501 Treasures of Byzantium: No. 69 The church of Hagia Sophia, 13th century, Monemvasia, Peloponnese, Greece.

It is said Monemvasia was populated by inhabitants fleeing Slavic invaders in the late sixth century. They built homes and churches on the lower slopes of the island, erecting walls around their city and a fortress on the islands cliff top. By the late twelfth century, the island was a major port in the Peloponnesus. Trading ships sailed between Constantinople and Italy, frequently stopping to pick up exports like olive oil and wine headed for European ports. Important dignitaries and members of the clergy also welcomed Monnemvasia as an essential rest stop during their ardous journey at sea . In the year 1300, the Byzantine emperor, Andronicus II Palaiologos once visited the walled town during a brief tour. Interestingly, he is credited with building the cliff top church of Hagia Sophia, however some scholars suggest it was likely built just before his reign in the mid twelfth century.

The Hagia Sophia is typical in style to many of the most important surviving Byzantine churches on mainland Greece and its most striking feature is arguably its octagon dome. The fate of the church, like the town itself, became the property of various overlords. During the Venetian period the church became a Catholic church and later a mosque during the Ottoman’s occupation of the island, where its wall paintings were covered over by whitewash. Today, we are able to see much of the damaged marble bas-reliefs, especially the churches beautiful sculptured doors.

Photo credit: The image of the Hagia Sophia in Monemvasia is by flickr user D1v1d and is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 license.