At one of the busiest spots of Athens, at Monastiraki square is one of the oldest but lesser-known churches in the city, dedicated to Panagia Pantanassa.
The church is referred to as a Big Monastery in the post-Byzantine era of 1678 and was thus named during these years. Furthermore, in the same document, it is mentioned that during the period of the Frankish rule, it was annexed as a men’s monastery to Kaisariani Monastery.
From 1690 onwards, the church became a parish, like the Kaisariani Monastery. From the revolution onwards, the church was no longer called Big Monastery but Mikromonastiro (Small Monastery) or Monastiraki. The monastery cells used to be in today’s Square, while the whole area was full of small shops, many of which can still be found in the neighbouring Pandrosos Street.
The church is a barrel-vaulted basilica, typical of transitioning from the early Christian basilica to the cross-in-square church. Generally, it signifies the transition from Late Antiquity to the Byzantine and Medieval World.
The wall paintings are more recent.
The church has undergone many modifications. The bell tower is characteristic, more recent construction and annex.
The present-day surviving church dates probably from the beginning of the 17th century and is built over an older monument; and it was the catholicon of a women’s monastery. Initially, it was called Mega Monastiri (Large Monastery), however, a few years later, it declined, and since 1821 the name Monastiraki prevailed. It was given to the wider area as well.
Nowadays, the church is lower than the ground level due to the newer form of the area around it. In its original condition, however, it dominated this city’s central location.
The church of Pantanassa is a three-aisled basilica whose middle aisle is roofed with a semi-circular vault, which on the east and west ends in conches with squinches. This way of roofing is characteristic of Ottoman architecture and has been applied to mosques and secular buildings since the 15th century, imitating the conches of Agia Sophia in Constantinople. The side aisles are roofed with cross-vaults.
For the construction of the walls, abundant material from ancient buildings was used. The church’s interior is decorated with more recent wall paintings, while significant portable icons survive.
The church celebrates on the 15th of August.