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From this end of the Castle, South-Eastwards, are those tall and beautiful Pillars, called Hadrian's Pillars, and are commonly reputed to be the Remains of his Palace; and were very probably the greatest Ornament of it, if not of the City too, when the whole Structure thereof was entire. The Stadium was the Place, where antiently they ran Races, fought wild Beasts, and celebrated those other publick Games of All-Attica, called Panathenia. It was probably here, that they chased the Thousand Wild Beasts, which Adrian every Year gave to the People for their Divertisement. (..) It is a long Place, with two parallel sides, closed up circularly at the East end, and open towards the other end. (..) It looks now only like a great and high Bulwark, cast up in that Form. At the End there appears yet some Stonework; the rest is now but a Stadium of Earth above Ground.
A journey into Greece by George Wheler, Esq., in company of Dr. Spon of Lyons - 1682. Wheler visited Athens in 1678 before the conquest of the city by the Venetians in 1687, the effects of which are covered in a separate page with old views and maps of the Acropolis.
British Museum: marble throne from the Stadium of Athens which Herodes Atticus rebuilt in 139-143 AD
When Pausanias comes to speak of this Place, he tells his Readers, That they would hardly believe what he was about to tell them, it being a Wonder to all those that did see it in antient times; and of that bigness, that one would judge it a Mountain of white Marble. It was Herodes Atticus, one of the richest Citizens Athens ever had, that built it; to do which, he consumed much of the Marble of Mount Pentelicus. Wheler
Hadrian added a new quarter to the city of Athens; it was located to the east of the old city and it is easily identifiable from the Acropolis. The Stadium which housed the 1896 first modern Olympic Games was built on the site of the ancient one.
Hadrian's Gate: (left) side facing the addition; (right) side facing the old city
For Adrian built a great way about here (..) and called it his Town; as the Inscription on the Gate of white Marble, between these Parts, and the rest of the City, testifie. For towards the City, it is written in Greek, This is Athens; in times past the City of Theseus: and on that side looking toward the Pillars; But this is Adrian's, and not the City of Theseus.
This Gate looks awry towards the Plane of the Pillars. Wheler
Further east are the remains of the city of Adrian, as it is called' on a magnificent gate to it, which is like a triumphal arch, it had also the name of new Athens, and I found an inscription to the honour of Adrian, put up, it may be, by the council and people of the citizens of both cities; though it is to be looked on as a part of Athens; it being only a compliment to give it the name of the emperor. This gate, which fronts to the west and east is of the Corinthian order, and very magnificent.
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745.
A triumphal gate was built in 131 AD at the end of a street (now called Odos Adrianou) that led from the old city of Athens to Hadrian's addition. The design of the gate is an attempt to combine a Roman arch (lower part) with a Greek temple (upper part); most likely it was endorsed by the Emperor, as Hadrian thought of himself as a talented architect.
Olympieion: the two isolated columns and the sout-eastern side of the Acropolis
There are no other remains of this city, except some very magnificent fluted Corinthian pillars to the number of seventeen, being six feet in diameter, and consisting of sixteen stones in the shaft, each about three feet deep; (..) by measuring their distances, I could see that there were six rows, and about twenty pillars in each, which make in all a hundred and twenty; and Pausanias says, there were a hundred and twenty pillars of Phrygian marble in that temple, which was built to Jupiter Panellenius, and Juno, and to all the gods. The grand gate does not seem to have corresponded to this building, as it is not parallel to the pillars. Pococke
The Olympieion is a large temple dedicated to Zeus Olympios. According to tradition, the establishment of a sanctuary on this site goes back to the early history of Athens. In ca. 515 BC, Peisistratos the Younger, began the construction of a monumental temple which was not finished because of the fall of his dynasty in Athens. Much later, in 174 BC, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, King of Syria, attempted to continue the erection of the temple, which was eventually completed by Hadrian in 124-132. Inside the temple stood a colossal chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statue of Zeus.
