Byzantine Syria in the Photographic Documentation (1936-1992). From the Archives of German Archaeological Institute in Rome and of the Center for Documentation of Byzantine Art History of Sapienza University of Rome
Qalb Loze, 1972
The proposal for a virtual exhibition entitled “Byzantine Syria from the twentieth century until today” is based on the photographic exhibition held at the Museum of Classical Art of Sapienza University of Rome from 30 November 2018 to 31 January 2019. This exhibition that was conceived and curated by Alessandra Guiglia and Eva Staurenghi, and promoted by the Director of the Museum, Marcello Barbanera.
The exhibition was set up in 2018 via collaboration between the German Archaeological Institute of Rome, DAI Rom (in particular Ralf Bockmann, Director of the Photo Archive, and Ortwin Dally, Director of Institute), and the Center for Documentation of Byzantine Art History of Sapienza University of Rome (in particular Alessandra Guiglia and Antonio Iacobini, both of whom were Scientific Curators of the CDSAB for several years), a division of the former Department of History of Art and Spectacle (DSAS), now the Department of History, Anthropology, Religions, Art and Spectacle (SARAS) of Sapienza University. Antonio Iacobini is the current Scientific Curator of the CDSAB.
The exhibition focuses specifically on the Byzantine era, crucial for the artistic and cultural history of this land, a period which is often somewhat overlooked in comparison with the Classical and Islamic periods.
The photographs, housed in the lesser-known archives of the DAI and CDSAB, were taken during the travels throughout Syria made by Friedrich Wilhelm Deichmann and by Italian scholars in the second half of the twentieth century, from 1936 to 1992.
Friedrich Wilhelm Deichmann was the DAI’s Referent for Christian Archaeology for about 40 years and one of the formative pioneers of the discipline of Late Antique archaeology and Byzantine art history. His archive consists of more than 9,600 photographs taken during his travels in various regions around the Mediterranean. One of the most important sections of the archive is on Syria, where Deichmann traveled in 1936, 1957 and 1972 in order to explore and study the architecture, building techniques and sculptures of Byzantine monuments.
The photographic archive of the CDSAB houses the documentation gathered during travels carried out between the 1960s and the 1990s in Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Syria, Egypt and Tunisia by Byzantine art history scholars from the universities of Sapienza, Urbino and Padua, coordinated by Fernanda de ‘ Maffei and with the financial support of the National Research Council (CNR). In particular, the approximately 4,600 photographs of Syria were taken during the four official missions that took place in 1978, 1987, 1990 and 1992. The most significant aim of this research was to analyze sites and fortifications from the period of Emperor Justinian’s reig,n both along the Euphrates River and in the desert of central Syria.
The main goal of the virtual exhibition is therefore to present some of the outstanding focal points of the photographic documentation, in order to highlight the variety and wealth of the outstanding monumental heritage of Early Byzantine Syria.
The exhibition offers an immersive journey through Syria’s cities and monuments: Antioch, the ancient capital, now in Turkey; Aleppo and the region of the Limestone Massif in Northern Syria; Apamea; Hama; the military complex of Qasr Ibn Wardan; the sanctuary city of Resafa; the Justinianic fortified sites of Halebiye and Zalebiye on the banks of the Euphrates; Byzantine Palmyra; the current capital Damascus and the basaltic region of Hauran in Southern Syria, as well as the Roman city of Bosra and the smaller towns of Ezra, Qanawat and Suweida.
Furthermore, the exceptional photographic documentation illustrates the state of preservation of the buildings and their transformation over a period of about sixty years, an aspect which is all the more important nowadays as many of them, designated as ‘World Heritage Sites’ by UNESCO, have been damaged, looted or destroyed in the recent conflict.