The Byzantine Empire, during the period of its greatest extent in the 6th century stretched over vast territories in Asia Minor, Italy, Sicily, North Africa and the Iberian region. In time, the Empire also expanded to cover the Levant, Syria, Egypt and certain other regions. Such extended frontiers meant that the Empire included a large number of urban centres and major cities.
The most significant, prosperous and strategically important was the city of Constantinople which served as the Empire’s heart throughout its history. Other cities of notable importance included Ravenna located in Italy, Jerusalem which briefly came under Byzantine rule, Reggio Calabria in southern Italy and the city of Dyrrhachium.
Constantinople was a city built during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Constantine during the early 4th century. It was built at the site of the ancient city of Byzantium. Constantine adorned the city with a large number of monumental architecture. Subsequent Byzantine emperors made Constantinople their seat and as the capital of the Empire, the city rapidly became the most important and prosperous city in all of Europe.
Constantinople became the centre of culture, commerce and religion in Byzantine Empire. Over time, the city was set up with extended defence structures which ensured its safety despite repeated attacks on it from the 4th century to 13th century. Historically, the city is considered the key bulwark that blocked the way of most invaders attempting to enter Europe from the East, including the Arabs.
During the 6th century, the Byzantine Empire conquered most of Italy under the rule of Justinian. During this period, Ravenna became the capital of the Empire in Italy. During the Byzantine rule, Ravenna underwent a cultural renaissance and the iconic Byzantine mosaic art came to be used in monumental architecture erected during this period.
The city remained under Byzantine rule until the 8th century. Religious differences between the Pope in Rome and the Orthodox Church in Byzantine were also becoming prominent during this period. Consequently, the Empire set up the archbishop of Ravenna as a major counter-weight to the power of Pope in Italy. Byzantine rule over Ravenna, and most of Italy, came to end in the first half of the 8th century.
With the rise of Christianity as the official religion in Byzantine Empire, the city of Jerusalem held a religious significance for the Empire. In the 4th century, the city was already in Byzantine possession. The Byzantine Emperor Constantine erected the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the city in 335. At the time, Constantine also claimed to have gained possession of the True Cross from the city. The city remained in Byzantine possession until early 7th century.
Reggio Calabria was a prominent city in southern Italy under Byzantine rule. It intermittently remained in Byzantine possession from the 5th century to the 11th century. In Italy, it became one of the most prominent Byzantine cities and underwent significant cultural activity during Byzantine rule.
It took a lot of influence from the Greek-speaking mainland of the Byzantine Empire and incorporated many elements of the Greek culture. Literary activity in Calabria was spearheaded by monks during Byzantine rule who transcribed many classical works.