10. Church of Saint Demetrius
Agiou Dimitriou, Agiou Nikolau, Kassandrou & Selefkou
Early 4th century; 5th century; 629-634
The Church of Saint Demetrius, located north of the Roman agora, is the most important shrine in Thessaloniki. It was built in an area where there were large public baths in Roman times. According to the tradition, it was in these baths that a Roman officer called Demetrius was imprisoned, speared to death and buried during the persecutions of Christians by Emperor Galerius.
After 313, when the Edict of Milan proclaimed religious tolerance in the Roman Empire, a small place of worship was established in the part of the baths where Demetrius had been killed and was thought to have been buried. It was a small aisleless building with a pierced window in the sanctuary apse, preserved in the crypt of the later church.
The crypt also has a holy source surrounded by a ciborium with seven columns. The source was the main place of worship of Saint Demetrius throughout the Early Christian and Byzantine periods. The faithful drew myrrh from there in a belief that it was issued from the wounds of the saint.
A large basilica was built on this site in the 5th century. The tomb of the saint was transferred into an hexagonal ciborium made of silver, which was placed in the nave. (The base of the original ciborium is preserved on the floor in the left part of the nave of the current church.)
The basilica burned down after an earthquake in 620. It was renewed in 629-634, with large parts of the old church being incorporated into the new one.
The new church has five aisles and a transept with three aisles. The nave is separated from the aisles by rows of columns, among which there are two pairs of large piers. The sanctuary is at the crossing the main nave and the nave of the transept. It is separated from the adjacent parts of the church by large, transverse arches. A tribelon leads from the narthex to the nave. Two arched openings lead to the side aisles.
The church has a remarkable variety of column capitals in the colonnades of the nave and the transept, the windows and the galleries. These come either from earlier Roman or Early Christian buildings or from the 5th-century basilica. The most notable among them are Theodosian capitals with doves, rams and eagles at the corners of the abacus.
The use of marble is especially outstanding on the intrados of the tribelon.
The most valuable elements of the interior decoration of Hagios Demetrios are nine figurative mosaics from between 634 and 730. These are important because of being among the very few to have survived the Iconoclast destruction. They are displayed on two piers of the sanctuary and on the east face of the west wall. Some are depicted below.
Mosaic on the west face of the south pier of the sanctuary: Saint Sergius
Mosaic on the west face of the north pier of the sanctuary: Saint Demetrius with a boy and a girl
Mosaic in the north aisle on the east face of the west wall: Children making an offering to Saint Demetrius
Mosaic on the east face of the south pier of the sanctuary: A martyr and a deacon
The deacon may have been one who helped in the reconstruction of the church after its destruction in 620. The participation of citizens and foreigners in the rebuilding of the church is why the saint is asked to protect them (see the inscription).
Some mosaics are preserved on the arches on the exterior of the church.
Fragments of two more mosaics are said to be stored in the White Tower. One is from the small colonnade on the north side of the church. The other is from the intrados of an arch in the west gallery.
There is an important painting on the south wall of the church, depicting a mounted emperor entering a city with his military and church put to the torch. The emperor can be either Justinian II (685-695, 705-711) or Basil II (976-1025). Another painting, on the second pier in the south colonnade of the nave, shows Hosios Loukas (11th century), while on the first pier of the same colonnade is Saint Josaphat with a church father, possibly representing Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos (1347-1354) and Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki. The latter painting is probably from 1360-1380. There are also paintings in the Chapel of Saint Euthymius to the east of the south wing of the transept. These date from the early 14th century.
Last but not least, there is a notable tomb between the first two columns north of the nave. It belongs to Loukas Spandounis, a wealthy merchant of Thessaloniki who was buried here after 1481.
The church was converted into a mosque in 1493. For Christian worship was left a part of the Roman bath to the north-west of the church.
The Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917 burned down the bigger part of the church. Its restoration was completed in 1949.
11. Hagia Sophia
Plateia Agias Sofias
Last two decades of 8th century
Hagia Sophia, dedicated to the Divine Wisdom, is, together with the Church of Saint Demetrius, the most important church in Thessaloniki. It served as the cathedral of the city until its conversion into a mosque in 1523 or 1524. It has, like its namesake in Istanbul, a long prehistory.
