Bridges are structures built over natural obstacles in order to provide safe passage over them. Throughout history bridges have been associated with many areas of human life: they have vital economic, military and social functions, showcase achievements of engineering and are considerable works of public art. Bridges demonstrate the political and economic power of their builders and as liminal spaces embody sacred and mythological meanings. Hence the consideration of bridges is crucial for our understanding of the societies that created and used them.

Despite their fundamental social importance and unlike Roman, medieval West European and even Ottoman bridges, Byzantine bridges have attracted astonishingly little scholarly attention. This fact is especially distressing when one considers that many monuments in former Byzantine territory have been insufficiently documented and continuously fall victim to natural dangers such as earthquakes and man-made destruction such as armed conflict and the construction of hydroelectric dams.

Project

This project represents the first comprehensive study of Byzantine bridges, gathering all remaining physical evidence in the Balkans and Asia Minor from the 4th to 15th century CE and culturally contextualizing these public structures using contemporary textual and visual sources. The material evidence examined to date reveals that the Byzantines implemented innovative technologies in bridge building, such as segmental arches, that predated similar developments in Western Europe by centuries, while preliminary investigations of textual and visual sources indicate that they possessed a unique, multi-level understanding of bridges coinciding with their worldview.

At the core of the project lies the documentation and analysis of bridge-building techniques. The ability to re-date and re-attribute some structures based on technical characteristics contributes to our knowledge of power, commerce and exchange across the Balkans and Asia Minor in the medieval period. Meanwhile the investigation of bridge adornment in conjunction with the bridge motif in contemporary texts and visual arts offers new insights into Byzantine society, the political and religious meanings of these secular monuments and the pervasion of religion in everyday life.

While previous studies of Byzantine culture have often been restricted to aspects of connoisseurship or the description of monuments, a thorough analysis of bridges – covering structural, decorative and symbolic aspects – will highlight the importance of this particular class of monuments as a new avenue into the Byzantine world and its architectural and cultural legacy. The academic investigation of Byzantine bridges will draw attention to their significance as architectural heritage, contributing to the documentation and preservation of rapidly disappearing historical monuments throughout the Eastern Mediterranean while raising historical awareness among contemporary communities and visitors.

Contact

Project Director

Dr. Galina Fingarova
Elise Richter Senior Postdoc

galina.fingarova[at]univie.ac.at

Department of Art History
University of Vienna
Garnisongasse 13, Campus courtyard 9,
1090 Vienna
Austria