Richard & Stacy's Round the World Trip 2001

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The Mosaics Museum actually dates back to the 1930s, when the Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors was discovered during excavations. The original Great Palace was built by Constantine when he moved the seat of Rome to Byzantium, paving the way for the creation of Constantinople. The palace area stretched from where the Hippodrome once was, all the way to the Marmara Sea. Since the land was not level (the area around the Hippodrome is 32 metres above sea level), a series of six huge vaulted terraces were built to create level ground. The palaces were built upon these terraces.

Many of the original structures built by Constantine were destroyed in the Nika Insurrection of 532. Justinian I (of Haghia Sophia fame) ordered the restoration and reconstruction of the Great Palaces, including the creation of mosaics for the courtyards.

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The first of four photos showing the northeastern mosaic of the courtyard of the Great Palace.   Two of four, focusing on the the bucolic work of the Byzantine era, workers in the field, etc.
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Three of four, the beautiful border work more visible, more of the animal life of the Byzantine era visible.   The fourth of four, showing the corner of the mosaic - it is believed this mosaic is in the position it was originally lain, 1,500 years earlier.
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A removed fragment of the northeastern mosaic shows two boys riding a dromedary (camel). The boy in front believed to be the child of a noblemen, due to the wreath on his head and the tame bird in his hand.   Also a part of the northeastern mosaic, a wellhouse from the Byzantine era, likely from out in the country, surrounded by pine trees.
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A look at the entire mosaic from the northeastern corner of the courtyard of the Great Palace.   A fragment from the northeastern mosaic, showing the near three-dimensional border scroll work done all around the mosaic.
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A scene from the northeastern mosaic showing an antelope attacked by a leopard.   Stacy examines the scene of a rider on horseback with a spear, giving an idea of the size of these mosaics.

The Great Palace is well documented in the Book of Ceremonies from the court of Konstantinos VII Porphyrogennetos (944-959). It was estimated to be 4,000 square metres, of which 3,700 square metres was taken up by a peristylar court 66.50x55.50 metres at the sides. There were Corinthian columns supporting the ceiling in a 12 by 12 format, each some 9 metres high. The entire floor of the palace was done in mosaics, although only 250 square metres have been saved from ruin.

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A look down the passageway at the next major fragments of the mosaic. The low ceiling is due to the fact that the Arasta Bazaar is built over the original site of the mosaics, the ceiling is actually ground level for the bazaar.   The left-most portion of the central mosaic, highly fragmented, showing more mythical creatures and scenes from the Byzantine era.
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Another highly fragmented part of the mosaic, most of the losses likely occurred in medieval times.   In the central mosaic, the first of numerous fantastic creatures comes into view.
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The tigress griffin is a rare mosaic find, its head, legs and tail are tiger, teats indicating tigress. It also has wings, horns, and is consuming a lizard...    The artwork is so detailed here, its hard to realize that it is made up of chips of coloured mica, most under 5mm across - some 40,000 are used every square metre.
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A scene from Byzantine fables, a tailless monkey catches birds. The lime-twig that the monkey holds in the scene is an indicator of the era of the mosaic. Lime-twigs were actually used to catch birds in the 6th century.   Near the right end of the central mosaic shows more bucolic scenes - a farmer shepherding geese, a child playing with a dog.
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The end of the central is a classic scene from Byzantine era - actually going all the way back to Hellenistic times: the stag and the snake.   A look at the whole of the third major mosaic, from the southwest corner of the palace.
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At the left side of the third mosaic is the eagle and the snake, symbolizing the victory of light over darkness. It was widespread all over antiquity, the Roman army used it in their standards.     Moving along the mosaic shows more standard scenes of wildlife: goats and deer.
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The missing portion of this mosaic may conceal the head of a lion.   At the end of the mosaic is a bucolic scene of a mother nursing a baby.

There are only three major portions of the mosaics left, and only the first (the northeastern) is in its original position. The rest have been moved. Throughout the museum there was a significant amount of discussion on the restoration and protection programs for the mosaics.

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A small fragment up on the wall of the museum showing a battle between a lion and an elephant.   This close-in detail of a woman's head shows how the designs were made with small chips of mica.
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A two-part photo of a griffin attacking a deer. Mythical animals were apparently popular motifs in Byzantine mosaics... or maybe they weren't mythical back then?   The edge of the griffin fragment shows more beautiful mosaic scrollwork.
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Another two photo scene shows two men attacking a tiger. The detail of this mosaic is stunningly life like.   The border here matches the one from the griffin above and elsewhere on the mosaic... this is one continuous diorama of art.

The last fragments of the mosaic on display are border pieces, showing some of the repeating motifs that occurred in the borders of the mosaic all around the palace.

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Apparently larger-than-life heads, likely of Roman gods, covered the perimeter of the mosaic. This is the only remaining sample.   A fragment of the larger border portions of the mosaic, showing symmetrical life-like plant structures.
Click to see a larger version...   A fragment of the larger border showing another face, this one more likely a face of history, possibly an Emperor.

The discovery of the mosaics (back in the 1930s) were followed by numerous inadequate attempts to protect and preserve them. By the 1980s, the mosaics were in serious risk of being lost forever from weather, inappropriate preservation techniques, and so forth. A major effort put forth by the Direcorate General of Monuments and Museums in Turkey actually lifted the mosaics from their beds, replaced the beds with new high-tech supporting surfaces that are extremely durable and protect the mosaics themselves. Then the mosaics were returned to a newly refurbished museum - the one we visited today.

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A picture of the removal of the mosaics and a cut-through view of the new beds that the mosaics rest on, including honeycomb backing from the aviation industry. Another photo from the restoration area of the museum, showing the results of cleaning efforts on the mosaics.

The Mosaics Museum was just across the street from the hotel - if not for a whim (and lack of fortitude for dealing with street sellers), we might have missed it. The Byzantine mosaics in the museum are unique in the world - nowhere else do such wonders from the peak of mosaic building in ancient times exist.

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