Masons at Work
University of York and University of Patras
Observations on the Doorways and the Windows in Byzantine Architecture
The significance of the research on doorways and windows for the study of Byzantine architecture has been clear among Byzantinists for much time. Despite that, current studies on this topic are not only scarce, but frequently inadequate. In the majority of relevant studies the doorways and windows are examined "iconographically" and not technically. While in the bibliography there are numerous studies on the decoration of the marble or timber door-frames, as well as the folds of the doors and the frameworks of the windows, very few studies exist on the general structure and the construction of the doorways and windows. Consequently, conclusions that could be extracted from the examination of such important building elements have not been adequately utilized in the study of the evolution of Byzantine architecture. The aim of the following study is not to completely cover this vast subject, but rather to extract some useful conclusions and to put forth a novel way of examining the subject, through the review of known samples.
Upon a comprehensive study of the general design, construction and morphology of Byzantine architecture doors and windows, one can draw a number of conclusions, which are also valid for other aspects of construction and morphology in Byzantine architecture in general:
- The continuity of construction technology from antiquity into the Byzantine Period is unquestionable.
- One observes a striking persistence of construction types and forms from Roman, Hellenistic and even classical antiquity, well into Byzantine, and post-Byzantine periods (and sometimes even up to the present).
- It is notable that various old and new types of door and window openings were used simultaneously.
- Slow developments with small, incremental changes in several aspects of construction, and consequently morphology, are observed. These are mostly attributable to the general and gradual deterioration of building technology, and the lack of materials.
- It is observed that in some buildings of a humble or even primitive type an effort was made to highlight the old-type openings with the use of elements of formal architecture, resulting in new hybrid types.
- Deeper and more conspicuous changes are observed during the Late-Byzantine Period, and are attributed to the influence of already established Western European architecture on Byzantine architecture. New types of doors and windows were adopted, without completely replacing the old types which still carried on, albeit on buildings of a more popular type.
Fig. 1. Typology of doors in Ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine architecture.
Fig. 2. Typology of lintels and releasing arches of Byzantine doors.
Fig. 3. Typology of inset door-frames of Byzantine doors.