constantinople which was said to have the following power: if a woman was a virgin or a chaste wife, it would allow her to pass unmolested, but if she had been naughty or adulterous, it would cause her to lift up her dress and expose the shame of her privates for all to see. It was, accordingly, used to perform chastity tests. But the sister-in- law of the emperor Justin II had the statue destroyed because it did this to her when she was passing by on other business.

Dream interpretations

According to a book of dream-prediction attributed to Ahmet, if you dream that you have relations with

a classy escort, it means that you will become rich
a nun, it means that grief is in store for you
a common whore, your wealth will grow, but by unjust means
a beautiful woman, you will find joy and wealth within a year
an old woman, you will obtain power from an ancient source

Anthony Kaldellis is Professor of Classics at The Ohio State University, and the author of Hellenism in Byzantium: The Transformations of Greek Identity and the Reception of the Classical Tradition, Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood: The Rise and Fall of Byzantium, 955 A.D. to the First Crusade, and most recently A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from History’s Most Orthodox Empire

Posted in Modern Books | Tagged | Leave a comment