Athens Byzantine Churches and Monasteries can be found literally everywhere in the city center.
Some of the Athens Byzantine churches that we will discuss in the post stand in the middle of busy shopping centers, like Kapnikarea Church, or at significant archaeological sites like Agioi Apostoloi Solakis in Ancient Agora. The only Byzantine monasteries that need a car as they are both a bit out of Athens center is the Kesariani Monastery and the UNESCO Daphni Monastery.
Short History of Athens Byzantine Churches
Byzantine Empire begins with the inauguration of Constantinople on 11th May 330 AD and continue until its final fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans on 29th May 1453.
Ancient Athens, after the successive barbarian raids, disasters, and the Roman conquest had passed into an era of decline. From 380 AD onwards, the Byzantine Emperors issued decrees trying to eliminate the ancient Greek religion and establish the new one, Christianity.
The decrees issued by Theodosius I (380-394), banned ancient worship and the Olympic Games. Theodosius II (408-450) abolished the Eleusinian cult. Later, Justinian (527-565), under the pretext of financial difficulties, closed the Plato philosophical schools of Athens.
After the decree of Theodosius II, the ancient temples were hastily and destructively converted into Christian churches. The Parthenon (means virgin in Greek) on Acropolis Hill, from the temple of the Parthenon goddess Athena, became the temple of the Parthenon Holy Mary (Panagia Athiniotissa).
The monuments that are preserved today are a testimony to the importance of Athens and its role in the medieval empire of Byzantium, proving at the same time its timeless cultural continuity, from antiquity to the present day.
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Athens Quick Reference
- Where to stay in Athens: A77 Suites by Andronis (mid-range)
- Heading to the Greek Islands from Athens? Book your ferry tickets in advance with no-hidden-fees FerryScanner or FerryHopper
- Essential Things to Have for Athens Metro: An anti-theft design Backpack
- Private transfer with English-speaking driver from Athens International Airport to Piraeus Ferries. Check availability and prices on Viator here
Athens Byzantine Churches Architecture
Some of the unique features of Byzantine architecture are:
- characteristic domes
- the use of brick as a building material in place of stone
- the extensive use of mosaics as a decorative element in place of sculpture
- the greater height of buildings as a result of the use of domes
- the invention of a system that allows the combination of the building use of these domes with the support of a square plane
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.
Athens Byzantine Churches Interactive Map
Get your Google Interactive Map of Athens Byzantine Churches here to walk to the mentioned churches. The only ones that need a car are the Kesariani and Daphni Monasteries.
Up next I am going to tell you about 10 best Athens Byzantine churches and monasteries.
1. The Church of Panagia Gorgoepikoos & Agios Eleftherios
As the Metropolis of Athens dominates the square in Athens center, not everyone notices the little masterpiece of a Byzantine church on its side, built on top of an ancient temple dedicated to Eileithyia.
Unlike most Byzantine churches of its era (built in the 12th century), it is made of marble, unsculptured stones, and reliefs. Inside its upper part of the walls, 90 reliefs have been placed, creating a spectacular decorative effect for a Byzantine church.
Another unique characteristic of this Byzantine Church is that it is dedicated to two saints, Panagia Gorgoepikoos and Agios Eleftherios. It is celebrated on 28 October & 15 December. Opening hours: 10:00 – 18:00 daily.
2. Panagia Kapnikarea in Ermou St
Panagia Kapnikarea Church or Holy Church of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary was built in the 11th century and today stands in the middle of the busiest shopping pedestrian street in Athens. As you can imagine it is one of the most well-known churches in Athens and a popular meeting point.
Kapnikarea has a complex cross-in-square construction with a dome that is supported by four Roman columns. The frescoes of the church belong to the modern era, from 1942 and were painted by Fotis Kontoglou and his students, a Byzantine art school. On the north of Kapnikarea Church, a chapel dedicated to St. Barbara has been attached, dating back to the late Ottoman period.
It is celebrated on 21 November. Opening hours: weekdays, Sat. 11:00-17:00, Sun: 07:00-13:00.
3. Church Panagia Pantanassa in Monastiraki
The Byzantine church of Panagia Pantanassa is located in Monastiraki square, a very popular and lively square close to most archaeological sites of Athens.
There is some conflict as to when Panagia Pantanassa was erected. The archaeologists Sotiriou and Wulff placed the construction of the Temple around the 8th century AD, which they consider to be the date of all the arched basilicas of Athens. If this is true, it makes Panagia Pantanassa the oldest church in Athens. However, Orlandos and Xygopoulos archaeologists consider that the original Church was built in the 10th century AD.
What is certain is that the church was built as the Katholikon of the Great Monastery that was occupying the whole square 1000 years ago. Its architecture is vaulted basilica, with many alterations through the centuries. The frescoes are from the modern era.
It is celebrated on the 15th August. The church today is a parish and is served by Fr. Gabriel Teknetzoglou. Telephone number of the church: +30 210-3213038.
4. Agioi Apostoloi Solakis in Ancient Agora
Ancient Agora is the second most important archaeological site in Athens right after the Acropolis Hill. It is my favorite site as it is a very green area and in the spring the whole place smells of chamomile and daisies. And on top of the Ancient Agora, near the Stoa of Attalos, sits the gorgeous Byzantine temple of Agioi Apostoloi Solakis.
The Agioi Apostoloi Solakis Church is a magnificent Middle Byzantine ecclesiastical building. It was built in the 10th century on an ancient monument dedicated to the Nymphs. To visit it you have to pay an entrance ticket for the Ancient Agora (10 euros).
It is celebrated on 30 June. Opening hours: 08:00 – 18:00 (in summer), 08:00 -17:00 (in winter).
