Agia Sophia


Christian monument
5th Century

The Church of Agia Sophia is located in the center of Thessaloniki, at the junction of Agia Sophia’s street with Ermou street. It is dedicated to Jesus Christ, to the True Logos and the Holy Wisdom, having been built on the remains of an older five-naved paleochristian church, possibly of the 5th century, that had been destroyed between 620 and 630, perhaps after an earthquake. The oldest written evidence concerning the temple dates back to the 8th century, nevertheless the archaeological findings prove that the temple was built a century before. From the 8th century until the beginning of the 16th century, Agia Sophia had been the “Great Church of Thessaloniki”, in other words Thessaloniki’s metropolitan community church. During the Venetian domination (1204-1224) it was temporarily transformed into a cathedral of the Catholic Church, while in 1523 it was turned into a Muslim mosque. It had been functioning as a mosque till Thessaloniki’s independence, when it was returned to Christians for worship purposes. The monument underwent various damages after a fire in 1890, but it was restored some years later. In 1988 the church was declared as World Heritage Monument by UNESCO.
Agia Sophia’s church belongs to a transitional architectural type, that of the cruciform church with dome and ambulatory, being, what is more, the most important monument of this group of religious constructions and the only one that has remained integral until today. Beginning by its exterior, it is a heavy cubic construction; in its northwest side, we can find a small turret, that had been constructed during the Turkish occupation and initially –when the temple had been functioning as a mosque-it had been used possibly as a minaret. In the interior, the church develops a quadrate floor plan and disposes a narthex in its west side, three naves in the main indoor area and a tripartite Holy Altar in its eastern side, with a large central arch, framed by two smaller ones. In the middle nave, extended in comparison with the naves found on the two other naves, a cross is being developed while four voluminous angle columns support the dome – with the aid of others semi cylindrical rooms and pendentives-.
The painting decoration of the church was completed in different periods and presents special interest. The abstract mosaic, in the area of the Holy Altar, dating back to the first iconoclastic period (by the end of the 8th century) is also worth mentioning; however, the work of art that rests indubitably outstanding is the mosaic on the dome depicting the Ascension, a grandiose and breathtaking multifaceted representation of the end of the 9th century, that also constitutes one the most important compositions of byzantine art. In the temple’s narthex, we can also find a few murals of the 11th century, depicting pictures of holy monks and local saints of Thessaloniki.