Sitting right in the middle of bustling modern streets, Kapnikarea or the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea is a beautiful 11th century Byzantine church in Athens, Greece. Built around 1050 AD, the church was constructed atop the remains of an earlier ancient Greek temple, probably dedicated to either Athena or Demeter.
Kapnikarea looks oddly out of place in the middle of a busy thoroughfare. However, its beauty is in its size. Small but perfectly formed, the Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea is an excellent example of a well preserved Byzantine building. Inside, visitors can view excellent decorative art, particularly the Mosaic of the Madonna and Child.
The Greek Orthodox church is believed to have been built in 3 stages during the 11th century, likely around 1050. As was common with early Christian churches, the Kapnikarea was built over an ancient Greek temple dedicated to the worship of a goddess, believed to be either Athena or Demeter. The church erased the pagan worship site by literally taking its religious and geographical place.
The church was originally named Kamouharea after the famous silk cloth workshops that operated in the area. It was instead named for its first owner, who collected the tobacco tax or ‘kapnikos foros’ in the city.
King Otto I, King of the Kingdom of Greece, brought a Bavarian architect called Leo von Klenze to draw up a new city of Athens and the Kapnikarea was considered for demolition. However, King Ludwig I of Bavaria objected to the decision and saved the church.
In the early 20th century, the chapel of Saint Barbara was added to the northern section.
Today, the Kapnikarea church is owned by the University of Athens and is one of the small gems of the ancient city which you can visit for free. Inside you can see a beautiful altar and the fading murals, some of which were done in the faux marble technique – a technique adapted from ancient Greek Macedonian art.
Outside, the Kapnikarea stands out amongst modern buildings with its gabled roof and domed centre. The Kapnikarea is also the ideal spot to pause and take a seat on the low surrounding wall, absorbing the immense history of the site.
Getting to Kapnikarea
Located on Ermous street in the heart of Athens’ Plaka, this small church is easily found on foot. Monastiraki is the closest metro stop, a 4 minute walk away. The bus stop of the same name along Ermou road serves buses 025, 026 and 027.
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