The Little Metropolis Church in Athens with the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens in the background

Little Metropolis Church

One of the smallest churches in Athens
Next to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens is one of the smallest churches in Athens built over 1000 years ago on top of an ancient temple.

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Where is the Little Metropolis Church

Standing right to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens is the Little Metropolis. Formally known as the Holy Church of the Virgin Mary Gorgoepekoos and Saint Eleutherius, this tiny Byzantine church is a must-see in Athens.

The church was built on top of the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to the goddess Eileithyia. Its construction dates back to various periods, from the 9th century under Empress Irene of Athens to the 13th century. Today, it stands at just 7.5m (25 ft) by 12m (40 ft).

The church is also known as the Little Metropolis because it was located within the Archbishopric of Athens in the eighteenth century. During that time, it served as the metropolitan church and was an essential part of city life.

But upon closer inspection, this odd church has a marvellously mashed-up history that dates back nearly a millennia and has remained unchanged since its construction. It is built entirely from Pentelic marble, now weathered to a rich corn-coloured hue. It is dedicated to Panagía Gorgoepíkoös (the Madonna who Swiftly Hears) and Agios Eleftherios (the saint who protects women in childbirth).

The church’s walls are built entirely from reused and repurposed marble, comprising undecorated masonry up to the level of the windows. Above that are ninety sculptures, making the church unique among Byzantine sacred architecture. Unlike most contemporary Byzantine buildings, no bricks have been used in its construction except the dome. Its interior was initially decorated with frescoes, but only one survives today: an image of the Panagia over the entrance apse.

The fascinating history of the church has been largely forgotten. The church was abandoned during the Greek War of Independence and remained unused for two decades. However, in 1841 it was converted into a library. It continued to serve this function until 1868, when it was reconsecrated as a Christian sanctuary.

At that time, it was dedicated to Christ, the Saviour. But, after a few years that name fell out of use and came to be called the church of Hagios Eleutherios instead. Nevertheless, architectural historians still refer to it by its original name: Panagia Gorgoepikoos.

In 1856, the church was restored (and again more recently). This included removing the modern bell tower and all later accretions. So today, the structure we see is in its essentially original state.

  • Just above the main door, there’s a lintel frieze dating from the 4th century, depicting personifications of the months of the year and their accompanying festivals.
  • To the above and left of the line frieze above the main door is a pair of 12th-century bas-reliefs depicting allegorical animals.
  • Inside, look for the Mary Panagia, the only surviving fresco in the Little Metropolis
  • The floor is lower than the ground bu about 30cm (12 inches)
  • Right in front of the Little Metropolis whilst capturing the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens in the background
  • In the mornings, capture the sun rising above the church
  • stand back a little a take a landscape of both the Little Metropolis and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens

Winter Season – November 1st to March 31st

Monday to Sunday 09:00 – 20:00

Mass is held in the church every Sunday at 10:00


Summer Season – April 1st to October 31st

Monday to Sunday 09:00 – 20:00

Mass is held in the church every Sunday at 10:00

It is possible to gain access to the church via a wheelchair. Inside the church, it is okay to move around using a wheelchair.

My photos of the Little Metropolis Church

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