This year, marking the 7th anniversary of the Open House in Thessaloniki I had an opportunity to visit many buildings in the city center and the Armenian Church. I saw a long queue while walking through the side streets and soon I realized that there was the Armenian church I was looking for. In fact, I did not know much about the Armenian Church before visiting it. After waiting at least 15 minutes, I get the chance to go in.
The Armenian church is one of the most important buildings in Thessaloniki. It belongs to the constructions that have been rescued by the destructive fire of 1917.
Temple’s story begins in 1884 with the efforts of the Armenians as there was no other place for their community. The first church was a temporary solution, the community set up a makeshift altar on the second floor of a house. So in 1888, priests (Arsene Hatsoyian and Krikr Pasayan) bought land for the construction of the church. However, due to the continued refusal of the Turkish authorities, the building permit was eventually issued in 1902. The construction was completed in 1903. This also appears from the fronton inscription on the entrance. Armenian Church is located in the area of the Armenian community and in 1909 a two-storey school was built. 60 years later, the school became the main office of the church and the Armenian Cultural Center. Over time, these buildings are the most important meeting places of the Armenian Community of Thessaloniki.
The architect was the Italian Vitaliano Pozelli, who was responsible for the design of many important buildings in Thessaloniki at the same time, and not only public and private but also places of worship of different religions. Such as the Yeni Mosque and the Beth Saul synagogues.
The church is a vanished one-aisled basilica and also you can notice that the three-storey tower ending in a square pyramidal dome, while the two towers on either side of the central are two-storey.
However the original design did not foresee the construction of these two side towers as well as the curved openings. On the contrary, the arches of the openings were designed acutely.
In its current form, it consists, externally, tall and narrow curved windows. The decoration is simple with white moldings outlining the openings, the roofs and specific places of the towers so the different floors stand out. Someone can say that the designing of the main axis is timeless as it was based on symmetry. This can be better perceived inside the building, and specifically in the area where the liturgy takes place.
Inside of the Armenian Church
The impressive crystal chandeliers produce the technical lighting of the building, while the natural light comes from the facade openings, in which, we are able to see that colorful geometrically shaped glasses have been used, a technique that is widely known as “vitro”.
The main part of the temple is divided into three levels: the central part of the temple with the seats, the “soleas” and the elevated sanctuary. Also, there is a balcony that is supported by two metallic columns and it is decorated with metallic railings with elaborate details. This is an ancillary area, now is used for various functions (such as the dressage of the chanters). In the past, it was the main space for the baptisms that they used to take place in a small family circle, but later on, due to social needs, this marble structure was donated to the temple, so the ceremony can take place in the main space of the church.
It was also possible to see many flowers in the elevated sanctuary as on 25th of November it was the founding anniversary of the church.
The sanctuary differs from the other greek sanctuaries as it is open and visible for the believers. However, the curtains are closed during the liturgy in the very sacred moments. The inscription on the bow means “A new tip: Love your allies”. The blue color used in the dome of the sanctuary arch symbolizes the sky, a symbolism that is widespread in Greek churches.
To the left and right side of the sanctuary, we can see the two magnificent temples that combine two materials, the marble and the wood. At this point, it is worth noting that in the Armenian church wood decorations do not dominate, as it is used in most Greek churches, but heavily used metal and marble are used. There is also a combination of cool and warm materials, such as in the seats and in the pilgrimage.
Finally, the balcony is used by the ecclesiastical choir in that space, there is a harmonium and half-circle raised wooden floor, painted with grease in gray color. From the same material, the small staircase at the back of the church is constructed leading to the bell tower. These are parts of a later addition as they were built after 1965. The space completes the two curved windows that help in aeration. I think being here is a wonderful experience. Personally, I felt as if I had lived here centuries ago.