Church of Panagia Kapnikarea in Athens

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Updated: March 6, 2024
By Santorini Dave

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People walk by a Byzantine era church set amid modern buildings.

Historic Panagia Kapnikarea is an 11th-century church in the heart of Athens’ bustling shopping district.

One of the oldest Orthodox churches in the city, the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea was built in the 11th century (possibly 1050) and dedicated to the Virgin Mary (“Panagia”). There are various theories as to the origin of the name “Kapnikarea,” which is also part of the church’s title. The term may come from the word “kapnikon,” which was a tax levied on households during the Byzantine Empire. It could also come from the last name of the tax collector responsible for the church. It could also be derived from the Greek word “kapnismeno” meaning “smoked,” due to the visible marks on the building left by fires.

This is a multifaceted building composed of three different parts: The main church is on the south side and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. On the northern side is a chapel dedicated to Saint Barbara (Agia Varvara), and on the west side is the narthex (entrance).

Archaeological studies suggest that this Byzantine church was built over an ancient temple (a common practice with early Christian churches), used by the ancient Greeks to worship either goddess Athena or Demeter. Over its 1000 year history, this resilient little church has survived several attempts of destruction. It was firebombed by the Ottomans in 1689. In the 19th century, King Otto I of Greece wanted it torn down as it did not fit into his architect’s new urban design. Luckily King Otto’s father, King Ludwig I of Bavaria, objected to the decision and saved the church.

Major restorative work has been done to the interior’s structure and frescoes, with a few preserved original frescoes and parts of the original indoor structure remaining. In the 1940’s, new iconography was created by Greek painter, Fotis Kontoglou, who studied Byzantine iconography on Mount Athos. Today the church belongs to the University of Athens and continues to be a part of both the city’s history and its daily life.

The Church of Panagia Kapnikarea is located in the middle of the bustling Ermou shopping street in central Athens, at the cross street of Kapnikarea. Approximately 300 meters from Monastiraki square and 750 meters from Syntagma square, both squares and metro stations can easily be reached by foot. The nearest metro station is Monastiraki (lines 1 & 3), about 200 meters away.

Panagia Kapnikarea Hours and Information

  • Hours: 11am-9pm daily, year-round. Greek Orthodox liturgy 7am-10am on Sundays.
  • Website:
  • Location: Pl. Kapnikareas 3, Athens
  • Telephone: +30 210 322 4462
  • Admission Fee: Free entry; donations are accepted for prayer candles.
  • Parking: Street parking, nearby pay lots.
  • Nearest Metro: Monastiraki.
  • Note: modest dress is required in Greek Orthodox churches and monasteries, which means avoiding exposed knees and shoulders for both women and men. If you’re wearing shorts, a short skirt, or a tank top, covering up with a wrap before entering is appropriate and appreciated.

Church of Panagia Kapnikarea in Athens

The doorway to Panagia Kapnikarea church in Athens, with shops in the background

Side view of a Byzantine-era stone church.

Entrance to a Greek Orthodox church, with prayer candles for purchase.

Center aisle and wooden chairs in a Greek Orthodox church.

Ornate paintings behind the altar of a Greek Orthodox church.

Elaborately decorated domed ceiling in a Greek Orthodox church.

View looking up at a church dome, painted with icons

Elaborately painted and colorful walls and archways in a Greek church

Religious iconography, painted with gleaming gold paint

Painted walls and archways in a Greek Orthodox church

Light streaming in through the windows of a side chapel in a Greek Orthodox church

Mosaic of the Madonna and child above a stone doorway of a Byzantine church.

Anterior view of Panagia Kapnikarea church in Athens on a spring day, with people sitting on a low surrounding stone wall.

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