Churches of Mystras

The archeological site of Mystras includes 7 important churches.
At the bottom of the hill, Kato Chora includes great monasteries with exceptional frescoes and icons, a significant number of chapels, mansions, houses, as well as workshops, fountains, cisterns and other buildings.

Agios Demetrios (Metropolis) , was probably founded by the Bishop Eugenios around 1270 and was renovated in 1291, by the Bishop Nikiforos Moschopoulos and his brother Aaron. It took its final form in the 15th century with the works of Bishop Matheos. It is considered the oldest church in Mystras, cathedral of the city and seat of the Diocese of Lacedaemonia until the first years after the liberation of Greece from the Turks. The church in its current form belongs to the so-called "mixed type of Mystras", which combines the three-aisled basilica on the ground floor and the five-domed cross-in-square church in the upper room, with three three-sided arches to the east.

According to tradition, the last emperor of Byzantium, Constantine XI Palaiologos, was crowned here in 1449. The sculptural decoration of the church has a large variety in terms of style and season. Exceptional samples of Byzantine and later art include the built iconostasis, which took its current form probably in the 18th century, the two shrines with relief designs, the architrave of the time of Bishop Mathaios, with designs carved in porous stone and the parapets in the frieze of the upper room.

The embossed double-headed eagle of the Palaeologos family on the floor of Agiod Demetrios, under the dome, is truly remarkable. The exceptional frescoes of the church (last quarter of the 13th-beginning of the 14th century) have various styles and were mainly date to the period of Bishop Nikiforos. The complex of the Metropolis is completed by buildings that were added later: the tower-shaped bell tower (in the southeast corner), the portico with the pillars and the arches on the west facade, a second portico on the north side, with an excellent view to the valley of Evrotas, as well as the beautiful north courtyard with the arches and two-story buildings, works of Bishop Ananias, who was slaughtered by the Ottomans in 1760. The place where he martyred is just outside of the Metropolis and has been fenced.

Evangelistria , (end of the 14th - beginning of the 15th century) is located on the cobbled path that leads from the Metropolis to the Monastery of Vrontochios. It is a small, cross-in-square inscribed with a dome and two-column church, with a characteristic wide narthex and matroneum.

The church has three arches to the east, with the one in the middle having five sides while the two others being three-sided. The interior of Evangelistria is decorated with a built iconostasis. The Holy Doors retain their west European influenced frame, reminiscent of similar Venetian-type samples in churches of Crete. The sculptural decoration is of particular interest with the carved cubic capitals standing out. The precinct of the church was used as a cemetery.

Agioi Theodoroi . The church of Agioi Theodoroi was built during 1290-1295 and is the second oldest church of Mystras. It was the first catholicon (main church) of the Monastery of Vrontochios . According to an inscription, its owners were Daniel, which was the abbot until the year 1290, and Pachomios, a monk who later became abbot. The church belongs to a simplified form of the complex octagonal cross-in-square inscribed type. Its main feature is that the large dome rests on eight arches that form an octagon.

It is different from the older samples of this type, because the two western pillars were not square, but circular columns. During the 14th century, the narthex and two tower-shaped chapels were added to the west. At the end of the 19th century the church was in ruins and in 1930 the upper part of its dome was rebuilt. The interior of the church is decorated with impressive frescoes that are preserved in fragments and date to the end of the 13th century, including a portrait of the emperor Manuel II Palaiologos (1423). In Agioi Theodoroi is also the tomb of the despot of Mystras Theodoros I Palaiologos.

The church of Hodegetria (also known as Afentiko) , was built between 1310-1320 by the abbot Pachomios and became the new catholicon (main church) of the monastery of Vrontochios. The first written testimony about the church is made in a codex dedicated to the monastery in 1311-1312, by the Bishop of Lacedaemonia Nikiforos Moschopoulos, while the name Afentiko seems to have been established in the late 19th century.

The complete form of the so-called "mixed type of Mystras", which later became a model for Pantanassa and the reconstruction of Agios Demetrios was applied here for the first time. Hodegetria is a two-storey church, which combines the layout of the three-aisled basilica on the ground floor and the five-domed complex octagonal cross-in-square inscribed church on the first floor. The narthex to the west has also two storeys, with another dome rising in its middle. On the first floor, there is a corridor which runs along the entire length of the side aisles and the narthex. This architectural type was somehow imposed by the imperial standard of Constantinople, which prevailed on Mystras after the founding of the Despotate of Moreas in 1349 and provided that the Despot and the nobbles attended the Divine Service from the galleries. Initially the church had two tower-chapels attached to both ends of the narthex, which were surrounded by porticos. Later, in the second half of the 14th century, two more chapels were added (northeast and southeast) and the southern portico was walled. In the northwestern chapel of the narthex are the tombs of the Abbot Pachomios and the Despot Theodoros I Palaiologos. A four-storey bell tower rises in the southwest corner of the church. During the Turkish occupation, the church was turned into a mosque and later remained in ruins. Inside Hodegetria, there are fragments of frescoes of the early 14th century depicting evangelical scenes and figures of the Old and New Testament. The dedication of the church to the name of Hodegetria, its architecture, its masonry, its structure and the exceptional quality of its interior decoration shows the connection to the arts tradition of Constantinople.

