The Umayyad Mosque of Damascus is the earliest Islamic monument still extant after the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. As with the Dome of the Rock, the Mosque boasts a large volume of mosaic decoration of the highest quality that is believed to have been carried out by Byzantine artisans given the similarities of the technique and motifs with high-quality Byzantine commissions of the same era. The most notable difference is that there is a complete absence of figural imagery in the Islamic monuments. In the case of the Umayyad Mosque the decoration is particularly intriguing as it depicts a range of landscapes both urban and pastoral, all entirely without living creatures. This has led many commentators to argue that it represents a vision of paradise, with others arguing instead for an idealised representation of Damascus. Whether or not these interpretations are correct, the mosaicists appear familiar with Roman architecture, with porticoed late Roman villas appearing prominently in the decoration, meaning that the mosaics demonstrate a continuity with earlier artistic forms rather than a definitive break with the past. In many ways the decorative scheme is far more conservative than that of the Dome of the Rock, which predates is by over twenty years.
The highest status objects from regional excavations were taken to Damascus and Aleppo, but the Raqqa Museum housed less significant artefacts in a small colonial-era building. These pictures were taken quickly as an experiment in dim winter light, but are included here as all finds in the museum are now presumed destroyed or looted.
The Roman theatre at Bosra is often cited as being one of the best preserved Roman theatres in the world. It was fortified and used as a citadel in the Islamic era and retained this defensive function with local people living inside the structure until they were evicted under the French Mandate in the 1920s. Today part of the building houses a mosaic museum and the theatre is still used for concerts and cultural events.
Early sources reveal that Constantine’s church of the Holy Sepulchre was sumptuously decorated with fine marbled panels, columns and a coffered ceiling. A cross was set up on the rock of Golgotha to commemorate the exact site of the Crucifixion and was replaced over the following centuries with one decorated with gems, a golden cross and a simple wooden one in the seventh century. Christ’s tomb was in two parts: the first a porch that contained part of the stone that formed the door to the tomb and the second the tomb itself. It had a roof of silver and gold, outer walls made of marble and it was topped with a cross.
The modern church has been significantly modified and little of the Late Antique fabric has survived as much of it was rebuilt in the nineteenth and twentieth century following a fire and an earthquake that caused much damage.
Tags: Architecture, C12th, C19th-C20th, C2nd, C4th, Christ, Christian, Church, Constantine, Cross, Crucifixion, Crusades, Domed Basilica, Golgotha, Holy Sepulchre, Holy Site, Israel, Jerusalem, Joseph of Arimathea, Mosaic, Pilgrimage, Resurrection, St. Helena, Tomb
In the mid-fourth century, a church was constructed around a grotto in the town of Nazareth that was said to be the Virgin Mary’s house and the place where the archangel Gabriel appeared to her during the Annunciation. This holy site was clearly well established as a place of worship towards the end of the fourth century as the pilgrim Egeria describes an altar within a grand and splendid grotto. The Piacenza pilgrim who journeyed to Nazareth in the late sixth century states that there is a basilica at the House of Mary that contains many garments that once belonged to the Virgin. Today, remnants of wall paintings, mosaics, and the architecture from this early church building are visible.
Tags: Annunciation, Architecture, C20th, C4th, C5th-C6th, Cave, Christ, Christian, Cross, Foliage, Fresco, Geometric Motif, Greek Inscription, Holy Site, Inscription, Israel, Mosaic, Nazareth, Pilgrimage, St. Gabriel, Staurogram, Virgin Mary
The Church of Mar Elian is believed to date back to the early fifth century and to have been founded on the site of the saint's martyrdom in 284. Elian was a local physician who was murdered by his father, a Roman officer, for his Christian faith. He is widely venerated in Syria for miracles of healing. The church was built around a late antique marble sarcophagus decorated with crosses and located in a small side apse south of the main sanctuary of the church. In the 1970s fragments of frescoes and mosaics were discovered during a renovation programme in the chamber around the tomb, and some elements of the decoration possibly date back as far as the sixth century, though most of the frescoes are twelfth century. Today the church interior boasts frescoes of the life of Mar Elian and various biblical scenes painted by two Romanian artists.
The town of Bethlehem is located to the south of Jerusalem in the West Bank. Since the second century, pilgrims have flocked to the site traditionally associated as the place of Christ’s birth, a cave to the east of the town. In the fourth century, Helena, the Emperor Constantine’s mother, supposedly rediscovered the cave and had her son build a church to commemorate it. This church featured an octagonal structure at the eastern end that was positioned directly over the cave of the Nativity. At the centre of this octagon was a wide, circular opening to allow pilgrims to glimpse at the holy site. It was badly damaged during a Samaritan revolt in 529 AD and was rebuilt by the Emperor Justinian in the mid-sixth century. Much of this church has survived and is largely what is seen today. There were later modifications during the time of the Crusades, largely with the fresco painting on the nave columns. It is thus considered the oldest church in use.
Tags: Bethlehem, C12th, C2nd, C4th, C6th, Cave, Christ, Christian, Church, Column, Constantine, Corinthian, Crusades, Fresco, Geometric Motif, Holy Site, Icon, Justinian, Mosaic, Nativity, Octagonal, Pilgrimage, St. Helena, West Bank
Mount Tabor is an isolated oval-shaped mountain in the Jezreel valley and is situated to the south-west of the Sea of Galilee. It is associated as the place of Christ’s Transfiguration before Peter, James and John in the presence of Elijah and Moses. Pilgrims who venerated the site in the fourth century describe three churches built on the summit of the mountain that were dedicated to Christ, Moses and Elijah. The mosaics photographed here are from this period. The Crusaders founded a Benedictine abbey on the site, remnants of which are visible today. The Franciscans built a new church in the twentieth century and the place of the Transfiguration is located in the crypt.
Tags: Architecture, Baptistery, C12th, C20th, C4th, Christ, Christian, Church, Cross, Geometric Motif, Holy Site, Israel, Jezreel Valley, Mosaic, Mount Tabor, Mountain, St. Elijah, St. James, St. John, St. Peter, Transfiguration
Capernaum is an ancient fishing village situated on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee. Within an insula of this village are a number of rooms that are traditionally associated with the house of Peter the Apostle. A simple, square room within this complex was given particular attention by the Christian community in the years immediately following his death. In the fourth century, this room became a Domus Ecclesia (a house church) and was the place for Christian prayer and gatherings. The numerous inscriptions on the painted plaster of this place suggest that it was a prominent centre of pilgrimage, even by this early period. In the fifth century, an octagonal church was built over the house church. It consisted of an inner octagon that was directly over the venerated room, a larger concentric octagon and an outer semi-octagon.
Tags: Architecture, Basalt, C1st-C2nd, C20th, C4th, C5th, Capernaum, Centrally-Planned, Christ, Christian, Church, Domus Ecclesia (house church), Galilee, Geometric Motif, Holy Site, Inscription, Israel, Mosaic, Octagonal, Pilgrimage, St. Peter, Wall
The place of the miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes is located on the north-western shores of the Sea of Galilee. The first church constructed on the site was built in the mid-fourth century. It was small, its altar was formed from the rock upon which Christ laid the bread and fish and it was not oriented to the east. In the late-fifth Century, it was enlarged to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims who visited the site, it was given an eastern orientation and was laid with mosaics of flora and fauna. The modern church built on the site follows the plans of the later church.