- Visualizing Community: Art, Material Culture, and Settlement in Byzantine Cappadocia by Robert G. Ousterhout
This beautiful book, lavishly illustrated with more than 400 color photographs, examines the architecture of Byzantine Cappadocia (in central Anatolia) between the fifth and thirteenth centuries a.d. in four long chapters. The first chapter is a valuable and well-illustrated catalog of both built and rock-cut churches in the region. The second chapter examines the painted decoration of the rock-cut churches, primarily during a shorter period, the ninth to the thirteenth centuries. The third chapter covers domestic architecture, including many of the courtyard elite centers once identified as monasteries and subterranean refuges (the “underground cities”), from the fourth to the thirteenth century. The fourth chapter covers monasteries and tombs, with a detailed analysis of Göreme, probably the most famous part of Cappadocia. This chapter, which is more analytical than the previous three, contains an excellent discussion of the relationship between refectories and churches, and of Göreme as first a funeral-monastic complex in the tenth and eleventh centuries and later as an agricultural village (415). Ousterhout concludes, “Cappadocia was probably neither more nor less monastic than any other region of the Byzantine Empire” (478). The mass of cataloged material, which can be nearly impenetrable, is considerably eased by Ousterhout’s clarity.
Methodologically, this book treats architecture, not archaeology. Ousterhout’s conclusion includes a plea for more building plans, not for ceramic studies, field surveys, or excavations. Although his brief introduction sets the region in historical context, he presents Cappadocia [End Page 179] as a land without history. However, the historical picture is not as bleak as Ousterhout suggests; detailed comparisons with other parts of Anatolia during this period, built on Ousterhout’s foundations, would have been fruitful, both architecturally and historically. However, Ousterhout makes good use of recent palynological research. He is sensitive to the way in which the modern touristic landscape is constructed and to both the relationship of built to rock-cut architecture and the parallels between the imperial capital and Cappadocia. This outstanding volume will be fundamental to all future work about this region.