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Aghios Phanoúrios and Athenas Square
The western exit of Dorieos Square leads into one of the best-preserved arteries of the mediaeval town—Aghiou Phanouriou Street which follows the north/south line of a street of the ancient city. Its length is punctuated by bracing buttresses linking the buildings on either side of the street, giving them protection from tremors and earthquakes. To the south is the 13th century church of Aghios Phanourios—active and important before the arrival of the Knights, and still one of the most frequented churches of the city today. Beyond an unenticing, pre fabricated metal and glass vestibule, the old church lies at considerably lower level—its numinous, domed interior entirely decorated with three successive layers of wall paintings (13th, early 14th, and 15th century) in deteriorating condition, due to crystalline efflorescences and layers of smoke grease.
The most legible area (dated by an inscription to 1335/36— the years in which the western arm of the church appears to have been extended) is the niche on the right as you enter, showing the hatted benefactors or *donors and their wives presenting the church to Christ, in a garden of pomegranate trees. The ghostly forms of the Archangel Michael in the north transept and of the Pantocrator in the dome are vis ible; but many of the other scenes of the Twelve Feasts and of the Life of the Baptist on the vaults and walls are largely unreadable in their present condition. After so many closed churches in the town, the devotion which can be sensed here is refreshing. Aghios Phanourios is a popular local saint, about whose life virtually nothing is known. His cult goes back allegedly to the finding of an icon bearing his name and scenes of his martyrdom, probably around the 9th century. He is the patron saint of the finding of lost things, and it is traditional to dedicate a cake (a ‘Phanouropita’) to the saint in thanks for items retrieved. He is a predominantly Rhodian saint, and the unbroken, centuries-old cult in this church is testimony to his considerable local importance.
Another of the city’s churches which predates the ar rival of the Knights, the 13th century Aghios Spyridon, lies 200m to the north, down the narrow alley-way opposite the Marco Polo Hotel. It is of an inscribed-cross plan, surmounted by a low cupola pleasingly decorated with a slightly uneven blind arcade. Its history is long and complex, as the extensive excavations being undertaken around and inside it are revealing. Outside the church, these have revealed fragments of antique columns, the ubiquitous stone projectiles, and sections of 6th century ad foundations below: inside, Early Christian sepul chral chambers and ancient masonry have been brought to light, suggesting that there may have been a funerary chapel on this site attached to the large basilica to the east (see below) in Early Christian times. The interior still conserves small areas of painting. The stocky minaret from the church’s period as the ‘Kavakli Mescid’ is perfectly preserved.
To the east of Aghios Spyridon, Athenas Square opens out, whose irregular area is the result of damage in the Second World War. It is bisected by the impressive ruins of the 14th century basilica of the Archangel Michael, which was perhaps built by the Greek community as a new cathedral after the Panaghia tou Kastrou (whose form it closely resembles) had been appropriated by the Knights. The excavations reveal to the north side the foundations of a large Early Christian basilica of the 6th century (part of the curve of the main apse protrudes to the north at the lowest level). This was destroyed perhaps as early as the 8th century; a small Byzantine church was then built over its south aisle, which survived until the larger 14th century church was built to replace it on the same site. This became the ‘Demirli Cami’ under the Turks, and was then irreparably damaged during the last war. The surrounding excavations reveal sections of wall, columns and segments of decorative frieze—some with exquisite bay-leaf design. Areas of painted decoration survive in the ruined apse of the Mediaeval building.
Rhodes Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.