ConstSpace: A New Research Network Hosted by the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul

The research network ‘Constantinople: the diachronicity of public spaces’ (ConstSpace) wishes to challenge current ideas of a clearly distinguishable European center, located in the west of the continent, surrounded by different peripheries. It focuses on Constantinople/Istanbul – once the capital of the Byzantine and the Ottoman empires respectively – and argues that it should be seen as a central and at the same time intermediary space, rather than a border between East and West. The city’s liminality is best manifested in the diachronic central role of the city’s public spaces of encounter, contact, dialogue and otherness – constantly transformed yet persistently stable.

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Prof. Lioba Theis (Vienna) offering the participants an introduction to the historical cityscape of Byzantion/Constantinople/Istanbul during a boat tour on the Golden Horn, March 2019

The network, under the aegis of Myrto Veikou and Ingela Nilsson, has met twice in order to discuss possible collaborations in the form of larger or smaller project units: first in Stockholm in December 2018 (a workshop supported and hosted by The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities), then in Istanbul by the end of March 2019. The aim of the first workshop was to present and discuss project ideas, especially from theoretical and methodological perspectives, while the second meeting was focussed on the experience of public spaces in Istanbul. The ambulating seminar in Istanbul included visits to Küçükyali, Heybeliada (the Chalki monastary) and a walk along the Byzantine-Ottoman areas along the Golden Horn. In both meetings, colleagues from Sweden, UK, Ireland, Greece, Turkey and Austria participated, offering their individual expertise and ideas to the group.

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Dinner after the first workshop at the Academy of Letters and Arts in Stockholm, December 2018

The research network will soon be presented on the new website of the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, offering a platform for students and scholars interested in the diachronicity of public spaces with a particular focus on Constantinople/Istanbul. Together, the individual projects of the network will offer a mapping of public space in the Byzantine-Ottoman period, focusing on Constantinople but also bringing in comparative material from other areas. Such a mapping will be of crucial importance to future studies of not only public space in the former Byzantine-Ottoman areas, but also to the understanding of European borders, the role played by public space throughout the ages, and the refugee experiences of said spaces in a diachronic perspective.

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The group visiting the excavation site of Küçükyalı on the Asian side of Istanbul, March 2019, under the leadership of Prof. Alessandra Ricci (Istanbul)

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