Byzantine Churches in Thessaloniki

Untitled

Although Thessaloniki is predominantly a modern city, rebuilt in the 20th Century following the 1917 fire, as we walked around the streets we kept stumbling on old, stone churches, mainly from the Byzantine era.

DSC05212

Churches in Britain, and most of the European countries I’ve previously visited tend to be Mainly Gothic (including Gothic revival) and Romanesque, with some Neo-Classical and Modern buildings. So seeing these Byzantine buildings was a new experience. Their architecture is quite different – no Gothic style tall pointed arches, slender columns and flying buttresses in these churches.

The main architectural feature of Byzantine churches is usually a great central dome. The buildings tend to be constructed from brick, not stone and relatively plain on the outside. But the inside is very different with the walls and ceilings covered with mosaics and gold leaf.

One of the distinguishing features of the Greek Orthodox Church is the prominence of Icons. All the churches we saw had several in prominent positions inside the church and also outside in small outside chapels. Greek visitors to the churches would kiss the icons – something rather surprising to someone who was brought up a Protestant. Worshipping graven images being something of an anathema!

Untitled

DSC05042

DSC05200

Two of the oldest churches in the city are the Hagios Demetrios (7th century) and Hagia Sophia (8th century. We managed to take a look inside both of these. They were both very sumptuously decorated with icons, frecoes, musrals, paintings and lots of gold leaf.

The Hagia Sophia was the ‘Great Church’ of Thessaloniki – that is, the city’s cathedral – until its conversion into a mosque in 1523/24. It was significantly damaged during the 1917 fire but has been gradually restored. The restoration of the dome only being finally completed in 1980.

DSC05016

DSC05034

DSC05027

DSC05025

DSC05024

DSC05021

We also visited the Hagios Demetrios which is dedicated to Saint Demetrius, the patron saint of Thessaloniki. There’s been a church on the site since the early 4th century AD with the current structure built between 629 and 634. It was severely damaged during the 1917 fire, but has been restored, although this took many years to complete

Untitled

DSC05204

DSC05206

DSC05207

The Rotunda and Arch of Galerius

DSC05072

The Rotunda is a magnificent Roman building which is one of the main tourist attractions in Thessaloniki. It was built on the orders of Roman Emperor Galerius in 306 AD as part of his Imperial complex along with a triumphal arch and a large palace. It’s not clear what it was for – possibly as a mausoleum for Galerius or a temple.

DSC05056

The Rotunda is a massive circular structure with a diameter of 24.5 m and walls are more than 6 metres thick. Originally it had an oculus (a hole in the centre of the dome) like the Pantheon in Rome, but that’s been filled in (I’m not sure when).

DSC05061

The Emperor Constantine had it converted into a Christian church (Church of Asomaton or Archangelon) in 326. This resulted in some modifications including the construction of the sanctum and the western gate opened to become the principal entrance, whereas the south entrance, which faces the rest of the Roman complex, had previously been used.

The building was used as a church for over 1,200 years until the city fell to the Ottomans. In 1590 it was converted into a mosque(the Mosque of Suleyman Hortaji Effendi) and a minaret was added. It was used as a mosque until 1912, when the Greeks captured the city during the Balkan War. It was re-consecrated as a church, dedicated to Saint George (Agios Georios) but the minaret was left in place. It’s no longer in regular use as a church but the Greek Orthodox Church has access to the monument for various festivities some days of the year.

Untitled

After it’s initial conversion into a church the Christians decorated the walls and dome of Rotunda with a mosaic, and some of which can still be seen today. Originally, the figure of Christ was depicted in the centre of the cupola inside a shining sphere. Unfortunately, little of this remains. However, below the cupola, bands of angels, martyrs and the saints of early Christian times are have been preserved in significantly better condition. Remnants of mosaics are also visible on the ceilings of the recesses. The remains of mosaics around the dome are still impressive today and must have been stunning when originally installed.

DSC05060

DSC05064

DSC05062

The remains of the triumphal arch are to the south of the Rotunda and has crafted marble panels on each pillar celebrating the victory of Galerius over the Sassanid Persians at the Battle of Satala.

DSC05074

DSC05077

DSC05075

Originally it was eight-pillared gateway forming a triple arch, but today only the north western three of the eight pillars and parts of the masonry cores of the arches above remain. Nevertheless, it’s an impressive structure.

Until relatively recently the arch used to straddle one of the main thoroughfares through the city. But the road has been diverted and widened, by-passing the arch.

Cartmel Priory

Untitled

It was a rather grim day as we left Portiscale at the end of our holiday, but rather than drive straight home we decided to extent our break stopping off at Blackwell to take a look at the latest exhibition showing there and then driving down to Cartmel. I’d been there during a recent walk, but wanted to have a proper look around.

Cartmel is a small, attractive village on the Furness peninsula which is something of a “honeypot” with a number of touristy shops (although good quality ones) a Michelin 2 star restaurant, three pubs and is also renowned for sticky toffee pudding. Despite the weather, it was very busy with visitors.

