Byzantine Fountains 2012

Fountains of Byzantion – Constantinople – Istanbul

av Ragnar Hedlund

A fountain can have a number of functions. It can be a practical object, constructed for the provision of water. The provision of this can be motivated by a number of reasons – practical, sacred and ritual, decorative or for leisure. A fountain can also be a work of exquisite art – and this work of art can convey notions of identity and cultural values, perhaps also function as propaganda. A fountain can also be a historical object, reminding of things that have been. And yet again, a fountain can be something abstract – a poetic illustration, a metaphor. The fountain, like the water it provides, is an ever-changing concept.

These were some of the ideas behind the conference ”Fountains of Byzantion – Constantinople – Istanbul”, which was arranged by Ingela Nilsson, Uppsala University and Paul Stephenson, Radboud University Nijmegen. The conference was generously funded by the Tercentenary Foundation of the Bank of Sweden and held at The Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul and The Netherlands Institute in Turkey, 28 June – 1 July 2012.

The conference opened on Thursday 28/6 with an introduction by Ingela Nilsson and Paul Stephenson, after which James Crow, Edinburgh University, held the opening lecture ”Nymphaea and Cisterns of Constantinople”. In this lecture, prof. Crow gave an overview of how Constantinople was provided with water in antiquity. The lecture was followed by a reception at the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul.

On Friday 29/6, an excursion was arranged to the Yenikapı excavations of the Theodosian harbour, after which the conference commenced at the Netherlands Institute in Turkey. The first session focused mainly on archaeological finds associated with the provision of water in antiquity. The first speaker, Julian Richard, Catholic University Leuven, presented a introduction and context to the topic by outlining some general characteristics of ancient fountains (“What to Expect? The Archaeology of Monumental Fountains in the Roman and Early Byzantine periods”) , after which Brenda Longfellow, University of Iowa, brought the topic closer to Constantinople by presenting a closer analysis of one Roman fountain known from ancient Byzantium (“The Silahtarağa Fountain in Context”). Gerda de Klein, Radboud University Nijmegen, then considered some of the technical aspects of the provision of water to Constantinople (“The Absence of Inscribed Fistulae in Late Antique Constantinople”) after which Jesper Blid, Stockholm University, turned to the ideological aspects of water-provision (“When the Bath became a Church: Spatial Fusion in Early Byzantine Constantinople, and Beyond”). Ragnar Hedlund, Uppsala University, then further explored the topic of water and the dynamics of ideology by focusing on one particular bath, namely the famous baths of Zeuxippos (“The Baths of Zeuxippos: Water, Power and Authority”). This was then followed by further discussions and a reception at the Netherlands Institute in Turkey.

The following sessions on Saturday 29 June focused on issues related to the later history of Byzantium and Constantinople. In the first sessions, topics addressing to literature and art were explored, first by Brooke Shilling, John Hopkins University, Baltimore, (“The Waters of Paradise in Early Byzantine art” ) and then by Henry Maguire from the same university (“Where did the Waters of Paradise Go after Iconoclasm?”). The enquiries were taken further by Eunice Dauterman Maguire also from John Hopkins University (“Giving Water Shape and Sound”) and by Paul Magdalino, Koç University Istanbul (“The Culture of Water in Ninth-century Constantinople”).

Water in literature and art was also the topic for Terése Nilsson, Uppsala University (“Ancient Water in Fictional Fountains of Byzantium) and Fabio Barry, St. Andrews University, who explored depictions of Okeanos, the ocean-god (“Abyssus abyssum invocat”).

This day’s sessions was concluded with two papers adressing more specific case-studies of fountains, returning to the most symbolically charged of all byzantine spaces, the hippodrome.  First Rowena Loverance, British Museum, considered one of the possible fountains from this location (“The Bronze Goose from the Hippodrome”), then Paul Stephenson investigated the famous serpent column (“The Skylla and Serpent Column: hippodrome fountains?”).
On Sunday 1/7, the focus moved beyond the issues of Byzantine culture addressed during Saturday’s sessions. Now, the continuation of the culture of fountains into the Ottoman age was explored. First, Federica Broilo, Mardin Artuklu University, explored a fountain-type that was to be key in this development, the canopied fountain (“A Dome for the Water: Canopied Fountains in Byzantine and Ottoman Constantinople”) after which Johan Mårtelius, The Royal Swedish Institute of Technology, considered architectural features of the fountains by the famous Ottoman architect Sinan (“Sinan’s Ablution Fountains”). The last paper of the conference by Marianne Boqvist  and Mathilde Pinon Demirçivi considered the relations between fountain architecture, cultural contexts and regional identites by investigating fountains in different areas of the Ottoman empire (“Ottoman Fountains in the Eighteenth Century: Perspectives from the Centre and from the Provinces”).

The papers of the conference will be proposed for publication as a special volume of the Proceedings of the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul. The conference was a truly inspiring event, and those of us fortunate anough to have been given the opportunity to participate are convinced that the proceedings of the conference will provide an important addition to studies not only of Ancient and Byzantine studies. Furthermore, it will also be a groundbreaking contribution to cross-cultural studies intersecting archaeology, architecture, literature and art, and also across the ”east/west divide”.

(Originally published on October 19, 2012)

One Response to Byzantine Fountains 2012

  1. Pingback: Fountains and Creatures | lincolnhistoryheritage

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