Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Church of Saint Paraskevi of the Dragon in Arta of Epirus


The Church of Saint Paraskevi of the Dragon is located 11 kilometers north of Arta in Epirus, above the settlement of Ampelia Ammotopou and 2 kilometers approximately northeast of the provincial road Artas-Hanopoulos-Ammotopou. Isolated in the southern area of Xirovouni, on the smooth slopes of Gelperina, it connects its establishment with the adjacent cave or "dragon hole" as the locals call it.

The legend of the building of the temple, as well as the nickname "of the dragon", is based on the well-known and particularly popular theme of dragon slaying which symbolizes the victory over evil, most popularly associated with Saint George.

According to folk tradition, a dragon lived in the cave, which once a year appeared at the village festival and grabbed the most beautiful maiden. The inhabitants begged Saint Paraskevi to free them from this evil, so the Saint clashed with the monster and killed it. In her honor, the residents erected the small church.

The Cave

Impressive for its size and rocky outcrops, the cave has an opening of 4X4 meters and is up to 30 meters deep. Access to its interior is from the north of the Church of Saint Paraskevi where a steep staircase leads to the underground cave room. The foundations of a building, probably a chapel, found in this underground room, indicate that the chasm was a place of worship from the earliest times, as is the case today. Next to the built remains, a well is formed where, according to the inhabitants, water drips from the stalactites on the day of the feast of the Saint, on July 26. In the right part of the cave there is an elongated space that remains unexplored to this day.


There are no written records about the temple and the cave. During the years of the 1821 revolution, the church was set on fire. Parts of the wall and the dome were reconstructed in the last century. The architecture of the monument was first studied by the archaeologist, P. Vokotopoulos, who dated the small church, according to its morphological elements, to the second half of the 11th century.


The temple, measuring 10.85X6.70m, belongs to the cruciform type. It has a tall, cylindrical dome and a square narthex to the west that extends the vertical antenna of the cross. To the east it ends in a semicircular arch. The entrance was through five doorways. Two in the main church, on the north and south sides, and one each on the three sides of the narthex (north, south, west). Today, only the entrances from the north and west sides of the narthex are in use. The rest are built. To the same architectural type belongs the old Church of Saint Basil in Gephyra.

Exterior Decoration

The masonry consists of irregular stones and the roof of gray slates. The external decoration consists of a serrated band that defines the perimeter of the drum and the windows of the dome. The same band seems to have covered the entire monument as evidenced by related remains on the walls of the temple.

Interior Decoration

Inside the temple is covered by arches, while four niches are formed in the thickness of the wall on the north and south sides (transverse antenna of the cross). The wall surfaces inside are plastered and there do not appear to have been frescoes, while the wooden iconostasis was installed, perhaps in the 19th century.

Despite the lack of painted decoration, the monument is of great interest, as it belongs to the Middle Byzantine period. Together with Saint Demetrios of Katsouri, Saint Basil of Gephyra and Panagia Koronesia, it is an example of architecture of the era before the establishment of the Despotate of Epirus.

The Church of Saint Paraskevi of the Dragon has been classified as a historical monument.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

The Cave of the Dragon