There was an extensive building on this site in the Roman era. It included a nymphaeum and thermal baths. In the 5th century, it was replaced by a large five-aisled basilica. That basilica is thought to have been the first episcopal church of Thessaloniki. The nymphaeum was converted into a holy spring, or hagiasma, and an underground place of worship, or a baptistery, dedicated to John the Baptist, was established here. The baptistery, which survives today, consists of a quatrefoil hall with exedrae and and a cistern in the form of a Maltese cross. It communicated with the basilica by a corridor with a mosaic floor.
The sanctuary apse of the basilica is preserved in the basement of a building to the east of the present church. The courtyard in front of today’s church corresponds roughly to the atrium of the basilica. Remains of a secular building have also been discovered north of the current church on Kathigitou Antoniou Keramopoulou and Prasakaki streets. It may have been the bishop’s residence.
The current Hagia Sophia was built in the late 8th century, after the old basilica had been destroyed in an earthquake. The two-storey exonarthex with a staircase that the basilica may have had may have been incorporated into the later church.
Hagia Sophia is a cross-domed church. It is one of the main examples of this type of a plan, together with two churches in Constantinople now known as the Gül Mosque and the Kalenderhane Mosque, as well as the now destroyed Church of the Dormition in Nicaea (İznik).
The centre of the core of the church is covered by a large dome. The dome rests on four barrel vaults, which form the arms of the Greek cross. These are supported by four large piers at the corners. Between the piers on the sides is an intermediate colonnade, behind which are the north and south aisles. In the east is a tripartite sanctuary and in the west is a narthex.
Externally, the drum of the dome is square, and has three windows on each side. It is covered by a smaller, cylindrical drum which supports the lead-covered dome. The base of the interior of the drum is encircled by a balcony.
The narthex is roofed with low domes and communicates freely with the north and south aisles. This arrangement is repeated on the first-floor level, where galleries are placed as an ambulatory. Originally, there were galleries on the north and south sides only. These extended as far as the west face of the church, leaving visible to low domes over the central part of the narthex. Furthermore, there was a second-floor level above the galleries, with small vaulted rooms, which looked directly outside the church. This articulation was lost during later modifications. The north and south walls of the galleries and the west wall were raised and pierced with rows of windows. The galleries were extended to include the central area of the west side. The west gallery, which is separated from the side galleries, is at a higher level. All these superstructures are covered by a single roof, giving the church a boxy look.
Notable of sculptural elements of Hagia Sophia include the three columns with capitals of the ground floor colonnade in the north. These are part of the original decoration of the church, and possibly come from the Early Christian basilica that stood on its site.
The two easternmost capitals belong to the so-called wind-swept acanthus type. These are from the late-5th century.
The third capital is a basket capital, with tendrils and half leaves surrounding a laurel wreath. This column is similar to the decorative style of the Church of Saint Polyeuctus in Constantinople.
The other columns are modern plaster copies. The capitals flanking the west entrance are from the 7th century.
The mosaics of Hagia Sophia are impressive and well-preserved. They date from different periods.
The oldest mosaics can be found on the barrel vault over the sanctuary. The lowest parts on both sides are covered by rectangular panels in which gem-studded silver crosses alternate with large decorative leaves. In the middle of the vault is a circular mandorla containing a large gold cross, emitting bundles of light rays. At the springing of the vault, on both sides, are inscriptions that refer to the founders of the church: Emperor Constantine VI (780-797), his mother Empress Eirene (797-802), and Bishop Theophilos.
The original apse mosaic was similar to that of Hagia Eirene in Constantinople and the Church of the Dormition in Nicaea: a great cross on a golden background. The cross was replaced by the image of Theotokos after the end of the First Iconoclast Period. The lower part of what survives is earlier, possibly from 787-797 or the 9th century. The upper part is presumably from the 11th or 12th century. Traces of the cross can still be discerned under the image of Theotokos.
