The churches in Thessaloniki are an integral part of the city’s cultural identity and beauty. The Christian Orthodox churches besides the religious significance, are of great historical and architectonic importance. Taking a walk around the churches in Thessaloniki, you will have the feeling of time traveling back to the Byzantine Ages and will be impressed by the beauty and the history hidden behind these buildings.
Located in the heart of the city center Rotonda stands there since 306 AD when it was built by the Roman tetrarch Galerius with the intention of it becoming his grave. Things did not end up as planned for Galerius, so Rotonda was used as a temple during that period; unknown until today to which god it was dedicated.
During the Byzantine ages, emperor Constantine I (4th century AD) converted the temple into an Orthodox church and enriched it with many frescoes, some of which have survived until now. Skipping 10 centuries, we are coming to the Ottoman occupation era and 1590 AD especially, when the church was converted into a mosque. The minaret, which still stands by the side of Rotonda, is a sign of that period. By the year 1912, Thessaloniki was liberated and Rotonda was converted (again) into an Orthodox church dedicated to Saint Georgios. That was until the devastating earthquake of 1979, which caused serious damage to the building. After that, the place was restored and has been used as a sculpture museum since then. There are many exhibitions and cultural events taking place during the whole year.
Rotonda is a must-see of the city, as it is of the oldest churches in Thessaloniki. You will have the chance to watch the influences of all the conquerors of the city and how these are reflected in the building through its architecture.
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We have mentioned in the past our love and devotion to the Ano Poli district of Thessaloniki. Moni Vlatadon is another reason for loving this neighbourhood. This is a monastery and not a church. It was built between 1351-1371 AD and has been continuousy in operation since. It is located near the emblematic Walls of Thessaloniki, giving you the opportunity to admire a great view of the city.
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The monastery got its name from the monks Dorotheos and Markos Vlattis. Although only a few parts remain the same from the original building the frescoes and the icons are of great cultural importance and worth visiting.
Church of Saint Demetrius
This is the most famous church in Thessaloniki and it is located in Agiou Dimitriou street near the city center. Saint Demetrius is the patron Saint of the city, which he is said to have protected by invaders with His divine intervention. Later, the Saint was imprisoned and martyred in that same church in 303 AD.
The most interesting part of this church is undoubtedly the catacombs or the crypt, which are located beneath the transept of the church. This is the holy place of martyrdom of Saint Demetrius and was the center of the Saint’s miraculous myrrh production. The crypt operates as a museum of antiquities and is open to all visitors. There are exhibitions with findings mainly from the Basilica and the excavations in the crypt. If you are a fan of mystery and dark, (slightly) creepy places, then do not miss the chance to discover what’s beneath the temple through the narrow aisles of the catacombs.
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Friday afternoon during service hours
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Besides the marvelous architecture, religious people from around the world visit this church in Thessaloniki to get some of the holy myrrh gushing from the grave of the Saint. Nowadays there are taps everywhere in the temple providing the myrrh to believers.
If you happen to be in the city on October 26, which is the day of celebration for the feast of St Demetrius, you will have the chance to watch the suggestive litany of the Saint’s skull and relics on the city streets accompanied by members of the political and military leadership, local government and numerous believers.
Church of Agia Sophia
Being in the heart of the city center you will find yourself in front of one of the oldest churches in Thessaloniki, Agia Sophia church.
© By Andrew Zorin
Dating back to the 8th century, this marvelous church was based on the architectural design of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, present-day Istanbul, Turkey. This is one of the reasons why it is of great importance to all the Thessalonians, reminding them of their roots in Asia Minor.
Throughout the years, the church had been converted into a cathedral and a mosque due to the foreign occupation of the city. Since the liberation of Thessaloniki in 1912, it serves as an Orthodox church. The exterior is quite austere and not so eye-catching but the interior decoration has many frescoes and Byzantine icons. Agia Sophia is part of the Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessaloniki that have been listed by Unesco as World Heritage Sites.
The ideal day for visiting the church is during Sunday morning when the mass takes place. The Orthodox mass is different from that of the Catholic church and you have to experience that. The location of the church is also ideal for discovering the city center.
Church of the Acheiropoieitos
Just a few meters away from the Agia Sophia church, there is another magnificent church, the church of the Acheirpoieitos. This weird name means “not made by hands” and comes from the presence of an acheiropoieito or divine icon of Panagia Hodegetria (Holy Mary) that once resided in the church.
© By Joyofmuseums
The church has been there since the 5th century and remains the same until today, making it the only in the eastern Mediterranean region. From an architectural point of view, the basilica is also in the list of Paleo-Christian Byzantine churches of Thessaloniki. Besides, its remarkable wooden roof, its interior is decorated with many wall decorations and mosaics. Some of them have remained unspoiled since the 5th century when the church was originally constructed.
Church of Agios Nikolas Orphanos
This church combines two things that I love: it is located in Ano Poli and is surrounded by green and nature. This is one of the smallest churches in Thessaloniki but is exceptional due to its location and cultural heritage. It is said that in this place used to be an orphanage, and that’s why the church got its name; as “orphanos” in Greek means orphan.
© By Luc.T
The construction of the church dates back to the 14th century and the Byzantine ages. It is said that the building was once bigger and longer but nowadays just the small church of Agios Nikolas Orphanos remains. Its interior is fully covered in frescoes, which are of a special unique style worth seeing up close. The decoration is completed by marble columns and icons of great cultural importance. This church was the only one that was not converted into a mosque during the Ottoman occupation.
This spot is also one of the top choices for wedding and baptism celebrations because of its perfect location. If you happen to pass by during an event like these, do not miss the chance to have a closer look at the Greek traditions of wedding and baptism mysteries.
Church of Osios David
This small church is part of the Monastery of Latomou in Ano Poli. The church was constructed in the 5th century and is famous for its built-in tessera, one of the most famous pieces of art during the Paleochristian era. The external decoration is quite austere, which is a similar characteristic of all the Orthodox churches, but the interior design will reward you.
Fun fact: the church was originally dedicated to the Savor, but during the past century it was attributed by mistake to Osios David. It has remained this way since then.
Whether you are a religious person or not, you have to visit the Orthodox churches in Thessaloniki, as they are a big part of the city’s history, beauty, and culture. Besides religion, the churches have an incredible architectural beauty, which takes you back to the glory of the Byzantine ages. So if you want to know Thessaloniki, you can not exclude the visiting of its churches from your itinerary.
- Which one of the churches impressed you the most and is in your must-see list? Let us know in the comments below