Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessalonika, Greece

An open Museum of Early Christian and Byzantine Art

Church of St. Demetrius (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

Dedicated to the patron Saint of the city, the majestic church of Aghios Demetrius is one of the holiest pilgrimage churches of Christendom and the most important early Christian Church of Thessaloniki. It was built on the ruins of a Roman bath complex, the place where Saint Demetrius was imprisoned and martyred in 303 AD.

Church of Agios Dimitrios (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

The holy place of martyrdom, the Crypt is located beneath the transept of the church and in the late Byzantine years was the center of the Saint’s miraculous myrrh production. The miraculous myrrh gushing from the grave combined with his reputation as a protector who guarded Thessaloniki from invaders with His Divine intervention, has attracted millions of pilgrims from around the world who have come to honor his grave for seventeen centuries.

Crypt of Aghios Demetrius (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

The Crypt is open for pilgrims at the point of martyrdom and operates as a museum of antiquities. The first church of Aghios Demetrius was built after 313 AD and in 1493 it was converted into a mosque. After the liberation of the city in 1912 it re-opened, but in 1917 the temple was almost destroyed by the great fire that burned the biggest part of the historical center of Thessaloniki. In its current form, the Church is a five-aisled basilica with narthex and transept, characterized by rich paintings and mosaic and marble decorations, while there is chapel of Ag. Efthymiou in an annex in the south East corner.

Rotunda (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

Rotunda is one of the most imposing monuments of Thessaloniki and one of the most important of the Roman period in Europe. With its architectural power and matchless interior mosaic murals, the monument represents a unique balance between the Pagan and the Christian world. It was founded in the early 4th AD century, probably as a temple of ancient worship or mausoleum of Constantine (306-337).

The imposing Rotunda (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

It is located on the axis of the processional route which connected the triumphal arch of Galerius with the palace complex near the present Navarinou Square.

Dedication of the monument to Saint George (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

The circular and dome roofed emblematic monument has a height of 29.80m, diameter 24.50m with the width of walls 6.30m. Architecturally it can only be compared to the Pantheon in Rome. Shortly after its construction it was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Aghioi Asomatoi or the Archangels. It was the Metropolis of Thessaloniki from 1524 to 1591, when it was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman conquerors until the liberation of Thessaloniki in 1912. The Rotunda of St George is named after a small neighboring church. The dedication of the monument to Saint George is due to the neighboring, small, homonymous church. Today the Rotunda, with history of more than 1700 years, is at once a church and cultural-archaeological monument, in which the hum of tourists, the ecclesiastical liturgy and hosting of cultural events are all combined, matching the monument's character and history.

Church of Aghia Sophia (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

Almost untouched in time, the Church of Aghia Sophia, dedicated to Christ, the true Word and Wisdom of God, has for centuries been a spiritual beacon for Thessaloniki. Built in the late 7th century it is a typical example of transitional cruciform church with a dome and an ambulatory, in imitation of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The beautiful mosaics, the 11th century wall paintings and its sculptural decorations are considered masterpieces of religious art.

Experience Thessaloniki in Virtual Reality - Aghia Sophia (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

During the Latin occupation of Thessaloniki (1204-1224) the church became a cathedral for the Latins. After the Byzantine reoccupation the city returned to Orthodox Bishop until 1523/24, on Maktoul Ibrahim Pasha, when it was converted into a mosque.

Church of the Acheiropoietos (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

The impressive church of the Acheiropoietos owes its name to the worshipful icon of the Virgin Mary, which according to tradition is not painted by human hand ('Acheiropoietos' meaning 'made not by human hands'). The Church of the Acheiropoietos, the Church of Aghios Dimitrios and Aghia Sophia are the best examples of early Christian churches. The mosaics, murals, the ornamentation and the portable icons in the Acheiropoietos Church are a veritable treasury of sacred art. It was built as a three-aisled wooden-roofed basilica with a narthex and gallery over the ruins of a Roman bath complex.

Experience Thessaloniki in Virtual Reality - Church of the Acheiropoietos (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

The Acheiropoietos was the first Christian church converted into a mosque, happening immediately after the fall of Thessaloniki in 1430 by the sultan, who, to commemorate his victory, ordered on one of the marble columns the engraving which is preserved to this day: "The Sultan Murad conquered the city of Thessaloniki in 833 (833 is AD 1430).

Church of Saint Ekaterini (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

The church dates from the late 13th /early 14th century and served as katholikon (main church) to a Byzantine monastery. It´s distinguished by its ornate external masonry and internal murals with themes from the Gospel, the miracles of Jesus, etc, which were plastered over by the Turks when the church was converted into a mosque. The hagiographies (frescoes) follow the Macedonian school of iconography, where the human body is shown strong and robust and captivate visitors with their power and intensity.

Church of Panagia Halkeon (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

The bright red color of the bricks on the outside of the church is the characteristic feature which gave the Church the popular nickname 'Red Church'. This church was built in 1028 by Christophoros Protospatharios, the Katepano, (Governor) of Lagouvardia, his wife Maria and his children Nikiphoros, Anna and Katakali. It follows the classic Byzantine style, with four columns and three domes. Belonging to the "Macedonian Period" of Byzantine architecture combined with its location near the neighborhood of the coppersmiths gave the church its name Panayia Chalkeon.

Church of Saint Apostles (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

It was built by the Patriarch Nephon I as a katholikon (main church) of a monastery in 1310. During the Ottoman period it was turned into a mosque and the murals were covered up once the gold leaf had been removed. Masterly mosaics of the era of Nephon are fragmentarily saved at the highest points of the main church: the Pantocrator and the prophets on the dome, the Εvangelists in the pendentives, the Twelve Great Feasts in the arches and western wall and holy martyrs.

