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Magnificent Byzantine Churches in the Heart of Athens

Byzantine Churches Athens
The Church of the Holy Apostles is located in the Ancient Agora of Athens. Credit: A.Savin, CC4/Wikipedia

A tour of the Byzantine churches in the historic center of Athens offers history, unique architecture, a rare viewing experience and a knowledge boost. Not only have they survived but many churches are still open for spiritual business and tourists and doing a roaring trade.

It was in the middle Byzantine period during the 11th and 12th centuries when the most significant churches were built in Athens, denoted by their small proportions, elaborate brickwork decoration and constructed in an architectural style known as cross-in-square.

What truly distinguishes these churches as ‘Athenian’ are their unique red-tiled, eight-sided domes (Athenian Dome) that crown these holy buildings, representing the last traces of Byzantium in Athens.

The Byzantine Churches of Athens

Panagia Kapnikarea

Panagia Kapnikarea
Panagia Kapnikarea. Credit: Don Vincenzo , CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikipedia

This is one of the oldest churches in Athens found in the heart of Ermou Street, built around 1050AD, over the ruins of an ancient temple that honored the goddess Athena or Dimitra. This Byzantine church is dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin.

Rare icons including the icon of Platytera or Our Lady of the Sign that depicts the Virgin Mary with Jesus Christ as a child, by one of Greece’s most celebrated hagiographers, Fotis Kontoglou.

Panagia Pantanassa

Panagia Pantanassa
Panagia Pantanassa. Credit: C messier, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikipedia

Panagia Pantanassa was established circa 10th century and is located in Monastiraki Square.

“Monastiraki” meaning small monastery refers to its origins as a monastery once annexed to the Monastery of Kaisariani and used by monks during the Frankish occupation and later as a nunnery.

The monastery cells were located in what we see today as the public square. Approximately 1/3 of the church is below ground level. The church is a barrel-vaulted basilica denoting the transition from late antiquity to the Byzantine and Medieval World, although its bell tower along with the frescoes and iconography are more recent additions.

The Church of Agios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris

Byzantine Churches Athens
Credit: Facebook/Agios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris

At the foot of Philopappos Hill, lies the small 12th century Byzantine chapel of St Dimitrios, a single-aisle vaulted church that appears to be built with reused materials.

The original construction is likely associated with the final phase of the Diateichisma fortification wall – a first line of defense for Athens established in the 4th century BC.

Church of the Holy Apostles

Byzantine Churches Athens
The Church of the Holy Apostles. Credit: Daniel Di Palma , CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikipedia

The Church of the Holy Apostles is located in the Ancient Agora of Athens, Greece, next to the Stoa of Attalos, and can be dated to around the late 10th century.

The church is particularly significant as the only monument in the Agora, other than the Temple of Hephaestus, to survive intact since its foundation, and for its architecture: it was the first significant church of the Middle Byzantine period in Athens and marks the beginning of the so-called “Athenian type”, successfully combining the simple four-pier with the cross-in-square forms.

Agios Eleftherios (Little Metropolis)

Byzantine Churches Athens
Agios Eleftherios. Credit: George E. Koronaios,  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0/Wikipedia

The Little Metropolis, formally the Church of St. Eleutherios is a Byzantine church located at the Mitropoleos Square (Cathedral of Athens), next to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens.

The church is built on top of the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to the goddess Eileithyia. Various dates for its construction have been proposed in the past, from the 9th century under Empress Irene of Athens to the 13th century.

It differs considerably from other Byzantine churches of the same period in Athens, and indeed elsewhere; although it follows the typical cross-in-square style, it is, uniquely, almost entirely built of reused stones from earlier buildings, ranging from Classical Antiquity to the 12th or even 13th centuries.

Agios Nikolaos Ragavas

Agios Nikolaos Ragavas
Agios Nikolaos Ragavas.

This church is located in Anafiotika, close to the monument of Lysikrates. It is estimated that its name derives from the legendary family of Constantinople that spawned the Byzantine Emperor Michael I Rangabe.

The first temple was built in the 9th century but it was destroyed by an unknown cause. The second was built in the 11th century and took its present form after maintenance works in 1979-1980.

Other Byzantine churches in the center of Athens include the Metamorfosi tou Sotiros in Plaka, the Hagioi Theodoroi Church near Klathmonos Square, and the church of Chrysospiliotissa.

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