These two imposing churches (Agioi Theodoroi and Hodegetria) are among the most beautiful of Mystras. As mentioned, they were catholicons (main churches) of the famous Vrontochios Monastery, the oldest monastery of Mystras, which was founded in the late 13th century under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Monastery of Vrontochios was very rich and was given many privileges, as it was the center of the spiritual life of Mystras. It had one of the richest and most important libraries and was a place where great personalities such as Plethon were teaching.

Hagia Sophia . In the palace distric, is identified as the catholicon (main church) of the patriarchic Monastery of Zoodotis Christos (Life-Giver Christ), which was founded in the middle of the 14th century by the first Despot of Mystras, Manuel Kantakouzenos. His monograms are found on the western columns of the church. During the Turkish occupation the church was turned into a mosque.

Hagia Sophia is a two-column cross-in-square domed church and has three three-sided external arches on the east, a narthex on the west and two porticos on the north and west, of which the first and the northern part of the second are preserved. The burial chapel, with the underground crypt east of the north portico, the three-storey bell tower to the west and the former two-storey altar northwest of the church, where built at the same time as the church, while the three chapels on the south side are considered as later additions.

From the original frescoes of the church, the best preserved is the one with the enthroned Pantocrator, while in the eastern chapels, the paintings are almost entirely preserved. The elaborate decoration of the interior of the church is completed by the two columns to the west and the architrave of the 12th century iconostasis. Many nobles of Mystras were buried in Hagia Sophia. In the tomb of the north portico, pieces of a silk dress probably belonging to a princess of the early 15th century, were found and are now exhibited at the museum of Mystras.

Perivleptos , was the catholicon (main church) of a monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary, built in the middle of the 14th century, probably by the first Despot of Mystras Manuel Kantakouzenos and his wife Isabelle de Lusignan. It belongs to the architectural type of the two-column cross-in-square inscribed church, with three pentagonal external arches in the sanctuary and at the entrance on the north side. The side narthex on the south side of the church, the cavernous chapel of St. Catherine on the west and the two adjacent chapels on the east are later additions.

From the sculptural decoration of the church only the main decoration of the iconostasis, the arched shrine in the southern pillar as well as relief capitals in the northern pillar and in the pilasters, decorated with floral and geometric motifs, are preserved. The frescoes of the third quarter of the 14th century, found on all surfaces of the main church and the sanctuary, show remarkable unity and high artistic quality, despite being the work of four different artists. These features make the frescoes of Perivleptos one of the most important ensembles of late Byzantine painting, as, in fact, similar ensembles are not preserved in monuments of the same era in Constantinople.

Pantanassa , is one of the most important monuments of the first half of the 15th century and is the only monastery in the archaeological site which still operates to this day. The founder of the church and the monastery was Ioannis Frangopoulos, a high-ranking official of the Despotate of Mystras. The inauguration of the monastery took place in September 1428.

The church of Pantanassa is the last church that was built under the walls of Ano Poli and occupies a prominent position, in the central part of the eastern slope of the hill. It is the best preserved monument of Mystras. It belongs to the mixed type of Mystras, ie it is a three-aisled basilica on the ground floor and a complex cross-in-square church with a dome on the first floor. The Frankish influences on the arch are intense, with Gothic arches surrounding the windows of the high bell tower, where its three-aisled openings are framed by a large "broken" Gothic arch. Pantanassa has the strongest western influences of all churches in Mystras.

The complex of the monastery had characteristic open galleries (only one exists today). The sculptures of the church are of various styles and of particular interest, with the capitals, suffixes and the gate that leads from the narthex to the church being the most important. The frescoes of the domes and the galleries of Pantanassa (1430) are of high quality and are distinguished for their movement and for the power of their colors. The frescoes on the ground floor are dated in the 17th-18th century and have different style and artistic value. In Pantanassa there are the tombs of Miss Cleopa Malatesta and of Theodora, wife of the emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos.