A unique religious and architectural tour around Attica
Religious tradition of Greece and Attica is closely related with the history of this place. This is testified by the numerous treasures of Byzantine heritage scattered all around. Impressive Byzantine churches, imposing monasteries with rich history and modern pilgrimages are to be found in the centre of Athens, in lush districts outside the city, in villages around the mainland, as well as on the islands of Attica.
In Athens historical centre
Our tour begins right in the heart of the city, on Mitropoleos street, with the outstanding Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens that is dedicated to the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Construction of the imposing church, which proved to be a landmark in the history of the Modern Greek state, started in 1842. Right next to the metropolitan church, stands the elegant, small Church of Panagia Gorgoepikoos, also known as the church of Agios Eleftherios or the Mikri Metropoli (Small Cathedral). It was built at the end of the 12th century, over an ancient temple, while abundant ancient construction material has been used to its walls.
We continue to Ermou street, to marvel at the Byzantine Church of Isodia tis Theotokou, known as Kapnikarea, dedicated to the Presentation of Virgin Mary. The church with the extraordinary architecture and masonry dates from the 11th century and was constructed over an ancient temple, dedicated to Athena or Demetra. A little further, stands the stunning Church of Agia Eirini with its eye-catching architecture and the beautiful gold-plated screen.
At one of the busiest spots of Athens, the Monastiraki square, we find one of the oldest churches in the city, dedicated to Panagia Pantanassa. The present day surviving church dates from the beginning of the 17th century and was built over an older monument. It was the catholicon of a women’s monastery and was then called“Mega Monastiri” (Large Monastery), however since 1821 the name “Monastiraki” (Small Monastery) prevailed, hence the name of the wider area. The Church of Agios Philippos is located opposite the entrance of the archaeological site of the Ancient Agora and, according to tradition, it was here that Apostle taught and died as a martyr.
In Thissio we can’t miss the stone built Church of Agioi Asomatoi with the characteristic brick work decoration, while on Aiolou street, we will marvel at one of the best-known churches of the city, the Church of Panagia Chrysospiliotissa (Dormition of the Virgin Mary). The Church of Agioi Theodoroi near Klathmonos square and the elegant Church of Agios Georgios Karytsis with the magnificent screen and the beautiful wall paintings complete our stunning walk in Athens historical centre.
In the neighbourhoods around the Acropolis
In the picturesque district of Plaka we will discover breathtakingly beautiful churches, such as the Church of Agios Andreas, the Byzantine Church of the Metamorphosis of Sotera (Transfiguration of Christ), the Church of Agia Aikaterini and the Church of Agios Nikolaos Rangavas, all of which adorn this extraordinary neighbourhood of Athens.
On the northern foothills of the Acropolis, lies the Church of Agioi Anargyroi, with its picturesque courtyard, Athenians’ favourite spot for the yearly celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. We continue our delightful stroll and come across the Church of Panagia Chrysokastriotissa, as well as the beautiful little Church of Metamorphosis Sotiros (Transfiguration of Christ), in Anafiotika district.
In a unique wooded landscape, on the foothills of Philopappos, we find the Church of Agios Dimitrios, while the outstanding Church of Agia Marina dominates the hill of the Nymphs near the Observatory.
A religious tour in Athens wouldn’t be complete without a visit at the Byzantine and Christian Museum, one of the most significant Byzantine and Post-Byzantine art and culture museums in the world. Here we will marvel at over 25,000 artefacts, which date from the 3rd to the 20th century AD.
Monasteries of Attica
Right outside the centre of Athens, the monasteries of Attica serve as guardians of the Byzantine art and tradition, as well as priceless spiritual oases that provide respite and serenity to visitors.
We start off on Mount Penteli and the famous men’s Monastery of Theotokos Pentelis, one of the largest monasteries in Greece that was built in 1570. The catholicon and the nursing home, the remarkable library and valuable relics that survive to this day are absolutely thrilling.
