Monday 25 November 2013

Athens: Panagia Kapnikaria (Καπνικαρέα)

On Ermou st  near Eolou.

Open from 8-13:00 daily. 16:30-20:00 Tues, Thurs, and Friday although I have not found this to always be the case. Tel: 210 322 4462.  Mornings work best.

Kapnikaria is a complex tetrastyle cross-in-square church built in the 11th century. You cannot miss it, sunken below pavement level and enclosed as it is in its own small circular plateia in the middle of Ermou street. They say it was saved from destruction by the intervention of King Otto’s father, King Ludwig of Bavaria, when it was slated for demolition to create the city’s main shopping street in 1834. The low wall around the church acts as a handy bench for today’s shoppers who can contemplate its cloisonné masonry, dentil bands, and kufic script at their leisure.
(Don't worry about that word "complex" in the description above . It is complex rather than just 'tetrastyle' because of the church added on to it

 Note that the lower courses are white blocks of stone laid to form crosses. It has attractively decorated windows. The beautiful Athenian dome is supported inside the church by four ancient columns. The narthex was added on 25 years after the original building and closed in at a later date. It spans the entire length of the west side of the church and visually unites the main church and its chapel Ag Varvara, the small parekklesia added in the 13th century.
This church, dedicated to the Presentation of the Virgin, got its epithet from the tax collector who probably built it. He collected the kapnikos tax, a fee levied on every hearth in the city and his soubriquet Kapnikarios was given no doubt because of his occupation.
Athens churches often span every era in its history and this one is a particularly apt example. The original church, built by the empress Eudokia in the 5th century was itself built on a temple either to Demeter or Athena. The 11th century church underwent many alterations and renovations over time, before Independence and after. This was a popular community church and most likely a parish church as well.
The prolific wall paintings in the sanctuary and dome were created in 1942 by Fotis Kontoglou following the Byantine iconic program. Frankly they are rather dark, but impressive with all sorts of filler decorations to unite the icons.  The new marble iconostasis is a replica of the Byzantine style popular at the time the church was first erected and is a replica of the  one at the Kaisariani monastery.

Finally, notice the gold mosaic over the south entrance which was created in 1936, the work of Elli Voila according to a design by Athinagoras Asteriades. It looks as if it was always  there.

The overall design of Kapnikaria inside and out is still unified and harmonious in spite of a thousand years of constant alterations. Quite a feat

No comments:

Post a Comment