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Aerial shot of Byzantine walls and towers in Istanbul with the modern city in the background.

A new generation of Byzantine scholarship takes root in what was Byzantium

For 11 centuries, Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine Empire, yet until relatively recently, Istanbul was not home to a research center dedicated to Byzantine studies.

This changed in 2015 with the creation of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Center for Late Antique and Byzantine Studies at Koç University. Now, having helped foster a new ecosystem of scholarship in the field, forge ties with leading international institutions, and execute ambitious projects that bring the past to life for the public while creating resources for researchers, the Center has a new name and new support that will help ensure the sustainability of its work.

The Center’s award-winning Istanbul City Walls project documents some of the most important extant examples of Byzantine and Roman military architecture. The Byzantine Monuments Photograph Archive and projects to laser scan and photograph or draw the Byzantine emperors’ summer palace and the oldest building in Istanbul also seek to document details of Byzantine architectural remnants. The Byzantine Musical Instruments project, organized in collaboration with the Friends of Music Society, an Athens-based SNF grantee, offers a detailed database of Byzantine musical instruments. A graphic-novel-style virtual exhibition explored interactions between Byzantines and Vikings. And yet other projects capture oral histories related to the development of Byzantine studies in Turkey from the mid-20th century onward and the archives of a prominent restorer of Byzantine buildings.

From 2015 to 2022, the Center supported archaeological investigations at more than a dozen sites, published 11 books, provided 55 fellowships for early-career academics, and hosted 11 conferences with speakers from UCLA, the University of Pennsylvania, and numerous other institutions.

As of this year, with the conclusion of SNF’s grant support, the Center has secured new funding and become Koç University Sevgi Gönül Center for Byzantine Studies. SNF is proud to have helped give the Center its start and bolster collaborative scholarship in the field in a place where so much Byzantine history is still visible—and now, thanks to the Center, thoroughly documented for future generations of scholars.

[The Center] has already made a very significant contribution both to the development and expansion of the study of Byzantine civilization in general, and in Turkey in particular, and has contributed in a very significant measure to the promotion of a better understanding and a more sympathetic approach to Turkey’s Byzantine past. We applaud the work carried out and the concrete results achieved so far and encourage the directors of the [Center’s] program to continue developing their activities.
From an international assessment of the Center’s programming conducted by preeminent Byzantinists for the center’s fifth anniversary