Ancient Athens’ Roman Past – Part 2
After taking a look at the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch and the Odeon of Herod Atticus at the base of the Acropolis, four other major landmarks of Roman Athens remain that have yet to be seen. In Greece, as well as Athens, the Roman period spans the time between the Roman victory at the Battle of Corinth in 146 BC and the Emperor Constantine’s founding of Constantinople in 330 AD. Several of Athens most popular ancient sites hail from the Romans’ time in the city. Starting off at the Philopappou Monument crowning Philopappou Hill, we’ll head to the Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds before ending at Hadrian’s Library on the edge of today’s Monastiraki Square.
Philopappos Monument – Μνημείο Φιλοπάππου
– Area: Acropoli / Philopappou Hill
– Type: Mausoleum / Monument
– Date: 119 AD
About the Philopappos Monument
The Philopappos Monument [Grk: Μνημείο Φιλοπάππου] is an ancient marble tomb and monument built for the Roman consul and senator Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos—or Philopappos. The powerful aristocrat had long admired Greek culture and had chosen to live in Athens where he sponsored countless plays and cultural events for the city.
Upon his death, the Athenians along with his daughter built the 40 foot high monument of expensive Pentelic marble atop the highest point of the Hill of the Muses [today called Philopappou Hill]. Although only 2/3 of the monument survives, several of the original sculptures and decorations still adorn the structure. While exploring the monument, don’t forget to take in the magnificent view of the Acropolis spread out behind you, but luckily it’s one that is simply pretty hard to miss.
Roman Agora of Athens – Ρωμαϊκή Αγορά της Αθήνας
– Area: Roman Agora near Monastiraki
– Type: Agora / Marketplace
– Date: 1st Century BC
About the Roman Agora
The Roman Agora [Grk: Ρωμαϊκή Αγορά] was built in the 1st Century BC, when it was decided that the original Agora of Athens was not adequate in dealing with the city’s commercial activities. The new Roman Agora had a purely commercial purpose to it, and was therefore much smaller than its ancient neighbor to the west. It was a large open space bordered by Ionic colonnades, of which only a few decapitated columns remain standing.
The two most prominent remains of the Roman agora are the Tower of the Winds, and the Gate of Athena Archegetis. The gate stands at the western end of the Agora and is made of 4 Doric columns. Although the site has not been totally excavated yet the remains are still impressive. It is conveniently located next to the old Ottoman Fethiye Mosque very close to modern Monastiraki Square.
– Area: Roman Agora near Monastiraki
– Type: Clocktower
– Date: Thought to be around 50 BC
About the Tower of the Winds
The Tower of the Winds [Grk: Αέρηδες] is also known as the Horologion of Andronikos Kyrrhestos [Grk: Ωρολόγιο του Κυρρήστου]—Horologion meaning timepiece. The 40 foot high octagonal tower is made of Pentelic marble and featured sundials, a wind vane on top that told wind direction and even an internal water clock that was powered using water that flowed down from the Acropolis. The frieze on each of the eight sides features one of the eight wind deities, which helped give the Tower its name.
The Tower today stands in what remains of the Roman Agora. During the Ottoman Era the tower was buried up to half of its height, and it would not be until the 19th Century that it would be fully excavated. Several replicas and buildings based on the unique architecture of the Tower of the Winds have been built around the world, a credit to its design and beauty.
Hadrian’s Library – Βιβλιοθήκη του Αδριανού
– Area: Monastiraki
– Type: Monumental Library
– Date: 132 AD
About Hadrian’s Library
Hadrian’s Library [Grk: Βιβλιοθήκη του Αδριανού] was built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the year 132 AD. Hadrian loved Greek culture and thus he visited Athens very frequently. During his visits he initiated several building projects, and he openly aimed to make Athens the cultural capital of the Roman Empire. Building his grand Library was a great step in making that goal a reality.
It is said that the Library held almost 17,000 papyrus scroll and was exquisitely decorated with mosaic and marble floors and featured a large pool of water at its center. However, The Library was severely damaged in 267AD by the Heruli tribe [the same tribe that destroyed the Odeon of Herod Atticus] but was later repaired at the beginning of the 5th Century AD.
In the Byzantine period, three churches were built on the grounds of the building complex, the remains of which can still be seen today. The most impressive ruins of the Library that have remained standing are the outer western wall that features decorative Corinthian columns, as well as the monumental portico that served as the entrance to the Library’s courtyard.
This post was written by GreekBoston.com