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Manuel Bendala

Byzantium/Constantinople/lstanbul: The great pivotal city between East and West, Antiquity and the Middle Ages URL:

Our culture has fed its self-affirmation of being "Western", highlighted by the definition (delimitation) of the alternative "Oriental" or "Eastern". Nowadays part of this duality is intensely experienced. The origins of the "civilized" life lies in the East, in Egypt (Eastern Mediterranean Africa), and we have a clear historical perception of the new period that meant the civilizing vanguard that would later be imposed in the Western world, along the Mediterranean basin, fundamentally by Greece and Rome. We identify the founding of our Western civilization in them.

But this historical process, and the speech that reproduces it, always bumps with the fact that the two poles who star in the process are not so well defined (delimited), nor they are so isolated from one another. The East and the West, the "oriental" and the "western", are historically and culturally more linked, intertwined and merged, than what this binary scheme, which appears to be favored in our cultural conceptions, suggests. Think for example in the important influence the Phoenicians had as guests in this metaphoric semidetached house: Hispania became a true "East in the West". Or the role of Alexander who took the West all the way to Persia and Eastern Greece.

In the bridge and interlock of the two geographic and cultural horizons, Byzantium/Constantinople is a paradigmatic city of this reality in which both extremes meet in the bipolar nature of a two-faced Janus. Founded by the Greeks of Megara looking towards the East, occupied by the Persians, recovered by Alexander, integrated into the Roman Empire. A victim of the internal struggles for power, it was destroyed by Septimius Severus, but rebuilt again to become the capital of New Rome with Constantine in the 4th century. It further reinforces its status as a city until becoming the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. And it will reach its peak as a city in the 6th century with Justinian. In the 15th century its conquer by the Turkish will make it the Eastern capital at the doors of the West.

The landscape of the current imposing city still offers the footprints, brilliant and limited, of its complex and extraordinary history. And it is a landscape in which this vibrant cohabitation of the two worlds; united and confronted, or the other way around; which provided life and color to the Old World, is still perceivable in the extreme singularity of a unique city.

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