Sometimes “hidden gems” are actually hiding in plain sight. Or in this case, smack-dab in the middle of one of the busiest streets in Athens. Panagia Kapnikarea is a beautiful tiny Byzantine edifice and one of the oldest churches in Athens, and yet often overlooked by tourists—but it’s definitely worth a few minutes of your time.
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The church is located in the middle of the city’s most lively and crowded downtown street, Ermou Street (which connects Syntagma with Monastiraki Square). While Panagia Kapnikarea was on my list of things to see in Athens on my short visit, I accidentally stumbled on it just seconds after leaving my (cute, central, with an awesome view) apartment to explore.
Like seriously, you’re just walking down a busy street and then in the middle of all the chaos there’s this gorgeous little church. It’s usually open mid-morning til late afternoon during the week, but the hours can change depending on the season or holiday so check ahead of time. It seems it’s typically open 11am-5pm during the week, and opens at 7am on Sundays.
I just did this as a little “pop in”, as I only had a few hours in Athens. But if you’d like to have a more immersive experience and learn more about Panagia Kapnikarea and other Athens sights, consider taking a walking tour that includes the church on its itinerary.
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Panagia Kapnikarea is in the running for oldest church in Athens, at about eleven centuries old! It’s thought that it was constructed in the 11th century (around 1052 CE), built on the ruins of an ancient temple that was dedicated to either Athena or Demeter.
The church’s resilience and staying power is pretty impressive…it survived firebombed by the Turks in 1689, and several attempts by urban planners to demolish it in the 19th century. It was damaged during the siege of Athens in the Greek Revolution in the 1800s, so a lot of it has been restored in more modern times.
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The outside is pretty cool, and I often don’t bother going in churches because they tend to look a lot alike after awhile. But MAN I’m glad I poked my head into Panagia Kapnikarea!
It’s got a distinctive architectural structure, with three different parts. As a non-architectural expert I would never have known that. But the interior is really visually arresting. There are some preserved illustrations, and then major restoration work and new iconography were done in the 1940s by the famous hagiographer Fotis Kontoglou.
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I was especially in love wtih the beautiful mosaic that hovers over the church’s entrance, and the way the light played over the interior colors and distinctive chandeliers (reminiscent of Hagia Sophia and mosques).
You definitely don’t need to spend a ton of time at Panagia Kapnikarea, but it absolutely needs to be on your itinerary—make sure not to miss this Athens hidden gem!
Other travel “hidden gems” hiding in major tourist areas that you’ll love:
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- Accidentally Discovering The Best (Secret) Rooftop Bar In Lisbon
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