Sunday 24 November 2013

Athens: Agia Sotira tou Kottakis. (Ag Σωτείρα Κοττάκη)

 Kydathiaion 1,. Plaka.  Open most mornings and some evenings. Tel 210 322 4633

Ag Sotira started out in the 11th century as an Athenian domed distyle cross-in-square church with the western  part of the dome resting on two columns and the eastern half on the antae (jambs) of the sanctuary. Its full name is the Transformation of the Saviour. The Kottakis bit refers to the family who built it. And that explanation is longer than anything we know about it for sure. In 1847 it became the Russian parish church until they moved upscale and up the street to Sotira Lycodemou in1855.  The big change came in 1908 when the nave was enlarged and elongated making the church a domed three aisled basilica with barrel vaulting. This trick of knocking out the western wall of a cross-in-square church and adding a new nave while using the old church as a sanctuary was a result of population booms after Independence and beyond. The side aisles allowed for the addition of two chapels, Ag Demetrios on the north and Ag Georgios on the south. The iconostasis is not old but it is marble and in the old style. I always think the apses of a church like this look from the outside like little ornate cabooses stuck onto a goods train.  The church seen from the west looks totally different from the church view from the east.
view from the west

view from the east

Many renovations since have fiddled with both its interior and exterior especially again in 1971 when the two bell towers were added.  In 2009 the nineteenth century walls needed more of a renovation that the original church.
No wall paintings survive from the early period and this really should not matter, because this is a church which grew according to its function. There is, however, quite an unusual variation on the newly painted ceiling of the nave See what you make of it:

It looks to me like the Metamorphosis on a disco ball.  If so, the subject matter is correct for the ceiling of the vault but the choice of material wildly idiosyncratic. There are others...

  Ag Sotira has a 14th century miracle working icon called the Nea Kyra, the New Lady, a reference to Mary replacing Athena the sacristan told me. It resides in the side chapel of Ag. Demetrios. 
Almost every visitor to Athens passes by this church more than once and its small shady courtyard provides two ancient columns  to perch on while considering  your next move.

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