Experience Thessaloniki in Virtual Reality - Church of Saint Apostles (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

The iconographic program of the church is filled with murals of great artistic quality depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments and with symbolic themes or those inspired by hymnography.

Church of Saint Nikolaos Orphanos (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

A small treasure of religious art is hidden at the Church of Aghios Nikolaos Orphanos, which was constructed in the early 14th century as the catholicon of a byzantine monastery, with brilliant internal decorations which are among the most well-preserved painted sets of Thessaloniki. Wonderful examples of Paleologan art are displayed, such as scenes of the functional circle, the Passion and Miracles of Christ, various Saints, and the life of Aghios Nikolaos. The church garden is an oasis of peace and tranquility from the city’s noise.

Church of Saint Panteleimon (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

Close to Rotunda and Galerius’ Arch (Kamara), you will find the church of Aghios Panteleimon, a spiritual center in the 14th century, a place where the remarkable Hellenists Thomas Magistros and Matheos Vlastaris used to write and teach. It was built in the late 13th century as the catholicon of Panagia Perivleptou Monastery, also known as Mr. Isaac’s Monastery, named by its founder, Jacob, the bishop of Thessaloniki, thereafter monk Isaac. In the mid-16th century, the church was turned into a mosque, whose minaret base is still preserved.

Church of Metamorphosis Sotiros (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

Between the churches of Panagia Gorgoepikoou and Ypapantis you can find the small church of Metamorphosis Tou Sotiros. Construction took place possibly around 1340 and it is a typical example of the transitional type in Byzantine church-building, found particularly in Macedonia. Fine depictions of the Ascension of Christ, the Prophets and the Divine Liturgy decorate the dome.

Church of Profitis Elias (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

Built over a natural mound this 14th century church once dominated the city. It displays a unique representation of the Athonic architectural type, with a fine dome and ceramic decorations which influenced the Serbian mastery afterwards. The most distinguished of all, is the depiction of the Infanticide, a classic example of the final phase of the paleologan painting.

Experience Thessaloniki in Virtual Reality - Church of Profitis Elias (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

Latomou Monastery (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

The old catholicon of the Latomou Monastery, named after the nearby stone quarry, is a late 5th century church, dedicated to Osios David. It is famous for its unique mosaic on the temple’s alcove, a depiction of Ezekiel’s vision of Christ at a young age, encircled by the symbols of the four Evangelists, with Avakum and Ezekiel on the sides.

Vlatadon Monastery (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

A monastery of great importance, it is the only Byzantine monastery in the city, still operating. According to tradition, it was built at the exact spot where Apostle Paul taught during his stay in Thessaloniki. It was founded between 1351-1371 by the monk Dorotheos Vlatis, a pupil of Gregorius Palamas later subsequently Bishop of Thessaloniki. It currently houses the headquarters of the patriarchal Institute of Paternal Studies of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The monastery offers an exceptional view of the city, as far as Olympus mountain, while the sunset over the Thermaikos Gulf is definitely something to remember.

White Tower (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

The White Tower, the emblem of Thessaloniki which dominates the port area, was built in the late 15th century, as the south-east tower of the city’s fortification. An imposing six-storey, cylinder shaped structure, 22.70m in diameter and 33.90m in height. Over the centuries, it changed names and operations multiple times: Kalamaria Fortress, Tower of Yenitsaroi, Tower of Blood, were some of these, the latter two due to its use as a prison for serious convicts, executed by Yenitsaroi, with its façade frequently covered in blood due to these executions.

Experience Thessaloniki in Virtual Reality - White Tower (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

The name “White Tower” finally prevailed when a prisoner offered to paint it with whitewash, to gain his freedom.

A museum dedicated to the city (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

The Tower has also been used for the city’s air defense, the allies’ transmission center during WW1, a safe place for the antiquities unearthed by the British Army in 1916, as a Meteorology Laboratory by the University of Thessaloniki and as the Sea Scouts’ headquarters. It currently operates as a Museum offering a journey through the city’s history, from the time of its foundation, up until today.

Byzantine Bath (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

It is the only public bath of the Mid-Byzantine era still preserved today in Greece and one of the few remaining secular buildings of that era. Its construction started in 1300 AD and the bath remained in use until 1940 (approximately seven centuries), for this reason the monument is considered a “living” part of the city’s social history.

The Walls (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

Since the day of its foundation, Thessaloniki has been surrounded by Walls, fortification constructions for the city’s defense and protection from possible invaders. The major parts of the fortifications were constructed during the reign of emperor Theodosius the Great (late 4th century). The total perimeter of the walls is 8 km, while its present form is due to Ottoman intervention. Ascending towards Ano Poli, the fortifications for the city’s defense dominates the scenery, with the so-called “middle wall” separating the Acropolis area from Ano Poli, the Anna Paleologina Gate, and the imposing circular tower of Alysseos or Trigonion Tower, on the wall’s far end. It was built in the 15th century, where the previous parts of the Byzantine fortification stood.

Heptapyrgion (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

Heptapyrgion, also known as “Yedi Kule”, on the North-East far end of the Acropolis, is one of the Balkans’ most emblematic fortification complexes, which was reinforced and used since paleochristian-early byzantine era, up to the years of Ottoman occupation. Due to its seven (hepta) towers, in its initial form, it was given the name “Heptapyrgion”.

Experience Thessaloniki in Virtual Reality - Heptapyrgion (1988) by Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of ThessalonikaUNESCO World Heritage

In the 19th century it operated as a prison, with new buildings being added to the complex to improve its functionality. This prison was shut down in 1989 and was given to the Greek Ministry of Culture.

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by the Thessaloniki Tourism Organisation: www.thessaloniki.travel/en

More on Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessalonika and World Heritage: whc.unesco.org/en/list/456

Photos: Thessaloniki Tourism Organisation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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