Argolida is a region where there are located some of the most well-known Byzantine Churches in Greece.
The term “Byzantine” derives from Byzantium, an ancient Greek colony founded by Byzas. The site of Byzantium was ideally located on the European side of Bosporus, the lining of the Black Sea and Mediterranean, as a trade point between Europe and Asia.
In 325 A.D, Roman Emperor Constantine I established Christianity as the official region of Rome at the Council of Nicaea. Five Years later, Constantine chose Byzantium as the site of a “New Rome” with Constantinople as its capital.
The citizens of Constantinople were Romans and Christians, though many of them spoke Greek. The Byzantine Empire was the only organized state west of China that survived from the ancient times until the beginning of the modern age without interruption.
After Constantine’s death in 337, in 364 Emperor Valentinian I divided the empire into two sections. His brother and he became the power men of the Byzantine empire. Valentinian I was leading the West Empire and his brother Valens the East Empire.
Over the next centuries, constant attacks from German invaders broke the empire until the point where the only territory left under the Roman control was Italy. In 476 Romulus Augustus, the last Roman Emperor was defeated by the barbarian Odoacer and the Rome had fallen.
The Eastern Roman Empire, known as the Byzantine Empire or Byzantium, was able to survive for centuries after the fall of Rome. The Eastern Roman Empire was benefited first from Constantinople’s geographic location that helped a lot with the capital’s defense and secondly, the internal political stability and the great wealth generated from the eastern emperors helped the Empire last for so many years.
Byzantium was ruled by the Roman law and Roman political institutions. Its official language was Latin and students received education in Greek history, literature and culture and this is the reason that the Greek language was so widely spoken. Christian was officially established as the religion of the Empire in 451.
Justinian I, who took power from 527 until his death in 565, was the first great ruler on the Byzantine Empire. During his reign, the empire included most of the land surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Under Justinian’s reign, many great monuments of the empire would be built, including the spectacular domed Church of Holy Wisdom, or Hagia Sophia. It was also Justinian who reformed and codified Roman law, establishing legal code that would endure for centuries and help shape the modern concept of the state.
Byzantine Churches can be found in different places along Greece and in Argolida region are some great momentums of the Byzantine Empire.
The Church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary
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The most well-known church is the church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary located aprox 5kms North from Nafplio. The location in which it is built was named “Vouzi”, but presently utterly forgotten or unspoken of by the residencies. There seems to be much speculation surrounding the exact date of the church’s erection with the most prevailing one among scholars being either at the end of the 12th century or the early 13th one. The temple’s frescoes are placed at a period around the end of the 13th century or even at the dawn of the 14th century; however, they would have been created much earlier than the actual assembly of the temple itself.
The church is located in a small village called “Agia Triada” or “Merbakas”. It is said that “Merbakas” was named by Willien Van Moerbeke, a Dominican orientalist and philosopher, who had resided for a lot of years in the monastery.
The church has such measurements (15, 67×8, 45) and is potentially built upon ancient grounds, seeing that the church counts a number of tombstones, fragments of marble and ancient Greek dwelling stones.
Monastery of Agios Dimitrios Augos, Iria
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The monastery is located aprox 1 hour drive East from Nafplio and is a three-storey complex, consists of cells and churches and is built into the hollows of the rock. The monastery is dated from the 11th century and is said that it have taken its eventual fortified in the 16th century under the Palaiologos dynasty. The labyrinthine interior and the gun loops over the entrance, emphasize the defensive nature of the monastery. It is said that the monastery used to be a water-mill and still possible to see on the surrounding plateaus, storage buildings, guest rooms and threshing floors. The Ministry of Culture carried out reinforcement work on the monastery at the end of the 1980’s.
The Sacred Church of Koimisi of the Theotokos in Neo Iraio
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The church of Koimisi of the Theotokos (dormition of the Virgin) is one of the most important Byzantine monuments in Argolida region. It is located aprox 15 min drive North from Nafplio. During the Venetian occupation different parts of the church such as the octagonal dome and the gabled ends were reconstructed. The church has all the important Mid-Byzantine churches in Argolida region. To the east it has three-sided arches and to the west a narthex. The exterior of the church has large stone bricks form stone crosses, while the masonry has ceramic decoration.
Unfortunately, the original pictorial decoration in the interior has not survived. The monument was built in the beginning of the 12th century.
Monastery of the Metamorfosi Sotiros in Asini
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The monastery is located aprox 8kms South from Nafplio, in an isolated position South West from Asini, with a view to the Karathona beach. It was in operation until 1834.
The monastery belongs to the cross-shaped type, while to the west there is a newer elongated building. The interior of the catholic is decorated with notable murals, dated from 1570, according to the detailed foundation inscription which is the south wall of the church. In the north east wall of the catholicon still survive the ruins of a tall tower.
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