Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Topography of Athens


Byzantine Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea, Athens / Creative Commons


By Dr. Nikos Moschonas
Historian
Institute of Byzantine Research

In the year 267 A.D the Heruls (Έρουλοι), a barbaric people of Scandinavian origin, who were established in the north coast of Euxinus Pontus, they were raided on Aegean islands and on the mainland of Greece. Also they invaded in Attica, conquered Athens, pillaged and set fired to it. The consequences of these raids onto the city of Athens were terrible. The resplendent city was totally destroyed, with only exception the Acropolis, which remained untouched. A thick layer of ash has covered the whole area of the city and the only things that distinguished from it were the burned ruins of resplendent monuments and buildings.

Map of the Roman empire and contemporary indigenous Europe in AD 125, showing the location of the Heruli on the Danish islands. / Wikimedia Commons

However, the previous great distraction of Athens was made by the troops of Sulla, the Roman leader who conquered the city in 86 B.C. although, the latter distraction Athens began to reconstruct thanks to generous offers from roman emperors, foreigner kings, such as Ariovarzarnus (Αριοβάρζαρνος) king of Cappadocia, and famous friends of Athens. Hence for the next centuries city was adorned with new, resplendent buildings. During the second century AD, Athens had not only regain its ancient brilliance but also had known a new one, thanks to Herodes Atticus and Roman emperor Hadrian’s beneficial interventions.

According to Pausanias’ comments (I, 20, 7), Aθήναι μεν όντωςυπό του πολέμου κακωθείσαι, των Ρωμαίων αύθις Αδριανού βασιλεύοντος ήνθησαν. During the reign of Hadrian were built the temple of Olympios Zeus, the Pantheon, the Hadrian’s Gymnasium and Library and also the whole city next to Ilissos River. Apart those buildings they were also common utility’s projects such as water supply reservoirs, streets, bridges and sewerages. However, after the Heruls raid the rebuilding program of Athens followed a slower rhythm without never is completely fulfilled as it was in the past.

As it is well known, the ancient city of Athens was developed around the Acropolis mainly in the area that expanded in the north side of the hill. Hence, after the battle of Plataea (Πλαταιές) in 479 BC, the city was fortified with Themistoclian Wall, ruins of it, in nowadays were survived in different spots of the city. From the Hill of Muses –well known in nowadays as Philopappos Hill- the Themistoclian Wall was descended to the northwest until to the place that Long Walls (Μακρά Τείχη) were started and connected Athens to Piraeus. From there the Wall proceeded northeast until the Hill of Nymphs, went through the Kerameikos and turned to east by crossing the Athenas Street at the junction of Sophocleous Street. From this point the wall proceeded to Aiolou Street and then turned southeast by following parallel course with Stadiou Street. From there the Wall went through Klauthmonos Square and then by following the southern part of Nikis Street came to Olympieion. From there by crooked line proceeded to the west reaching in the end the Philopappos Hill. Lysander demolished the Themistoclian Wall after the end of Peloponnesian war in 403 B.C but it was Conon who rebuilt it in 394 B.C. By the end of the 4th century B.C also established an intermediate wall from the Hill of Muses until the Hill of Nymphs. The Walls of Athens were totally demolished from Sulla in 86 B.C.

During the Hadrian’s era the old walls were repaired and the new Hadrian city was enclosed with walls too. These new walls started at the junction of the Voulis Street and Kolokotroni Street and expanded to the east following the axon of Vassilissis Sophias Avenue until the Merlin Street, then proceeded to the south east until the Presidential Mansion and from there was proceeded to south west until Olympieion, there was the meeting point with the old Themistoclian Wall.

The long and peaceful period that followed had as a result to remain unattended the walls of Athens. Only in the middle of the third century AD, according to the emperor’s Valerianus (253-260 AD) context of defensive programme, the Athenian Walls were systematically rebuilt and expanded.

