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October 26, 2018

The Church of Saint Demetrios Loumbardiaris on Philopappou Hill in Athens

Philopappou Hill, which is located across from the Acropolis, took its name from the Syrian philhellene consul Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos, who was exiled in Athens between 75-76 and 87-88 A.D. The Athenians, after his death, built a majestic monument on the top of the hill to honor his memory, known as the "Monument of Philopappou". Ancients called this the Hill of the Muses, as well, because of some temple that existed there.

Today there is a small vaulted single-aisle church dedicated to the Great Martyr Demetrios at the foothills of Philopappou Hill. The church is built at the site of the north tower of the Diateichisma gate, called Dipylon above the gates, and near a small temple-shaped structure, built in accordance with the ancient tradition of some divinity protecting the gates.

The construction of the church is probably associated with the final phase of the Diateichisma fortification wall (12th cent.). Inside the church, frescos are preserved that date to 1732, according to the building inscription. A great 1732 fresco of Saint Dimitrios, astride his horse in a pose copied from ancient images of Alexander the Great, adorns the interior. The surname “Loumbardiaris” (the Cannonneer) is connected with the tradition that the church was saved by a miracle around 1658, when the Turkisk commander of the Acropolis, Yusuf, bombed the church from the Propylaea (Gate of the Acropolis) on the eve of the Saint's feast day (Oct. 25). The following day lighting struck the powderhouse of the Propylaea, killing Yusuf and his entire family.

The church has undergone many changes over time. Its current form is owing to the restoration of its Post-Byzantine phase by the architect Demetrios Pikionis in the 1960s. On the exterior he added marble and ceramic decorative themes to the monument. In addition, he removed the newer wall paintings and as a result the older ones from the 18th century were revealed. The built screen mentions the kontakion for the inauguration of churches.

According to tradition, the newly-revealed Saint of Lesvos, Raphael, served as a priest here for a time in the mid-15th century. Saint Nicholas Planas (+ 1932) served all-night vigils here. Saint Nektarios also attended services here in the early 20th century.