In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a confluence of geopolitical, diplomatic, academic, artistic, and local interests in Istanbul paved the way for increased awareness of the Byzantine past as a rich and shared heritage. Pera Museum and the Istanbul Research Institute’s exhibition From Istanbul to Byzantium: Paths to Rediscovery, 1800–1955, curated by Brigitte Pitarakis, explores the central role of the Ottoman capital in shaping the emerging discipline of Byzantine studies.
In Istanbul’s lively and multicultural environment, a common passion arose in intellectual circles among people from diverse backgrounds, origins, and countries who had come together in newly established cultural and academic institutions focusing on Byzantium. As efforts to modernize the city gradually transformed the urban landscape, steps were taken to move away from the simplistic orientalist view of Constantinople as a fantastically picturesque city by adopting a rational approach to newly discovered or recently rediscovered antiquities. Those involved in documenting Istanbul’s Byzantine past not only blazed a trail in the conservation of the city’s cultural heritage, but also developed scientific methods of study in their search for certainty.
These developments—leading toward a scientific approach to Byzantium and insufficiently studied until now—stand at the center of From Istanbul to Byzantium. They are documented through an impressive array of archival holdings, in particular the Byzantine collections of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums. The juncture of circumstances and activities that sparked an interest in Istanbul’s Byzantine past is contextualized by bringing together Byzantine artifacts along with related books, prints, maps, photographs, documents and paintings on loan from the Istanbul Archaeological Museums, Istanbul University’s Rare Books Library, the Ömer Koç, Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation, the German Archaeological Institute in Istanbul, Galeri Nev İstanbul, Serap Kayhan, Dr. Safder Tarim, Büke Uras, the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive, the EPHE, the Fonds Gabriel Millet, the Collège de France, the Fonds Thomas Whittemore, and the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris. In addition, 3D animation by A. Tayfun Öner helps bring to life the initial stages of the modern discovery of Byzantium and the path that led to its heritage becoming an area of academic study, conservation, and widespread interest.