Athens is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Acropolis of Athens and the Daphni Monastery.
Daphní, also known as Dafní, is a monastery situated in Chaidari, circa 11 kilometers north-west of downtown Athens. You will find it south of Athinon Avenue, near the forest on the Sacred Way that led to Elusis.
The Daphni monastery was founded at the turn of the 6th century AD and was a away of christianizing a site where the Sanctuary of Apollo Daphnaios once stood. The sanctuary had been demolished by the Goths back in 395 AD, but the monastery could reuse its columns to build a portico. Today, only one of these Ionic columns remain in Dafní, the rest were taken to London by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin.
The principal church of the monastery is octagonal cross-in-square building surmounted by a broad and high dome. It is a prime example of 11th century Byzantine architecture and has strongly built walls due to its vulnerable location outside the city.
In this church, some of the best preserved mosaics from the early Comnenan period (circa 1100 AD) can be seen. They depict saints, prophets and scenes from the bible against shimmering golden backdrops. This is the place to go if you wish to see the celebrated Christ Pantocrator image with your own eyes, as it is located inside the dome. Another famous image is The Angel before St Joachim, which was produced somewhat later. Just like most other Greek Orthodox churches, there is also images of the Annunciation, Nativity, Baptism and Transfiguration on the squinches that support the dome. Between the windows of the dome, the 16 major prophets are depicted. The Virgin Mary is the patron of the church and her image, in mosaic, has been placed in the east apse, flanked by archangels.
The church was sacked by Crusaders in 1205, which prompted Otho de la Roches, Duke of Atehns, to give it to the cistercian Abbey of Bellvaux. The French cistercian monks had the exonarthex reconstructed, and they also built a wall around the monastery. If you visit the monastery today you will enter it from the south through a series of restored cloisters, and these cloisters were built by the cistercians in the 13th century. The cells however were not added until the 16th century.
In 1458, the Turks forced the catholic monks to leave, but instead of turning the building into a mosque they restored the monastery to the orthodox christian congregation. It would take until 1821 before the monastery was disbanded by the Ottoman authorities, and the building was by then in a state of serious decay. Renovation work started in 1888.
In 1990 the Daphni monastery was declared a World Heritage site, but only nine years later it was severally damaged by the 1999 earthquake and had to be closed for visitors. It would take until 2008 before the archaeological site of the Daphni Monastery re-opened to the public, and the restoration work is still in progress.
Address: Odos Athinon, Χαιδαριον 12462, Greece
Coordinates: 38.012942° N, 23.635953° E
Entrance fee: €3