A drawing of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople?

When the Muslims conquered Constantinople in 1453, one of their first actions was to tear down and demolish the Church of the Holy Apostles, the church to which the mausoleum of Constantine was attached, and to build on it the mosque of Mehmet the Conquerer.

I have never seen a drawing of the church until today.  But Ste Trombetti has kindly sent me a link to a digitised manuscript online, which contains an early map of the city of Constantinople!

The link is to a manuscript at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plut.29.25, Christophori Ensenii descriptio cycladum et aliarum insularum.  It appears here, on p.74:

Constantinople 1420, Ensenius / Cristoforo Buondelmonti
Constantinople 1420, Ensenius / Cristoforo Buondelmonti

The image is not as high resolution as one might like, but I have zoomed in and got this, with the now vanished church in the very centre of field:

Ensenius_Constantinople_detail

The building is labelled “s[an]ctorum apostolorum” (“of the holy apostles”), with abbreviations.  The Hippodrome is to the right – note the towers of fortification around it.  Left of that are two columns, the right hand one labelled “hic Justinianus in equito porphyia” (“here is Justinian on a porphyry horse”).  Above the Church of the Holy Apostles is another column, labelled “hic Constantinus …” with two words underneath which I cannot read, referencing Constantine, of course.

It looks as if most of the churches stand inside a walled enclosure – remember that most of the city was just fields by this date.  But this may not be so, as we shall see.

The depiction of Hagia Sophia does not fill one with confidence that the pictures are very accurate, it must be said.  But it is certainly better than nothing!

The image itself is not an original, but a copy of a drawing by Cristoforo Buondelmonti, an early traveller, from his Liber insularum archipelagi.  Another copy of the map is at Wikimedia commons here, from a Paris ms, apparently:

Map_of_Constantinople_(1422)_by_Florentine_cartographer_Cristoforo_Buondelmonte

This is very low resolution, but seems to give a better and more believable image.

Yet another version of the map is owned by the Metropolitan Museum in New York, from where someone has copied a bitmap to Wikimedia.

Constantinople_mediaeval_map

This is drawing gives us a much more likelike picture.  Hagia Sophia looks more accurate.  The churches no longer stand in courtyards but have high walls with domes atop them, which is probably correct.

But … this isn’t a perfect copy.  Note that Justinian on his horse is now perched atop the column.  It is just as well that the copy was put on Wikimedia, for the link to the Metropolitan Museum no longer works.  It is infuriating that curators do this, considering that locating images is very hit and miss anyway.

Thankfully libraries are getting more sensible, and a visit to the Gallica site at the French National Library can pay dividends.  Doing so reveals a volume containing Ptolemy’s Cosmographia which also contains plates by Buondelmonti, such as this one, Ms Latin 4802 (1552), on f.134r:

constantinople_bnf_f275

But this is a late copy, and various important bits have vanished.  Also the walls of the churches have turned into courtyard walls – perhaps this is a feature of later copies?  Here I was hoping for an early copy, but evidently this is not available yet.

A different image in many ways – and one in which the writer has just put stuff wherever he likes, seemingly, is here, a 1450 manuscript copy of the Liber insularum archipelagi sold in Chicago.

auction_4_0329

The copies of the map of Cristoforo Buondelmonti, from the Liber insularum archipelagi, vary greatly it seems.  What we need, I think, is some nice, high resolution images of all the copies that we can find.  The results could not fail to be interesting and informative.

UPDATE: Ste Trombetti has kindly sent me a bibliography on Ensenius/Buondelmonti.  This includes T. Thomov, “New information about Cristoforo Buondelmonti’s drawings of Constantinople”, Byzantion 66 (1996) 431-453, which seems to be sadly offline but is often referenced where these maps are concerned.  Also a link to another image, a copy of Buondelmonti’s “Liber insularum Archipelagi”, in MS Lat.X.123, at the Bib. Marciana:

constantinople_venice_marciana

This is clearly not an accurate copy.

I also found a bibliography on the Vatican website, giving Thomov’s article as a reference for the following Vatican manuscripts (which, presumably, must contain also copies of the Buondelmonti map): Chig.F.V.110, Ross.702, Ross.704, Urb.lat.277.  Sadly none of these appear to have been digitised as yet.