Hadrian's Library and the Bazaar Mosque in the background
The front of the Temple was built
by the Emperour Hadrian; wherein was the Image of Jupiter: and that the four Walls about it, were the utmost Bounds of the Peribolus, or Court, and of the whole Temple. (..) Within that space was the Sacred Place, whether it was a Grove, or Place of Sacrifice, Altar, &c. (..) We guessed, that the Wall of the Front had been plated with Metal, by places that look't as if something had been in that manner fastened to them, and afterward broken, or pulled off. But upon second Thoughts, I rather believe it was placed where the Statues of the Colonies had been fastened to the Walls.
The most magnificent and beautiful piece of architecture in this city is seen in the remains of a building, which is said to be the temple of Jupiter Olympius; which was a very antient temple, said by some to have been built by Deucalion, but it was Very much adorned and improved by Adrian; and what remains seems to be a building of that emperor's time; (..) the three pillars which stand together are fluted. Pococke
The Library built by Hadrian near the Roman Agora in 132 AD was comprised of a Corinthian propylon on the west side, an open peristyle courtyard, a library, a study and lecture halls.
Wall of the Library and a detail of one of its "cipollino" columns
The Marble of the Pillars is not of that sort, which was fetch't from Pentelicus, as the rest of the Building and Chapters are; but of a streaked Marble, white, and greenish. Wheler
The other pillars are plain, of one stone, and have a Very grand appearance. Pococke
The Library was sacked by the Heruli in 267, and was subsequently incorporated into the Late Roman wall. In the Vth century a church was built in the centre of the courtyard. During the Ottoman occupation it became the seat of the Voevode (Governor) and in 1835 it was part of a barracks built by King Otho.
Herodes Atticus' Odeon (a covered theatre for music and poetry) seen from the Acropolis
As soon as we were come out of the Castle, we turned on our left hand, and came to the Theater of Bacchus; just as Pausanias describes it, under the Southern-side of the Castle; upon the rise of whose Rock were the Seats of the Spectators; which comprehend some Degrees above a Semicircle: I was prevented from taking all its Dimensions exactly, because I heard the Turks from the Castle, were very angry with the Consul for doing it; so that I only paced it, and found the whole Body of the Scene, Ninety one Paces; of which the Seats take up Twenty five, on each side of the Scene; and the Scene it self Forty five. The Scene is oblong, jetting out six Paces more forward in the Front, than the Seats of the Spectators. (..) The antient Seats are ruined; but some distinct Distances appear, shewing where they have been. but the lowermost could not reasonably be thought so, because they were probably even with the Ground, being now part covered under Ground without, and perfectly buried within. (..) The Semicircular Area below the Seats, and the Scene, are filled a good height with their own Ruins. Wheler
At the south west foot of the hill are the remains of the theatre of Bacchus; it is built of large hewn stone; in the wall of the semicircle, opposite to the scene, are two arches at an equal distance from the middle of the theatre. Pococke
The actual Theatre of Dionysus (Bacchus) was eventually identified and excavated on the same side of the hill to the east of this odeon which was erected by Herodes Atticus in memory of his Roman wife Annia Regillia, who died in 160 AD (see her tomb in Rome).
Herodes Atticus' Odeon
That which appears best preserved against the Injuries of time, is the Front, looking towards the Sea; where three Ranges of Arches remain, one above another. The uppermost were, no doubt, for Windows, and to let in the air. Wheler
Tiberius Claudius Atticus Herodes was a most celebrated rhetor. He was born into an immensely wealthy Athenian family that had received Roman citizenship by Emperor Claudius. He was befriended by Hadrian. The odeon could seat around 5,000 people. It was damaged during the invasion of the Heruli in 267. Its ruins were later on incorporated into the medieval walls protecting the southern flank of the Acropolis.