The majestic dome mosaic, depicting the Ascension of Jesus, is from the 9th century. Jesus is shown at the pinnacle of the dome, in a circular glory, supported by angels. He is surrounded by the full-length figures of Virgin Mary, two more angels and the twelve apostles, separated from each other by leafy trees. The Virgin is depicted as transcendental, while the figures of the apostles are earthly and expressive. Above the Virgin and the angels is the inscription from the Acts of the Apostles (1:11): ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven?’. The base of the scene is encircled by a decorative band that includes two inscriptions stating that the founder of the church was Archbishop Paul, identified as the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki of that name (885).
There are some wall paintings in the narthex, from the 11th century.
In the later Byzantine era, two chapels were added to the north and north-west of the church. It also had porch with a triple arcade on both sides, dated to the Palaiologan era. The porch was demolished at the beginning of the 20th century, but some of its sculptures were used on the west entrance of the church.
The small tower at the north-west corner of the church is from the Ottoman period, probably the minaret of the mosque that Hagia Sophia had been converted to. The tower houses a staircase that leads up to the galleries.
12. Church of Panagia Chalkeon
Chalkeon & Kleisouras
This church, dedicated to Virgin Mary, is named after the city’s brass founders, in whose neighbourhood it was built. (It was also an old Jewish neighbourhood.) The Byzantine name of the church is not known, but it has been suggested that it may have been Panagia Chalkoprateia, after its namesake in Constantinople, which stood in the area of the city occupied by (also Jewish) coppersmiths.
Panagia Chalkeon is the only Middle Byzantine church to have survived in Thessaloniki. It has a cross-in-square plan typical of the period. Four marble columns support the barrel vaults that make up the arms of the cross and that, in their turn, support the dome. There are, however, several unusual features here, such as the two rows of windows of the dome, or the separate lower vault between the eastern arm of the cross and the sanctuary apse. The narthex, too, is peculiar. It has an upper gallery, which may have functioned as a sacristy, but there were never any stairs leading up to it. It has been suggested that it may have been accessed by a ladder through a window on the northwest corner of the church.
The entire building is made of bricks, and the recessed-brick technique has been used. (It is worth to note that the oldest surviving church in Constantinople where the use of that technique can be seen – the Monastery of Christ Pantepoptes – was built some 60 years later than the Church of Panagia Chalkeon.) Constantinopolitan influence can be seen in the presence of arches with multiple setbacks and half-columns on the exterior (cf. Church of Myrelaion).
The roofline is emphasised by double or triple saw-tooth courses. A marble cornice divides the church vertically into two.
The naos of the church is entered via two entrances. Both have interesting details. On the first – on the entrance to the narthex – we find the inscription of the founder of the church. According to it, the church was built in 1028 on the site of a pagan place of worship by the royal protospatharios Christophoros. (Christophoros’s tomb is located in the arcosolium in the north wall of the naos.)
On the lintel of the door between the narthex and the naos are interesting geometric patterns. One can see that there were once crosses in the squares, now scraped off.
There are a number of paintings on the inside, but most of them invisible to the curious, as the light is almost never turned on in this church. Of these, the most important is probably the depiction of the Last Supper in the bema – the earliest extant representation of the scene in the bema of a Byzantine church. There is a Virgin Orant flanked by two archangels in the conch of the apse, and on the intrados of the triumphal arch in the sanctuary the second founder’s inscription can be seen. Some fragments of the Christological cycle are visible in the naos. Unusual is the Ascension of Jesus in the dome, instead of the typical Pantocrator.
In the narthex, the Last Judgment is painted on the vault and parts of the east and west walls.
All these paintings are contemporary with the construction of the church. The paintings on the lower parts of the north and south walls and on the west side of the naos are from the 14th century.
13. Byzantine Bath
Theotokopoulou, Chrisostomou & Krispou
Late 12th or early 13th century
Nikephoros Choumnos, one of the most important scholars during the Palaiologan Renaissance, has written that in the 14th century, Thessaloniki had more baths than inhabitants. The Byzantine bath on Theotokopoulou Street is the only one of them to survive. It is the largest and most complete of the few Byzantine baths surviving in Greece, or probably even in the world.
