The Arch of Hadrian in Athens

Arch of Hadrian

Is it an arch or a gateway? That's the 1900 year mystery.
The Arch of Hadrian, or Hadrian's Gate, is one of Athens's most popular things to see. Still debated today, is why it was built and it actually commemorated.

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Where is the Arch of Hadrian

The Arch of Hadrian, also known as Hadrian’s Gate, is one of Athens’s most visited ancient sites after the Acropolis of Athens and the Parthenon.

Some would say, ‘but it’s just an arch isn’t it?’. Why was it built, and why do two inscriptions on opposite sides disagree on whom it’s dedicated. These are just some things still debated today, almost 1900 years later.

Completed in 131-132 A.D., it is not sure who commissioned the Arch of Hadrian; however, it was probably the citizens of Athens. There are suggestions it was built to celebrate the arrival of the Roman emperor Hadrian and honour him for his many gifts to Athens. Hadrian had been a citizen of Athens almost 20 years before the arch started construction.

Whilst, the Arch of Hadrian looks like an arch, it’s perhaps a gateway. It spanned an ancient road from the centre of Athens to many structures on the eastern side of the city that still stand today, including the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

It was built from the same (Pentelic) marble as other famous structures in Athens, including the Parthenon and the Tower of the Winds, all transported from Mount Pentelicus mountain northeast of Athens and southwest of Marathon. It was held together using clamps to connect the cut stones during construction. No cement or mortar was used.

The basic dimensions are 18m high, 13.5m wide, and a depth of 2.3m. The design is fully symmetrical from front to back and side to side.

Perhaps the most crucial aspect, and most debated, are the two inscriptions just above the arch’s peak and on opposite sides, naming both Hadrian and Theseus as the founder of Athens:

  • On the side facing the Acropolis and the Parthenon, the inscription says, ‘This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus’.
  • On the side facing the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the inscription says, ‘This is the city of Hadrian, and not of Theseus’.

Recently, it has been suggested that statues of Hadrian and Theseus were positioned on top of the lower level and on either side of the arch.

The Two Inscriptions

Still debated today after 1900 years, the two inscriptions are carved on the architrave of the arch’s lower level.

On the northwest side (towards the Acropolis) the inscription reads:

  • ΑΙΔ’ ΕΙΣΙΝ ΑΘΗΝΑΙ ΘΗΣΕΩΣ Η ΠΡΙΝ ΠΟΛΙΣ (this is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus.

The inscription on the southeast side facing the Temple of Olympian Zeus reads:

  • ΑΙΔ’ ΕΙΣ’ ΑΔΡΙΑΝΟΥ ΚΟΥΧΙ ΘΗΣΕΩΣ ΠΟΛΙΣ (this is the city of Hadrian, and not of Theseus.

The ancient road it spanned

The arch spanned an ancient road from the centre of Athens to many structures on the eastern side of the city that still stand today, including the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

The marble used to build it

The arch was built from the same (Pentelic) marble as other famous structures in Athens, including the Parthenon and the Tower of the Winds, all transported from Mount Pentelicus mountain northeast of Athens and southwest of Marathon.

Symmetrical design

It is a fully symmetrical design from front to back and side to side.

The architrave

The architrave is the lintel or beam that rests on the columns and supports the roof’s weight. It is decorated with carved reliefs.

Statues of Hadrian and Theseus

It has been suggested that statues of Hadrian and Theseus were positioned on top of the lower level and on either side of the arch.

The best places for photos, videos, selfies, and Perfect Instagram shots are facing towards the arch’s peak, facing the Acropolis of Athens and the Parthenon, and facing the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

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