Churches In Athens
You are spoilt for choice when visiting churches in Athens because there are so many. What are the best churches in Athens? Where are the oldest churches in Athens? Are they all free to enter? I’m asked these questions so often.
Whether your plan to visit Athens for a day, a weekend or an extended holiday, my travel guide answers those questions and a lot more for your holiday plans.
There are so many churches that I want to show you, so let’s get started.
Let’s begin our journey with the most popular church (it’s actually a cathedral) in Athens; The Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens. It is more popularly known as the Metropolis and is the cathedral church of the Archbishopric of Athens and Greece.
Situated in the extremely popular Metropolis Square in the centre of Athens, and with a view of the Acropolis, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens is certainly the most photographed.
Inside are the tombs of two saints killed by the Ottoman Turks during the Ottoman period: Saint Philothei and Patriarch Gregory V:
- Saint Philothei built a convent, was martyred in 1589, and her bones are still visible in a silver reliquary.
- Gregory V was hanged by order of Sultan Mahmud II and his body was thrown into the Bosphorus in 1821 in retaliation for the Greek uprising on 25th March, leading to the Greek War of Independence. His body was rescued by Greek sailors and eventually enshrined in Athens.
Next, we’ll move on to perhaps the oldest church in Athens, the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea. Also known as the Church of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary, it was built over an ancient Greek temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena or Demeter. Thousands of people walk by this church daily, without perhaps realising it is one of the oldest churches in Athens.
Built around 1050 AD, the church is located in the centre of Athens, right in the middle of the high-traffic shopping area of Ermou street, at the edge of the Plaka district, and only two minutes’ walk from our first church on this list, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens.
Just around the corner from the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea is another favourite of mine, the tiny Church of Hagia Dynamis (Church of Sacred Power). This 16th-century Byzantine Greek Orthodox church pays homage to the Virgin Mary. It serves as a shrine for pregnant women to go and pray for safe delivery.
Inscriptions on the grounds suggest the church was built on an ancient temple dedicated to Heracles, the Greek demigod famous for his strength and performing “the 12 labours”.
Excavations came across a 50-foot tunnel beginning under the church connecting it to an extensive cave system that reaches the Acropolis and the Kaisariani Monastery on the north side of Mount Hymettus. But, in 1963, a steeple was built over the entrance to the tunnel, prohibiting future access.
During the War of Independence, Greek munitions experts were forced to make bullets for the Turks in the church. But, they also secretly made lots of them for the Greek revolutionaries. Each night they were smuggled with the rubbish.
Next, we move on to one of my favourite churches in Athens, the Church of Holy Apostles Athens. Located in the Ancient Agora of Athens, it was built around 1000 AD. It was restored to its original form between 1954 and 1957.
The church is particularly significant for two reasons. Firstly, it is the only monument in the Ancient Agora of Athens, other than the Temple of Hephaestus, to survive intact since its foundation.
Secondly, for its architecture. It was the first significant church of the Middle Byzantine period in Athens. It marked the beginning of the so-called “Athenian type”, successfully combining the simple four-pier with the cross-in-square forms. The altar and floor were initially made of marble.
Also known as the chapel of Agios Geórgios, it was built on the site of an older Byzantine church dedicated to Profítis Ilías (the Prophet Elijah). Both saints associated with the site are celebrated here on their name days (20th July and 23rd April, respectively).
On the eve of Easter Sunday, a spectacular candlelit procession winds down the peak’s wooded slopes. The hill has a summit restaurant and café and the open-air Lykavittós Theatre, where contemporary jazz, pop and dance performances are held annually during the Athens Festival.
As this church is on top of the highest hill in Athens, I also recommend:
- View the stunning view of Athens from the summit, including the Acropolis of Athens
- Take a walk through the beautiful gardens that surround the peak.
- Enjoy a coffee or a bite to eat in one of the charming cafes located on the mountain.
- Take a hike through the forest that surrounds the hill.
- Stroll through the ruins of an ancient monastery on the hill.
- Enjoy a concert at the open-air amphitheatre that is located on the summit.
- Watch the sunset over Athens from the peak.
- Marvel at the city lights of Athens from the summit.