(left) A modern panel at Syntagma Square Metro Station showing an early XIXth century view of the area to the east of the Acropolis; (right-above) inscription celebrating the completion of an aqueduct (in 2003 it was in the National Gardens); (right-below) floor mosaic of a Roman villa in Odos Apostolou Pavlou with a popular decorative pattern
the foot of this hill towards the town are two Ionic pillars, supporting their entablature, (..) on the eastern pillar are signs of the spring of an arch, so that it is to be
supposed an arch was turned from it, and that there were two pillars on
the other side; it is probable that on this arch was the remaining part of
the inscription, which, if it were perfect, is supposed to signify that Antoninus Pius finished the aqueduct in new Athens, which was begun by Adrian. Pococke
The view shows a gate which once stood on the site of the Metro Station. It was built by the Ottomans using as an architrave a large stone with a Roman inscription celebrating the completion of an aqueduct. The gate was pulled down after the 1830s when the area became the centre of modern Athens.
They count to the number of Two hundred Churches, in, and about Athens; whereof Fifty two have their particular Priests belonging to them; wherein they ordinarily read their Liturgies; the rest are seldom used, but upon certain times, and days of the Founders, and Benefactours; and are but as so many Oratories, or small Chapels. Wheler
(left) Agios Gianis stin Kolon; (right) detail of the column
Athens was imbued with classical culture and Emperors Theodosius and Justinian took steps to close the schools of Athens in order to deprive the city of its role in the education of the upper classes. Over time Athens lost population and importance; in the administrative division of the Byzantine Empire it was part of the Hellas theme (province) which had Thebes as the capital.
The transition to the new situation can be symbolized by Agios Gianis stin Kolon: this tiny church was literally built around an ancient cipollino column which was thought to have healing properties; only the access to its lower part was sheltered by the building and the capital of the column comes out from the roof.
Agii Apostoli: in the inset a pseudo-Kufic inscription
It was in the Greek half of the Empire that Christianity triumphed more completely during the 4th century.
The penal laws against paganism, by which the Christian Church, when it gained the upper hand, turned the weapon
of persecution against its old oppressors, were enforced
with difficulty, or not at all, in Italy. (..) It is fortunate indeed that many temples were turned into churches, and to that happy circumstance it is that we owe the survival among others of
the temples at Athens.
Thomas Graham Jackson - Byzantine and Romanesque Architecture - 1913
Agii Apostoli is a much restored Xth century Byzantine church which was turned into an Ottoman mosque; it is located in what used to be the market of the ancient city. While it is true that the Parthenon was turned into a church and that therefore Athens had a large cathedral, the size of the churches built during the Byzantine period is an indication of the limited population of the city.
In the later churches at Constantinople and Salonica,
the dome is enclosed in a lofty drum which from the smallness of the span becomes a tower and is carried up and
closed with a pyramidal roof. The drum is brought into a
polygon and panelled on each side with arcading, divided
by shafts worked in brick, and with brick capitals, carrying arches which break into the pyramidal roof. (..) This drum-tower design prevailed through all subsequent
Byzantine architecture to the last, and is found at Athens
and throughout Greece. Jackson
In 1204 the Byzantine Empire was partitioned among the participants to the Fourth Crusade; for Athens this meant the beginning of a rather chaotic period: the city belonged to the Burgundian De la Roche family until 1308, to Walter de Brienne until 1311, to Catalan mercenaries until 1388 and to the Florentine Acciaiuoli family until 1456 when it became part of the Ottoman Empire.
Kapnikarea is composed of two churches; the larger one with the high dome was built after the end of the Byzantine rule, but it shows that cultural ties with Constantinople were not cut.
(left) Mikri Mitropoli; (right) detail of the main portal
The Catholicon, as they call their Cathedral Church, is situated on the Northside of the Town, between St John's Pillars, and the Basar-Street. It is the best kept in repair, and the best adorn'd of any; although, in reality, but mean; and such, as for Stateliness, and Magnificence of Fabrick, would be found to exceed very few ordinary Parish-Churches in England. Wheler
This church replaced the Parthenon as cathedral of Athens when the latter was turned into a mosque. It was built during the Byzantine rule and it was modified after its end.
