On the foot of Chaidari parkland, left of the Sacred Way (Iera Odos) that since the ancient times leads from Athens to Eleusis, and possibly in the place of the ancient sanctuary of Apollo the Laurel-crowned, there lies the fortified byzantine monastery Daphniou (=laurel), known for its mosaics.
The monastery is protected by a rectangle enclosure fortified with towers and battlements and two gateways on the western and eastern sides. Moreover, close to the four sides of the enclosure, there are remains of buildings, possibly the old cells. Inside the fortress, the Catholicon, i.e. the main church, stands out, while in the north there lie the remains of the dining hall.
Out of the southern wall of the Catholicon, there was a rectangular yard with arcades, winds of cells and auxiliary buildings, renovated or rebuilt, as the excavations have shown, several times during a thousand years of the monument’s existence.
The Catholicon dates from 11th century and belongs to the octagonal style, which was adopted in the middle byzantine times by a number of important monuments, such as the Catholicons of St. Luke’s monastery and the New monastery of Chios. It is still unclear if this new style first appeared in Constantinople. Its main feature is its big dome, which is supported in a way that leaves the central space beneath free and united. Contemporary with the church is the narthex on the west, where later there was added an outer narthex and a storey over the narthex and part of the nave. During the rule of the Latins over Greece, after severe damages caused by an earthquake, Cistertian monks who then held the monastery made extensive reconstruction of the outer narthex, while the crypt under the narthex was converted to a mausoleum for the burial of the dukes of Athens.
Western of the outer narthex, a chapel was attached during the late years of the Ottoman rule; the arch of its sanctuary faces the north.
The Catholicon is exceptionally constructed with stones enclosed by rows of bricks, the windows are decorated with abundant pottery, while the interior is splendidly decorated with unique walled mosaics, upright marbles and marble adornment, which stand up only partially; all these features associate the monument’s foundation with circles of the imperial court. The rare mosaic decoration covering the higher surfaces depicts in art the ecclesiastical dogmas.
After the 18th century, the monastery gradually declines, as it was subject to frequent predatory forays. During the Greek War of Independence, Daphniou was used as a base. Briefly during the 19th century (1883-1885), the monastery housed the Public Psychiatric Hospital.
The works of fixation and restoration of the complex and preservation of the mosaic adornment started in the late 19th century and keep on at various times to this day by the Archaeological Service.
The monument has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1990.
Source: Greek Ministry of Culture