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The iconic Church of Panagia Kapnikarea (also known as the Holy Church of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary) stands in the middle of Ermou street in Syntagma and has been adorning the pedestrianized shopping street with its grandeur for 11 centuries.
Even though it is one of the oldest Greek churches and a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture, it is unfortunately often overlooked by passersby.
Read on to learn about the story of Kapnikarea Church, it’s opening hours, how to get there, and why it’s totally worth a place on your to-do list.
The history of the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea
Built on the ruins of an ancient temple that is dedicated to Athena or Demeter, the historic church dates to the 11th century. Its name derives either from “kapnikon”, which was a Byzantine tax, or from “Kapnikares”, the tax collector responsible for the church.
However, since the Greek word “kapnismeni” translates to smoked, it is also said that the name of the church may refer to the fire marks on the building.
Due to its outstanding architecture and its historical significance, Kapnikarea is considered one of the most important churches in Athens. It is formed by a complex of three units and features a dome supported by four Roman columns.
The main church on the southern side is dedicated to Virgin Mary, and it is said that it has been the katholikon of a monastery. The colonnaded porch you’ll see on this side dates to the 12th century. The chapel in the northern part is dedicated to Agia Varvara while an exonarthex was added on the western side when the church came under the property of the University of Athens.
The outdoor area of the church adorns a magnificent mosaic that portrays Virgin Mary holding Jesus Christ, which was created by Elli Voila in 1936.
The church’s interior is decorated with paintings by Fotis Kontoglou and his pupils of a hagiography school with strong influences by the Byzantine tradition.
The artist painted Theotokos Platytera at the arch of the church in 1942 and completed the church’s decoration in 1955. The paintings that decorate the walls of the vaulted narthex and the exo-narthex date to 1900; to this day, the artist remains unknown.
Kapnikarea bears witness to the city’s history as it has been part of it for many centuries. It has survived several turbulence, such as the Greek War of Independence and the menacing plans of the Bavarian architect Leon von Klenze, who wanted to demolish it. Luckily, the King of Bavaria and Neofytos Metaxas, Bishop of Talantio, and Metropolitan of Athens disagreed with Klenze’s plans, and their intervention saved the historical monument.
Opening hours of Panagia Kapnikarea Church
The church is usually open during the week from morning until the afternoon, but the hours often change depending on the season. Panagia Kapnikarea Church is also normally open on Sundays and on Greek Christian celebrations, holding services that you can attend. Bear in mind that the opening hours of the church may change throughout the year.
How to get to Panagia Kapnikarea Church
Standing right in the middle of the popular Ermou street, Kapnikarea is within walking distance from both Monastiraki metro station (green and blue line) and Syntagma metro station (blue and red line). Its privileged location 800 meters north of the Acropolis makes it ideal for a quick stop on your sightseeing tour in the city center.
Things to do near Kapnikarea Church
With Monastiraki, Psyrri, and Acropolis just a stone’s throw away, the options for things to do near Kapnikarea Church are endless. Discover Athens’ shopping scene along Ermou street and Aiolou street to discover small souvenir shops, modern clothing stores with international brands as well as local artisans’ shops and galleries.
Continue your cultural exploration with a stop at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens (Metropolis) which is less than a 15-minute walk away, and then roam Plaka’s scenic streets. Along the way, you’ll come across historical monuments, neoclassical buildings, and car-free streets that will take you on a journey back in time.
Where to eat and drink near Kapnikarea Church
From takeaway street food to hip bars and fancy rooftop restaurants, the area around Kapnikarea church has it all.
Have a refreshing beverage on the rooftop of ERGON House Athens in Monastiraki, or even choose the cafe that lies right next to the church if you want to soak up the street’s bustling vibe.
For a bite, head over to Voulis street towards Syntagma Square, where you’ll find upscale restaurants such as Nolan and Birdman, as well as excellent ice cream shops like Dickie Dee and Oggi.
Located in the middle of the famous Ermou street, at the heart of the city in Syntagma, Kapnikarea Church is a site that you’ll definitely be coming across during your trip to Athens.
Make sure to spend a few minutes exploring the charms of the small picturesque chapel and relax at the tiny opening that has become the favorite meeting point of locals.
Featured Image Courtesy: Christos Vassiliou / Flickr.com
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