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Landmarks of Paros: Panagia Ekatontapiliani

September 1, 2020
Panagia Ekatontapiliani

Renowned for their stunning seascapes, whitewashed architecture, historical monuments and unique way of life deeply rooted in more than 7.000 years of tradition, the Cyclades are the poster child for the “endless Greek summer”. Surrounded by legends and myths, this complex of islands no wonder beckons all kinds of travellers from the four corners of the globe: Foodies and bonvivants, adventurers, sports enthusiasts, art lovers, history buffs and everything in between.

At the heart of the Cyclades, Paros is no exception, every year claiming its lion share of visitors with good reason: Abundant natural beauty, quaint sugar-cube villages, cosmopolitan buzz, great food and drink, and that’s not to mention cinematic beaches in technicolour blue and gold.

Good life aside, Paros is also home to one of the most important historical monuments in the Cyclades: A celebrated symbol of Christianity, Panagia Ekatontapiliani (literally the church with the 100 doors) is the most famous amongst the landmarks of Paros; a sacred, shiny jewel in the island’s crown.

 

Landmarks of Paros: The origins of Panagia Ekatontapiliani

Located in the northeast section of the island’s capital, Parikia, just steps away from the port, Ekatontapiliani is steeped in Ancient Greek and Byzantine legends. One of the best-preserved Paleo-Christian monuments in the country, it was constructed on the ruins of a Grecian temple of Artemis (or Aphrodite) in the early 4th century. Tradition has it that Saint Helen, the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (ruled 306–337), stopped at Paros on her pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Paros was considered off the beaten track at the time but purportedly a large storm forced Helen to seek shelter there. She prayed at a small chapel, one of the first that was built for the new religion, and vowed to erect a large church in its place if she indeed managed to retrieve the Holy Cross. Her prayers were heard, so she (or according to another version of the story, her son Constantine) inaugurated Ekatontapiliani.

 

Panagia Ekatontapiliani

Photo by Greek City Times

Landmarks of Paros: Panagia Ekatontapiliani Timeline

Dating from 326, the church’s oldest features predate the adoption of Christianity as the Roman Empire’s state religion in 391. Its early, wooden, single-aisle cruciform basilica shape was however destroyed, most likely by fire. It was then rebuilt in the Justinian era with arches and a dome, allegedly by a disciple of the master who constructed Agia Sophia in Istanbul. This new temple was so grandiose that it led many to even claim that the student exceeded his teacher!

The church underwent many destructions and pillages during the Frankish and Turkish occupation. Among the worst were those during the invasion of Hayreddin Barbarossa in 1537, and later in the course of the attack of Mustafa Kaplan Pasha, in 1666. Yet the greatest damage was done by the earthquakes of 1733, during which the northern and the western cupolas and part of the dome collapsed. Reconstruction, which was financially backed by the Parian prince of the Danubian Principalities of Moldova and Wallachia, Nicolaos Mavrogenis, followed swiftly. Alas, the new additions made for the temple’s support marred the building’s original imposing form, reduced its lucidity and gave its facade a peculiar look, with a gigantic gate and three Aegean belfries.

Yet in 1959 the memorable professor and scholar Anastasios Orlandos instituted and led the efforts to bring the church back to its Justinian form: Cruciform basilica with a dome.

Nowadays the arresting ecclesiastical complex of Ekatontapiliani consists of the main church of Virgin Mary with the internal chapels of Agios Anargiros, Agios Philippos and Osia Theoktisti. Outside there are the chapels of Agios Nikolaos, Agia Theodosia, and Agios Dimitrios; a baptistery -the most ancient and best-preserved of the Orthodox east– and the cells of the monks. Ekatontapiliani moreover houses an interesting Byzantine Museum, with rare pictures, wood carvings and other antique religious relics.

 

Landmarks of Paros: The miracles of Panagia Ekatontapiliani

Ekatontapiliani, the protector of Paros, is one of the largest pilgrimage destinations in Greece, rivalled only by the famous Agio Oros on the north and Megalochari on nearby Tinos island. In fact, its sacred 17th-century icon is believed to be miracle-working: that is why every Parian home boasts a silver mother and child icon, fashioned like the original in the namesake church. Ekatontapiliani celebrates every August on the 15th with a large, and rather splendid, religious festival: Traditionally locals carry icons of Mary down to the sea, accompanied by fireworks and general merrymaking. Such festivities most likely date back to the ancient rites of ocean-born Grecian deities, when clay effigies were thrown into the sea in their honour!

 

Panagia Ekatontapiliani

Photo by Michelin Travel

Landmarks of Paros: The myths of Panagia Ekatontapiliani

One of the oldest surviving -and still thriving- monuments in the country, Ekatontapiliani is surrounded by myth: Its name means the Church of a Hundred Doors while legend has it that only 99 of its doors have been found so far. The 100th door is closed and invisible. As the story goes it will appear and open when Constantinople becomes Greek again.

There is another legend, this time quite tragic rather than sanguine, which is associated with the great gate at the northern wing of the Ekatontapiliani complex, a few meters from the chapel of Agia Theodosia. The cubical bases supporting the marble decoration sport two human forms that have captured popular imagination: As aforementioned, the prevailing (though unsubstantiated) theory is that Ekatontapiliani was rebuilt during the reign of Justinian, by the former assistant of the chief craftsman of Agia Sofia, Ignace. When the pupil finished the temple, he invited the master to admire his work. However the latter grew green with envy, fearing that his student would overshadow his fame. Under the pretext of indicating a fault in construction, he thus took his pupil on the roof and tried to push him to his death. Alas, the student held on to the teacher; so they both fell down and were killed in front of the church. Allegedly these two sculptures on the gate’s base depict the star crossed duette.

Architectural and historical worth go hand in hand with a captivating backstory in the case of Panagia Ekatontapiliani; surely one of the most fascinating landmarks of Paros. Yet there is so much more to see and do in this gorgeous, whitewashed island. We cordially invite you to base yourselves at the Yria Boutique Hotel & Spa in beautiful Parasporos bay and start exploring with the aid of our expert Paros concierge. Set among an oasis of vineyards and fruit trees, a few hundred meters from the beach, our ultra-luxury resort Paros is fashioned like a traditional island village affording lots of welcoming privacy and seclusion. Offering premium accommodation in Paros, Yria’s luxury rooms and suites and uber-luxurious private villa rental are spread around a verdant area of 22,000 square meters, featuring plenty of space among them, individual entrances and private terraces, for maximum peace of mind and comfort. The picture of easy living is complemented with our trademark host of indulgent services; but also the culinary delights of Nefeli restaurant and the ambient Selini sunset bar. And though our unique brand of hospitality has earned us a reputation that has exceeded the Greek borders, we are not resting on our laurels. Keeping up with the spirit of the era, we are taking this time to revamp, renew and upgrade our hotel and its offerings. We do hope to see as much of you -our dear friends and guests- as possible, soon. Until then just keep dreaming of the glorious Greek summer ahead!

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