Despite those repairs, in the next decade the walls were proved insufficient to protect effectively the city from the barbaric menace. The Herulian raid in 267 AD caused to Athens a terrible and utterly destruction and depopulation. Hence, the whole demographic and urban character of the city was subverted. The urban network was dwindling and confined in the main part of the city, which was the space around the Roman Agora. Walls surrounded this area, which extended northern of the Acropolis hill. The walls were established by the end of the third century A.D, perhaps during the reign of Probus (276-282 A.D) or little later. This new fortification was starting at the northwest end of the Acropolis walls, and was directed north along the eastern side of the Panathenians street reaching the Stoa of Attalos, which was invigorated to it. From the northern side of the vault the wall proceeding to east reaching the south wall of Hadrian’s Library, which was invigorated too and then it was directed eastern for about 350 metres until the place where later the family of Benizelos would establish their mansion and then turned south until the Acropolis walls.

It is obvious form all the above that this fortification walls were established very quickly under the status of uneasiness and fear. Besides the Athenians had still in their minds the remembrance of the Heruls riots. Hence, the inhabitants of the city, those who had remained, established a fortified wall by using as building materials the ruins of the ancient buildings. By doing this the Athenians had gained time and labour.

Athens now was a small and restricted settlement without many inhabitants, which tried to survive among ancient ruins. Despite all the above daily life returned back to normality and during fourth century AD Athens was again an important centre of culture and education. Famous scholars, such as Livanius taught there and young students from the entire Roman-Greek world were arriving there. Among the students were some of the most brilliant minds of the later antiquity such as Gregorius Nanzianzenus, Basilius the Great and Julian the well known as an emperor with the nickname offender.

However, Athens had never regain its previous glory. Synesius of Cyrene who visited the city by the end of the fourth century, had written that there was nothing left from the glorious past but only well known place-names. «Ουδέν έχουσιν αι νυν Αθήναι σεμνόν, αλλ’ η τα κλεινά των χωρίων ονόματα». The only things that someone could admire in Athens now, were the abandoned philosophical Schools and the plain Poikile Stoa (Ποικίλη Στοά).

Odeum of Agrippa in the Athenian Agora / Wikimedia Commons

During the fourth century Athens definitely, had started expanding again outside the internal wall and this had as a result the repairing of the external ancient fortification. Hence, in the whole area of Athens despite the riots and devastations, now there is a new structural activity around the end of the fourth century and at the beginning of the fifth. Therefore, in the place of the Ancient Agora, where the only surviving building was the temple of Hephaestus namely Theseum, was repaired now the Tholos and the Metroon, and in the south side of Agora, where was the Agrippa’s Odeum, a new building was established around 400 AD, namely Gymansium. This was an edifice that includes classrooms, library, arena and public baths. There were also established many private schools at the south side of Aeropagus hill. Moreover, Herculius who was governor of the Illyricum between the years 402-410 repaired the Hadrian’s Library.

In the year 401 AD Aetius was established at the east side a magnificent building honoured to the emperors Honorius and Arcadius. Another Gymansium was also established at the south side of Herodes Atticus Odeum and at the same time there were many others Gymnasiums, which repaired as well as many other edifices, such as the Roman public baths and buildings that located in the Hadrian’s city.

The expansion and development of Athens outwards of the post Roman wall was continued in the next centuries. This city’s expansion can justified the establishment of the external wall as well as the repair of the internal one, during the regime of the emperor Justinian I. The emperor however, had caused a fatal blow to spiritual and financial life of Athens, by closing the philosophical Academies in the year 529 AD. Moreover, some columns from the edifices of ancient Agora were transported to Constantinople in order to be use for the construction of St Sophia.

The concern for the reestablishment of the Athenian fortification was considered as a kind of amends of the damages. Despite the reestablishment of the external wall, the internal post roman wall never was abandoned or falls in useless. As a result of its use in an emergency situation the wall had repaired many times during the post Byzantine era and early Latin domination. During the second half of eleventh century along with the reparations of internal wall, was also established the Rizocastro which encircled the Acropolis hill. Therefore, by the end of Byzantine era, Athens had a complete defending system thanks to the three fortified surroundings.

A recent fortification, which was established by the order of Hadji Ali Haseki in 1778 AD, included a smaller area than the one of the ancient walls, replaced the devastated medieval walls of Athens.

