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A Spiritual Haven in the Heart of Athens: Little Metropolis Church in Syntagma

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This charming little temple that locals affectionately call the Little Metropolis church is often overlooked as it sits next to the newer and more imposing Athens Metropolis at the center of the Syntagma district. However, despite its size, the millennia-old Little Metropolis church is a very important historical monument that narrates myriad untold stories about the olden days of Athens.

In this article, you’ll find a brief history of Little Metropolis church and the secrets it hides, detailed information on how to get there, and our local tips on where to go next.

The History of Little Metropolis Church

The Little Metropolis church (officially named Holy Church of Theotokos Gorgoepikoos and Saint Eleutherius) is believed to have been built on the ruins of an ancient temple that was dedicated to Eileithyia, the ancient Greek Goddess of childbirth.

The exact date of its construction remains unknown but is generally estimated to have been around the end of the 12th century AD.

Little Metropolis was originally dedicated to Virgin Mary Gorgoepikoos and served as a parish church during the years of Ottoman rule in Greece.

Panagia Gorgoepikoos church in Athens. Courtesy: wikimedia.org

After the Greek War of Independence and while the first Greek independent state was being developed, a lack of available buildings led the authorities to the decision to use Athenian churches for the state’s needs.

Hence, the Little Metropolis church was consecutively used as a warehouse for relics and antiquities as well as a public library between 1834 and 1862.

Little Metropolis church

Later on in the 19th century, while the construction of the new Athens Metropolis church was underway, the craftsmen and architects responsible for the project recognized the tremendous architectural and historical value of Little Metropolis and took a stand to ensure its restoration and maintenance.

Finally, following King Otto’s eviction, Little Metropolis was dedicated to Saint Eleutherius and secured its rightful spot as a historical monument right next to the modern Metropolis of Athens.

Little Metropolis church is built next to the Metropolis Cathedral

Ultimately, Little Metropolis church is an iconic building that narrates the history of Athens from the ancient era of Goddess Eileithyia, through the times of the city’s liberation from the Ottoman and Bavarian rule, to the modern days of the city as we know it today.

The Secrets of Little Metropolis Church

As mentioned above, the fate of Little Metropolis church was decided by a team of expert architects that were able to perceive its enormous historical importance. But what exactly did they see?

Little Metropolis is the only mid-Byzantine era church in Athens that doesn’t display the common brick masonry but is instead built entirely of unique marble fragments.

The Little Metropolis, formally the Church of St. Eleutherios or Panagia Gorgoepikoos. Courtesy: wikimedia.org

More importantly, the original founder of the church incorporated a great number of ancient building materials and sculptures in every wall of the church, thus creating an amazing amalgam of artifacts from different eras of Athens.

Running along the frieze above the windows, you’ll see different kinds of ancient Greek and Roman “spolia”, as well as early Christian and Byzantine sculptures that compose a magnificent outdoor museum with over 90 different artifacts hiding in the temple’s walls.

Perhaps the most extraordinary among them is a frieze located on the upper part of the temple’s front wall divided into 12 different sections depicting zodiac signs, scenes of celebrations, and agricultural activities, each one corresponding to a month of an ancient lunar calendar.

How to get to Little Metropolis Church in Syntagma

The Little Metropolis church is located on Mitropoleos Square, in the middle of Mitropoleos street, one of the most popular streets of Syntagma.

The easiest way to get to Little Metropolis church is by metro. Get off at Syntagma metro station (blue and red line) and walk across Syntagma Square (in the opposite direction of the Greek Parliament) towards Ermou street. Mitropoleos street is the first parallel street to Ermou on the left. Walk down for a few blocks, and you’ll arrive at Mitropoleos Square.

Alternatively, get off at Monastiraki metro station (green and blue line) and take the exit towards Monastiraki Square. You’ll find Mitropoleos street right across the square, behind the Holy Church of the Virgin Mary Pantanassa.

The exact address of the Little Metropolis Church is: Plateía Mitropóleos 8, Athina 105 56

Opening Hours of Little Metropolis Church

Little Metropolis church is open to the public every day from 7 am to 8 pm (from dusk till dawn). However, keep in mind that this schedule is determined by the Holy Archdiocese of Athens and that Little Metropolis might be closed on national public holidays or during other religious events.

Holy Church of the Virgin Mary Gorgoepekoos. Courtesy: Danny Zeugnimod

Things to do in Athens near Little Metropolis Church

After you’re done exploring the Little Metropolis church, the Athens Metropolis, and all the sculptures at Mitropoleos Square, there are plenty of exciting things to do nearby.

First off, you can walk up Mitropoleos street, past the famous Voulis and Nikis streets, to reach Syntagma Square, the National Garden of Athens, and Zappeion Hall.

Alternatively, walk down Mitropoleos street for a few minutes, and you’ll find yourselves at Monastiraki Square, right across the famous flea market of Monastiraki and the vibrant neighborhood of Psyrri.

Finally, exit Mitropoleos Square on the south (next to the entrance of Little Metropolis Church), walk past the Benizelos Mansion, and follow Adrianou street all the way to the center of Plaka, also known as the neighborhood of the Gods.

In short, the Little Metropolis Church is a significant cultural attraction in Athens that shouldn’t go unnoticed while roaming the busy streets of Syntagma. If you know where to look, its unique architecture and hidden historical gems are bound to amaze you.

Featured Image Courtesy: wikimedia.org

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