One of the few Byzantine churches in Athens that is open regularly, St. Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Church (Agia Ekaterini) tells the story of how Athens grew “up” over the centuries to the level it sits today. A few levels below the foundation of the medieval building lies the foundation of an ancient temple.
St. Catherine’s was built in the 11th century at the site of an older temple dedicated to the Goddess Artemis. The atrium’s columns and architrave are still standing in the church’s cloister. It’s one of the few remaining archaeological sites in the city where you can get up close and touch the ruins, including both standing and fallen columns.
The church was originally dedicated to St. Theodore. In 1767, the property was put in control of the Metochi of the Monastery of Agia Ekaterini in Sinai, Egypt, and at that time was rededicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria, who was martyred in the early fourth century at the age of 18.
The church was damaged during the Greek War of Independence. Fortunately, the damage was repaired shortly after the Greek victory and additional renovations were completed in 1839, 1882, and most recently in 1927. Its bright, interior frescoes were painted in the late 1800s.
Visiting priests from Sinai planted the palm trees around the church creating a quiet, shaded haven for worshippers. In 1922, one of these priests brought holy remnants of St. Polydoros of Cyprus, St. Athanassios of Persia, and St. Tryphon to the church, where they remain to this day.