West of the historic center of Thessaloniki, near the Western walls of the city lies a Byzantine treasure that is worth worth discovering. Although a bit far from the majority of the city’s tourist destinations, the Temple of the Twelve Apostles holds many surprises for all those who will chose to visit it!
Byzantine Art and Architecture
The temple is considered to be one of Thessaloniki’s most important religious sites because of its impressive architecture and history that takes us back to the Later Byzantine Era. We can safely assume that the main temple was the “Katholikon” of an older monastery, possibly devoted to Virgin Mary (Panagia Gorgoepikoos).
In terms of architecture the temple is a complex cruciform building with five domes, that also implements a narthex and an ambulatory. East of the main building there are two small chapels. Over the main gate we can easily read the scripture about the “Patriarch and Ctetor” that is referred to the founder, Patriarch Nifon A’ (1310 – 1314).
The wonderful mosaics that are still preserved in the higher sections of the interior are dated back to the beginning of the 14th century AD. Most visitors are impressed by their harmony and detail. Many important figures – symbols of the Byzantine religious art like the Almighty, several Prophets and Evangelists are depicted in the main dome and the circular triangles.
The western wall of the temple features Illustrations of many Saints and Martyrs.The decorative stone masonry on the East of the temple’s exterior wall is a nice example of the Late Byzantine period craftsmanship.
The treasures of the Palaiologian Renaissance
The style expressed by the mosaics is perhaps one of the most important characteristics of the temple. They are some of last artistic sets of outstanding beauty just before the fall of the Byzantine Empire and the city of Thessaloniki to the Ottomans.
All of them along with the wall paintings on the temple’s interior inspire a unique beauty that pretty much characterizes the entire period (beginning of the 14th century). In terms of Iconography the whole set resembles contemporary ones found in Constantinople, but when it comes to the mosaics we can clearly distinct the very special, exclusive style of expressive realism that was developed in Thessaloniki and Macedonia!
Wall paintings of high artistic value and quality featuring themes from the Old and the New Testament can be found to the lower sections of the temple. The ambulatory, the Narthex and the chapel of Saint Prodromos (Agios Prodromos) in the North also have their own share of exquisite wall paintings.
During the first decades of the 16th century AD the temple was turned into a mosque (Soğuk Su Camii = the mosque of the cold water). It is possible that part of the main dome’s decoration was lost during that period while the interior of the main building was covered with plaster for religious reasons.
- Having in mind that the temple of the Twelve Apostol’s is one of the less known tourist destinations in the historic center in Thessaloniki, you’ll have the opportunity to walk around and discover many surprises all around you! This is the beauty of Thessaloniki in the first place! All those small secrets that popup all around you, in every step, in every corner…
- Walking along Olympou st. you’ll also get the chance to visit the historic, full of nightlife Bit Bazaar area. Spend some time to explore it! Another great destination on your way is the Roman Forum (Ancient Agora), an archaeological site that hosts a beautiful Underground Museum!