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The Kapnikarea church in Athens is a splendid relic of Byzantine architecture that stands in one of the most notable parts of the city. Located on Ermou Street, this little church is found near some of the most recognized Athens attractions. Ermou Street is one of the most prolific shopping streets in Athens, and in all the world, and the nearby Plaka flea market at Monastariki is within walking distance from the Kapnikarea Church. All of this is also found just blocks away from the Acropolis and monuments like the Tower of the Winds at the Ancient Agora. In other words, you are going to have a lot of stops on your Athens itinerary in the area, so don't forget to include this small Athens church on your agenda.
The Athens church of Kapnikarea is sometimes referred to as the Church of Saint Mary, for whom it was dedicated, but more often than not goes by Kapnikarea. Although the exact origins of the church's name are unclear, common belief holds that the name comes from "Kapnikon", which was a form of Byzantine tax imposed in those times. Quite possibly as well, the name may reference the sponsoring executive of the church, who perhaps carried a family name such as Kapnikares. Certain building patterns and styles lead experts to believe that the Kapnikarea Athens church was built around the year 1050.
The church of Kapnikarea is quite architecturally complex, and is composed of some secondary structures as well as the original. Atop the crossed roofs, you will see the beautiful dome rising above the church's different levels. Inside the church, there a chapel in the dome in the name of St. Varnava. A narthex was added after the original church and the chapel were completed, and the whole configuration is a resulting strange mix. Fotis Kontoglou, who is one of the country's most celebrated modern artists, is credited with producing many of the church's icons.
The Kapnikarea church was slated at one point to be torn down, as after the years it had fallen by the wayside. When Ermou Street first went into operation in 1834, the church was in need of some attention. The Greek War of Independence and neglect over time had contributed to the church's poor state, and options were weighed to use the space for something else. However, King Otto's fater, Ludwig I of Bavaria, stepped in and saved the church from being destroyed. Ludwig I, is also credited with producing the finances to build the Parliament Building in Athens. Kapnikarea Church is an easy monument to visit and to appreciate. It is small, but complicated, and holds its own on a busy street where larger buildings loom and everyday life has gone by for centuries. If only the church could speak, the stories it would tell.
It's nice to sit outside the Kapnikarea church on the stone walls found around it. Besides taking in the architectural configuration of the church, you can usually find some pretty good street life here, especially on the weekends. The church is closed on the weekends, and during weekdays it is open from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. , and evenings from 4:30 p.m.-8 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. If you are a fan of this little church, be sure to check out the Agios Eleftherios church nearby on the plaza Metropoleos, next to the Athens Cathedral.
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