Situated at Kastro area (in Mykonos Town) overlooking the Aegean Sea, imposing Panagia Paraportiani is a 14th-century church that impresses with its plasticity, unique shape, and the history behind its construction.
Panagia Paraportiani is perhaps the finest example of Cycladic architecture, with whitewashed walls, minimal aesthetics, a daring style, and smooth-edged corners. Also, with literally no external decorations whatsoever and a large dome that dominates the building as it nearly merges with the roof of the church, Panagia Paraoprtiani definitely inspires awe. No wonder it is one of the most photographed churches in the world that has also been classified as a National Monument.
The Church of Our Lady of the Side Gate (or Virgin Mary Standing Next to the Entrance Door), which is what Panagia Paraportiani means in Greek, has its entrance in the side gate of the Kastro neighbourhood (hence, the name). Its privileged location is a big part of its popularity among locals and tourists alike. Another compelling reason to visit the site is its distinctive shape and the reasoning behind its rather odd form.
Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel
Five Churches on the Same Grounds
What makes this church so special is the fact that it blends different architectural styles, including Traditional, Vernacular, Byzantine, and Western. And, there is a good reason for it. It all started in 1425 when Mykonos workers began building Panagia Paraportiani. Back then, this was not meant to be a Virgin Mary chapel. In fact, Panagia Paraportiani is the last of five churches that have been built on the same grounds. This means that Panagia Paraportiani sits on top of a complex of four other chapels. Agios Efstathios is the central church on the ground level surrounded by the churches of Agia Anastasia, Agios Sozon, and Agios Anargyros, which constituted the foundation of Panagia Paraportiani. This ongoing building of churches in the Kastro region ended around the 17th century. The site underwent major restorations by 1920, though, as a means to preserve the solidity and the unusual shape of the overall construction.
Some people say that in the Middle Ages, this same location was home to a huge, fortified tower that stood above one of the entrances of the castle that was once there. Regardless of the reason why this attempt to construct one church on top of the other took place, nobody can deny that what we see today is remarkably unique. And, although the church is rarely open, its exterior is still a primary attraction worth seeing.
Panagia Paraportiani and Peter the Pelican!
More than often, the area surrounding Panagia Paraportiani is where the island’s official mascot, Peter the Pelican, likes to roam around! No, it is not the same pelican that became an integral part of the island back in the 1950s. That wounded bird, which was nursed to health and loved by the locals, died a few years ago when it was struck by a car. However, the pelican was so famous already that many celebs and institutions rushed to offer similar pelicans to replace Petros after they heard of his unfortunate accident. From that moment onward, Mykonos is home to several of these beautiful birds, which are nurtured and petted from everybody living or visiting the island!