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Byzantine Iconography

The orthodox icon as a place and way of multiple encounters

On the Divine Images I.16-17

Orthodox Art and Architecture

The honor and veneration of the holy icons

Byzantine Athens



EKKLISIA PANAGIAS KAPNIKAREA (Virgin Mary church – Kapnikarea ) (9)

The church dates back to the early 10nth century (1050AC), and it is one of the most beautiful oeuvre of the Byzantine period in the centre of Athens. It is located in the middle of Ermou Street. The limited use of dentils and the arrangement of the windows also lead to the dating of the building.
Variations' regarding the origin of the church's name exists according to several theories. The one that still prevailed is the Kapnikarea , which relates the Kapnikarea family, which was responsible that time to collect the “kapnikon”- a certain tax imposed by the Byzantines- around the eighth century- to the houses that had chimneys ( kapnodohos ).
Older documents frequently refer to the church with the name “Kamoucharea'', - kamoucha is a luxurious textile, due to the fact that at that time people were selling this kind of fabrics, located there.
The church also used to be called the “Princess church”, based on the tradition that relates Athens with the Athenians Byzantine Empresses.
The name Panagia Kapnikarea dominates and it is used today.
The architecture of the church is of a complex cross-in-square plan, tetrastyle which are reposed to capitals of the Romanesque period.
It was constructed in remembrance and dedication of the Entrance of Virgin Mary to the temple. Shortly after the foundation of the church, a chapel dedicated to Saint Barbara was constructed on the north side.
The exonarthex extending all over the western side of the church was added in the third quarter of the 11th century. On the south side of the narthex a small colonnaded entrance which on the upper side a semicircular conch exist, was added in the twelfth century (12AC).
On the west side are sculptures in relief and inscriptions in Kufic motifs, the presence of them should be emphasized.
Of great importance, is the icon of the Virgin Plaritera , a work of art employed by the famous hagiographer Fotis Kontoglou . The rest of the church's icons are identified as a work of him and of his students dated around the 1942. The opus mosaic floor over the entrance is a work of Ellie Voila created in 1936.
The church survived from being demolished twice, but thanks to the intervention of Ludwig of Bavaria, father of King Otto, in 1836 was survived.
The second danger of demolition was abolished thanks to the intervention of Archibishop of Athens in 1863. The church of Kapnikarea nowadays is under the supervision of the University of Athens-School of Theology.
Department of the Theologian School of the


EKKLISIA HAGION THEODORON – (Saint Theodor's church) (10)

The church was built around the first half of the eleventh century. It is located on the south-west side of Klafthmonos square.
Mounted on the church's west wall, a marble slab inscribe that the church was renovated by an official of the Byzantine Empire named Nikolaos Kalomolos, as a devout act for the Saint Theodoros of Tyron.
The church was reconstructed over the ruins of an older church, which according to the tradition, was one of the twelve churches, Empress Evdokia founded in Athens around the second half of the fifth century.
The church is of a distyle, cross-in-square type with an octahedral dome, having two lobed windows and supported, on the east side by two pillars and on the west by two peccaries (square columns that supports the dome).
The masonry is in the cloisonné style bearing many ornamental decorations, Kufic motives, guilloche patters and animal figures.
The voluminous stones on the lower side of the church that supports the masonry are mounted with expertise forming a cross pattern resembling the trends of the church architecture in Athens at that time (eleventh century).
On the east side of the church, three trihedral apses, of which the middle one is proportionally higher and wider, exist. In the larger apse a one lobed window is incorporated. The rest of the three apses incorporate a two-lobed widow.
On the west side of the building, two entrances exist both in an apse shape and with jambs. The one in the centre has a two-lobed window with an apse. The second one faces the north.
On the South side of the church another apse shaped entrance exists with two-lobed windows.
The bell-tower is a later addition and brings a three-lobed window. On the same side (South) of the church, a one-lobe window and two two-lobed one exists, following the same pattern of the North side.
Of particular interest is the copious ceramic decoration of the church: pseudo- kufic motifs, a frieze with small ceramic plates with kufic -like reliefs, and other decorative elements like the dentil arches as well as the brick arches around the windows.
The church has great similarities with the nearby Kapnikarea church, but is of ponderous proportions and of a more austere architectural structure.
The church was badly damaged due to the Greek War of Independence (1821-1832), and reconstructed in 1840.


EKKLISIA HAGIOU ELEFTHERIOU – (Saint Eleftherios church) (11)

The church dated to the second half of the twelfth century. It is located south of the Cathedral Church Athens ( Kathedrikos Naos of Athens) on Metropoleos square. It is also known as the Little Cathedral.
The architectural type belongs to the tetrastyle , cross-in-square plan with dome. The side walls were built from large marble slabs from the ancestry.
On the upper side ninety (90), reliefs taken from various historical phases – Greek, Roman, Early Christian and Byzantine, are incorporated in such a way so as to simulate a frieze that flanks the whole church. The dome of this small size church reflects in perfect way the Athenian type.
The external courtyard was used as a cemetery for the Benizelos-Paleologan families.
This monument was dedicated to the Panagia Gorgoipikoos . In 1861, after an unsuccessful murder attempt against the King Otto, Queen Amalia suggests to rename the church to Saint Sozon .
After the end of the Bavarian occupation, the church named Agios Eleftherios .


EKKLISIA HAGIAS TRIADOS - ROSSIKI (Holy Trinity church - Russian) (12)

The church differs from all of the other monuments, apart from the fact that, it is the largest medieval building in Athens, but also from the fact that it follows a different architectural type, the octagon. It is a variation of the cross-in-square church but in this case the dome is supported by eight pilasters peripherally.
It is also named the Russian Church because it is the parish church of the Orthodox Russian community in Athens.
Its architectural structure forms an octahedral dome with a low tympanum. The dome covers the whole center of the church and it is supported by four square columns. The layout is constructed in such a way that unifies the internal space and at the same time adding a sense of grandeur.
This architectural type of the church follows faithfully the original structure of Osios Loukas monastery in the town Distomo in Biotia, which is dated around the first half of the tenth century. It is of Middle Byzantine architecture and has been listed on UNESCO's World Heritage sides, along with the monasteries of Nea Moni and Dafnion.
Rich ornamentations flank the North side of the Agia Triada church with kufic motifs and dentil bands. Three apses exists on the East side of the church, while on the West there are three square portals decorated with marble frames and brick arches. The Holy Sanctury is segregated from the main nave with a distinctively high iconostasis according to the Russian order and replaces the low Byzantine templon screen.
On the left-hand of the church, lies the chapel of Saint Nikodimos, and on the right hand side lies the chapel of Saint Nikolaos.
In 1847 the church was bought by the Russian government which undertook also the huge renovating expenses, so as to be used as a parish church of the Russian Orthodox community in Athens and was dedicated to the Holy Trinity (Agia Triada).
The Western iconographic style of the church murals is a work of Ludvig Thiersch (1847), which covered the still extant Byzantine frescoes.
The impressive bell-tower standing today was added when the church was renovated.
The church opening of the reconstructed church were done in 1855 and from then the church's name establish as Holy Trinity (Agia Triada)


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