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Mapping Sacred Landscapes in Byzantium

Veronica della Dora, University of Bristol, United Kingdom, Fellow 2010–2011, Spring

My project interrogates nonlinear landscape perceptions in late antiquity and medieval Byzantium. Landscape is commonly deemed to be a Western European Renaissance invention linked to the theorization of linear perspective as a distinctively “modern” way of looking at the world. In my discipline, cultural geography, pre-Renaissance representations of the environment have generally been dismissed as “artificial” and “disregardful of perspective.” In this project, I challenged this view and offered a rereading of this perceived “lack of technique” or “lack of interest in nature” as a different “way of seeing” and making sense of the world, one emphasizing the visual energeia and memorability of singular elements (or places) over their modern linear integration and one resting on the repetition and superimposition of preexisting topoi on the physical environment rather than on its faithful description. I carried out my research on two fronts: first, I attempted to develop a conceptual framework to engage with “Byzantine landscape” as a specific “way of seeing” the world; and second, I researched perceptions of different types of environments, which will form the core of an eventual monograph on Byzantine landscape. While most of my writing here has focused on perceptions of gardens and wilderness, I have also had the chance to expand my past research on mountains and caves, and I am currently gathering materials on oceans, rivers, and springs, which will constitute the final substantial section of my book.