Cummings Foundation Grant Recipient
CAVES OF GOD - The Monastic Environment of Byzantine Cappadocia
MIT Press

CAVES OF GOD - The Monastic Environment of Byzantine Cappadocia

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By Spiro Kostof

Cappadocia, a province in central Turkey, offers the traveler a startling rockscape whose cones, pleats, and folds conceal hundreds of monasteries and churches carved from the soft, porous "tuff" and used by Christian communities over nearly two millennia for shelter, burial, and sanctuary. This region in the Turkish hinterland is recognized as one of the centers of Byzantine mural painting. However, numerous hermitages, monasteries, and independent chapels dating from the seventh century onward reveal it also as one of the most concentrated areas of Eastern monasticism.

This book serves a double purpose: it provides a thorough and lucid introduction to the rockcut churches and monasteries and their painted decorations, while it critically examines current scholarship on the monastic environment of Byzantine Cappadocia—particularly in regard to the architecture, which has been generally neglected by art historians.

Scooped out rather than constructed, this anonymous architecture has its own unique appeal. Kostof writes: "The Cappadocian carver-architect was not inhibited... by statics or the nature of materials. His structure stood, a monolith, before he started to work on it. And he could cut into this monolith quickly, effortlessly. It might take a single man about a month to carve out a large room of two to three thousand cubic feet. Loads and thrusts were negligible. One was free to try any structural symbol with little concern for structural safety. Cupolas could bubble from flat ceilings, or be placed over square bays by means of the most cavalier transition elemenis. No shape need be perfect: extemporaneous geometry is everywhere the rule. Wall lines sag, one half of an arch doesn't quite match the other, carefree deviations, here and there, mark the general outline of the building.

Following an account of the region, its environmental, political, and religious history, the author discusses in detail the building types and painting programs in the context of their creation—answering such questions as what was the nature of monasticism in Cappadocia, and who were the builders, the artists, their patrons? The author was born and educated in Turkey, and his personal knowledge of the monuments is a convincing factor in his handling of chronological and stylistic uncertainties. Throughout, Kostof's mind's eye never leaves the total environment, observing the inseparability of landscape, buildings, paintings, and the ritual that informs them.

MIT Press (1972)