The bath may have originally been part of a monastery complex. It was alternately used by men and women.
The architecture follows the conventions of the Roman bath. The building also constitutes an important example to illustrate the Byzantine influence on the Ottoman hamam.
The entrance in the south led to the rectangular dressing rooms (prothalamos, or apodyterium), which were similar in a way to the cold room (frigidarium). Then came two vaulted warm rooms (chliaropsychrion, or tepidarium), followed by two square hot rooms with hypocausts under the floor (thermolouterion, or caldarium). One caldarium room was covered by a dome supported by an octagonal base with eight windows, while the other had a domed ceiling. The rooms communicate with each other.
To the north was a cistern that provided the bath with water, with a hearth beneath to warm it.
The bath functioned continuously until 1940.
14. Church of Saint Panteleimon
Leonida Iasonidou, Arrianou & Agiou Panteleimonos
Late 13th or early 14th century
The Byzantine dedication of this church is unknown. Some researchers have identified it with the Monastery of Saint Mary Peribleptos, also known as the Monastery of Kyr Isaac, named after its founder, the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki in 1295-1315. It retained its name even after 1548, when the church was turned into a mosque (Ishakiye Camii). Some argue against this theory, suggesting that the Peribleptos Monastery already existed in the 12th century. The architecture and the interior decoration of the church, pointing to the late 13th or early 14th century, however, supports the former view.
The church is of the tetrastyle cross-in-square type. The eight-sided dome over the central bay of the naos is supported by columns with capitals taken from earlier buildings. The narthex has a dome in the centre and vaulted side bays.
The church had originally more volumes than today, as it had an ambulatory which connected the two chapels that can be seen in the north and south sides of the church. The ambulatory had domes in the middle of the north and south sides and two more at the north-west and south-west corners. Its outer faces were articulated by blind arcading as can be seen on the chapels.
Very few of the original wall paintings of the church survive. In the prothesis is preserved a representation of the Virgin Orant, while in the diaconicon are Saint Peter of Alexandria, Saint Eustathius of Antioch, and Saint Gregory of Nyssa, portrayed in an attitude of reverence towards Saint James, the brother of Jesus. The art of these wall-paintings has been described as transitional, as they combine the monumental and anti-classical style characteristic of the 13th-century Byzantine painting with the colour harmony and facial types of the 14th-century works.
Ottoman remains that can be found on the grounds of the church include the base of the minaret and the marble fountain.
15. Church of Saint Catherine
Ious, Sachini, Alexandras Papadopoulou & Tsamadou
Between late 13th century and third decade of 14th century
This church has a complex tetrastyle cross-in-square plan. The naos is encircled by a closed ambulatory that ends in a chapel on both sides in the east. Its plan is identical to that of the contemporary Church of the Holy Apostles, with the exception that it has no exonarthex.
The façades of the church show a number of arches and blind arches with setbacks. The domes are divided by brick semicolumns. A marbe cornice creates a strong horizontal axis (cf. Church of Panagia Chalkeon).
The brickwork is interesting, especially on the north façade.
The painted decoration of the church was largely destroyed by the Ottomans, with faces of figures being scraped off. The sanctuary apse shows scenes of the Concelebration of Hierarchs and the Communion of the Apostles. The main dome displays angels and prophets surrounding Christ the Pantocator. In the naos, the Miracles of Christ are depicted, as well as some figures of saints. The decorative program, dating from around 1315, suggests that the original church was dedicated to Christ. Some authors have suggested that it was the katholikon of the Monastery of Christ the Almighty.
16. Church of the Holy Apostles
Beginning of Olympou
1310-1314; around 1329
The date of construction of this church is not entirely clear. It was part of a big monastery that was established in 1310-1314, with a grant from Patriarch Nephon I. The patriarch’s contribution is shown in three inscriptions: on the marble lintel over the west entrance, on the impost blocks of three capitals on the west façade (as monograms), and on the west and south fronts of the church (as brick ligatures). The second founder of the monastery is recorded as being the hegumen Paul, a student of Nephon, who features in one of the paintings in the narthex. Carbon-14 analysis has shown that the entire structure is, indeed, a little later, from around 1329.