Despite the continuous riots and devastations, which destroyed the countryside and the city, the inhabitation and activity in the whole urban space of Athens be continued although the fluctuations in the entire Byzantine era. The excavations brought to light Byzantine houses, workshops and a variety of buildings as well as entire neighbourhoods, which were located in the area of Ancient Agora, Agoraios Kolonos, also between the hill of Nymphs and Areopagus, at the south side of Rizocastro and north of Olympieion.
Great buildings were also established during the early Christian era and were demolished during the Herulian raid. In addition other edifices remained till the end of the sixth century and were abandoned after the Slavic raids. More recent buildings and neighbourhoods in the area of Agora and its surroundings dated between seventh and fifteenth century.

Moreover, in the south side of Roman Agora, inwards of the internal surrounding wall, are ruins of houses dated between tenth and fourteenth century. In many cases there evidences of devastation dated in the beginning of the thirteenth century (Leo Sgouros’ attack 1203, Frankish conquest 1204). Some, though, believe that this devastation caused by the wars of fourteenth and early fifteenth century.

Christianity that gets imported to Athens quite early thanks to preaching of St Paul had played an important role as far as concern the Athenian topography of the later centuries. According to tradition the first Athenian Christian church was established in the first century at the northern suburban of the city and inside was placed an icon of the Holy Mother of God, which was painted by St. Luke.

This church was identified with the first Christian basilica, which K.Pittakis had discovered in 1859 in the area of Patissia at the place that during nineteenth century was a small church of St. Luke. This church replaced in nowadays by an illustrious and bigger church devoted also to the same Saint.

The existence of a Christian church in the suburban of the city during the first Christian centuries is absolutely justified. It is possible that the church was established in the property of a wealthy Athenian citizen who provides the safety in case of emergency. In the same area was possible be established a Christian cemetery in the form of catacomb.

Outside of the city walls and in the south side of Lycabettus in the place where was the tomb of bishop Klematius, later during fourth century, was established a Christian basilica. In addition, at the left river bank of Ilissos was the Martyrion of Leonides, and also in the same spot in the second half of fifth century was established a basilica dedicated to the martyr bishop of Athens.

During the middle of the fifth century, after the decrees of Theodosius the second against the pagans (473 AD) had started the alteration of the pagan temples to Christian churches. At the same time new churches were established reaching at the end the number of twenty-two. On the Acropolis hill the temple of Athena, the Parthenon, had transformed to church for the worship of Virgin Mary, and Erechtheum alternated too. Moreover, between Parthenon and Erechtheum, in the spot where the temple of Athena Polias was, now established a church for the worship of the Holy Trinity and at the south side of the Propylaea the place was rearranged in order to establish a Christian temple for the worship of the Archangels.

Cave of Pan, Athens / Flickr, Creative Commons

Other places for the Christian worship were also the caves of the Acropolis. Therefore, the cave of Pan transformed to a church for the worship of St. Athanasius, the Klepsydra turned into a church for the worship of the Saint Apostles and the cave next to Thrasyllus monument alternated to a church for the worship of the Holy Mother.

During the first half of the fifth century, was established the basilica in the theatre of Dionysus and another basilica was established in the Asklepios temple for the worship of the Saint Anargyri. Moreover, on the top of the Herodes Atticus’ Conservatory established another basilica for the worship of St. Andrews.

In the main part of the city, which the post roman wall encircled, the Agoranomeion turned into basilica and the Kyrrestus’ Horologion alternated to baptistery. Moreover, at the beginning of the fifth century, inside the area of the Hadrian’s library, was established the fourth apse church of the Megale Panagia, which possibly was the Cathedral of Athens. However at the beginning of sixth century, this temple was rearranged to a smaller basilica and during the same time other churches were established too. Hence, at the Agoraios Kolonos hill the Hephaestus’ temple was turned into Christian church for the worship of St. George. At the foot of Areopagus there was an old-christian church for the worship of St. Dionysios Areopagites and next to it there also ruins of a recent one temple, around seventeenth century, for the worship of the same Saint. In the cave, which is in the hill of Nymphs established a church for worship of St. Marina. Another old-christian temple was also established at the north side of ancient Agora and in nowadays is under the church of St Philip, another one old-christian temple was in the place where church of St Thecla is established. The last one was even northern, in Euripidou Street, in the place where the small church of St. John of Column is.

