This tiny Byzantine-era Greek Orthodox church honors the Virgin Mary and serves as a shrine for pregnant women to go and pray for a safe delivery. Among all the Byzantine churches still standing in Athens, this quaint little sanctuary has the curious distinction of being the only one surrounded on all sides by a modern building.
The Agia Dynami (Holy Power) church was built in the 16th century. Following the victory in the Greek War of Independence in the 1830s, the buildings around the church were demolished so the street could be widened to serve the growing needs of the city. In the 1950s, the area was again redeveloped and the Greek government attempted to obtain the land the church sat on to build the new headquarters for the Ministry of Education and Religion.
The Greek Orthodox Church refused to surrender the property, so it was decided to build over it, and the small single-aisle church found itself almost entirely ensconced in a modern municipal building, wedged between the supporting pillars of the new construction. (The building was converted to the Electra Metropolis Hotel in 2016.)
Inscriptions found on the grounds suggest the little church was built on the site of an ancient temple dedicated to Heracles, the Greek demigod famous for his strength and for performing “the 12 labors” upon request of the king of Tiryns. A 50-foot tunnel was discovered under the church connecting it to a large cave system that some say reaches to the Acropolis and the Kaisariani Monastery on the north side of Mount Hymettus. In 1963, a steeple was built over the entrance to the tunnel prohibiting future access.
During the War of Independence, Greek munitions experts were forced to make bullets for the Turks in the church. However, they were successful in also making large numbers of them for the Greek revolutionaries, smuggling them out through the garbage nightly.
Know Before You Go
The church was renovated in 1912 and again in the 1950s. It is usually open daily, with many Athenians popping in on their way to and from work to say a quick prayer or light a candle. The church's main celebration takes place annually on September 9, the date of the birth of Virgin Mary.
Dress codes vary from church to church in Greek Orthodoxy. If you wish to enter the church, a show of respect to the church and its members is achieved by modest clothing and proper behavior. For men, shorts, tank tops/sleeveless shirts and sandals/flip flops are frowned upon. Women's shoulders should not be shown in church so anything strapless or with thin straps should be avoided. Skirts and dresses should at a minimum come below the knee. Some churches ask that no leg be shown.