About Agios Eleftherios
Agios Eleftherios is a very small yet important Byzantine church in Athens set in the shadow of the city’s cathedral.
Built in the 12th century, Agios Eleftherios was once the main church in Athens. As it now stands next to the much larger Athens Cathedral, it became known as the “little cathedral” or Mikri Mitropoli. It is also referred to by the name Panaghia Gorgoepiikoos.
Agios Eleftherios history
The church is located in Mitropoleos square at the feet of Plaka neighborhood. Although small, the temple is of unique decorative architectural style and is considered one of the finest ecclesiastical buildings of Athens.
The name “Gorgoepikoos” derives from the previous illustration of the Virgin Mary of the same name and honours the miraculous ability of the Holy Mother to realise the requests of the believers quickly. The church is estimated to date back to the 12th century, although some sources consider it to be even older and presumably built by the Byzantine Empress Irene the Athenian.
The church was built on the ruins of a former ancient temple that was dedicated to Eletheia, a deity of pregnancy and labour. The walls of the church are made of large, ancient Greek, Roman, early Byzantine marble blocks and relief plaques, without bricks. A frieze above the entrance door represents the Zodiac, depicting the months with their symbols and their corresponding feasts. There are also reliefs representing trophies of the Panathenaic Games and Roman triumphs as well as later Byzantine designs.
The small temple is supported by four interior columns and has a three-part narthex and a dome. The interior was originally decorated with elaborate frescoes, yet today only one remains. This depicts the Virgin Mary and dates back to the 13th century.
In 1841 the temple functioned as the city’s public library and in 1856 it was restored and also dedicated to Agios Eleftherios. To this day it constitutes a monument of special significance, with its fascinating decoration patterns enchanting visitors and specialists alike.
Agios Eleftherios today
The church is well preserved. Visitors can see the octagonal dome, with marble columns on the corners and lobed windows.
Getting to Agios Eleftherios
The Agios Eleftherious is located in a central area of Athens. Syntagma and Monastiraki metro stations are both within 10 minutes walking distance.
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