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Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds

Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds (22)

While the Greek Agora, one of Athen's main attractions, was dedicated to the cultivation of the humanities and was a symbol of the city's active cultural life, the Roman Agora, which was built later, was dedicated to more practical matters. It is well known that the ancient Romans were a less spiritual and more pragmatic civilisation than the ancient Greeks. 

You have to pay to enter this site and visit its ruins, and although, archaeologically speaking, it is smaller and less interesting than the Greek Agora, the place has a few interesting architectural remains. 

The ruins here are barely two feet high, and cats mooch around between the tambours at the base of the numerous Ionic columns that surrounded this enormous 112-metre long, 96-metre wide courtyard. This square was home to bustling commercial activity in the 1st century BC, and trade in local products, as well as products from all corners of the empire, set the pace of life in the Agora and the surrounding area. Knowing the hectic past of this place, which was also used as a wheat market during the Ottoman rule, it is hard to believe the silence that pervades these ruins today. 

This square, which was probably bordered by offices and shops, was accessed through two propylaea built in Pentelic marble between the 12th and 2nd centuries BC. One of these, the western one, had four columns that supported the monumental Gate of Athena Archegetis ("the leader"). Once through the gate, the fun began: trade and administrative activities kept the agora packed. A clue to its bustling activity are the remains of the marble public toilets in the enclosure, which seated up to 70 people. Do you know of any public place today with so many toilets? 

One building will catch your eye, because it is undoubtedly the most interesting and best preserved: the Tower of the Winds. 

Built in 40 BC, this eight-sided tower was topped in ancient times by a weathervane that indicated the direction of the wind. It was built in Pentelic marble and is attributed to the architect and astronomer Andronicus Kyrrhestes. The tower is more than 12 metres tall and nearly seven metres in diameter, and topped by a pyramidal structure. 

The tower was designed to accommodate not just a sundial, but also a water clock, which was driven by a stream called Clepsydra, a name that has commonly been used to mean water clock ever since. 

Technologically speaking the tower is a fascinating piece, but the architect also used friezes to decorate the eight sides of the tower, which feature reliefs of the eight gods of the winds, each identified by his Greek name and each performing a different action. Therefore, if you know a bit about mythology and meteorology and you have a good pair of binoculars, you will be able to identify Zephyrus, the west wind, who is shown scattering flowers, and Boreas, the north wind, who is blowing into a shell. Skeiron, Lips, Notus, Eurus, Apheliotes and Caicias are the six remaining gods also represented on the friezes. 

A word of advice: if you have had enough of the ruins of the Acropolis and are not interested in visiting the archaeological remains of the agora, there is no need to pay to go in, since you can admire the beauty of the Tower of the Winds without even entering the enclosure.

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