Famed (or notorious) for its opulence and wealth, the Byzantine court was based in a sprawling palace complex which has all but disappeared, making it tricky to conjure up how it must have a looked. But at least you can get a flavor of what made for fashionable Byzantine palace floor coverings circa 450-550 AD by heading for one of the city's oft-overlooked gems, tucked into the shadow of one of the buildings now standing on the site of the palace, the Blue Mosque. Spread out in situ beneath the shelter of a low structure (which was thoroughly revamped in 2012) is a wonderful collection of mosaic panels, which once amused and delighted Byzantine royalty as they strolled around the colonnaded open courtyard where they were situated. The mosaic floor panels have survived the vicissitudes of time so well as they were preserved from the elements first by the decaying remnants of the abandoned palace complex and then by the bazaar buildings associated with the Ottoman-era Blue Mosque, only to be uncovered by archeologists in the 1930s and 1950s.

Here there are none of the serious mosaics adorning nearby Byzantine churches such as the Hagia Sophia, with their depictions of Christ, the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, archangels, and the like. Instead, most of the scenes are charming vignettes of everyday life—children feeding a donkey, a man astride a mournful camel, boys spinning a hoop along with sticks, a man coaxing a recalcitrant goat. Other decidedly none-Christian subjects are portrayed, too, in the form of scenes from Greek mythology. As you leave, ponder just how much work went into making these beautifully wrought scenes—each square meter of mosaic contains in excess of 40,000 pieces.

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