Α timeless intercultural monument with a 1700 year history embarks on a new era.
Archaeologists, historians and architects are still divided about the original purpose of Thessaloniki’s Rotunda, and this uncertainty imbues the early 4th c. AD monument with a sense of mystery that becomes even more palpable when you confront the somber yet awe-inspiring atmosphere of its interior. There, splendid religious mosaics – protected by UNESCO as masterpieces of Early Christian art – look down from the elegant curvature of its domed ceiling.
Commissioned by the Roman emperor Galerius, the Rotunda is believed by some to have been intended as his tomb, part of a palace complex that includes the adjacent Arch of Galerius (built to celebrate this ambitious emperor’s victory over the Sassanid Persians). Others think it was a temple styled after the Pantheon in Rome, and intended as a place of worship. Whichever was the case, the Rotunda did indeed serve as a sacred site during both Byzantine and Ottoman times, first as a Christian church (one of the earliest in the world) and then as a mosque.
Over its long life, the Rotunda survived wars, fires and structural transformations, only to be threatened with complete destruction by a 6.5 magnitude earthquake in 1978, which caused its roof to collapse and also knocked the conical tip off its late-16th century minaret – the only minaret left in existence in Thessaloniki.
After spending more than 35 years hidden behind scaffolding and tarpaulin, the restored Rotunda was unveiled to the public in all its glory in December 2015. Today, still bearing traces of all the different phases of Thessaloniki’s complex and multicultural history, this amazing building has come back to life as a church and a cultural venue, receiving an estimated 1,500 visitors a day.