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Mikri Mitrópoli - Panagía Gorgoepíkoös

Mikri Mitrópoli - Panagía Gorgoepíkoös (20)

Next to the great Mitrópoli cathedral is this tiny church. Although its real name is Panagía Gorgoepikoos, it is known by comparison with the size of its neighbour, as Mikri Mitrópoli or small cathedral. And it measures only seven and a half metres long and twelve wide. However, this tiny jewel of Greek Byzantine architecture is the equal of the cathedral.

With a Greek cross floor plan and a small dome on top supported by four pillars of brick, its dimensions, seven and a half metres long by twelve wide, are commensurate with the size of Athens in the time when the church was built in the late 12th century. At that time, the Greek capital was virtually a village, and there was no place for the construction of great religious buildings that were out of proportion to their environment. The Mikri Mitrópoli is also one of the few Athenians churches that maintain their original form today as it has not been extended or, practically, retouched.

The church was built in Pentelic marble, which has, over the years, acquired a yellowish colour. The temple floor is, as a point of interest, nearly a foot below ground level outside.

What is really special is the sculptural decoration of the church's exterior. While the bottom of the walls is made of undecorated marble blocks, the top is a world apart. This is because the Mikri Mitrópoli has fragments of buildings of antiquity. Greek, Roman and Byzantine remains ranging from the 4th century BC to the 12th century, when it was built, decorate the outside of the Panagía Gorgoepikoos.

From this unorthodox collection of archaeological pieces, we can highlight, above the entrance, the reliefs in which an attic calendar is represented with the major festivals, with the figures of the zodiac and even a scene in which the gods Hebe and Heracles appear.

Other sculptural decorations represent Roman triumphs, the Panathenaic games, and others, in Byzantine style, show oriental motifs, sphinxes, geometric shapes and depictions of animals and plants.

It is strange to see how they tried to Christianize the clearly pagan themes of antiquity that are represented in the friezes of the church. And the fact is that the craftsman working with his chisel believed that by adding a few crosses from time to time in these reliefs, the work was done.

The Mikri Mitrópoli is dedicated to Agios Elefthérios, the saint who protects women in childbirth, and to the Virgin, who gives her name, Panagía Gorgoepikoos. And with regard to the latter, you may like to know that, if you have a prayer or urgent request to make, in front of you is your church, because the translation of the name of the Virgin which it is devoted to is "who answers quickly".

Standing in front of the church, Mikri Mitrópoli is dwarfed in comparison to the great cathedral, appearing on all sides. However, with its historical value and the extraordinary decoration of its walls, its dimensions do not matter. I am sure it no longer seems so small, does it?

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