The byzantine Сhurch of Agia Sofia situated in the city center of Thessaloniki, Greece is one of the oldest churches in the region. Its domed shape and mosaics and incredibly preserved frescoes make it a sight to behold.
The exact time of its construction is not known, but researchers theorize it was established at the end of the 7th and 8th centuries. The ruins of the basilica of st. Mark, which was destroyed by an earthquake, as well as relics from the roman period were unearthed from the area.
John Kaminiat, a byzantine writer of the 10th century, described the temple of Thessaloniki as impressive. It was then converted to a cathedral for the metropolitan of Thessaloniki. But, in the 16th century, under the turks, it became a mosque. Only in 1912 did the greeks regain possession of the cathedral, and it was returned to the orthodox christians.
In 1917, Thessaloniki’s religious monument, like many of its other buildings, was set ablaze. Four decades later, a 1941 air raid by italian forces completely annihilated an exquisite turkish portico. Then, in 1978, an earthquake caused severe damage to the temple, and the appraisal and repair took roughly two decades, although the dome was reconstructed in 1980. 1981 saw the relics of archbishop basil of Thessaloniki discovered behind one of the balustrades of the church, as bishops had previously been interred in the walls of the cathedral. Currently, the Сhurch of Agia Sofia is amongst Thessaloniki’s UNESCo monuments, having been inducted into the esteemed list in 1988.
The interior and mosaics of the temple may not be particularly attractive to the eye, yet it is remarkable for its 10 m dome. A garden of palm trees encircles the building, which has the features of a three-aisled basilica and a cross-domed church. Inside, one can find works of orthodox art. columns, with capitals, divide the space and walls are partially adorned with floral designs. Notably, the temple’s sculptural embellishments utilize materials from a variety of periods — from the 5th-6th centuries to the 5th century pulpit, moved from Konstantinople in 1905.
The grandiose dome of the temple is decorated with a mosaic, «ascension of Christ», featuring the image of the savior sat atop a rainbow, making his journey to heaven with two angels by his side. A unique feature of the art is the careful portrayal of the apostles, divided apart by trees. This is a testament to the artist’s skill. Additionally, the dome sports a picture of the Virgin Mary with her arms raised. There is debate concerning the age of the mosaic, with some scholars believing it to be from the 9th century, while others argue it is from the 7th century. It is possible that the mosaic was crafted over the span of three centuries.
The arch of the apse boasts a mosaic of the Virgin Mary in the Hodegetria style. This piece was installed post-iconoclasm, supplanting the original mosaic of a cross and inscriptions, of which fragments remain visible. Despite all the reconstruction, the church’s historical and artistic importance remains undiminished. The xi century frescoes, hidden beneath a layer of plaster during the turkish occupation, have been restored, and now feature such figures as the venerable Euphemia and Theodora. Thus, Сhurch of Agia Sofia in Thessaloniki has been reborn as an orthodox church, and its former beauty is on full display.
The Сhurch of Agia Sofia is situated in the city centre at the eponymous square. To get there, you have to take the street Aristotle and go up the street Karol Dil and then turn onto Ermu — this way you will cover around 700 m.
When attending the temple, it is necessary to respect the dress code. It is preferable to avoid wearing clothes that do not cover shoulders and knees. Women may enter greek temples in trousers and with their heads uncovered, but if desired one may put on a skirt and cover their head.
Taking photos of the inside of the temple is acceptable. Nonetheless, refrain from doing so during the ceremony.