At the eastern side of the Acropolis there was five old-christian churches, one was in the area where later was established the church of St. Catherine, another in the place where established the church of the Panagia Soteira, of Lycodemus. The third one is of course the basilica inside the National Garden and the fourth is the basilica at the northern side of Olympieion for the worship of St. Nicolas. Finally the last was at the southern side of Olympieion.

The temple of Demeter and her daughter next to the south riverbank of Ilissos was turned into the Holy Mother’s church. Despite the cases of an alteration of a pagan temple or place to Christian church, people still preserving the worshiping character of the place and they only change the name of the pagan God to a Christian Saint. Hence, the Parthenon, a temple for the worship of the virgin Athena, was turned into a church for the worship of the Holy Mother, the Propylaea was turned into a church for the worship of the guardian Archangels, the Asklepieion was turned into the church of the Saint Anargyri and in the same place a water source considered as a source filled with holy water. Finally, around the ancient temple of Demeter and Kore, whose worship was relevant to death, now established a Christian cemetery.

There were also another eight Christian cemeteries in Athens; two of them were inside the city, at the southern side of the Acropolis, in the same area where was the St. Andrews church and the basilica of the Dionysus theatre. All the others were outside of the city, in the area of Kerameikos, of the Old Parliament, at the southern side of Lycabettus, near to Ilissos river, where was also the temple of Demeter and Kore and finally in the area of Cynosarges and at the southern side of Philopappos Hill.

Few years before the first half of eighth century was complete, Athens is promoted ecclesiastically from bishopric to metropolis; this indicates that the city underwent renewed development. In the ninth century there is a new development regarding the architecture of churches.

That period erected new churches such as the one of St. John the Baptist of Magoutes, which established in 871 AD in the lower northern part of the Acropolis at Mnesikleous Street. A large number of churches also erected in Athens from the tenth century till the end of twelfth century. Then the whole amount of Athenian churches estimated at forty. In nowadays, however, the churches that remained almost untouched are seven dated at eleventh century. These are the church of St Apostles of Solakes in Ancient Agora, the church of the St Asomati of Kerameikos, the church of the St Theodore, the church of Kapnikarea, the temple of Panagia Soteira of Lycodemus at the Philellinon Street, in nowadays named as the Russian church, the temple of St. Catherine, the church of St John the evangelist and one church dated in the end of twelfth century. There is also the church of the Holy Mother named as the Gorgoepikoos, well known in nowadays as the “Small Cathedral” or St Eleutherius.

As far as concern the rest of the churches of the above era, others are defaced because of the recent reparations and accessions. These churches are the St Saviour of Kottakes and the St Nicholas of Ragavas.

In addition there churches that replace with new ones, which are established over the old ones, preserving though their previous name, such as the church of St Irene, the temple of the Holy Mother of Chrysospeliotissa, the church of St. George of Karykis, and finally the church of the St. Anargyri of Kolokynthes.

In the end there some churches that preserving some traces in the ancient buildings.

Panagia Soteira of Lycodemus, medieval Athens / Wikimedia Commons

Few years before the first half of eighth century was complete, a new form in the Athenian architecture of churches was invigorate. The architectural form of two or four columned inscribed crossed type with vault. Churches with this architectural type are the most preserving in nowadays in Athens, apart of course the church of the Panagia Soteira of Lycodemus, which follows the octagonal form of structure, compared to the three apses church of St. Apostles of Solakes.

The majority of the churches were erected in a wide area of Athens, which expanded outside of the post roman wall, as the excavation’s elements, which are dated between ninth and twelve century indicate. At the northern edge of Agora, particularly eastern of Thesaeum was established already from the tenth till the twelfth century a wide and thickly populate neighbourhood, which abandoned in the thirteenth century and inhabited again after the end of eighteenth century.

As far as concern the inhabitation in the area, which is northern of the Agoraios Kolonos and proceed beyond the railway tracks, is longer.

