The Castle City Mystras / The church of Hagia Sophia:

Painted domes from the side chapels and the church (2nd row).

The central domes of a structure are usually reserved strictly for a depiction of God, Christ, the Holy Trinity, or the Holy Virgin Mary. Who is represented and how is relevant to the timeline the frescoes were made, since the hierarchy shifted slightly according to the time and the place of the construction. These central figures are never meant to be viewed alone. They are positioned in a way that makes them a part of the rest of the religious community. The rest of the pictorial world is positioned in a way to be drawn into these central figures. The believers were meant to follow this painted community higher and higher with the eyes and experience an elevation of their spirit. The picture of God comforted and empowered the devouts with the reassurement of a divine plan.

I should clarify that Hagia Sophia, or Holy Sophia, does not refer to a saint, but to the holy wisdom of God (sophia/σοφία means wisdom) which is associated with the divine plan for the salvation of humanity.

The Castle City of Mystras /  The church of Hagia Sophia:

Frescoes from one of the chapels of Hagia Sophia.

Frescoes inside churches were not just meant to educate the believers on the history of their religion, but also to help them immerse themselves into the religious experience. In that way what was the past was made present both temporally and spatially. Each representation of an episode and figure was positioned inside the structure of the building following a strict hierarchy. At the lowest part usually minor saints and martyrs were depicted, connecting the secular world of private stories and individuals within the wider scope of Christian faith. Then the pictures moved to significant episodes from the scriptures, as well as episodes relating to the saint the church was devoted to. Then higher  up they ended up at the cornerstones of christian religion with episodes from the life of Christ, representations of the Holy Trinity and the Holy Virgin Mary, and Heaven.

In this way frescoes are not individual paintings, but stories within stories, within the central narrative of Christian religion in a way that I would say is meant to be read in the fashion of a graphic novel.

The Castle City of Mystras / The church of Hagia Sofia:

Hagia Sophia was also founded by the first Despotes of Mystras, Manuel Katakouzenos and it was initially devoted to the “Lifegiving Christ” (Ζωοδότης Χριστός). The frescoes were executed in the 14th century, while some of the marble mosaics, and reliefs date back to the 12th century. The church was converted to a mosque during the Ottoman rule and this is also why most of the frescoes haven’t survived.

The Castle City of Mystras / The church of Hagia Sofia:

Hagia Sophia was also founded by the first Despotes of Mystras, Manuel Katakouzenos and it was initially devoted to the “Lifegiving Christ” (Ζωοδότης Χριστός). The frescoes were executed in the 14th century, while some of the marble mosaics, and reliefs date back to the 12th century. The church was converted to a mosque during the Ottoman rule and this is also why most of the frescoes haven’t survived.

Archaeological Museum of Ancient Nemea:

From the photographic exhibition of the museum’s numismatic collection:

  1. Silver tetradrachm from Athens (5th century B.C), with a protome of the goddess Athena and an owl with an olive branch on the reverse by the inscription (ΑΘΕ)
  2. Bronze coin of Kleonai (1/12 obol) from the last third of 4th century B.C. It features the head of Herakles wearing the skin of the Nemean lion and a wreath of wild celery on the reverse with the inscription “ΚΛΕΩ”
  3. Silver coin with Alexander the great in the guise of Herakles. At the back there is a depiction of the statue of Zeus in Olympia. It seems that references on coins to Nemea and Olympia were part of the Macedonian panhellenic policy.
  4. Silver coin of Aegina (500-480 B.C). The massive Aeginetan “turtles” with the “incuse” (mark of the striking tool) on the reverse were well known in the antiquity and well represented in Nemea.
  5. Silver coin of Sicyon from the last third of the 4th century B.C. The coin features the very characteristic dove of Sicyon on both sides.
  6. Silver coin of Corinth (525-510 B.C) featuring the front of Pegasus. On the reverse the “incuse” (the tool striking the coin into the obverse die) can be seen.
  7. Silver coin of Arkadia from the second half of the 5th century B.C. It features the olympian statue of Zeus on one side and the bead of Artemis on the reverse surrounded by the inscription “of the Arkadians”
  8. Silver coin of Argos (late 4th century B.C). This is a typical example from this period with the wolf’s head and an Alpha.

