Sunday, December 2, 2012

Buondelmonti's Constantinople 3

Becket, December 2, 2012

When Justinian decided to build Hagia Sophia in 532, the population of Constantinople had reached something like half a million people.  It fluctuated in that range for several centuries, but just before turn of the millennium it began to decline rapidly.  The combined destruction of the Crusaders and the Black Death managed to decimate Constantinople.  By the time Buondelmonti drew his map in 1422, the population of the city had dwindled to less than 50,000 people.

It's not difficult to imagine that our Florentine monk must have found the residential fabric of the city in a rather sorry state.  His map barely shows anything other than the fortifications and a number of major buildings and roads.  Of course Hagia Sophia with its enormous dome.  Next to it, the Hippodrome.  My guess is that the other large building near the Theodosian Walls is the Palace of Blachernae, the principal imperial residence after Michael VIII Palaiologos recaptured the city (the Crusaders left the Great Palace adjacent to Hagia Sophia in terrible state.)  Also the map shows several other palaces, churches and a few Roman monumental columns, like the Column of Constantine--I believe it's the one with the cross on top,--marking major public spaces (forums.)

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