On a wooded hill of Mount Hymettus, with a panoramic view to Athens and the plain of Mesogeia, stands the Monastery of Agios Ioannis Kynigos (St John the Hunter) that was founded in the beginning of the 12th century, while on the northern foothills of the mountain we will stop at the Monastery of Agios Ioannis Theologos, to admire its wonderful architecture and beautiful wall paintings of its catholicon. Hidden in an idyllic lush valley, lies the Monastery of Issodion Theotokou, also known as the Monastery of Kaisariani, with its catholicon that dates from the 11th century and is considered a landmark in the development of Greek church architecture. The impressive Monastery of Asterion that looks like a fortress and the Monastery of Agios Ioannis Prodromos of Kareas, just outside the district with the same name, complete the panorama of religious treasures of the district.
However, our “pilgrimage” in Attica does not end here. We head to Chaidari grove to marvel at the largest Byzantine monastery of Attica, the Monastery of Koimiseos Theotokou (Dormition of Virgin Mary), known as the Daphni Monastery.
In the Municipality of Saronikos, we visit the Monastery of Agios Athanassios in Kouvaras, and the Church of Panagia that lies in the archaeological site on mount Merenta. At the stunning medieval site of the “Nine Towers” on the outskirts of Kalyvia, with the Byzantine monuments scattered all around, we will be utterly thrilled by the Church of Panagia Mesosporitissa and the Church of Agios Petros.
Pilgrimage on Attica’s islands
Leaving the mainland, we set sail to the nearby islands of Attica, Aegina and its historical Metropolitan Church, also known as “Megali Eklissia” (Big Church) being our first stop. In the centre of the island, we visit the imposing Monastery of Agios Nektarios, as well as Aegina’s Byzantine capital, Paleochora, on the opposite hill. At a green plateau surrounded by mountains, stands the most important monastery of the island, dedicated to Panagia Chrisoleontissa, while north of Aegina town lies the picturesque and well-preserved Church of Agioi Theodoroi, also known as “Omorphi Eklissia” (Beautiful Church).
In Spetses we are visiting the Byzantine Church of Agia Triada (Holy Trinity) in Kasteli neighbourhood, the Monastery of Agios Nikolas overlooking the Old Harbour and the Chapel of Agia Marina that stands on a rocky little hill over the beach. We can’t possibly miss the Church of Panagia Armatha, which dominates the island’s Old Harbour area.
Next is Hydra with its 300 churches and six monasteries, testimonies of the island’s rich religious tradition. In the centre of the harbour, we visit the Church of Dormition of Virgin Mary or “Monastery”, which is the Cathedral of Hydra. The island’s Ecclesiastic and Byzantine Museum, as well as the twin monasteries of Agia Efpraxia and of Prophitis Ilias, at an altitude of 500 metres in Eros region, are definitely worth a visit. At the Church of Ipapanti (Visitation) and the Church of Agios Ioannis Nisteftis (St. John the Abstinent) we will be amazed by the wonderful wall paintings of the 18th century and the stunning domes that are supported by marble arches.
Next, we visit the outstanding Cathedral of Agios Georgios on Sphairia island, in Poros, and the Monastery of Zohodochos Pigi, an exceptional example of island monastery architecture, 4 kilometres East of Poros town, on a pine-covered hillside overlooking the sea. The little Church of Aesthita Panagia lies in a beautiful location, in a lush gorge with plane trees and running waters.
At the north end of Salamina island, opposite Nea Peramos and Megaris, we visit the historical Monastery of Panagia Faneromeni, built in a location of extraordinary beauty, filled with pine trees, right by the sea.
Following some of Attica’s Byzantine routes is in itself a unique experience that will bring you closer to the region’s culture, history and traditions. Marvel at the stunning architecture and wall paintings of these historical monuments, talk with the friendly priests and hospitable monks and celebrate with locals at the joyful Saint fairs.