Monday, 19 May 2014

Two UNESCO churches in Thessaloniki

Dating from the 7th century Agios Dimítrios is the largest church in Greece which following a fire in 1917 had to be rebuilt. The fire destroyed the 7th and 13th century fabric of the basilica but the crypt dating back to the 3rd century and built over a Roman bath remained intact. According to legend the crypt is the site of the imprisonment, torture and murder in 305 AD of the city's patron saint Dimitrios - a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity and was martyred on the orders of Emperor Galerius. Six small mosaics dating from the 5th - 7th century survived the fire and rank among the finest in Greece.
St. Dimitrios with young children
Much of the original fabric was used in the rebuilding 
In the crypt there are still relics from when it was a Roman bath house
There has been a church since the 3rd century on the location of the current Agía Sofía. The present structure was erected in the 8th century and based on the design of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. In 1205 when the fourth Crusade captured the city it was converted into the cathedral of Thessaloniki. It was then converted to a mosque in 1430 after the capture of Thessaloniki by Ottoman Sultan Murad ll, and finally reconverted to a church during the liberation of Thessaloniki in 1912.
A fine Ascension fresco in the dome dating back to the 9th century
The imposing nature of the building is emphasised by its location in a partially sunken garden
Just a short stroll away is the arch of Galerius and Rotunda
In the 4th century Roman emperor Galerius commissioned these two structures as elements of an imperial precinct linked to his palace. The arch emphasised his power and was composed of a masonry core faced with marble sculptural panels celebrating a victory over the Sassanid Persians. Less than half of the arch is preserved. The Rotunda is a massive circular structure that had an oculus like the Pantheon in Rome. Originally built to be a mausoleum for Galerius it became a polytheist temple, a Christian basilica, a Muslim mosque and then again a Christian church. It is now empty with archaeological work being carried out within it. A minaret can be seen which was built when it was used as a mosque.

42 comments:

  1. Hello Rosemary,

    What amazing architecture in these two churches. So many different styles over countless decades make them a very rich source of architectural history.

    The Roman bath remains are so intriguing. And, the sculptural elements are so intricately carved. What a feast for the eyes and, no doubt, the soul when one is in these places of worship.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Jane and Lance - the journey down into the cript was via many very steep stone steps, and then it suddenly opened out in to a very large area - it took us by surprise. So many layers of history all on one site.

      Delete
  2. I'm not a 'religious' person, but I always feel touched by the interiors of churches, their beauty and wonder are very comforting.

    Jean x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are right Jean - Europe would be a much less aesthetically pleasing place today without its great religious art and architectural monuments that we are able to enjoy and admire today.

      Delete
  3. Hello Rosemary, These are some very impressive buildings showing constant use from antiquity. I admire the way these are continually repaired, improved, rebuilt and investigated. There is a great lesson here for too many places (like some in the United States) that believe the only way to deal with historic buildings is to tear them down and redevelop the area.
    --Jim

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Jim - I made a collage of the arch and rotunda because they were so difficult to photograph. The arch crosses over one of the main streets in Thessaloniki and the Rotunda lies along side it. So yes, you are right they have been continually adapted from antiquity and are still right at the heart of this bustling city.

      Delete
  4. I've only been to Athens but not Thessaloniki. These two churches are so steeped in history, culture and ancient roman civilization. The sights are simply awesome.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am pleased that this post reminded you of your own trip to Greece - amazingly there are the remains of life from Roman times all around the town. The job of carrying out archaeological work must be forever ongoing. They seem to discover something every time they dig a drain or do some road works.

      Delete
  5. Dear Rosemary,

    As I look at the deep, deep colors of the Agia Sofia, I wonder whether decades of incense might have covered brighter hues, particularly in the dome. The remnants of Galerius' arch, with their horizontal layers of detail remind me a little of Angkor Wat.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Mark - I am sure that you are right about the incense along with fumes from countless candles over hundreds of years.
      Angkor Wat/Galerius' arch - both telling a horizontal story carved in sandstone for Angkor Wat, and marble for the arch.




      Delete
  6. Amazing buildings. Thank you for bringing them 'to my desk'!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing them Marina.

      Delete
  7. How beautiful these buildings are. I am struck, once again, by the persistence - the endurance - of the people who live within the precincts of these structures that have changed and changed again over the ages.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When I am in the presence of such wonderful old buildings and artefacts from antiquity I have difficulty comprehending just how long they have stood there and the amount of history and people that has passed through them.

