Interpretation and presentation of the Byzantine cultural heritage at Sultanahmet in İstanbul

Özcan, Ceren
This research is based upon the premise that effective conservation of cultural heritage can only be achieved through promoting awareness and understanding of history and past cultures. As a result of either the selection or exclusion of particular periods or areas of the past in the conservation of cultural heritage in Turkey (and elsewhere), Late Antique and Byzantine periods have long been neglected. The lack of information and awareness of contemporary society regarding Byzantine history and culture and its heritage leads to a negative response to this heritage and its neglect. Under these circumstances, the cultural heritage of the Late Antique and Byzantine periods needs to be reinterpreted and presented as part of the common cultural heritage, so as to be embraced and adopted by larger sections of society and thus achieve sustainable conservation. This study accordingly investigates the issues related to the interpretation and presentation of the Byzantine cultural heritage through the selected case-study of Sultanahmet in Istanbul, with particular emphasis on the Byzantine (mainly architectural) heritage built between the 4th and 7th centuries. Sultanahmet was the administrative (and ceremonial) center of Constantinople/Istanbul and therefore of the Byzantine Empire for more than ten centuries. This area, with its historical layering and monumental examples of the Late Antique and Byzantine architecture still is one of the most significant areas of modern Istanbul. The well-preserved Byzantine imperial structures are important witnesses with their architectural and spatial features, their construction techniques and materials to the Late Antique and Early Christian periods. However, because of the lack of effective interpretation and presentation approaches aimed at fostering awareness for the Byzantine cultural heritage in the Sultanahmet area, only the well-preserved monumental buildings now transformed into museums, such as Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern, are known by the users and visitors of the area. Also, the Byzantine cultural heritage has not been the subject of a thorough consideration in the plans aiming at the conservation of this area and largely highlighting the heritage of the Ottoman and Turkish periods, at least until the recent past. In addition to these points, tourism and the income to be obtained from this sector have usually been the major and deciding factor in decision-making processes. Consequently, some of the monumental buildings of the administrative and ceremonial center of Byzantine Constantinople now remain partly ‘invisible’ and inaccessible, and cannot therefore be understood and appreciated by the general public. This type of physical/visual and interpretive challenges inevitably lead to an interruption both in physical and intellectual terms within the ‘historical layering’ of the Sultanahmet area from the Roman through to the Ottoman periods (and up to this day) as a whole. In this context, this study argues that public awareness and adoption of the Byzantine cultural heritage can be promoted through reliable and effective interpretation and presentation strategies, on the way to stimulating a more sustainable conservation of this heritage in the long-term. With this premise,, his research investigates the values and opportunities offered by the Byzantine cultural heritage in Sultanahmet and the threats to its conservation, and offers proposals for a more effective scheme of interpretation and presentation (by which to achieve a better understanding and conservation) of this heritage, as part of the historical continuity of the area, within its contemporary urban environment.


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Citation Formats
C. Özcan, “Interpretation and presentation of the Byzantine cultural heritage at Sultanahmet in İstanbul,” Thesis (M.Arch.) -- Graduate School of Natural and Applied Sciences. Conservation of Cultural Heritage in Architecture., Middle East Technical University, 2019.