Prophet Elias


Christian monument
14th century

The large and imposing church of Prophet Elias is located in Ano Polis of Thessaloniki, in a natural hill at the intersection of Olympia, John Varvakis and Prophet Elias streets. The building dates back to the second half of the 14th century and belongs to an architectural style unique in Thessaloniki, known as agioreitiko or athoniko, which was used exclusively for catholics (i.e. centralized churches) of monasteries. The church is cruciform registered with a large, ornate dome (diameter 5.5 m) in its main room, while on its sides (in the north and south) there are formed wide and high semicircular conches. It also has four small apartments, housed as well with domes, and in the western block it has a spacious rectangular narthex supporetd by four columns, at the roof of which there are shaped another two domes. On the west side of the building - and partly in the north and south –there is attached an open arcade. It is easy, therefore, understood that this is a great, original and interesting architectural composition, in which there are successfully combined many different elements.
From the painting decoration of the church of Prophet Elias there are a few surviving murals, which date back to between 1360 and 1380. Despite they are kept fragmented and in poor condition, they are characterized by quality and they impress for their leading characteristics: an unusual sense of realism and depth to scenes, intense movement, exuberant mood and evident emotions of the figures.
The church originally was not dedicated to Prophet Elias, but - probably and according to the latest survey -it was built in honor of Jesus Christ, and was specifically the catholic of a monastery (there have been suggestions of its identification with the Monastery of Akapniou, a great monastery of Thessaloniki, closely connected with the dynasty of Palaeologon). Shortly after the city's occupation by the Turks in 1430, the church became a muslim mosque and was renamed into Sarayli mosque. During almost five hundred years of occupation that elapsed until the liberation of Thessaloniki in 1912 and the concession of the building again in Christian worship, its first name was entirely forgotten. The monument was linked - probably because of wrong etymology or corruption of its turkish name – with the biblical prophet, ending at last nowadays in being called "Prophet Elias".