Thursday, Nov. 22, 2007
Byzantine TV November 22, 2007 | 09:13 AM On the Learning Channel's four episode series "Byzantium: The Lost Empire," narrator John Romer recounts his first journey to the east in the 1960s. Departing London's Waterloo Station, he traveled on the Orient Express across Europe to Istanbul. Beneath the bustling modern city and the Islamic underlay he discerned remnants of fabled Constantinople the capital of an earlier civilization, the Byzantine Empire. In some ways Romer never came home again. Romer, primarily known as an Egyptologist but with an avid interest in the entire Eastern Mediterranean, is the series' rapturous host and writer of "Byzantium: The Lost Empire." The series is now available on DVD. Romer's enthusiasm will be easily contagious. In medieval times Byzantine civilization was an alternative to the Roman Catholic West, an Eastern Christian empire with a deep mystical dimension and a belief that art is integral to worship and contemplation. As a result, Byzantine architecture soared above the engineering constraints of earlier epochs in great domed structures supported by forests of marble arches. Byzantine painters and mosaic artists created icons whose deceptively flat surfaces opened up doors of perception. A realm of prayer and pragmatism, brilliance and brutality, the Byzantine Empire was the center of the world. Owing to its geography, the commerce and ideas of Asia, Africa and Europe converged at Constantinople. As Romer tours the ruins and still extant buildings, wearing his trademark Panama hat, he proclaims that Byzantium's fingerprints can still be found on everything from the mosques of Mecca to the street plan of Washington, D.C.