San Giorgio dei Greci is one of Venice's most interesting churches for its unusual history and determination. The only Greek Orthodox church in the city, it was started in 1539 after a long and arduous battle on the part of the Greek community, and long negotiations with the Republic of Venice. The Greek residents who fled the Ottoman Empire wanted their own place of worship but were blocked by the Republic and the Catholic Church. Finally, after much effort, the Vatican conceded and the permissions were granted, thanks in large part to the faithful Greek mercenaries who served in the Republic's military and the city's intellectuals. The church was funded by contributions from the Orthodox community residing in Venice and those who visited, along with a special tax on ships arriving from the Orthodox world.

The Greek Diaspora gave Venice a large population of clerics, intellectuals, mercenaries and craftsmen, who numbered 14,000 at its peak. They were especially skilled in printing and publishing. The church became the Greek community's focal point and cathedral. A Greek neighborhood sprouted up around it, with print shops, an educational academy and a seminary in the area. The building next door, which was once the academy, now houses the Hellenic Institute of Byzantine Studies.

San Giorgio dei Greci was constructed in Venetian Renaissance style and blends in well with the other monumental churches of its era with its white facade and dome. The adjoining separate bell tower capped by a delicate dome leans notably, and was added in 1603. Inside are opulent mosaics by Thomas Bathas of Corfu and gorgeous iconic paintings by Cretan artist Michael Danaskinas. An ivy-draped gate provides a lovely entrance to the peaceful courtyard of the church. A loggia at the base of the bell tower is all that remains of what had been a closed cloister.

When the Republic of Venice fell to Napoleon in 1797, he confiscated its assets along with the rest of Venice's best artworks and valuables. It maintained itself through the centuries, however, and is still an Orthodox cathedral, worth visiting for its unique history and determination to provide a place of worship to the Greek community through the centuries.

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Address in Venice:

Calle dei Greci, 3412.