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Decorative element

Basilica of Saint Achilleios

Basilica of Saint Achilleios
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Basilica of Saint Achilleios

The Basilica of St. Achilleios is the most imposing monument in the area. A human work that fits harmoniously with the natural environment of Prespa.


It is the most imposing monument of the region built on the idyllic eastern side of the similarly-named island. The temple was built by Samuel, the Tsar of Bulgarians, who made Prespa the seat of his kingdom and according to the written sources of the period, he carried from Larissa in 983 or 986 the relics of Saint Achilleios, St. Oikoumenios of Trikki and St. Riginos Diodorus of Skopelos.


The temple is 44,7m long and 22m wide and belongs to the type of triple-aisled wood-roofed basilica with narthex. The three aisles are separated from two strong ranges of pessaries, while symmetrically to the vaulted sanctuary there is Prothesis and Diakonicon, which have the form of an inscribed cross (cross-shaped) being roofed with cupola.


On the arch of the sanctuary, there is Synthrono (bishops’ seats), above which sideways of the trilobate window on the most ancient layer of the temple’s murals, eighteen red painted arches are preserved where the seats of bishops belonging to the Archdiocese of Achrida were indicated.


From the very few extant samples of the temple’s murals, the experts conclude that there were at least three phases of painted decoration of the temple: the initial one during the last decade of 10th century, the second one when Leon was archbishop of Achrida (1037 - 1056) and the third one when Theofylaktos was archbishop of Achrida (1088 - 1108). Relics of the Archangel Michael’s depiction have been preserved from the second phase of the wall-painting, as well as relics of two militaries (perhaps St. Dimitrios and Nestor) and of other Saints, which are currently exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Florina.


An additionally interesting element of the temple is the grave which is found on the southern part of Diakonicon, and it is covered by embossed plate (work of 11th century), where the experts consider that the relics of St. Achilleios were kept. Moreover, the elevated southern aisle of the temple was used for the burial in sarcophaguses of four important personalities (princes) of the royal family of Samuel and potentially one of them may belong to the Tsar of Bulgarians himself.

 

In connection with the southern aisle of the temple, remains of outbuildings have been traced, which were used as spaces of burial and funereal rituals during the 11th – 14th centuries. The archaeological research carried out in this area during the 1990s brought to the surface a several burials, many of which had sumptuous funeral gifts (coins of various periods, jewels etc), also burials of families, of small children. These finds prove that this was not a cemetery of an isolated monastic community, but a place of residents’ inhumation of the settlement that existed on the island in middle- and late-Byzantine period. The temple and the surrounding place functioned as worship center for some more years after the occupation of Prespes by the Ottomans (1385/6), up to the beginning of the 15th century, whereupon the place was probably abandoned.

 

The works of preservation, restoration, signposting, and forming of the surroundings of the basilica of Saint Achilleios that were carried out in the past few years, in combination with the natural beauty of its location, make the monument one of the most attractive visiting places in the region of Prespes.

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