Athens: the Library of Hadrian

The Library of Hadrian, west façade and propylon © David Gill

Visitors to Athens probably focus on the Agora and Akropolis rather than other equally important remains that can be found in the city. One of the most impressive is the Library of the Emperor Hadrian that lies in the district of Monastaraki, to the east of the Agora and immediately to the north of the Roman forum. The access is from the west, just like the Roman forum.

The Library of Hadrian, west façade © David Gill

The Library dates to AD 132, following Hadrian’s visit to the city. The entire complex measures approximately 125 m long.

The marble for the columns on the propylon were imported from Asia Minor, and those along the front of the building from Karystos on the island of Euboia. The rest of the western façade was made from Pentelic marble.

The Library of Hadrian, south-east exedra © David Gill

Four semi-circular exedra were placed at each end of the north and south walls of the Library.

The Library of Hadrian, east wall © David Gill

The library itself, along with adjacent lecture and reading rooms, was located at the eastern end of the complex. The eastern wall was limestone.

The Library of Hadrian, the Quatrefoil Building © David Gill

The Library was damaged during the Herulian attack on Athens in 267. Perhaps two decades later a new wall was constructed to enclose the area to the north of the Akropolis. This defensive wall incorporated the south wall of the Library; and the Library itself projected north of this new line.

The Quatrefoil Building (or Tetraconch) was constructed in the centre of the Library in the early 5th century AD. This is possibly one of the earliest churches in Athens. The bases for the Hadrianic peristyle, originally consisting of 100 columns made of Phrygian marble, can be seen in the foreground.

The standing columns come from a 7th century church.

The Library of Hadrian from the south-west with the Panathenaic Way in the foreground © David Gill

Excavating the Athenian Agora: the Stoa Basileios

The Stoa Basileios, Athens © David Gill

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.

The webinar is available here.

The Stoa Basileios, Athens © David Gill

Heritage tourism: Messenia

The fortress, Pylos © David Gill

Messenia in the south-west Peloponnese has been developing as a tourist destination. One of the main archaeological attractions is the classical city of Messene, and the Late Bronze palace near Pylos (‘Nestor’s Palace’). The fortresses at Pylos and Methoni are now tourist attractions in their own right with 46,000 and 71,000 visitors respectively.

Methoni © David Gill

The six archaeological sites in Messene now attract over 221,000 visitors a year (2019).

Data: Hellenic Statistical Service. Chart © David Gill

Heritage tourism: Attica

Rhamnous © David Gill

By 2019, the six staffed archaeological sites in Attica (outside Athens) had attracted over 445,000 visitors. This was a significant growth from the 179,000 in 2004. The coastal deme centre of Rhamnous only attracted 7,000 visitors in 2019, up from 2,000 in 2004.

Brauron © David Gill

The sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron attracted 32,000 visitors in 2019 up from 4,000 in 2004.

Sounion © David Gill

The most popular site was the coastal temple of Poseidon at Sounion attracting 326,000 visitors in 2019.

Eleusis © David Gill

The Telesterion at Eleusis attracted 45,000 in 2019 up from 8,000 in 2004.

Data: Hellenic Statistical Service. Chart © David Gill

The other sites are the Amphiareion and the soros at Marathon. The Amphiareion is on the tentative list for World Heritage status as part of the ancient theatre grouping. It attracted over 23,000 visitors in 2019.

Heritage tourism: Messene

Messene from Mount Ithome © David Gill

The ancient city of Messene in the Peloponnese, below Mount Ithome, is becoming an important tourist attraction for this part of Messenia. Since 2014 it has been on the UNESCO tentative list for World Heritage. Numbers to the central part of the site have been monitored since 2012, and in 2019 were over 65,000. A small proportion of visitors visit the site museum: in 2014 there were over 9,000.

Messene © David Gill

The extensive site includes some of the best preserved ancient fortifications in Greece.

Data source: Hellenic Statistical Service. Chart © David Gill

Heritage Tourism in Greece: Nestor’s Palace

Nestor’s Palace © David Gill

The bronze age palace near Pylos was the findspot of a major archive of Linear B tablets that shed light on the economy of this part of Messenia. The location is popularly known as Nestor’s Palace.