The monastery may have been dedicated to Virgin Mary. It could be identified with the Monastery of Theotokos Gorgoepikoos (‘She who is quick to hear’), but this is not sure. The current name of the church, owing to the popular belief that it once had 12 domes symbolising the apostles, is from the 19th century.
The Church of the Holy Apostles is a complex tetrastyle cross-in-square church. It has a remarkably high central dome, with thin windows on its ten sides. The naos is also lit by large three-light windows at the ends of the north and south arms of the cross. The naos is surrounded by an ambulatory with galleries. The ambulatory ends in two chapels in the east. There are small domes at each of its corners, repeating the style of the main dome. The church has a large, seven-sided sanctuary apse, flanked by the smaller three-sided apses of the prothesis and the diaconicon.
There is an abundance of vertical lines on the exterior, provided by the arches and columns of the domes and the arches and blind arches of the apses.
On the west face, in contrast, a strong horizontal axis is provided by the roof line of the exonarthex.
This was not always so, though, as it is known that the original cornice of the church, encircling its cubic base, was curved, following the undulations of the arches. This was changed by the Ottomans, who carried out other modifications, such as the blocking of the tribela of the esonarthex and the demolition of the clock tower in front of the west entrance.
The church has a very rich brickwork decoration, especially on its east face.
The interior is decorated with mosaics (on the upper levels) and frescoes (on the lower levels).
The mosaics were inspired by contemporary models in Constantinople (i.e. the monasteries of Chora and Pammakaristos), and are important for being some of the last examples of Byzantine mosaics in general. What differentiates these mosaics from those in the capital is their stronger sense of realism, as seen, for example, in the treatment of bodies and clothes and in the display of emotions in faces.
The main dome depicts the Pantocrator in a bust, surrounded by ten full-length figures of prophets. On the pendentives are the Four Evangelists, with the Sacred Veil (Hagion Mandelion) on the base of the dome.
Scenes from the Dodekaorton (twelve events from the life of Jesus that are celebrated as the major feasts in the lithurgial year) are shown on the vaults over the arms of the cross, on two arches and on the west wall.
The lower level of the naos, the ambulatory, the narthex, and one of the chapels are decorated with frescoes. These, too, show influence from Constantinople, or may even have been executed by the workshop that created the frescoes of the Chora Church. They complete the iconographic program of the church’s decoration.
On the lower parts of the walls of the sanctuary, the naos, the ambulatory and the narthex are figures of hierarchs, deacons, hermits, martyrs and military saints. On the upper parts of the walls of the ambulatory and the narthex are scenes from the Old and New Testaments, scenes from the lives of Mary and John the Baptist, the Martyrdom of Saint Demetrius, the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, and scenes inspired by the texts of hymns.
Notable is the Marian iconography of the ambulatory and the narthex. In the south section of the ambulatory the Tree of Jesse (the family tree of Christ) is depicted, together with scenes from the Old Testament that have a prefigurative reference to Mary.
In the esonarthex, the Nativity and Childhood of Mary are depicted. The most beautiful of these can be found above the west entrance: the depiction of the hand of God holding the souls of the righteous asleep, in the form of babies wrapped in clothes. Opposite to it, above the east entrance to the ambulatory, is the Enthroned Virgin and Child with two angels, with hegumen Paul kneeling in front of them.
The Chapel of Saint John the Baptist at the north end of the ambulatory is decorated with scenes from his life, including the Feast of Herod and the Dance of the Seven Veils. The dome above it shows the Virgin with Christ, flanked by angels, both full-length and in medallions.
The domes on the west have Christ on the pinnacle, flanked by angels and prophets.
In addition to the katholikon, other remains of the monastery include a portal (southwest) and a cistern (northwest).
The Church of the Holy Apostles of Thessaloniki is thought to have had a notable influence over the later development of Orthodox church architecture, in countries such the Kingdom of Serbia (see the Gračanica Monastery in Kosovo, 1321).
