Places of worship planted firmly in the soil of Evros prefecture, the churches go back into the depths of time, keeping alive the memory of the transcendent relationship between the human and the divine.
Subterranean burial monuments, chapels, sacred places hewn out of the rock of caves, little rural fanes, monasteries, and churches ― all are closely connected with local history.
Between the end of the Byzantine Empire and the overthrow of Ottoman rule, Thrace experienced considerable demographic changes. From the end of the 14th century, the heterodox (i.e. non-Sunni) Dervishes founded monasteries (known as tekkes) in Evros prefecture, from which they controlled and guarded the principal routes, enjoying reduced taxation and engaging in missionary work, for they offered various services to passing travellers.
Near the highland villages of Goniko, Megalo Derio, and Roussa, where the Dervishes guarded the pass from the eastern Rodopi to Soufli and Didymotiho, stands the tekke of Kizil Deli. Founded in 1402, it is the local Bektashis’ most profoundly venerated place of pilgrimage. The tekke at Mikro Derio is another early monument. Inside the hexagonal stone building is the cenotaph of Kizil Deli, who was instrumental in establishing Bektashism in the Balkans.
For the Greeks, their religion was a weapon of resistance during five centuries of bondage, and their national consciousness and identity were forged in the Orthodox churches and monasteries.
In the 15th to 17th centuries, the old churches in large fortified cities such as Edirne and Plovdiv were repaired or new ones were built, with the financial assistance of wealthy businessmen.
New churches were not allowed to be built in the interior; it was permitted only to repair the old ones “without increasing their height or surface area”. But churches were built in secret, behind high walls away from the centre of the village. These churches date to the late 17th or early 18th century. They are found in villages along the River Evros, and also near lowland routes, on which carters and camel-drivers transported goods from Edirne along the River Ardas to Ortakφy, Haskovo, and Plovdiv and the central Rodopi.
- Church of St Constantine and St Helena, Dolno Lukovo, 1806
- Church of St Panteleλmon, Paliouri, 1705
- Church of St Athanasios, Alepohori, 1720
The new churches that were built after the introduction of the Tanzimat reforms of 1830 are different in that they reflect the Greeks’ more general economic and spiritual revival after the end of the 18th and throughout the 19th cettury. A decisive part was played in the construction of the large churches by the new economic social class of the merchants and industrialists, as also by the builders’ guilds working in the large towns of Thrace.
The Christian Armenian community of Didymotiho made its presence felt with the Church of St George Paliokastritis (Surp Kevor; 1826-31).
Despite becoming somewhat urbanised and popularised, the three-aisled basilica preserved its Byzantine roots and became the prevalent type all over Thrace.
- Church of St Athanasia, Makri, 1800-33/34
- Church of St Athanasios, Didymotiho, 1834
- Church of Christ the Saviour, Didymotiho, 1846-8
- Church of St Athanasios, Soufli, 1841-3
- Church of St Demetrios, Mandritsa, 1835
New churches were built on the main routes, along which goods and commodities were transported by camel from the coastal areas to large villages in the interior of the central Balkans, such as Avandas, Iana, and Nipsa. Their unsophisticated chancel screens are strikingly painted in local hues, while the presence of adjoining domed structures reflects the influence of Ottoman architecture.