The Rotunda Monument in Thessaloniki
The sensation I get as I am moving into the monument is unique, now free from the scaffolding that hid for years its incredible beauty. It feels like going back centuries while a beneficial freshness wraps you. The surrounding area is an oasis in the heart of the city of Thessaloniki and centuries-old stones are forming benches where you can enjoy the tranquility in the bustling city center.
A year ago the final maintenance work on the roof and the mosaics were restored in the sanctuary, lighting was installed and the marking of the south side of the enclosure and early extensions were completed with the use of a novel approach. The monument now free from the multi-year construction scaffolds permanently assigned to the public. The completion of the maintenance, restoration and promotion of the Rotunda became a primary focus and top priority of the Office of Antiquities of Thessaloniki City since its creation a year ago, for this unique and iconic monument, inscribed on the World Heritage list of UNESCO, to be presented after nearly 40 years in public.
This target was met with success, but not without forming a solid basis that included years of efforts and the successful work coming from a lot of people, including my bigger sister, who gave their best since the big Thessaloniki earthquake in 1978. UNESCO monument featured the philosophy boss of the Ephorate of Byzantine antiquities, Stamatis Chondrogiannis, which has set as its priority the appointment as the city’s symbol, as appropriate, as the most important and the oldest city monument, comparable in importance – and in architecture – to the Pantheon of Rome.
On the verge of a transition from Paganism to Christianity, the Rotunda Monument in Thessaloniki is the ultimate symbol of the intersection of two worlds, marking the end of the Roman era. As my sister comments, “We removed from the roof during work, the vegetation caused by abandonment had reached at the point of trees growing and rooting in the roof among the broken bricks,” she says.
And continues: “It is tragic how this hugely important monument was abandoned all these years, a monument that by itself could become a tourist attraction in the city. The aim is after the opening of the monument, to start an advertising campaign, coming into contact with tour operators and airlines, with a view in including Rotunda in the magazines of their flights.”
In the near future, also, a house in the courtyard will become a multimedia site with a number of digital opportunities for people (tourists and locals) to meet the story of the monument and its restoration. It is important for Thessaloniki to finally reveal its treasures, especially in the current period of financial distress, marking this beginning with the Rotunda. The creation of a network of monuments that will include the remaining monuments of UNESCO of Egnatia street should be put as a priority.
The axis of the Arc of Galerius that leads to the sea must be released and emerged as the most important monumental axis of the city. To this end the city authorities aim to tear down the wall of the enclosure to the Navarino monument so that the view from there is uninterrupted until the sea. Also, efforts will continue to free up the square from the disturbing but common occurrence of illegal peddlers.
Regarding the working hours of the monument and its function as a temple, my sister comments that the Rotunda will be open year-round, 7 days a week, with extended hours, 8:00 – 17:00 in winter and 8:00 – 19:00 during the summer. The monument has also served as a temple for the Greek Christian orthodox church, something that caused protests from a wide range of citizens as it appeared that they tried to claim the monument.
It is also planned that in the near future the cross on the dome of the Rotunda, which was removed in 1955, will return to its place. The monument has a misleading picture with the minaret that looks like a mosque. One need to steer clear as a picture from the minaret. 1300 years of history, of which only 300 of them, Rotunda was a mosque.
Certainly the restoration of the cross is also projected to cause reactions. The locals remember that in 1995, when the Greek orthodox Church was seeking to transform and utilize the monument as a Temple, jazz concerts with the famous composer, Sakis Papadimitriou, were organized by groups of citizen aiming to make a symbol of Rotunda as a monument of historic value mostly and religious value secondly and not as equally important.
Enraged members of the Church and priests had invaded the monument and after interrupting the concert, they broke the white piano. But things have changed. For better I hope.