The Castle City of Mystras / The temple of Peribleptos:

Side chapel to the church.

The temple of Peribleptos devoted to the Holy Virgin was built in the 14th century. It was founded by the first Despotes of Mystras, Manuel Katakouzenos and his wife Isabella de Lusignan.

The frescoes were executed in the third quarter of the 14th century and they are the work of four painters. These frescoes are also regarded as the most important group of the post-Byzantine period, since similar groups have not been found, or survived, in the capital of Byzantium, Constantinople (Istanbul). The artistry and unity of the representations are of high artistic value.

The Castle City of Mystras:

A chapel in Mystras

During the first centuries of official recognition of Christianity (4th-7th century A.D) believers’ needs to partake in Mass were serviced by the large Christian basilicas, which were often erected in the center of the city. The transition to real medieval times was marked by the founding of small, district churches and monastic churches, which were part of the urban fabric of the city. The city center was divided into a number of subcenters, as housing districts developed around each church, eventually evolving into parishes. Large places of worship such the church of Agios Demetrios in Thessaloniki, the church of Our Lady, the church of Theologos and the church of the Seven Children in Ephesus, lent particular prestige to certain cities.

The Castle City of Mystras / The temple of Peribleptos:

The temple of Peribleptos devoted to the Holy Virgin was built in the 14th century. It was founded by the first Despotes of Mystras, Manuel Katakouzenos and his wife Isabella de Lusignan.

The frescoes were executed in the third quarter of the 14th century and they are the work of four painters. These frescoes are also regarded as the most important group of the post-Byzantine period, since similar groups have not been found, or survived, in the capital of Byzantium, Constantinople (Istanbul). The artistry and unity of the representations are of high artistic value.

The Castle City of Mystras / The temple of Peribleptos:

The temple of Peribleptos devoted to the Holy Virgin was built in the 14th century. It was founded by the first Despotes of Mystras, Manuel Katakouzenos and his wife Isabella de Lusignan.

The frescoes were executed in the third quarter of the 14th century and they are the work of four painters. These frescoes are also regarded as the most important group of the post-Byzantine period, since similar groups have not been found, or survived, in the capital of Byzantium, Constantinople (Istanbul). The artistry and unity of the representations are of high artistic value.

It should be noted that the churches of Mystra are still in function as places of religious worship, so please be respectful when inside. It should go without saying that flash photography is absolutely prohibited.

The Castle City of Mystras / The church of Agios Demetrios:

The central dome of Agios Demetrios, also known as the Metropolis. The church was founded possibly in 1270. Most of the frescoes were completed in the late 13th and early 14th century, but the dome is considered to be the work of a later time, the first half of the 15th century.
What is most historically significant about this church is that the last Emperor of Byzantium, Constantine XI  Palaiologos, Despotes of Mystras, was crowned there.

The Castle City of Mystras / Church of Agios Nikolaos:

The church of Agios Nikolaos is the sole church of such a scale that was built after the surrender of the castle city to the Ottoman Turks in 1460. The church was built in the 17th century and is devoted to Saint Nicholas, the painting follows the style of the 17th century that is also observed in the general area of Laconia.

Every inch of the church would be covered in frescoes, depicting episodes from the life of the saint and key figures of Orthodox Christianity. 

The representation of the figures in Byzantine iconography is pretty much “historically authentic”, meaning that each individual is depicted in the manner of dress of their time and status. What is most interesting are the archangels, specifically the archangel Michael (far right) who is depicted usually in Roman armor- like some military saints as well. Despite the fact that the Roman Empire persecuted christianity at a great extent, with its division to Eastern and Western, the Eastern Roman Empire, what is commonly referred as Byzantium, became a champion of Christian faith. Dressing the archangel as a Roman general can be seen as a willing assimilation of Roman ideals into Christianity, in a form of reconciliation, but it also has some very strong propagandistic overtones.