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Rethinking Byzantine Cappadocia

Robert Ousterhout, University of Pennsylvania, Fellow 2012–2013

The volcanic region of Cappadocia in central Turkey preserves at least seven hundred rock-cut churches and chapels from the Byzantine period, of which perhaps one-third retain significant elements of painted decoration, as well as monasteries, houses, towns and villages, underground cities, and countless other examples of nonecclesiastical architecture. Although there are no surviving texts, in terms of material culture, the area is unrivaled in the Byzantine world, and yet the monuments of Cappadocia have never found their rightful place in the canon of Byzantine art and architecture.

In the book-length study written during my residential fellowship, I reassess the physical remains of Byzantine Cappadocia, and attempt to find a methodological balance between visual and material culture, and between art history and social history. Tentatively titled Visualizing Community: Art, Material Culture, and Settlement in Byzantine Cappadocia, the study is divided into chapters addressing architecture, painting, settlements, monasteries, and cemeteries. Throughout, I seek ways to contextualize the rich physical remains of the region, to put people back into the landscape—in effect, to visualize community.