The finds from the site are displayed in the nearby Chora Museum. Notice how the forecourt makes the visual allusion to the hearth in the palace.

Chora Museum © David Gill
Chora Museum © David Gill

Both locations attract significant numbers of tourists to this part of the Peloponnese. I have added data from the nearby museum at Pylos that also contains some regional finds.

Data Source: Hellenic Statistical Service. Chart © David Gill.

Heritage tourism on Crete: Spinalonga

Spinalonga © David Gill

The Venetian fortress of Spinalonga is located on an island in the northern part of Mirabéllo Bay, Crete. It was built in 1579 and was taken over by the Ottomans in 1715.

Spinalonga © David Gill

In 1903 it became a colony for those with leprosy; the colony closed in 1955.

Visitor numbers to Spinalonga. Data: Hellenic Statistical Service. Chart © David Gill

The fortress attracts over 400,000 visitors a year, and since 2014 has been on the UNESCO tentative list for World Heritage status.

Tourism and the Minoan Palatial Centres

Kato Zakro © David Gill

In 2014 the Minoan Palatial Centres of Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, Zakros, and Kydonia were placed on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The description outlines their importance:

“The palatial centres played a vital part in the evolution, development and propagation of Minoan civilisation and marked the social transformation from the proto-urban communities of the Early Bronze Age to a multifaceted and hierarchical society. The political, social, economic and religious reorganisation, the transformation of private life, and the unprecedented cultural development that emerged from the gradual centralisation of power and the accumulation of wealth, were focussed on the palatial centres, each of which covered a large populated area of Crete.

The Minoan palatial centres stand out for their unique monumental architecture, with its complex internal organisation, which passed into ancient Greek memory as the “Labyrinth”. They constituted the administrative, economic and religious centres of a wider geographical area and housed multiple activities. They not only contained the residences of the rulers and the priesthood, but were home to a multitude of people: artisans (metalworkers, potters, weavers, etc.), merchants, scribes. Various events and contests were held around the palaces.”

Figures from Hellenic Statistical Service. Chart © David Gill

By 2019 four of the palaces accounted for 1.1 million visits, with over 930,00 at Knossos itself. The Bronze Age sites of Mycenae and Tiryns in the Peloponnese account for just over 500,000 visitors (2019); they form part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Kato Zakro, the most remote of the four main palace centres, receives around 10,000 visitors a year. Mallia, next to a major resort, receives around 80,000 visitors a year, and Phaistos around 120,000.

Athens: the Agora of Caesar and Augustus

Agora of Caesar and Augustus, Athens © David Gill

The city of Athens deserves to be explored on foot. The agora of Caesar and Augustus lies to the east of the main agora area. The monumental Doric propylon for this space still stands at the west end of the agora. The inscription shows that the gate was dedicated to Athena Archegetis; it is dated to the archonship of Nikias, i.e. 11/10 or 10/9 BC. The architectural style evokes the 5th century Athens of Perikles.

There is an open colonnade inside the propylon, some 111 m long.

Agora of Caesar and Augustus, Athens © David Gill
Agora of Caesar and Augustus, Athens © David Gill

Heritage Tourism and Greece

Knossos © David Gill

Greece will be re-opening to tourists and dropping quarantine regulations (“Greece reopens cafes, island ferries“, ekatherimini.com 25 May 2020). There is concern that Spain and Portugal will try to attract tourists from Germany (Ilias Bellos, “Greece battling Spain, Portugal for German tourists“, ekatherimini.com 26 May 2020).

These are particular challenges for Greece. Tourists from Germany, the UK, France and Italy were the main national groups bringing over 8 million visitors (in 2015). Tourists from the UK have yet to be given clearance to travel to Greece and that group is worth in the region of $750 million to the economy of Greece. Heritage tourism to a region like the Argolid is worth over $230 million to the local economy. Knossos on Crete is at the heart of one of the nation’s most popular destinations. Heritage in Greece is a major asset for the tourist economy and needs to be protected until tourist numbers can increase and generate the much needed income for the sector.