The Rotunda is a massive circular structure with a masonry core that used to have an oculus like the Pantheon in Rome. It has gone through multiple periods of use and modification as a polytheist temple, a Christian basilica, a Muslim mosque, and again a Christian church (and archaeological site).
The cylindrical structure was built in 306 AD on the orders of the tetrarch Galerius, who was thought to have intended it to be his mausoleum. It was more likely intended as a temple; it is not known to what god it would have been dedicated. Eventually, Galerius died in 311 AD and he was buried in Felix Romuliana, modern Serbia. In the 4th century AD, the Byzantine emperor Constantine I converted it into an Orthodox church and many frescoes were painted inside, some of which survive today on the walls of Rotunda.
The Rotunda has a diameter of 24.5 m. Its walls are 6.3 m thick, which is why it has withstood Thessaloniki’s earthquakes. The walls are interrupted by eight rectangular bays, with the south bay forming the entrance. A flat brick dome, 30 m high at the peak, crowns the cylindrical structure. In its original design, the dome of the Rotunda had an oculus, as does the Pantheon in Rome.
The structure was damaged during an earthquake in 1978 but was subsequently restored. As of 2004, the minaret was still being stabilized with scaffolding. The building is now a historical monument under the Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities of the Greek Ministry of Culture, although the Greek Orthodox Church has access to the church for various festivities.
The Rotunda is the oldest of Thessaloniki’s churches. Some Greek publications claim it is the oldest Christian church in the world, although there are competitors for that title. It is the most important surviving example of a church from the early Christian period of the Greek-speaking part of the Roman Empire.
All rights reserved © V-Light