05 December, 2020

Home To Mary And Theodora

A biography of Istanbul tells of Justinian, the cult of Mary, its cosmopolitan, progressive core and its Ottoman past with lightly-worn scholarship

Photograph by Getty Images
Home To Mary And Theodora

In telling the history of cities such as Jerusalem or Istanbul, since the subject matter is human civilisation itself, the challenge is to bring into focus the grandeur and the imaginary at the core of each era, as well as the driving impulses of founders who conjured these cities into existence. Bettany Hughes meets the challenge with remarkable aplomb in her book on Istanbul, showing how multiple impulses may be discerned in the material culture. Racy in tone, even when the research is meticulous, the book’s anecdotal style encourages “the mind and spirit to travel”.

As the book is about three cities—Byz­antion, Constantinople and Istanbul, the author weaves her narrative through anecdotes associated with each familiar site—events and processes that unravel layer by layer, up to the present. To show how eras and timespans collapse, Hughes has relied on new, ongoing archaeological excavations in Turkey, as well as archival, literary, visual, and anecdotal evidence. For example, we are reminded of the city’s scriptoria or workshops...



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