We parked up at the Racecourse and made our way towards the centre of the village. We wanted to take a look around the old Priory church which dominates the village which was originally part of a monastery. Like many old churches it evolved over many years and although mainly Gothic in style there are some Norman / Romanesque features.

The tower is particularly interesting – the top half having been constructed diagonally across the original tower.  There’s not another one like this in the UK.

Untitled

(I took this photo during my previous visit when it was hot and sunny and the light was much better for photography)

The priory was founded in 1190 with extensive work curing the next couple of centuries. The oldest parts of the building are the chancel, transepts, the south doorway, and part of the north wall of the nave.

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 the church survived as it was used as the village Parish church. Little else of the monastery remains other than the gatehouse in the village square which is now owned by the National Trust.

We entered via the south door which is inside a much later porch

Untitled

The semi-circular arch with its decorations is very typical of Norman/Romanesque architecture.

Looking down the Choir from the nave. Classic Gothic pointed arches

Untitled

in the north aisle

Untitled

and supporting that eccentric tower

Untitled

but round Norman style arches with dog-tooth decoration in the Choir

Untitled

The choir stalls look like they could be Elizabethan or Jacobean

Untitled

The old font, dating from 1640

Untitled

A monument to the “Cartmel martyrs” who resisted the destruction of the church during the Dissolution of the monasteries.

Untitled

Monuments by the sculptor Josefina de Vasconcellos, an English sculptor with a Brazilian father and British mother, who lived in Cumbria much of her working life.

Untitled

Untitled

The Cavendish memorial. The tomb of Lord Frederick Cavendish, son of the 7th Duke of Devonshire, who was Chief Secretary to Ireland in Gladstone’s government, and who was assassinated by Fenians in Phoenix Park in Dublin in 1882.

Untitled

The Cavendishes, a branch of the Duke of Devonshire’s family, are the local big wigs. Nearby Holker Hall is their ancestral home and they own property around Cartmel including the racecourse.

Untitled

Browsing on the web after the visit, I came across this interesting clip on the BBC website where Nicholas Pevsner visits the Priory and discusses its architecture.

 

Wythburn Church

img_7037

My recent walk up Helvellyn started and finished in the car park next to Wythburn church.

img_7112

It’s a small, but attractive building with white rendered walls and a green Lakeland slate roof.  Originally constructed in 1554 on the site of an earlier chapel, it was rebuilt  in 1640, and again in 1740 with some additions in the 19th Century. It’s a Grade II listed building

The church used to serve a small, isolated, rural community but the local population was severely reduced once Thirlmere was turned into a reservoir to provide water for Manchester at the very end of the 19th Century. Despite this it is still in use with services held during the summer months.

DSC04333.JPG

After I had finished my walk I went to have a look around the outside of the church and noticed that it was open. So I had to go inside to have a peek inside.

img_7111

It was surprisingly light inside and clearly well looked after.

The church was well known to the Lakes poets. Hartley Coleridge (the son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge) called the church a ‘humble house of prayer’, while William Wordsworth saw it as a ‘modest house of prayer.’

An afternoon on Suomenlinna

DSC03780

The course I was running in Helsinki finished at midday on the Friday after the delegates had sat their exam. My flight home wasn’t until Saturday afternoon so I had another day to spend looking around the city.  I decided to take the ferry over to Suomenlinna the island fortress a short distance from the mainland. I’d visited before, during my first trip to Helsinki, but that was some time ago.

Suomenlinna was fortified when the Swedish were in control of Finland, beginning in 1748. It’s a natural location for a defensive fortress being in a dominant position in the sea lanes approaching the city. At that time it was known as Sveaborg or Viapori in Finnish.

The fortress was actually never quite completed as planned, even though the original aim was to complete the construction in only four years. The Pomeranian war (1756–1763) put the construction on hold, although the battles did not extend to Viapori in the 1700s. The sea fortress had merits as a naval base in the Russo-Swedish War of 1788–1790 (‘Gustav III’s War’), but it was not involved in actual battles. (Suomenlinna website)

After the defeat of the Swedes in the war, Finland became an “autonomous Grand Duchy” of the Russian Emprire and the fortress was taken over by the Russians. It went into decline but after the Crimean War, when it was attacked in August 1855 by a Franco-British fleet, the fortifications were repaired. Finland gained independence in 1917, although the fortress remained in Russian hands until the Spring of 1918. Once in Finnish hands, the fortress was renamed Suomenlinna (‘Castle of Finland’)

Today it’s a major tourist attraction and the ferry over to the island was full of tourists of various nationalities even though it was out of the main tourist season.  Most of the attractions on the island were closed, but I spent a good few hours exploring the extensive fortifications that were accessible.

DSC03848.JPG

Suomenlinna is actually built on a small cluster of five islands joined together by bridges, with the main sights on the main two islands. The ferry quay is by the Jetty Barracks, built during the Russian era, at the north end of the fortress. Arriving at the jetty the view is dominated by the church, which was originally built as a Russian Orthodox garrison church with onion domes in 1854. It was converted to a Lutheran church when the Finns took over the fortress. It’s also a lighthouse with the light located in the central dome.

