The Rotunda of Galerius is a jewel of architecture in Thessaloniki, a city fast becoming a multiple nexus of interest in S.E. Europe/the Balkans - especially after the much-acclaimed end of the “name dispute” between Greece and its close neighbour (now called) North Macedonia.
Built by the Roman co-emperor Galerius in the early 4th century A.D. as a temple - reminding one of the Pantheon in Rome - it was then converted by Emperor Theodosius to a Christian Church; it thus acquired exquisite mosaics, which still remain in fragments. After some ten centuries of life as Orthodox Church, the Rotunda got converted into a Mosque for close to four centuries of Ottoman rule. After the Balkan Wars, it came back to church use; it now is mainly a historical monument, only seldom used for religious services or lay festivities.
This highly symbolic monument of the troubled history and mixed religious-cum-cultural past of the city and the wider region is to serve as the venue of an equally symbolic prize ceremony. The “Empress Theophano” European Prize created by the Foundation of that name to honour personalities who have embodied the principles and ideals of Europe , but also the very notion at interdependence of European nations, is to be the Eastern equivalent of the Charlemagne Prize awarded every year at Aachen, in the French-German border. Herman van Rompuy, former President of the European Council and Thessaloniki mayor Yannis Boutaris will be the anchors of this endeavour - while Stavros Andreadis, who chairs the Cultural Company of Northern Greece Businesses has assumed the central responsibility.
Who was Empress Theophano - and what is the symbolism behind this concept? A niece of the East Roman/Byzantine Emperor at the turn of the millennium, Theophano married Saxon/German Otto II and was crowned along him empress of the Holy Roman Empire, in an effort to rebuild unity. Even after Otto II passed away, Theophano kept her title of Empress; she was instrumental in helping with the pollination of Western renaissance by Eastern influences.
The relevance of this new effort to bridge West-East estrangement remains to be seen; at the very least it is one more step in the path to break down barriers of history.
To be followed.