5. Agioi Asomatoi(Incorporeal) Church in Thissio
Built in the 11th century, Agioi Asomatoi small church is dedicated to the incorporeal saints or angels. The church is a typical example of the Athenian Byzantine churches with a characteristic entrance decorated with marble. The horseshoe-shaped arch above the north entrance is also of Islamic inspiration.
It is topped by a particularly elegant Athenian dome. It is located near the Thissio area, close to the Train station, the pedestrian that leads to Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, and the Synagogues.
It is celebrated on 7 November. Opening hours: 07:00 -12:00. Closed on Thurs. & Sun. afternoons
6. Agios Nikolaos Ragavas in Plaka
The large church of Agios Nikolaos Ragavas is at the Acropolis hill slope right in the heart of Plaka, Athens’ old town.
It was built in the first half of the 11th century, on top of an ancient Greek Temple with a remaining Ionic column incorporated into its north side.
It is part of a complex belonging to the monastery of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and a very important Athens Byzantine Church.
The holy altar is supported by an inverted Corinthian column, rather unique use of the ancient column. The Ragavas Byzantine church is a simple four-column cross-inscribed church and it was the first church in Athens to receive its bell after the War of Independence in 1821 (the Ottomans had banned the bells from the Greek churches).
It is celebrated on 6 December. Opening hours: weekdays 09:00:12:30, Saturday & Sunday 09:00:12:30
7. Agios Dimitrios Loubardiaris in Acropolis
The Byzantine church of Agios Dimitrios Loubardiaris is right across from the Acropolis entrance, on the forested hill of Philopappos. The Basilica was built in the 12th century and its frescoes date back to 1732.
Loubardiaris church is very popular for christenings and as it is at the beginning of the Philopappos forested area, is frequently visited by families, runners, and hikers.
It is celebrated on 16 October. Opening hours: daily 08:00-12:00, Fri. 08:00-12:00 and 22:00-00:30. Filopappou Hill
8. Moni Petraki in Kolonaki
Kolonaki is a central, posh area of Athens full of upscale restaurants and expensive shops. It also houses a few architectural masterpieces like the Benaki Museum and the catholicon of the Asomatoi Taxiarches Monastery or Moni Petraki.
Moni Petraki was constructed in the 10th century AD with Corinthian type columns and along with Metochi in Plaka it is a popular church for the Easter night celebrations. What is really remarkable is that Byzantine Petraki Church has been in continuous use since the 10th century AD, until our days with a short period of desolation between 1500 – 1673 AD.
Inside the Catholikon, you can admire at the beginning of the domes, the relief cornice, as well as the two small capitals of the two dividing columns of the three-light window. In 1719 A.D. Markos worked on the previous iconography of the Catholicos and managed to remove any Western influence and introduce again the orthodox artwork.
Moni Petraki is celebrated November 8th, it is daily open Mon-Sun, 06.00-14.00, 17.00-21.30
9. Monastery of Kesariani
The monastery of Kesariani is one of the most important Athens Byzantine monuments built in the second half of the 11th century. It is hidden in the green forest of Hymettos Mt, near the shrine of Aphrodite, in a gorgeous natural environment with outstanding views of Athens. The monastery of Kesariani is dedicated to the Presentation of the Virgin Mary and it is a nunnery.
You can visit the Catholicon, the refectory, the kitchen, the nuns’ cells, and look in through the window of the bathhouse. The frescoes of the narthex (painted by John Ypatos according to an in situ inscription) date back to 1682.
The monastery has a rich library and was also an important center of philosophy. Besides the beautiful medieval complex of the Kesariani monastery, you should visit the botanical walk nearby with the plants’ names written in Latin and English.
The area is also ideal for hiking, as there are cleared and very well-signposted trails. It is open daily except for Tuesdays between 8.30 am – 16.00 (summer) and 15.00 (winter). Entrance Ticket: 3 euros. You can go by public bus 224.
10. Daphni Monastery
The Byzantine Daphni Monastery, 11 km from Athens center, is a UNESCO world heritage site, that was first built in the 6th century. The Daphni Monastery features unique and impressive mosaics on a gold background, with outstanding artistic characteristics. The Daphni Monastery is often combined with a day tour to Ancient Corinth.
The Monastery also exhibits the architectural perfection of the middle period of Byzantine religious architecture (11th and 12th centuries).
Read here the full post on Byzantine Daphni Monastery in Athens.
Byzantine and Christian Museum
The 11th and 12th centuries are considered the golden ages of Athenian Byzantine art, many of which can be seen at the exceptional Byzantine and Christian Museum.
The museum is housed in beautiful Villa Ilissia and features a wide collection of sculptures, paintings, and other artifacts from the 3rd century AD to medieval times. It also features a fantastic garden cafe, perfect for a break after a warm day. Next door is the newly excavated Archaeological Site of the Lyceum of Aristotle.
Dress Code for Greek Monasteries
Please avoid short skirts or shorts and prefer longer skirts that cover your knees and shoulders if you are a female, and wear a shirt and long trousers (pants) if you are a male. You also need to remove your hat inside a church. Ask if it is OK to take a photo inside the churches (thanks!)
Unesco Monuments in Greece
There are currently 18 UNESCO Monuments in Greece:
Athens, Attika (1): Acropolis Hill
Monasteries (3): Daphni in Athens, Nea Moni in Chios, Hosios Loukas in Fokida
Northern Greece (4): Vergina, Philippi, Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessalonika, Mount Athos
Islands (5): Delos, Medieval City of Rhodes, Old Town of Corfu, Pythagoreion and Heraion of Samos, the Historic Centre (Chorá), the Monastery of Saint-John the Theologian and the Cave of the Apocalypse on Patmos
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