Constantinople is by far one of the most storied cities on God’s good Earth. In some respects, it is God’s Great City, greater even than Jerusalem to many Orthodox Christians. The history involved with Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) is as complex as it is beautiful. I won’t get into all of it today (it’s impossible) but even today, after six centuries of Turkish rule, the City still manages to inspire awe and a taste for civilization. Visitors often can’t help but feel Byzantine or Roman walking the various historic sites and promenades. Most Westerners feel that Greco-Roman heritage and identity pulse through their blood and come back to life as they walk and experience The City. And by the way, it really is known as The City, capital T the. In fact, the name Istanbul is just the Turkish transliteration for the Greek “Eis Thn Poli“, which means “to The City”.
So much of Constantinople is beautiful and constant. But with the modern architecture and the mass urbanization that occurred in the 20th Century, it’s hard to see some of the more Romantic buildings that once were. I recently came across this blog post titled “Gorgeous Images Of Constantinople Reconstruct The Monuments Of The Great City From 4th To 13th Century AD” at Realm of History. Some of the most amazing buildings are brought back to life in life-like beautiful illustrations. The sense of scale and the beauty are just unparalleled. You can get the sense that The City truly was The City of Cities.
And just as a side note, I do think these images demonstrate very well that Christian architectural form was intended for beauty and the elevation of the mind to the Sublime. In this sense, it disproves the many false ideas that Christians were anti-Greco-Roman or anti-pagan art during the Medieval Ages. Christian societies were a continuation of the ancient pre-Christian societies and the Byzantines demonstrate this exceptionally. Today, some of the world’s most visited cities are the most visually beautiful. And much of that beauty is the result of Christian architectural forms advancing what was inherited from their pre-Christian ancestors.
For our modern culture, there is something to be learned from this… and that is that the separation of Church and State, I think, artificially establishes a banal urban form that is pointless and uninspiring (see our modern day suburbs). The natural order for urban planning, I think, has historically been to orient cities to higher aspirations. Something greater than our collective everyday happenings. Sometimes these higher aspirations are religious. Sometimes they are geometric, astronomical, artistic etc. Just not solely utilitarian. There is more to a city than its mere functional qualities. And I fear that too often, in the various discourses of sustainability and the future of cities, the functional and utilitarian qualities are paid too much attention. An ugly city is inefficient.
Anyway… I digress.
Enjoy the images of Constantinople! 🙂