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The Basilicas of Philippi: churches of unique Christian importance

Four impressive three-aisled basilicas with narthex have been erected at the archaeological site of Philippi, coming from the Early Christian Period.

Basilica A

On a level above the Kavala – Drama road and the marketplace of Philipi (west of the theater) has been traced the biggest early christian church of Philipi, called Basilica A. It is a large three-aisled basilica with a transverse nave on the eastern side, dating back to the end of the 5th century and distinguished by the grandeur of the sculptural decoration (capitals, armrests). It has a length of 136 m and a width of 50 m along with the pre-buildings of the northern side. That means it is the largest basilica that has been excavated. In the sacred step after the huge apse of the conch, there was a huge synthronon and in front of it, in the place of the Holy Bank, the inauguration was revealed in the form of a square moat. Inside it they placed the marble or metal box containing pieces of sacred control relics wrapped in cloth. In the main temple and to the right of the central aisle, the base of the great and imposing pulpit is preserved. Next to the narthex was the bottle or fountain in the middle of the courtyard, extending to the western wall, in which one of the five niches, the middle and elevated, stood the Bishop in the pre-operational stage. The bottle was two-sided. The columns were decorated with arches and gave the enormous monument a grandiose structure.

vasilica a

On the north side, between the northern wall of the temple and the carved rock of the Acropolis hill, the baptistery and other spaces necessary for the baptism are maintained in a relatively good condition. The floor of the baptistery and the antechambers was covered with plaques of colorful marble, while the walls were covered with frescoes. From the anteroom of the baptistery, the stairwell, which led to the Upper Rooms of Basilica, began. After 100 years of the temple operation, probably in 600 AD, the temple was leveled off by an earthquake without being rebuilt. The site of the baptistery was formed at a later time in a tempest, maintaining and witnessing the sanctity of the site.


Basilica B

The most famous monument of the northern part of the archaeological site is the imposing Basilica II of the type “domed basilica”, built on the north side of the Roman market. The great and beautiful Basilica II, at the most central point of the city of Philippi, was built around 550 AD. But before the landscaping of the interior was completed, the dome collapsed. The imposingly raised side walls remained. The restoration of the monument took place in 1995-96. The building is moved away from its architecture by the Greek basilica and approaches the type of basilica with a dome, such as Hagia Sophia of Constantinople. Two colonnades with 6 columns each divided the interior into three aisles, with a total width of 31 m. The middle aisle was housed with a large vault. The principle of the arcs that supported it, looks high on the pillars. Above the aft awning and the narthex was functioning as a matroneum.

basilica b3

The marble columnar of the iconostasis is preserved in its place and the sanctuary on its eastern side has a large semicircular arch. Symmetrically in the arch of the sanctuary there are two small arches built in the NE and NA corner of the church, which belong to the findings. In NE there is the baptistery, a square room (6,89Χ5,57 m). Its pavement has a square shallow basin (2,51×1,83 m), equipped with a drainage duct. The baptistery communicates to the east with a narrow room that ends up in a small arch. This room was used during the baptismal ceremony and may have been a catechumenium or a chrismarium. In the NE corner there is a place that was probably the church’s devotee and when it was destroyed, then the room changed into a chapel. The three aisles of the temple communicate with the narthex with three entrances. With the destruction of Basilica, its narthex that remained intact changed into a small church and with the construction of the apse the space for the sanctuary was created. A patio was not built although a large space was prepared for this.

Basilica B

Without this, the length of the church is about 62 m and its width along with the findings about 47 m. The architectural style and decoration of the temple served as temples for the famous churches of Constantinople, Hagia Sophia and Saint Irene. Exquisite examples of decorative art are the capitals and the suffrage. Square thorn leaves stretched out in the capitol’s basket, and sort of folds are decorative themes. The drill so deeply outlined the contours that made the marble look like lace. Behind Basilica II there are traces of the 2nd century AD palaestra and the overpasses (public toilets) that survive in a very good condition.

Basilica B 2

Basilica C

Chronologically, it is a later building, since its foundation was established in the 6th century. It stands out for its exceptional decor, which is obvious, but also for the rich sculptures that came to light. It is elongated, with 3 aisles. It has luxurious marble flooring and interesting sculptural decoration. At the north of the narthex there is a tower with a scaled scale climb to the Upper Rooms, chapels and auxiliary spaces. The chapels had two pulpits, one at the southern part of the presbytery barrier, and the other in the middle aisle of the temple. In the middle of the 6th century the monument was destroyed by an earthquake.  After the destruction of the basilica, the narthex was used as a cemetery.

Basilica C

Basilica “extra muros”

Basilica “extra muros” ruins found in the center of today’s town of Krenides, outside the old town’s walls and to the east, named by the archaeologists due to its location. It is a three-aisled Upper Room, a four-aisled atrium, a three-way narthex and adjoins. There are three building phases in the monument: During the first phase the columns were placed in marble pedestals and reached the eastern wall of the temple. The semicircular apse of the temple had three outer trusses on the outside, and there was a synthronon inside. In the middle of the middle aisle there was the pulpit, which had two scales. In the second phase, the monument acquires a transverse aisle and the floor of the central aisle and the narthex is decorated with mosaics with geometric patterns, animal and plant performances. There were mosaics and ortho-marbles in the walls.

The temple was destroyed in 473 AD. by the Ostrogoths during the siege of Philippi, while its definitive destruction should be placed in the first half of the 7th century due to a powerful earthquake or the 9th century by the Bulgarians when they occupied Philippi. After the total destruction of Basilica a single-storey temple was built in the site of the Sacred Step, for the reconstruction of which the architectural members and sculptures of the monument were used as building materials. It was rebuilt, according to coins and inscriptions found in the area, in the first half of the 4th century. It is a cemetery temple, because around it, beneath the floor of the cloisters, the narthex and the prefixes were found many arched tombs of apparently clergymen with tombstones and frescoes.