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Kastoriá’s churches

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Of the town’s many Byzantine churches, a handful are well worth seeking out. The excellent frescoes of the twelfth-century church of Áyios Nikólaos Kasnítzi were returned to their former glory during the late 1980s. The unusual epithet stems from the donor, who is shown with his wife on the narthex wall presenting a model of the church to Christ. Lower down are ranks of exclusively female saints, to console the women congregated in the narthex which long served as a women’s gallery. High up on the west wall of the nave, the Dormition and the Transfiguration are in good condition, the former inexplicably backwards (the Virgin’s head is usually to the left). Taxiárhes tís Mitropóleos, the oldest (ninth-century) church, was built on the foundations of an earlier pagan temple, of which recycled columns and capitals are visible. Its more prominent frescoes, such as that of the Virgin Platytera and Adoring Archangels in the conch of the apse, and a conventional Dormition on the west wall, are fourteenth century. In the north aisle is the tomb of Greek nationalist Pavlos Melas, assassinated by Bulgarians at a nearby village in 1906, and commemorated by street names across northern Greece. Lastly, the Panayía Koumbelidhikí, so named because of its unusual dome (kübe in Turkish), retains one startling and well-illuminated fresco: a portrayal – almost unique in Greece – of God the Father in a ceiling mural of the Holy Trinity. The building was constructed in stages, with the apse completed in the tenth century and the narthex in the fifteenth. The cylindrical dome was meticulously restored after being destroyed by Italian bombing in 1940.

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