At the center of Athens on perhaps the busiest commercial street in the capital city, you will find one of the most important monuments of Byzantine architecture: a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, known as Panagia Kapnikarea. The church was built at the beginning of the 11th century on the ruins of an ancient temple.

The architectural design of Kapnikarea is considered architecturally unique with its multifaceted structure that is created by three different parts: the main church at the southern part, which is may have been the diocese of a monastery; the chapel at the northern part; and the outer narthex at the western side.

Most of the icons inside the church are painted by the artist Photis Kontoglou and his pupils, a school of hagiography (studies of the saints). The art was strongly influenced by Byzantine tradition.

In 1942, Kontoglou painted the Greek version of the Virgin Mary at the arch of the church, which was his first monumental work. It was completed in 1955 with the help of his students.

The paintings on the walls of the vaulted narthex show western influences and are the work of an unknown artist and date from approximately 1900. The beautiful mosaic outside the church was created by Elli Voila in 1936.

The church is filled with history and during the Greek Independence War, it was damaged, as were the other monuments in Athens. In 1834, plans were made to demolish the church, but it was saved after the intervention of the King of Bavaria, Ludwig I.

Today, the church belongs to the University of Athens and continues to be a unique part of the city’s history, attracting thousands of locals and tourists who walk inside each day to light a candle, say a prayer and visit the sacred site.

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