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Catacombs of St. John the Baptist

Catacombs of St. John the Baptist - (Thessaloniki) by Joy of Museums

Catacombs of St. John the Baptist

The Catacombs of St. John the Baptist are hidden from view, in one of the most crowded areas of Thessaloniki, because they are located nearly 5 meters below the street level. The submerged site hosts the ancient Monastery and the Catacombs of Saint John. In the gardens of the catacombs, are the ruins of an ancient nymphaeum with a spring dedicated to the nymphs as well as the thermal baths dating from the Roman times. The pagan nymphaeum was converted into a holy water spring during the Christian times, and an underground church and monastery were built there in honour of St. John the Baptist.

The Catacombs of St. John the Baptist are located south of the Church of Hagia Sophia, and today the catacombs still retain their original structure with stairs that lead you even deeper, into the ancient catacombs. Before being used by Christians as a religious sanctuary, it is believed that the tunnels were part of an extended aqueduct system built during the Roman era. Archaeological evidence suggests an even earlier use of the site as a pagan temple devoted to ancient deities.

The underground site of the Crypt was initially built during Roman times as part of a bathing complex and later converted to a Crypt and used as a place of worship by the early Christians of Thessaloniki. According to tradition, Saint Dimitrios was imprisoned here and died in 303 A.D. The crypt is a well-preserved because it became lost and unknown for many centuries until it was re-discovered after the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917, that devastated the city center.

Nymphaeum

A nymphaeum in ancient Greece and Rome was a monument consecrated to the nymphs and usually located near natural springs. These monuments were built on natural grottoes, which tradition assigned as habitations to the local nymphs. They supplied a stable water source.

Did you know?

  • These catacombs, like others in the ancient world, may have been connected to a more extensive underground network of tunnels that once existed beneath the city that were destroyed or remain forgotten. Tunnels like these were created for defensive purposes and date back to an ancient period of Thessaloniki’s history.

Reflections

  • This ancient pagan site became a Greek nymphaeum, later Roman Baths and then later still, Byzantine Catacombs that were lost during Ottoman times and rediscovered to become a hidden retreat in a modern urban center. Why do I find these site fascinating?

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Catacombs of St. John the Baptist – Photo Gallery

Catacombs of St. John the Baptist

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“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
– John the Baptist

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Photo Credit: JOM