Mikri Mitropoli: ancient and medieval reliefs (in the lower left corner a detail of the calendar frieze)
The Churches in or near to Athens, have nothing extraordinary in them; only being, for the most part, composed of antient Fragments, there are often found Inscriptions about them. Wheler
The decoration of the exterior is all based on reliefs taken from ancient buildings or earlier churches. Of particular interest is a IInd century AD frieze representing the months of the Attic calendar.
(left) Agii Theodoroi; (right) details of its decoration including a pseudo-Kufic inscription
Going towards the North-side of the Town, you go by the Gate, that leadeth into the Town by the way of Thebes; and by it is the Church of St Theodorus. Wheler
Agii Theodoroi was originally built in the XIth century, but it was renovated in the following one; the presence of bricks decorated with Kufic inscriptions does not mean that these were added during the Ottoman period; in the Xth century the Byzantines won back some territories where the Arabs had built mosques which were decorated with Kufic inscriptions; they found them to be very elegant and made use of them in churches for a merely ornamental purpose.
(left) Pandanassa; (right) Metamorphosis tou Sotiros
Plaka is the neighbourhood at the foot of the northern slope of the Acropolis where several small Byzantine churches can be found. During the Ottoman rule it had a mixed Muslim/Christian population. Plaka means old in the Greek/Albanian dialect which was spoken in Athens before it became the capital of the Kingdom of Greece.
The Bazaar Mosque (Palio Dzistaraki Mosque)
The Turks have five Mosques here; four in the Town, and one in the Castle. The Mosque of the Bazar, in the middle of the Town, is the best of them. But that in the Castle, transform'd from Minerva's Temple to the use of a Mosque, is, without comparison, the finest in the World. Wheler
(left) Fetiye Mosque; (right) portal of a medrese (Koranic school)
In the second half of the XVIIIth century Athens had a period of development and was embellished by the Turks. When in 1833 Athens became the capital of the Kingdom of Greece, it had a pretty oriental appearance with a bazaar, hammams, Koranic schools and mosques. After a long period of neglect, the few remaining buildings of that period are gaining increasing attention.
Modern panel showing the frontispiece of "Voyage Pittoresque de la Grece" by Auguste de Choiseul-Gouffier (1782), French Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire
Indeed I have seen but few Towns in Turky, that have preserv'd themselves so well as this, nor that enjoy greater Priviledges under the Tyranny of the Turks. Wheler
During the second half of the XVIIIth century, also because of the writings of art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the monuments and sculptures of Vth century BC Athens (and in general Greece) were regarded as the highest point of ancient art and civilization. This led to an idealised view of Greece crushed by Ottoman domination and desiring to rediscover and reawaken its liberty, which is well depicted in the frontispiece of the book by Choiseul-Gouffier. In 1821 the revolt of the Greeks of Peloponnese and the Ottoman attempts to quell it, led to the intervention of France, Britain and Russia and eventually to their indirect support of the Greek War of Independence.
The Greek Kingdom was initially limited to Peloponnese, Acarnania, Boeotia, Attica and the Cycladic islands: its "obvious" capital was Nafplion (Napoli di Romania) which had had this role during the Venetian Kingdom of Morea (1699-1714). The majority of the Greeks still lived in the Ottoman Empire and there were far more Greeks in Constantinople, Smyrna or Alexandria than in any other town of the infant kingdom. The choice of Athens as capital aimed at emphasizing the links between modern and ancient Greece: a view supported by the Great Powers which protected the new kingdom, less by the Greeks themselves who felt they were the heirs of Justinian and the Byzantine Empire, rather than of Pericles and the Athenian Democracy.
The National Library
This explains why the expansion of Athens was so much based on Neoclassic buildings. The first king came from Bavaria and many buildings were designed by German architects. It was a sort of Neoclassicism à la carte in the sense that the architects assembled in various ways elements of different styles.
In the second half of the XIXth century eclecticism prevailed in many European cities, e.g. in Vienna, and some buildings of Athens were designed in a Neo Renaissance style.