Walking into the site today, the visitor is confronted by the massive block of the Daphni church, orange and pink in limestone and brick with its impressive drum and dome on top, all covered in scaffolding and dotted with stickers labeled ΕΜΠ and NTUA. The south door which was in front of us was locked. We headed to the west colonnaded section of the monastic complex's southern courtyard. The buildings there housed classical sculptures from the Daphnephoros sanctuary and late antique, Byzantine and medieval architectural fragments. Across the court, on the top floor, there is an exhibition on the restoration and the work being done. After wandering about a bit more, we found the phylax and much of what follows we were either told or I figured it out for myself as the phylax took us up the scaffolding.
Photos and videos are not allowed inside (rofl). No, really, they are not, so I was all fidgety and annoyed both because of the brevity of the preparation time available to take some photos while no one was looking but also by the need to keep my (now handheld) helmet-cam hidden.
On the way up, we first see two Gregories, amazingly large when at eye-level, amazingly pink-skinned and white haired in their restored splendour. Each mosaic we saw was an invitation to spend a whole afternoon there, wondering in awe at the work of the mosaicist. Opposite these was Zacharias in an arch, with his funny cuboid hat and then onwards and upwards - the guide rushing us upwards, but telling us to take our time... At conch level, we were face to face with (from NE-NW clockwise): Annunciation (amazingly tranquil and inspiring), Birth, Baptism (no willy), and Metamorphosis (badly damaged). And like the Narnian Mouse - "Further up and further in!", cried the phylax and we found ourselves face to face with sixteen prophets around the drum, again splendidly pink and white, like the Gregories or Zacharias, all of course with their golden backgrounds and with calligraphic names but also with conspicuous tubes and plastic pipes sticking out of them for the strengthening of the mosaics and eventually for the cement enemas which will serve to strengthen the walls and finally allow the walls to again take the weight of the building for themselves.
Then, finally, on the top floor of the scaffolding, we stood face to face with the pantokrator in awe, and were able to distinguish the tesserae and notice that each one is quite a large stone. Amazing indeed, but I had to let K see it too. I came down with appetite for close-up mosaic unsated and told her to go up while we played with A in the garden to the West. The narthex contains one of the four original Ionic columns from the Daphnephoros sanctuary. I am not sure where the other three are, various sources give various stories about what indeed Elgin took from here. The asymmetric gothic exonarthex is rather fun as well, with its arches not quite lining up on each side.
The need for restoration came with the famous quake of 1999, where, apparently the mosaic decoration all came to the ground. On commencement of restoration, they only replaced whatever pieces had a definite provenance, meaning that there are great chunks which will never be replaced. The opportunity to get this close to such exquisite mosaic work was amazing and I totally recommend a visit. The feeling it inspires reminds me of the feeling I had when facing some fresco work in Ochrid or facing the frescoes of the Protaton in Karyes, both pretty much contemporary with these mosaics. I want to go again...