Mitropoli (19)

Mitrópoli, Athens Cathedral is the largest church in the capital and you might say that it contains many more churches inside. But do not take these words figuratively, because they are very true, and the fact is that to build the Mitrópoli, in the 19th century, materials (marble, especially) from 72 churches in the city that had been destroyed were used.

The history of its construction also was almost Odyssean, and it was not spared a thousand and one problems, which lengthened the process for nearly twenty years, passing through the hands of three different architects. The result, therefore, is somewhere between eclectic, confused, modern and awkward, but with a particular charm.

The first stone was laid by the King and Queen of Greece, Otto and Amalia, on Christmas Day 1842. The building stood on the spot where, previously, the former monastery of St. Nicholas, which was demolished in 1827, had been.

The first phase of construction was carried out by Teophil Hansen, who drw up the plans and was responsible for the lower part of the building, up to the first row of windows, approximately. Coincidentally, in relation to the rest of the construction, this part seems to be of smaller proportions.

Then, in 1843, the works were interrupted because of serious financial problems. As the construction had advanced, the initial budget had been exceeded. Donations from wealthy families were necessary, as well as those made by King Otto and Queen Amalia, to continue building the colossal Cathedral. And even this was not enough, so the church sold some ecclesiastic property to gain more funds.

After the hiatus, it was the Greek architect Dimitrios Zézos who took over. His greatest contribution was to include the Greco-Byzantine style in the Mitrópoli, which became more and more Megali (large), as it would become known.

After his death, the Frenchman, Franz Boulanger, gave the design a final twist, along with his partner, the Greek Panayotis Kalko. During the time of its construction, which lasted until May 1862, when the church was finally consecrated to Evangelismós Theotólou or the Annunciation of the Virgin, the materials of the demolished churches were taken.

The Orthodox Cathedral of Athens is the largest church in the Greek capital, at 40 metres long, 20 wide and 24 high. Probably the most beautiful part is the lovely entrance, decorated with a mosaic of the Annunciation.

The sculptural work of the Mitrópoli was carried out by Georgios Fitalis, and the frescoes painted on the interior walls belong to the artists Piridon Giallinas and Alexander Seitz, who followed the Byzantine style.

In the cathedral are the tombs of two famous Greek saints killed by the Ottomans. In a silver reliquary are the bones of Agía Filothéi, who died in 1589, having dedicated his life to freeing the Greek women who were enslaved in Turkish harems. On the other hand, Gregorio V is another saint buried here. As patriarch of Constantinople, he was hanged by the Turks, and his body was thrown into the Bosphorus in 1821. After Greek sailors recovered his body from the water, he was taken to Odessa and it was not until 50 years later that he could rest in peace within the walls of Athens Cathedral. 

Despite its chequered history and indeterminate style, Mitrópoli has been the backdrop of royal coronations and, even today, celebrities from all over Greece hold their weddings and funerals here.

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