      Delete
  8. Dear Rosemary,i'm glad that you visit Thessaloniki and the famous historical,church of Agios Dimitrios(my name is Dimitra and i celebrate my name for Agios Dimitrios).I never visit Thessaloniki,and its a very beautiful city!
    Thank you for sharing!Wishing you a lovely week!
    Dimi...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Dimi - I am so delighted that this post shows the church of Agios Dimitroios from which your name is celebrated. You must try and visit at some time in the future.

      Delete
  9. Lovely post Rosemary. This has given me a taster as we are visiting Thessaloniki this summer on our cruise. Beautiful architecture. Thanks for sharing.
    Patricia x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Patricia - If you have the opportunity do try and visit the Museum of Archaeology and see the wonderful gold from antiquity which I showed 4 post back.

      Delete
  10. It is so beautiful that I cannot choose just one or two things to comment on, there are just too many. It must have been a wonderful place to visit and see all of this in person. Thanks for taking us along! xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Amy - Thank you for your comment - I am so pleased that you enjoyed what you saw on this post.

      Delete
  11. So many beautiful things to see and so much history to absorb - a fascinating insight into the skill and craftsmanship over the centuries.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Elaine - it really did feel like a walk through history from the crypt upwards in the first church.

      Delete
  12. Amazingly rich and wonderful ornaments ...romans surely knew how to make themselves comfortable :-) I think your photos speak for themselves, all beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a great deal we have to thank the Romans for.

      Delete
  13. I am awestruck by these churches, Rosemary; thank you so much for showing them. It is hard for me to comprehend the extent of the history found in these sites, and the idea of a Roman bath house in a church crypt is astonishing! I love the Ascension fresco and all the little details in your collages - wonderful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Patricia - I have grown up surrounded by ancient history in this country, but I still find it difficult to comprehend and envisage the past history from antiquity too. Glad that you enjoyed seeing it.

      Delete
  14. we were there several years ago....and didn't spend nearly enough time exploring those magnificent buildings. thanks for the tour and the memories!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad this post bought back memories for you Steph - there never seems to be enough time to see everything that you want to. I have several regrets about things we missed whilst in Greece too.

      Delete
  15. So many pretty details in both these churches Rosemary. Well worth visiting. Like taking a bath in history.
    Marian

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Marian and what a lovely expression "like taking a bath in history".

      Delete
  16. I just love your posts, Rosemary ! Your photos are beautiful and the research is at the same time enlightening but never heavy. A pleasure to enjoy with a cup of tea after a hard day at work !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Silver Bunny - I appreciate what you have written very much. I am always concerned that I do not fill a post with too much history so to have your reassurance is very comforting.

      Delete
  17. Dear Rosemary,
    what a changing fate these churches had! Wonderful pictures, thank you, and interesting information. "The sunken garden" sounds alluring.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Britta - I did know quite a lot about the history of Greece, but didn't realise to what extent they had been continually invaded, conquered and subjugated over hundreds of years. The sunken garden allowed the church to sit comfortably within the city without it overpowering the buildings around it.

      Delete
  18. Oh my goodness Rosemary, These are lovely churches. I particularly like the 3rd photo. The light, there is plenty so hence the photos came out well.
    Regards, Margaret

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Margaret - the first church having white walls and lots of windows had a much brighter interior. The painted frescoes in the other church have been there for a 1000 years, and I suspect must have been much brighter when they were originally done.
      I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing them.

      Delete
  19. I am so glad that you haeve seen these beautiful churches in Thessaloniki . Τhese churches are our pride and Saint Demetrios Iis the patron of the city.We celebrate at 26th of October .Thank you for this lovely presentation .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Olympia - I am so pleased that you liked the presentation of the two churches which are so familiar to you. It was a wonderful and very interesting opportunity for me to be able to see them for myself.

      Delete
  20. What marvellous Byzantine building, Rosemary. Those small mosaics make us realise just what beauty was lost in the fire.

    Your mention of then partailly sunken garden reminded me of the Byzantine churches in Ravenna, where the surrounding ground level has risen in the 1500 or more years since they were built, so they appear to be in a sunken site. I'm guessing the same may be true of these churches.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is an excellent example Perpetua - I too have visited Ravenna and the two situations do have similarities.

      Delete

❖PLEASE NOTE❖ Comments made by those who hide their identity will be deleted

“You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you - you have to go to them sometimes”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh