Preserving the Rotunda of Galerius
By Lance Kokonos
In the hot Mediterranean July whilst visiting the ruins of Greece, I came across a building known as the Rotunda of Galerius in Thessaloniki. From the moment I entered the domed building I knew I was in a sacred, ancient place. The interior is massive – over thirty meters tall and domed – yet the building’s crowning secret is not its size, but rather its shape. In the center there is a small, white stone circle. Standing in the center of that circle I discovered the secret by accident; I tapped my foot ever so slightly and heard the sound reverberate throughout the entire room. I did not tap my foot hard, nor was it loud, but the sound could be heard echoing magically, resonating in every inch of the structure. At that moment I began to truly appreciate the place I was standing in.
The Rotunda was constructed during the reign of Galerius in the Roman Pantheon style in the early 4th century. After the death of Galerius it was converted into a Christian church and remained active for the next 1200 years until the city’s Ottoman conquerors converted it into a mosque. When the Greeks liberated the city in 1912, during the Balkan wars, they consecrated the Rotunda once again as a Christian place of worship.
The building has changed hands many times, but still stands and functions to this day as the result of people working for its preservation. As magnificent as it is, it is just a shadow of its former self. The frescos are fading, the mosaics are crumbling, and the floor looks every bit like it has been trod on for nearly two thousand years; but there is hope. Recently the building underwent an extensive restorative process to keep its structural integrity and repair some mosaics following serious earthquakes in the 1970s. If there were no efforts to repair and maintain these parts of history, they would disappear. The youth of tomorrow will not know about the world of their ancestors should we let it fall to ruin. It is important that places like this are saved; not just because of what they were but because of the stories they tell. They are not simply stories of Rome, religion, love, or of hate – they are stories of who we are.
Lance Kokonos ‘19 is a History major in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.