Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Morea: The Land and Its People

The Dumbarton Oaks' annual spring symposium focuses on the medieval Peloponnese. "Morea: The Land and Its People in the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade," was organized by Sharon Gerstel and will take place in Washington, D.C., on May 1-3, 2009. In my opinion, this is one of the most interesting symposia organized at Dumbarton Oaks, which tends to be a fairly stodgy institution (administered by Harvard). Of course, I'm biased because I'll be delivering a paper. As the month of April unfolds, I now turn my undivided attention to this paper, and I suspect the postings on Objects-Building-Situations will reflect this reality. My apologies to the non-medievalists. It is a great honor to be included in the panel of speakers, a veritable who-is-who of Morea studies. See the full lot of abstracts here. I'll be speaking about the medieval town of Mystra, founded by the Latins in 1205 and passed on to the Greeks in 1261. From 1261 to 1460, Mystra became the seat of the Despotate of the Morea and a center of cultural revival. I'll be focusing on the domestic architecture of the site. I'll be arguing that the houses of Mystra, published in 1937, played such a great ideological role in modern intellectual history that they are practically useless as archaeological evidence. My abstract follows:


Kostis Kourelis

Mystra has played a unique role in the history of medieval architecture as the paradigmatic survivor of Byzantine urbanism and domestic form. Since the 17th century, this picturesque ruin has fed the creative imagination of artists, poets, statesmen and scholars. Rather than providing the foundations for the archaeological study of Byzantine and Frankish settlements, however, Mystra became a mythological benchmark, a much needed heterotopia for homeless heroes like Faust, Villehardouin, Palaiologos, Phrangopoulos and Laskaris. The first part of this paper excavates the fictional stratigraphy layered upon the city's domestic fabric. As with the castles of Western Europe, fact and fiction created a provocative house of cards, an experiential version of history that deflected cultural anxieties over national identity, ethnicity, gender and social change. The historic preservation of Mystra (from the 19th to the 21st centuries) obfuscated the archaeological record of the medieval city. For the second part of the paper, we must hence turn elsewhere for comparative data, looking at sites whose presumed worthlessness saved them from imperial and imperialist inflation. Surveying recent fieldwork from across the Peloponnesian countryside will ground the houses and settlement of Mystra within an ecological and productive setting. Some see Mystra as the Paris of the Mediterranean, but we will consider it as a modest village.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States