DSC03908.JPG

Reminding us of the island’s military function, the church is surrounded by a large chain supported by cannons.

DSC03917.JPG

There are substantial remnants of the fortifications from the different eras, much of which can be accessed, and I spent most of the time walking around them. Here’s a few of the many photos I took

DSC03826DSC03832DSC03834DSC03843DSC03855DSC03861DSC03862DSC03873DSC03875DSC03878DSC03884DSC03885DSC03886DSC03888

 The Great Courtyard, built in the 1760s, served as the main square and administrative centre of the fortress. The houses surrounding the courtyard included the fortress commandant’s house and the main guard house. In the centre of the courtyard there’s the tomb of Augustin Ehrensvärd, the architect of the square.

DSC03897

Back towards the main jetty there’s a number of old wooden buildings which were originally the houses and shops used by traders during the Russian era.

DSC03923.JPG

Time was getting on, so it was time to catch the ferry back to the mainland.  I reckon it would be possible to spend most of the day on the island when the attractions which were closed during my visit – various museums and a submarine! – are open. But I’d I had seen most of what I’d wanted to see and although I lucky that the sun was shining, I was starting to feel a little cold.

DSC03928.JPG

 

A walk to Kallio

On the Tuesday during my stay in Helsinki my wife had flown back home so I had the rest of the week on my own. I was working during the day but the course I was running finished at 5 I had the evening to occupy myself. I’m not one for sitting in hotel rooms just working and as it was light until late, I took the opportunity to explore the city.

A prominent landmark in Helsinki is the tower of a church up on a hill in the Kallio district. It can be seen from all over the city. I knew that it had been designed by the Finnish architect Lars Sonck, who is well known for his Jugendstil style buildings, so I decided to wander over to take a look. I could have caught the tram but decided that it was within walking distance and I needed some exercise!

I walked past the front of the railway station and then cut across past the Finnish National Theatre to the Kaisanemi park. The trees were still bare of leaves, Spring not having quite arrived in Helsinki. Heading diagonally across the park, I passed this statue, Convolvulus, by Viktor Jansson, the father of Tove Jansson, the artist and author of the Moomin books, who modelled for the sculpture. The pose made me think that she was practicing karate or Tai Chi!

IMG_6462.jpg

After crossing the bridge over the Pitkäsilta bridge I turned left, walking along the waterside. A little way along on my right I could see the Paasitorni, also known as the Helsinki Workers’ House, a Jugendstil building designed by Karl Lindahl, built from granite, which opened in 1908 as conference and leisure premises for the working class. It’s very characteristic of the Finnish National Romanticism Jugendstil style.

IMG_6420.jpgIMG_6452.jpg

On the square in front of the main entrance to the building I spotted this statue of two boxers by Johannes Haapasalo.

DSC03726.JPG

Cutting back round to Siltasaarenkatu, I walked up the hill towards the church. It’s an imposing granite structure standing on top of the hill and, like the Paasitorni, built in the Finnish National Romanticism Jugendstil style.

IMG_6463.jpgIMG_6446.jpg

It’s an impressive building; solid and imposing but with some delicate decorative touches.

I had a look inside, but it looked as if a service was about to start to I snapped a few photos but felt it would be inappropriate to look around.

I spent a lttle time wandering round the nearby streets. Kallio, although originally a workers’ district has become gentrified and has something of a bohemian reputation.  I was also surprised by the number of “massage parlours” close to the church so Kallio clearly has a “red light district”, but not as blatant as Amsterdam.

IMG_6429.jpg

Heading back towards the city centre, near Paasitorni, I turned right and walked along the shore of Eläintarhanlahti

IMG_6453.jpg

 

and then over the railway bridge to Töölönlahti. These are both seawater lakes connected to each other and the sea by narrow straights. I walked south along the eastern shore from where there were views across to the Opera and Finlandia Hall.

DSC03752.JPG

DSC03751.JPG

It was only a short distance back to my hotel.

 

Munkkiniemi

DSC03700.JPG

Monday after I’d finished work for the day we got on the No. 4 tram heading north and stayed on board to the end of the line. It took us to Munkkiniemi, one of the more affluent areas of Helsinki, by the sea in the north west of the city.

Right by the tram stop there’s a rather nice café that I’d visited during my last visit to Helsinki, 3 years ago.

DSC03701

It was a good spot to grab a drink and a bite to eat overlooking the sea on a very pleasant evening. There are plenty of seats on the outside terrace, but although some hardy locals were sitting outside we stayed in the warm.

DSC03699.JPG

After eating we took a short stroll along the sea front then cut in land to have a look at the nearby Aalto House – the home of the renowned Finnish Modernist architect, Alvar Aalto. I’d visited the house when I was last in Helsinki. Of course, it was closed but we got a good look at the outside.

DSC03706

We then walked the short distance to his studio in a nearby street, again taking a look from the outside.

DSC03708.JPG

Afterwards we cut  back to the sea front and walked back to the tram stop to catch a tram back to the city centre.