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Justinian I

Byzantine Emperor, had the greatest impact on architecture and culture on the Byzantine Empire. Ruled from Constantinople.


3 types of church plans in Byzantine architecture

Basilica church, cross-in-square, and cross dome plan.



A small circular panel or opening.



A surface representing 1/4th of a sphere and often covering an apse.


The entrance porch or chamber before the nave of a church.


A spherical triangle that transforms a square bay into a circle for the springing of a dome.


A corbeled arch used to transform a square bay into an octagon for the springing of a dome. It transforms the square central bay into an octagon that supports a drum and dome.

Hagia Sofia, Constantinople (Istanbul) Turkey

A Byzantine church commisioned under Justinian I. The architects were Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus. Conches were used create a longitudinal axis and nave in the central plan. Naos was positioned in the center of the building and the galleries are above the side aisles looking down at the naos. The main dome was supported on pendentives. Interior and exterior buttressing were used to support the church and the massive dome. When constructed it was the largest dome in the world.

Church of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy, 538 - 548 CE

Centrally planned church with an octagonal dome with octagonal galleries and aisles. Has a high drum and clerestory windows. Dome is made of hollow clay pots.

The second coming of Christ mosaic at San Vitale

Christ was wearing the purple robe of a Roman emperor on earth as the ruler of the heavenly world. To each side of Christ is an angel. Next to each angel is S. Vitale and a bishop holding the church of S. Vitale. Located in the apse. Mosaic of Justinian and his attendants. Members of the church, court and military stood next to Justinian. Was a political statement, since Justinian just conquered Ravenna. Mosaic of Empress Theodore stood across the one of Justinian. Represents that Christ will return some day after the apocalypse. Represents that Justinian was given the right from Christ to take the space of the apse and to rule Ravenna.

San Marco, Venice, Italy, 1063 - 1089 CE

Centrally planned Greek cross church. Has hemispherical internal domes covering each arm of the Greek cross plan and one central dome in the center. Crossing - In a basilican church, the space where transepts, nave, and choir intersect. The domes are set on pendentives, with barrel vaults that connect the piers. Model for Romanesque churches in Southern France.

Cross-in-square/quincunx plan

Floor plan with five objects arranged in a square, with one in the center. Byzantine churches with this plan typically have 5 domes, the center one being balanced with 4 diminutive domes at the corners. Has 9 bays. Other sections are barrel vaulted.


Cross dome plans

Floor plan with a single dome placed on a longitudinal base. The arms of a Greek cross are reduced and covered with barrel vaults that surround the crossing dome. Aisles and galleries enclose the church on 3 sides. 3 apses complete the 4th side. Built to modest scale.

Hosios Loukos, Phocis, Greece, 11th century

Monastery where two churches were built adjacent to the shrine erected over the tome of St. Luke. The smaller church, the Theotokos Church, was a cross-in-square plan and built of squared stones surrounded by brick. Has a central dome raised on a drum. The corner bays used groin vaults. The larger Katholikon was constructed south of the Theotokos church, 20 years later. Has a cross dome plan. Has a large dome set over the nave, braced on 3 sides by a second level gallery.


Holy place of the church usually under the dome in Byzantine architecture.


Palatine Chapel

Church of a palace.


Half Dome


Christ as ruler of the universe. An icon.



Religious philosopher with beautiful writings about light. This inspired byzantine architects. He felt that the universe was not chaos but highly organized by god. That organization can be seen as a hierarchy. God on top, Christ and angels under that, then virgin Mary, then saints, then non saints, then lesser people, and then animals. God was pure light. God can only been seen to humans as light.

Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily, 1174-1183

Basilica church. Has a Mosaic Pantocrator. Main focus and icon of church.


Double Shell Plan

Floor plan with the ambulatory aisle is separated from the naos. Naos is the inner shell, and the ambulatory aisle is the outer shell.

Flickr Creative Commons Images

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