17. Church of Saint Nicholas Orphanos
Irodotou & Apostolou Pavlou
This church was originally the katholikon of a monastery. Its name, first attested in the 17th and 18th centuries, refers to its unknown ktetor (founder). The church has been associated with Stephen Uroš II Milutin, King of Serbia (1282-1321), who is known to have sponsored churches in the city.
The church was originally a single-aisled building with a wooden gable roof. Later, an ambulatory was added to it on three sides. The ambulatory terminates in two chapels in the east. The naos communicates with the north and south arms of the ambulatory through double-arched openings and with the west arm through a small entrance. The double-arched openings are supported by columns with late-antique capitals. The roof of the naos is on a lower level than the one over the main area.
The masonry of the church features irregular layers of brick and stone, with some brick decoration. It lacks the variety of decorative brickwork typical of the Late Byzantine churches in Thessaloniki.
The church is most famous for its frescoes, which cover almost its entire interior surface. These are contemporary with the construction of the church and are considered to be one of the best examples of painting in Macedonia during the Palaiologan Renaissance. Their creator may be the same who decorated the Hilandar Monastery on Mount Athos. The frescoes depict multiple scenes, which are divided into zones. They are noteworthy for their clarity, sense of proportion, feeling of colour, and maturity. I haven’t been able to take any photos of them unfortunately so I will not list the scenes they depict one by one.
The church also retains its original templon.
In the Ottoman era, the church was a monydrion of the Vlatadon Monastery.
18. Church of the Taxiarches
Akropoleos & Theotokopoulou
This church has two storeys. The plan of the upper storey is similar to that of the Church of Saint Nicholas Orphanos: the main timber-roofed hall surrounded by an ambulatory on three sides. The roofs of the north and south arms of the ambulatory are lower than that of the naos. The eastern ends of the ambulatory communicate with the sanctuary. Originally, the west and south arms of the ambulatory were open.
The arrangement of the lower storey corresponds to that of the upper story. It contains arcosolia along the walls, suggesting that the church was the katholikon of a monastery and that its monks were buried here.
The masonry resembles that of the Church of Saint Nicholas Orphanos, consisting of irregular courses of stones and bricks. The façades are more interesting here, though, with blind arches and half-columns on the north wall and rich brickwork decoration on the east face.
Of the original painted decoration, scenes of the Resurrection of Christ and the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles survive on two pediments.
The Byzantine name of the church is not known. In the Ottoman era, it was believed that the church was dedicated to the Archangels (Taxiarches) Michael and Gabriel. Its dedication was thought to symbolically survive when the church functioned as a mosque, in the form of a minaret with a double balcony.
19. Vlatadon Monastery
Eptapyrgiou & Akropoleos
Third quarter of 14th century
This monastery was founded by Dorotheos Vlatis, the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki, in 1351-1371. It was originally dedicated to the Christ Pantocrator. The monastery had an important status since its very foundation, as attested by the numerous metochia and monydria that it had both in Thessaloniki (e.g., the Church of Saint Nicholas Orphanos) and outside. It is now the only active Byzantine monastery in Thessaloniki. It is a stauropegion, directly subordinated to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Its current dedication is to the Transfiguration of Christ.
The katholikon of the monastery is a rare variation of the cross-in-square church. Here the dome is not supported by columns but by two pillars in the west and the sanctuary walls in the east. This feature was dictated by the existence of an earlier church, the remains of which still existed on this site in the 14th century. The naos is surrounded by an ambulatory, a feature common to many 14th-century churches in Thessaloniki. The ambulatory ends in two chapels in the east. The north chapel, the whole north and west arms of the ambulatory, and part of the south arm of the ambulatory, as they stand now, date from a repair in 1801. The open portico in the south and the propylon in the west are from 1907.
The masonry of the church consists of rows of stones alternating with bricks (cf. the Church of Saint Nicholas Orphanos and the Church of the Taxiarches). The eight-sided dome is made of bricks. Ornaments include semicolumns between the sides of the dome and arches with multiple setbacks. Some decorative brickwork can be seen on the sanctuary apse.