Another find, an article by Michel Balard,[1] tells us more about the map:

Buondelmonti’s positive appreciation of the Turks can be perceived not only from the text of the Liber insularum Archipelagi, but also from the illustrated maps which complete his vision of the Aegean world. The most important are those of Constantinople, which can be found in 16 manuscripts of the Liber. Ian Manners has demonstrated how at the beginning of the fifteenth century, the cartographers changed their way of constructing their work.[19] In their bird’s eye views, they wanted to represent places and landscapes as they appeared to the travellers. For instance, when they drew the design of Pera, the Genoese colony on the north of the Golden Horn, they show the galleys waiting along the shore, the wooden piers, the walls, the churches and some specific building known by everyone at that time. The maps display the city “as known, as experienced, as remembered, as imagined by artists and cartographers”, with a growing realism and a tendency to accentuate and add particular facts of peculiar interest to themselves. In so far as the manuscripts and their drawings can be dated, the maps depict the transformation of Constantinople according to the main events of its history, and particularly according to the contrast between the last years of the Byzantine domination and the reconstruction by the Ottomans after 1453.

When he visited Constantinople in 1421-2, Buondelmonti received from Vitold of Lithuania, father-in-law of John VIII Palaiologos, a commission for a map of Constantinople, which perhaps could have been a model for the illustrations of Buondelmonti’s text on the city. The oldest maps, drawn between 1420 and 1450, depict a city quite ruined, with very few indications of monuments and places. The representation insists on the fortifications, sometimes with a single line of walls and towers, sometimes with a double line, similar to the reality. The city has a triangular shape, as is described by many chroniclers and travellers using a frequent topos and comparing the triangle-shaped city to a lateen sail.[20] Very few monuments are drawn inside the walled city: the imperial palace of the Blachernai, two monumental colums, and some churches, but no effort has been made to emphasize or even identify the great church of Hagia Sophia. Pera, described in the text as “Januensium pulcerrima civitas”, is shown on the opposite site of the Golden Horn as a very small suburb of Constantinople. The general impression is that of an open and empty city, with a few scattered buildings. Buondelmonti with his text and drawings wants to show the miserable condition of the city and of its inhabitants, whose hostility towards the Latins is underlined by reference to the Franks put to death by the Greeks who, during the crusades, offered them bread mixed with lime (a legend related by many chroniclers since the First Crusade).

The fall of Constantinople in 1453 changed the representation of the city in the copies of the Liber insularum of the second half of the fifteenth century. Buondelmonti died probably after 1431, but those who used his text and illustrated it shared partially his representation of Constantinople. The majority, especially the authors of the copies made in Chios, give many details about the city’s system of fortification: a moat, a double line of walls studded with strong towers, a single but mighty line for Pera. And, above all, inside the urban perimeter, a great number of churches, differentiated by their shape and denomination.  The more recent maps also show the Byzantine standard: a cross with the quadruple “b” of the Palaiologoi. It seems that the illustrators, longing for the city’s Christian past, wanted to enhance its Christian heritage. For them, Constantinople, which possessed so many relics and shrines, is still the New Jerusalem, a holy city with the benefit of divine favour. These copies are often linked with the writings of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, who, when he became pope, attempted to…

It is, then, clearly important to have a list of manuscripts, and to get the images from each.

The article is an interesting one, and it is a pity that it is offline.  It seems to give a biography of the Florentine priest, Christopher Buondelmonti, who knew Niccolo Niccoli, based himself at Rhodes and visited Constantinople twice, in 1420 and 1421-22, while hunting for Greek manuscripts.

  1. [1]Michel Balard, “Buondelmonti and the Holy War”, in: Ruthy GertwagenElizabeth Jeffreys, Shipping, Trade and Crusade in the Medieval Mediterranean: Studies in Honour of John Pryor, (2013), 414-424 (?). Google books preview here is rather odd and I can’t make out much about the pagination.

2 thoughts on “A drawing of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople?

  1. Roger, do you know what that thing up in the top left is? It looks like a windmill or a signal tower or something.

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