New Exhibition
From Istanbul to Byzantium Paths to Rediscovery, 1800–1955

November 23 2021

Pera Museum and Istanbul Research Institute’s exhibition, From Istanbul to Byzantium: Paths to Rediscovery, 18001955, explores the central role of the Ottoman capital in shaping the emerging discipline of Byzantine studies. Bringing together a rich archaeological and archival selection, as well as an impressive animation, the exhibition will be on display at Pera Museum until 6 March 2022.

Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation Pera Museum and Istanbul Research Institute present two Byzantine exhibitions simultaneously to art lovers. The first of these exhibitions, which focuses on Byzantine artifacts in the Istanbul Archaeological Museums, is titled "From Istanbul to Byzantium: Paths of Rediscovery, 1800-1955" and sheds light on the development of Byzantine studies in Istanbul.

Prepared by Pera Museum and Istanbul Research Institute, the exhibition “From Istanbul to Byzantium” is curated by Byzantinist Brigitte Pitarakis. The exhibition, which examines the central role of the Ottoman capital in shaping Byzantine studies, focuses on an area that has not been studied enough until now, and brings together an impressive selection of archival holdings, and archaeological material from the Byzantine collections of Istanbul Archaeological Museums. Many outstanding libraries, archives, and private collections from Turkey and abroad contributed to this selection. Rare books, original photographs, documents, maps and prints illustrated in a flamboyant style specific to the period were brought together in a thematic integrity in the exhibition. Nejad Melih Devrim and Fikret Mualla's Byzantium-inspired paintings reveal the influence of this heritage on modern art, while A. Tayfun Öner's 3D animation, which deals with the extraordinary career of Istanbul born astronomer Eugène Antoniadi, looks at Byzantium through the lens of science fiction.

Rediscovering Byzantium

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a confluence of geopolitical, diplomatic, academic, artistic, and local interest in Istanbul paved the way for increased awareness of the Byzantine past as a rich and shared heritage.  Steps were taken to move away from the simplistic orientalist view of Constantinople as a fantastically picturesque city by adopting a rational approach to antiquities newly discovered or recently rediscovered. Those involved in documenting Istanbul’s Byzantine past not only blazed a trail in the conservation of the city’s cultural heritage but also developed scientific methods of study in their search for certainty. These developments—leading toward a scientific approach to Byzantium and insufficiently studied until now—stand at the center of From Istanbul to Byzantium

“Curiosity towards the ‘other’”

Curator Brigitte Pitarakis points out that the transformation of the Byzantine heritage into a wide area of interest was examined for the first time in this exhibition and adds: “Istanbul’s major role in modern transnational transport began to be established in the late nineteenth century with the construction of the Berlin-Baghdad railway and the opening of the Suez Canal, when the broadening of geographical horizons and developments in scientific research and technologies gave rise to renewed curiosity about past civilizations and people who today would be called the other. Beyond looking at various moments in the city’s life from 1800 to 1955, the exhibition From Istanbul to Byzantium also considers the dynamic of Istanbul as a center of gravity attracting the monetary and intellectual wealth of empires to further knowledge of Byzantium, ultimately resulting in the emergence of Byzantine studies as a discipline. It sheds light on the complex issue of Byzantine heritage in modern history by presenting the perspectives of the political, economic, and cultural actors in Istanbul during the period covered.”

Changing meanings of the Byzantine heritage

The first section of the exhibition, which comprises 6 sections in total, provides the background to trace the Istanbul’s multicultural identity, cultural and intellectual vitality, and role in the development of Byzantine studies in the West. While the second section presents research on Byzantine topography, architecture, inscriptions and artifacts, the third section examines the central role of the Imperial Ottoman Museum (today the Istanbul Archaeological Museums) in reinforcing the image of the late Ottoman Empire as a modern nation. The fourth section greets the visitors with Byzantine ruins that emerged in lands that were emptied with the diminishing of Istanbul’s wooden houses due to modernization of the city, earthquakes, and fires.

In the fifth section, there are detailed maps prepared by professionals from different disciplines such as architects, photographers, cartographers and painters to record the Byzantine ruins, structure and topography. The last section of the exhibition illustrates the artistic impact of the curiosity generated by the rediscovery of Byzantium in Istanbul.

Contributing institutions and collectors

The exhibition brings together Byzantine artifacts along with related books, prints, maps, photographs, documents and paintings from the collections of Istanbul Archaeological Museums, Istanbul University Rare Books Library, Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation, German Archaeological Institute in Istanbul, Galeri Nev İstanbul, Ömer Koç, Serap Kayhan, Dr. Safder Tarim, Büke Uras, and Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive, EPHE, Fonds Gabriel Millet, Collège de France, Fonds Thomas Whittemore, Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris.

Originating from Discovering Byzantium in Istanbul: Scholars, Institutions, and Challenges, 1800–1955, a symposium held at the Pera Museum,the exhibition From Istanbul to Byzantium can be visited through March 6, 2022 at Pera Museum in Istanbul.

Pera Museum can be visited from Tuesday to Saturday between 10.00-19.00, and between 12.00-18.00 on Sunday. On Fridays, within the scope of “Long Friday”, all visitors between 18.00-22.00 and on Wednesdays, within the scope of “Young Wednesday”, all students can visit the museum free of charge.