Church of Agia Sofia

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Church of Agia Sofia

This is a beautiful small church at the top of the mountain with lots of fascinating ruins around. Agia Sofia Church is a wonderful example of Byzantine architecture and is well worth the steep climb up the stairs to get there. The site really rings back the ancient life of the people who lived at the time and the importance of worship. The church has been wonderfully restored and the before and after photos along with details of the reconstruction project on display are fascinating. First repair works took place in 1827 and 1845, as evidenced from inscriptions. Renovation works also took place in the year 1958, led by Eustathios Stikas.


Agia Sofia is a cross-in-square style church, topped with a dome. The church belongs to the so-called Epirotic octagonal-room with dome type and is considered to be one of its finest examples. A characteristic of this architectural type is that the main church is a single space, with chapels formed in the four corners of the main church space. On the eastern side there is a three-side chancel, and on the western side a narthex. The masonry is elaborate, built with the brick-enclosed system. Inside the church, the fragments of murals date back to the 12th century, however they are not so well-preserved. The Church of Agia Sofia is the most important religious monument of Monemvasia and certainly a place worth visiting.


This foursquare Byzantine church was built in the 12th century and its interior is richly decorated with wall paintings. The Church of Agia Sofia forms part of the wider archaeological site of Monemvasia. Originally, it was dedicated to Panagia Hodegetria but it remains unclear whether it was a Catholic monastery or a parish church.  During the years of the first Venetian rule (1463-1540) it came to hands of the Catholic Romans, while during the Ottoman period (1540-1690) it was converted into a mosque. During the second Venetian rule (1690-1715) it became a church again and was dedicated to Madonna del Carmine. In 1715 the church was once again converted into a mosque. As a mosque, it was renamed to Fethiye Mosque, though it was also called Sultan Suleymaniye Mosque. It remained so until 1821, when Greece gained its independence and the church was restored to a Christian worship. The minaret was demolished and the Greeks dedicated the church to Agia Sofia because it deliberately echoing the Agia Sophia church in Constantinople.


The church is located in the upper part of Monemvasia where the nobles lived and the garrison protected them against pirates and marauders. It stands out as the only restored building on top of 'The Rock'. It is accessible by a narrow stone path which leaves at 90 degrees to the Main Street in the lower town. The climb is quite easy but one needs good walking shoes, plenty of water and be reasonably fit. The views from the top of the mountain are worth the climb, not for the faint of heart though. The trick is to avoid the shiny stones that have been worn down by centuries of pedestrians.  If you can manage the walk up it's worth every bit of effort. Be careful along the rear of the church as there is no railing and a misstep could have unfortunate consequences. 

The church usually opens after 8am and closes mid-afternoon. Note that it takes a good 15 minutes to walk up to it. The walk around the church offers stupendous views to the other side of the island. Agia Sofia Church is worth checking out, no matter your spiritual beliefs.