Byzantine architecture is the architecture of the Byzantine or Later Roman Empire. This terminology is used by modern historians to designate the medieval Roman Empire as it evolved as a distinct artistic and cultural entity centered on the new capitol of Constantinople rather than the city of Rome and environs.
In addition to the civic network, the Eastern Empire’s conversion to Christianity was also a contributing factor to the prosperity of its culture. The Sixth Century Byzantine Emperor, Justinian, recognized the importance of Christianity in the Byzantine lifestyle and initiated a push for the betterment of Byzantine art. As Byzantine historian Thomas Mathews states in his book, The Early Churches of Constantinople, "new structural types, new decorative motifs, new styles in the figurative arts, all suddenly reach maturity in the early sixth century."(p 42) All throughout his empire, Justinian began the monumental task of rebuilding and building Christian Churches. In 537 AD, the traditional Byzantine form was born following the completion of the Church of Hagia Sophia.
Lastly, smallness, intimacy, and subtlety are basic stylistic concepts of Middle and Late Byzantine architecture. A wealth of decoration designed to overwhelm the visitor would be crowded into the tiny space of these churches: marble sheathing and precious tapestries on the walls and mosaics or murals in the vaulting zone; icons and reliquaries of gold, enamel, and glass, such as have survived in the treasure of S. Marco in Venice.
The system of construction in concrete and brickwork introduced by the Romans was adopted by the Byzantines. The carcase of concrete and brickwork was first completed and allowed to settle before the surface sheathing of unyielding marble slabs was added, and this independence of the component parts is characteristic of Byzantine construction. Brickwork, moreover. lent itself externally to decorative caprices in patterns and banding, and internally it was suitable for covering with marble, mosaic, and fresco decoration. The Byzantines therefore took great pains in the manufacture of bricks, which were employed alike in military, ecclesiastical, and domestic architecture. The ordinary bricks were like the Roman, about an inch and a half in depth, and were laid on thick beds of mortar.
The character of Byzantine architecture, which dates from the fourth century to the present day, is determined by the novel development of the dome to cover polygonal and square plans for churches, tombs, and baptisteries. The practice of placing many domes over one building is in strong contrast to the Romanesque system of vaulted roofs. The change from Roman and Early Christian forms was gradual, but in the course of two centuries the East asserted its influence; and though no exact line separates Early Christian and Byzantine styles, yet the basilican type, inherited from pagan Rome, is characteristic of the former, and the domed type, introduced from the East, of the latter.
The most imposing achievement of Byzantine architecture is the Church of Holy Wisdom or Hagia Sophia. It was constructed in a short span of five years (532–37) during the reign of Justinian. Hagia Sophia is without a clear antecedent in the architecture of late antiquity, yet it must be accounted as culminating several centuries of experimentation toward the realization of a unified space of monumental dimensions. Throughout the history of Byzantine religious architecture, the centrally planned structure continued in favor. Such structures, which may show considerable variation in plan, have in common the predominance of a central domed space, flanked and partly sustained by smaller domes and half-domes spanning peripheral spaces.
The architecture of the Byzantine Empire was based on the great legacy of Roman formal and technical achievements. Constantinople had been purposely founded as the Christian counterpart and successor to the leadership of the old pagan city of Rome. The new capital was in close contact with the Hellenized East, and the contribution of Eastern culture, though sometimes overstressed, was an important element in the development of its architectural style. The 5th-century basilica of St. John of the Studion, the oldest surviving church in Constantinople, is an early example of Byzantine reliance upon traditional Roman models.
Byzantine architecture had its roots in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey) but spread throughout the Byzantine Empire in eastern Mediterranean and Near East area. The era started around 400 AD and lasted until 1453.
Byzantine art and architecture, works of art and structures works produced in the city of Byzantium after Constantine made it the capital of the Roman Empire (A.D. 330) and the work done under Byzantine influence, as in Venice, Ravenna, Norman Sicily, as well as in Syria, Greece, Russia, and other Eastern countries.
Byzantium is said to have been founded in the seventh century B.C., and was a Greek colony as early as the fourth century B.C. Byzantine architecture is that which was developed at Byzantium on the removal of the capital from Rome to the city. It includes not only the buildings in Byzantium but also those which were erected under its influence, as at Ravenna and Venice, also in Greece, Russia, and elsewhere.
Although the Empire was religiously diverse, by the late fourth century Christianity became the official religion of the Empire, and faith would help maintain the authority and prominence of Constantinople through its decline from political significance. Much of Byzantine architecture was created to express religious experience and mediate between the believer and God.