Friday 22 November 2013

Athens’ Churches: Ag Georgios on the Rock and Ag Symeon (in Anafiotika)

Athens:Ag Georgios on the Rock and Ag Symeon (in Anafiotika)

Neither open often but still worth the walk. You can begin by walking up Stratonos St to Ag Georgios.

Perched high on the acropolis hill hard by the ancient citadel is the tiny neighbourhood of Anafiotika (Αναφιώτικα‎), so called because the majority of its inhabitants arrived from the tiny Cycladic island of Anafi  in the early 1840s. They were the skilled builders needed by King Otto and his Bavarian court for their grand plan to turn Athens into the Paris of the south.  Athens was desperately short of housing after Independence, the city in ruins. Where would these builders reside?  They were unhappy with the makeshift shelters provided and what would they do when their families joined them? Luckily for them the entire area around the Acropolis had been designated by the new state as an archaeological site, part of the push to return Athens’ monuments to their former glory.  On the sly, these intrepid islanders appropriated the north- eastern corner of the hill and built small island style houses, just like those they had left behind. The story goes it was done at night, but clearly the authorities, with no better plan in mind, turned a blind eye  -  not the last time illegal building would occur in Athens. This is still so widespread in the city today that owners of illegally built homes actually have an organization protecting their interests.

Considered a poor district of the city at the time, the forty five remaining houses have become a much loved and protected oasis, and the closest you can come to the ambiance of a Cycladic Island on the Greek mainland. The narrow streets of Anafiotika are still unnamed. Two churches, St George of the Rock and St Symeon, sit like parentheses at either end of this small chapter of Athenian history illustrating not only the need of each Greek neighbourhood to have its very own church, but its delight in having more than one.

                                     St George of the Rock (Άγιος Γεώργιος)

Ay. Georgios  is a barrel vaulted, single apsed  church situated directly under the flag that flies daily on the acropolis. It marks the south eastern boundary of Anafiotika.  There is nothing all that remarkable to see inside, and to see that,  best to arrive on the church’s name day. This church and St Symeon no longer have their own priests. They are under the aegis of the Plaka’s  parish church,  Ag, Nikolaos Rangavas,  and used on special occasions at a parishioner’s request, on the feast days of their saints, and whenever the busy parish priest can find time to have a service. The flowered courtyard and whitewashed facade  give Ag Georgios a rural appeal, an illusion often enhanced by the presence of  several snoozing neighbourhood cats.

Because the western end is hard up against the acropolis rock, worshippers  make do with a south door which  has a very attractive white-washed marble lintel, no doubt a remnant from an earlier 17th century church said to have been here before this one, or maybe even one before that…

Stuck to Ag Georgios on the north is tiny Ag Constantinos.  It is an entirely separate church with its own courtyard up a few narrow steps on its northern side.  Looked at from the outside they seem contemporary but this one was built about 60 years ago  and not too well either because recently its roof fell in and needed to be rebuilt. Many churches in Greece are presented to the parish by private donors and their upkeep can be quite a strain on the parish purse.

Apse of Ag Georgios and Ag Constantinos (covered in greenery)

If you continue on Stratonos  St. and follow the hand-written signs directing you to the Acropolis (tacked up by inhabitants sick and tired of being asked) you will be walking on the ‘main street’ of Anafiotika and very quickly you come to Ag Symeon on its north-western boundary .
Ag Symeon of Anafi  (Άγιος Συμεών)

Founded in 1847, it has been kept in good nick since then.   Those bricks painted with terra cotta stripes you see on the bell tower are an imitation of cloisonné brick work and popular with German architects of this era;  you see quite a bit of the same on other 19th century churches in Athens, for instance the huge Ag.Marina on Ag. Pavlos Street.  You either like it or you don’t.  In this case, the effect is quite clean cut and charming. This church once had a priest brought especially from Anafi , and still has  an  icon of  Panagia tis Kalamiotissas, Anafi’s patron Saint. Ag, Symeon  belongs to the people of Anafi, and two small island style outbuildings inside its courtyard are used by their society or syllogos as it is called in Greek.  The terrace on the western side is spacious and has large windows facing north onto Athens. It is made for people to gather, another important function of any neighbourhood church.

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