Reconstructing archaeological remains can be problematic. How do they influence the visitor’s interpretation of an archaeological site? Do they enhance the visit?
One of the most successful reconstructions is the two-storeyed Stoa of Attalos that forms the eastern side of the Athenian agora. It is some 116 metres in length. It was given to the city of Athens by Attalos II (159–138 BCE) of Pergamon. The reconstruction was undertaken by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens from 1953 to 1956. Its colonnade not only provides welcome shade to visitors to the site, but the rooms to the rear of the colonnade house the archaeological finds made during the excavations.
The fragmentary dedicatory inscription that was originally placed on the architrave above the lower set of columns is displayed in front of the Stoa. It identified the donors as ‘King Attalos, son of King Attalos, and Queen Apollonis’. The text was not incorporated on the reconstruction in case new fragments required an adjustment.
A large base made of Hymettian marble was found in front of the stoa. This may be the statue mentioned in the dedicatory inscription on the stoa. Cuttings suggest that it supported a bronze chariot, similar to that placed at the western approach to the Athenian acropolis. It was later rededicated to the emperor Tiberius.
Complex heritage sites like the Athenian Agora and the Akropolis can present a series of narratives. The two-storeyed colonnade or stoa was dedicated by King Attalos II of Pergamon in north-west Anatolia (159–138 BC).
The father of Attalos II, Attalos I (along with Ptolemy III Euergetes), was added to the representation of the ten heroes (The Eponymous Heroes) representing each of the Athenian tribes in 200 BC.
Eumenes II (197–159 BC), the elder son of Attalos I, added a two-storeyed stoa on the southern slope of the Athenian Akropolis adjacent to the theatre of Dionysos. The rear of the stoa consists of a substantial retaining wall. Above and behind the stoa was the road that ran around the Akropolis and into the theatre of Dionysos. The effect of the colonnade would have mirrored the stoa at Pergamon that flanked the theatre on the slope of the royal city’s akropolis.
A major monument celebrating Eumenes II and dated after 178 BC was placed adjacent to the Pinakotheke at the main western entrance to the Athenian Akropolis. It in effect balances the temple of Athena Nike on the other side of the main access ramp. Eumenes was placed in a four-horse chariot. At the end of the 1st century BC the portrait of Eumenes was replaced by that of Agrippa.
The cutting for another Attalid monument, dedicated to Attalos II, can be found immediately to the north-east of the Parthenon. This also supported a monumental chariot; this referenced the chariot of Helios that appears in the most northerly of the metopes on the east side of the Parthenon.
To the east of the Parthenon itself were displayed a series of sculptures, seen by Pausanias (1.25.2), celebrating victories over the giants, the Amazons, the Persians and the Gauls. These had parallels in the sanctuary of Athena on the Pergamon akropolis.
John Camp has given another virtual seminar from the Athenian agora. The subject this time was the temple of Hephaistos that stands on the low hill overlooking the agora. He broke the temple down into its architectural elements from its foundations to the roof. His explanation of the proportions of the Doric order showed how a reconstruction can be made from the smallest of architectural fragments. Camp explained how the internal structure of the temple had been reorientated when the building had been converted into a Christian church. There was a reminder that the modern planting was informed by the excavated ‘plant pots’ around the temple.
The subsequent questions include a discussion of the date as well as the use pf polychromy.
These in situ seminars do so much to explain architectural remains.
The American School of Classical Studies at Athens is marking 90 years of excavation in the Athenian agora. John McK Camp II, the director, has given an on-site webinar to explain the early fifth century BC Stoa Basileios on the north side of this public space adjacent to the Panathenaic Way. He runs through various features including ‘the oath stone’, the placing of herms, and the public display of the Athenian constitution. He then expands on the vision to make this part of the agora more accessible to the public. It is a privilege to hear such a distinguished excavator explain his work and thinking in situ.