Agios Nikólaos Rangavás

Agios Nikólaos Rangavás (3)

To the north east under the imposing hill of the Acropolis, lies the popular district of Plaka. Cobblestone streets, wrought iron balconies and flower pots on the doors of the houses are the backdrops of the snapshots that this picturesque neighbourhood has to offer. The restoration and recovery of this area, now busy with tourists seeking a taste of traditional Athens and locals, was one of the most painstaking projects of the actress and politician Melina Mercouri.

Byzantine domes form part of the landscape of Plaka, as the neighbourhood is dotted with small chapels and larger churches that were built on the ruins of ancient temples in the Byzantine era, when the splendour of Constantinople spread throughout the empire.

This is the case of Agios Nikolaos Rangavas or St. Nicholas Church. This is one of the Byzantine monuments in Athens and, despite being built in the first half of the 11th century, it has undergone many renovations over the centuries.

The name of the church most likely comes from the Rangavas family, a noble lineage with a family tree that includes patriarchs and emperors. In the 11th century, the family owned a palace complex that belonged to the church and that, in turn, gave its name to the area, the Rangavas neighbourhood. Now known as Plaka, the district grew around this church.

The church is clearly part of the Byzantine art of the time, a fact that can be seen by its octagonal vault, decorative dentils on the outside, and brick patterns on the walls, also made of stone. On the walls, you can admire the frescoes, all of which have been restored - as can be seen by their bright colours -, and the strange collection of votive offerings around the image of St. Nicholas that implore the healing of a child, the old heart of a worker or the hip of an elderly lady.

Despite all these elements, which helped experts date the construction of Agios Nikolaos Rangavas, the remains of a classical temple lie behind the Byzantine tracks of this church. And make no mistake, Byzantine art imposed its style and took root on a land marked by the history and art of the great civilizations of ancient times. You only need to look at the brick and stone walls in the south-eastern part of the church to see the remains of columns, capitals and classics, along with other pieces of stone from the Acropolis.

After the War of Independence from the Turks in 1821, this small temple was the first to receive a bell on top. This bell was to play a leading role on another occasion, following the Greek liberation from German occupation in October 1944. At that time, and once again in celebration, the Agios Nikolaos Rangavas bell rang out.

Today, this charming church preserves all of its original grace, despite the renovations and extensions made, even in the 20th century. 

On weekends, especially if you walk through here when the weather is nice, you will almost certainly find couples who have come to celebrate their wedding at this church, providing a cheerful and very authentic picture of traditional Greece.

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