The Hagia Sophia (also spelled Agia Sophia or Ayia Sofia) is the largest and most famous Byzantine church in Thessaloniki, Greece.
The Paleo – Christian temple of Agia Sophia is one of the most impressive Byzantine churches of Thessaloniki. Located in the center of the city as well, it is a very beautiful “Domed Basilica” style temple with an imposing architecture, beautiful wall paintings and elaborate mosaics.
Having a 1600 years old history, it can easily be considered one of the most important religious sites in Macedonia.
The earliest written reference about the structure goes back to 795 A.D., while we can safely assume due to archaeological evidence that another Christian temple existed there, until the destructive earthquake of 620 A.D.
History of Hagia Sophia
The date of the Hagia Sophia is not entirely clear. Based on its masonry and the imperfect design of its pendentives, some scholars think it could predate its more famous namesake in Istanbul, which was built in the 6th century. But most believe it dates from the early 8th century, perhaps during the reign of Leo III the Isaurian (717-40), and represents a transitional style between the domed basilica and the domed cruciform church.
What to See at Hagia Sophia
Due to its 20th-century renovations, the Agia Sophia lacks some of the ambiance of Thessaloniki’s less restored churches. But the historical and artistic importance of this ancient sacred site still make it well worth a visit.
The exterior is not especially attractive, but it occupies a fine setting in a garden with palms and pine trees. The west facade is plain, flat, and square, but the east side looks more like a typical Byzantine church. The interior is exceptionally spacious, covered with a dome 10 meters in diameter. Unusually, it rests on a square drum with rounded corners rather than a circle.
Thankfully, some of Agia Sophia’s original mosaics have survived its turbulent history. Those on the dome date from the 9th or 10th centuries and depict the Ascension, with Christ seated on a rainbow throne occupying the central medallion. Below is the Virgin Mary flanked by angels and the Apostles divided by trees. A Greek inscription quotes the angels’ remark in Acts 1:11: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?”