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The Enigma of Cappadocia

November 07, 2017 7:00pm

ASCSA, Cotsen Hall, 9 Anapiron Polemou, 106 76 Athens


Presented by

The Gennadius Library


Robert Ousterhout, University of Pennsylvania

210-72.10.536 (ext. 101)

* The lecture video has been added to our Digital Resources please click HERE or click on the image bellow to watch.

About Robert Ousterhout

Robert Ousterhout (Ph.D. University of Illinois) has taught in the History of Art Department at the University of Pennsylvania since 2007.  Previously he was Professor of Architectural History at the University of Illinois, where he taught for more than twenty years. A recognized specialist in Byzantine architecture, his research focuses on the documentation and interpretation of the vanishing architectural heritage of the eastern Mediterranean. His current fieldwork concentrates on Byzantine architecture, monumental art, and urbanism in Constantinople, Cappadocia, and Jerusalem. Since 2011 he has co-directed the “Cappadocia in Context” graduate seminar, a summer field school for Koç University.

At Pennsylvania, Ousterhout served as Director of the Center for Ancient Studies 2008-16.  He has been a Fellow in residence at Dumbarton Oaks and is currently serving as Senior Fellow. He has also been both President of U.S. National Committee for Byzantine Studies and of the Byzantine Studies Association of North America. At Illinois Ousterhout was honored as University Scholar (1992-95), Outstanding Faculty in the College of Fine and Applied Arts (1991, 2002), Associate at the Institute of Advanced Study (1993-4, 2006), and he received their Alumni Achievement Award in 2011.

Research Interests: Byzantine architecture and monumental art, Constantinople, Cappadocia, Jerusalem.

Selected Publications:
Master Builders of Byzantium (2nd paperback edition, University of Pennsylvania Museum Publications, 2008, with translations in Russian and Turkish).

A Byzantine Settlement in Cappadocia, Dumbarton Oaks Studies 42 (2nd revised, paperback edition, Washington, D.C., 2011)

Kariye Camii, Yeniden/The Kariye Camii Reconsidered, edited, with Holger A. Klein and Brigitte Pitarakis (Istanbul: Istanbul Research Institute, 2011)

Osman Hamdi Bey and the Americans: Archaeology, Diplomacy, Art. Exhibition Catalogue (Istanbul: Pera Museum, 2011), edited, with Renata Holod

Approaches to Architecture and Its Decoration: Festschrift for Slobodan Ćurčić (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2012), ed. with M. Johnson and A. Papalexandrou

Architecture of the Sacred: Space, Ritual, and Experience from Classical Greece to Byzantium (Cambridge University Press, 2012), ed. with Bonna D. Wescoat

Palmyra 1885: The Wolfe Expedition and the Photographs of John Henry Haynes, with B. Anderson (Istanbul: Cornucopia, 2016)

John Henry Haynes: Archaeologist and Photographer in the Ottoman Empire 1881-1900 (2nd revised edition, Istanbul: Cornucopia, 2016)

Visualizing Community: Art Material Culture, and Settlement in Byzantine Cappadocia, Dumbarton Oaks Studies 46 (Washington, D.C., 2017)

Summary of the Lecture

Our journey begins on a hot July afternoon in 1884, when the photographer John Henry Haynes and the epigrapher John Robert Sitlington Sterrett entered the highlands of Cappadocia, in what is now central Turkey. The two were astounded by what they found: phantasmagoric, eroded volcanic formations, honeycombed with rock-cut dwellings, some still occupied.  Their mission was scientific, underwritten by the Archaeological Institute of America, with Sterrett charged with recording Classical inscriptions, and Haynes with photographing the archaeological sites of inland Anatolia. But they were hard pressed to explain what they had encountered, in the end, attributing the remains to an unknown race of ancient people, the Troglodytes.

While their errors might strike us as amusing today, Byzantine Cappadocia remains enigmatic, and historians almost invariably turn to the written record in attempts to elucidate the peculiarities of region, even when the texts are chronologically or geographically far removed. In contrast to the dearth of texts, Cappadocia preserves an abundance of physical remains from the Byzantine period: at least a thousand rock-cut churches or chapels, of which more than one-third retain significant elements of their painted decoration, as well as monasteries, houses, villages, underground refuges, agricultural installations, storage facilities, hydrological features, and countless other examples of human interventions in the landscape.  In short, Cappadocia is unrivaled in the Byzantine world in terms of material culture.

The talk will provide a sort of kaleidoscopic overview of Byzantine Cappadocia and what we might learn from it. The monuments of Cappadocia have never found their rightful place in the canon of Byzantine art and architecture.  Marginalized as eccentric and provincial, most areas of settlement remain undocumented and poorly understood – the romantic notion of hermit monks living in caves in the wilderness still lingers.  Moreover, the unbalanced evidence from Cappadocia challenges traditional methodologies in the study of history. The evocative landscape demands a narrative, which written sources fail to provide.  It will address issues of chronology, settlements, urban planning, monasticism, agriculture, resource management, commemoration of the dead, mural painting, inscriptions and architecture.  For all my emphasis will be on formulating a methodology for contextualizing the abundant physical evidence, to view Cappadocia as a productive and inhabited landscape, in many way representative of provincial society during the Byzantine period.