Monday, June 13, 2011

The Rotonta in Thessaloniki

The Rotonta in the second largest Greek city, Thessaloniki,  is a Roman building built in 300 A.D. by Caesar Galerius. He chose this city as his base, that is why he tried to decorate it with various magnificent buildings, such as palaces, hippodrome, temples.
Archaeologists cannot identify why Galerius built the Rotonta. Some believe that he wished it to be his Mausoleum; despite not being buried near Thessaloniki. Another hypothesis is that it was meant to be a Temple dedicated to Zeus, the Caesar's and the Roman Empire's patron God. 

With the eventual prevalence of Christianity during the Byzantine era the Rotonta was transformed into a church dedicated to the Archangels, maybe during the period Theodosios I was emperor in Constantinople (4th century A.D.). That is the period the mosaics were introduced in the interior of the church, which still exist to this day. 
The Rotonta was not one of the city's major churches, as were St. Dimitrios and St. Sophia. This was evident when Thessaloniki was conquered by non-Christians they would close down the most important churches and worship sites, however the Rotonta was not on this list. Nevertheless it became the metropolitan's main church during the Frankish period and the first period of the Ottoman Rule over the Balkan region. This of course happened in 1523, after the Metropolitan Church (St. Sophia) became a mosque. In 1591 the Rotonta also became a mosque.

After the Greek Revolution and the Balkan wars, where Macedonia became part of the Independent Greek State Dragoumis, General Commander of Macedonia, declared the Rotonta as a national monument and came under the jurisdiction of the Hellenic State. It was also given to the Orthodox Church and was officially re-opened in 1914 by Metropolitan of Salonika Gennadios. The Church was now dedicated to St. George, despite being rarely used as a church and mainly as a museum. Archaeologists have since began excavations within and around the building finding many archaeological artefacts. 

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