Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Image: "Empress Theodora with her Court" Basilica di S. Vitale, Ravenna, (Mosaic, 6th C.)

"Immediately beside the Hippodrome [in Constantinople], immediately opposite Santa Sophia, stood the Bucoleon, the Great Palace, just as the Doge's Palace stood beside the Piazza and the Basilica (the church for God, it used to be said, the palace for the emperor, the arena for the people). It was like an inner city of its own, spilling down the hillside in a complex of pavilions, courtyards, churches, barracks and gardens to its watergate on the Marmara shore. It was the palace of palaces, full of astonishments. The Imperial Silk Factory occupied only a small corner of its space; in the imperial chapel even the nails and hinges were made of silver; the palace lighthouse was a signal station too, and its flashes kept the emperor in touch with his officials far away in Asia Minor. The very complexity of the palace, corridor leading into gallery, hall opening only into anteroom, was designed to overawe the princes and ambassadors of lesser powers, while the core of it all, the audience chamber of the emperor himself, seemed to simple visitors actually magic. Mechanical birds twittered on enamelled branches as one entered it. Automatic lions roared, beating the ground with their tails. The towering blonde Varangians [Imperial Guard from Sweden], like creatures from another planet, stood perpetually on guard with their battle-axes. When at last one reached the imperial presence, the emperor was discovered sitting on a sumptuous throne of gold and diamonds dressed in robes of many colours: but even as one made one's obeisances, to a peal of organs he was whisked into the air and out of sight, descending a moment later still on his throne but in a yet more dazzling change of costume."

from The Venetian Empire, by Jan Morris.


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