On the inside, the dome originally depicted the Christ Pantocrator, surrounded by angels and prophets (later overpainted). Some wall paintings survive in the naos and the east wall of the western arm of the ambulatory. Most of these were heavily hammered in the Ottoman era, though. There are also paintings in the south chapel, dedicated to Apostles Peter and Paul, but these can hardly be seen because of the soot covering them. (This may change soon, as I saw a restorer work in that chapel in January 2019).
Tombs from 14th to 16th centuries have been discovered inside and outside the katholikon. The monastery also has a large number of valuable icons, dating from the 12th to 19th centuries.
20. Church of the Saviour
This small church, originally dedicated to Virgin Mary, may have been a dependency (monydrion) of a major monastery complex, such as Kyr Kyros or Kyr Joel. It has a funerary character, as testified by the presence of graves under and near it.
The masonry of the church is made of rubble in the lower part and bricks in the upper part. The plan of the church is rare: a tetraconch inscribed in a square. The naos is covered by an octagonal dome which is unproportionally big for such a small church. Similarly to the other churches in Thessaloniki, the dome features arches with triple setbacks and semicolumns between them.
On the inside, the dome is covered by wall paintings. At the top of the dome is the Christ ascending in a glory held by angels. The Ascension is watched by the Virgin and the Apostles lower down, to which depictions of the Sun and Moon and personifications of the Winds are added. Between the windows of the dome are eight prophets. At its base unfolds the Divine Liturgy, in which Christ is flanked by the priests and the faithful.
The church was not converted into a mosque by the Ottomans, because of its small size or because it stood on the grounds of a private dwelling in what was the Christian district of Panagouda.
The narthex is from 1936.
21. Church of Prophet Elijah
Olympiados, Sakellariou, Amfilochias & Profitou Ilia
The Byzantine dedication of this church is not known. It has been traditionally identified as the katholikon of the monastery called Nea Moni, which was dedicated to Virgin Mary. That monastery is known to have been built in around 1360-1370 on the site of a palace destroyed by the Zealots in 1342. Some researchers, however, have cast doubt on this, since the Church of Prophet Elijah was converted into a mosque right after the fall of the city in 1430, while the Nea Moni continued to operate some time longer. It has been argued that the church was the katholikon of the important Akapniou Monastery. This has been suggested on the basis of some frescoes present, which show that the church must have been dedicated to Christ, and not Virgin Mary. Also, it is known that the Nea Moni was established for 17 monks only, a number to small for a church of the size of Prophet Elijah.
This church is the only one in Thessaloniki with an Athonite type of a floor plan. It is a triconchal cross-in-square church, with two small domed rooms on the either side of the side apses and with a lite, a spacious narthex divided into bays by columns. This type of a plan was invented by Athanasius the Athonite, who founded the Monastery of Great Lavra on Mount Athos in 963, and it was always reserved for the katholika of monasteries. The apses at the end of the north and south arms of the cross provided space for choirs. The small domed rooms at the east (called typikaria) served as sacristies, while those on the west were chapels. The lite provided additional space for the monastery services.
The church has a large dome. The lite has four columns supporting cross-vaults and two domes in its north-west and south-west corners. A small staircase in the thickness of the wall of the lite leads to the upper floor, which is a narrow room overlooking the nave. The function of this room, which is called the katechoumenon, is frequently related to imperial services, which makes it very probable that the church had either imperial foundations or was connected with members of the imperial family. The west and parts of the north and south sides of the church have an open ambulatory, which gives it its characteristic look.
The church was built of courses of well-dressed blocks of white stone, alternating with two or three courses of bricks. This masonry system, common in Constantinople, is very rare in Macedonia. The church also has very rich decorative brickwork, mainly on the east side.
The painted decoration survives in the lite, in the naos and in the chapels. Scenes preserved include the Childhood and Miracles of Christ, and there are some figures of saints. Some wall-paintings can be found outside, on the west side of the lite (Saint Anne and the Virgin, and Christ and the Virgin). These paintings are of high quality, being strong influence for the later wall-paintings, such as in some churches in the Moravian Serbia.