In this area was discovered a big Byzantine building dated in twelfth century, which unfortunately destroyed because of the railway’s opening up. This building was consisted of thirty rooms and abandoned perhaps during thirteenth or fourteenth century. As far as concern its use they are many aspects among scholars. First the building considered as a residence of a noble person. Others consider it as a block of flats and other believe that was a market place or public building or as the residence of the monks of neighbouring monastery of St George of Theseum or finally as an inn for the pilgrims.

Another neighbour consisted of big private houses, without though particular plan of structure or decoration was excavated even northern. These houses appeared to be demolished by fire during the middle twelfth century. The cause for this demolition was probably the Norman raid, which took place in 1147 AD.

In the same area also which probably was industrial neighbour, archaeologists excavate a handicraft building, most probably a cotton-mill. The area soon was built it but another devastation, as the sources confirms, at the beginning of thirteenth century took place and destroyed everything once more. Of course there were other establishments and other destructions during the whole period of thirteenth and the first years of fourteenth century. As a building material was used unshaped stones and less material of ancient buildings ruins. The walls had been coating with plaster and the floors were covered with compressed dust and sometimes there were signs of mosaics and pavements made of either of ceramic or stone.

These structural phases were the same in the area of Agoraios Kolonos, where the edifices were established in their greater part by stones and bricks. As far as concern the ancient ruins, those were used at the edges of the building for bigger stability. The walls of those buildings also had been coating with plaster.

Despite the continuous disasters and re-buildings, the urban web of Athens was not reformed dramatically. During the medieval times the roads of city followed the same road plan as the ancient ones and sometimes they were identical. This continued till modern times and reached in nowadays especially in the historical centre of Athens. Outside of the Athenian fortification the ancient road plan web remained the same till in nowadays with some variations of course.

In the middle of twelfth century Al-Idrisi an Arab geographer, referred to Athens and described it as multi populate city, which is surrounding by gardens and cultivate fields. Few years later, in 1166, the patriarch Luke Chresoverges has no hesitation calling Athens as a blessed land. Even the Michael Choniata, the scholar bishop of Athens, who is always complaining about Athens and its decline, sometimes is astonished by the natural environment and admits that Athens was once a multi populate city. Moreover, despite the sandy and poor ground of Athens, Choniata describes fields with olive oil trees, and vineyards and fields plenty of wheat. The Attic landscape was completed with fields full of pine trees, which covered all the hills of the attic basin and reach till the feet of neighbouring mountains.

During the last quarter of twelfth century and few years before Choniata arrived in Athens, the city destroyed once again by Saracens who were conquered it and they tried also to take the Rizocastro and the Acropolis. Choniata came across with the view of destroyed Athens when he celebrates in Athens in 1182 the New Year coming.

The scholar bishop had in his mind the idea of ancient classic Athens and now what he saw was nothing else but ruined or devastated walls, houses excavated and transformed to fields, people starving and suffering from starvation and deceases. The bishop himself laments for the situation of Athens and in order to catch the powerful persons of his era attention, Choniata described in his orations and letters the horrible situation of his metropolis and of his flock. Despite though his attempts, Choniata during his stay in Athens he would see the utterly destroy of the city because of the riots of Leo Sgouros, lord of Nauplion. The Metropolitan defended with strength the city but the supplies and the courage of the inhabitants were eliminated. Athenians exhausted from the riots and devastations would not be able to resist further. Hence, Athens became an easy target for the Franks who arrived in Athens and conquered it. Choniata realised now that it was useless to resist surrender the city to Frankish knights and their leader Boniface of Montferrat. The new lords of the illustrious city, greedily, started to plundering and pillaging all the treasures, which were in churches, the relics and all precious things, which also were inside the churches. Moreover, Parthenon the illustrious temple of Mother of God was pillaged too and Choniata’s library was looting and its rare manuscripts were torn apart. Choniata himself forced to abandon the city and after a long roaming in Thessalonica and Euboea, arrived finally in the island of Ceos (Kea).

Boniface offered Athens and Attica as a fief to Otto de la Roche a Burgundian noble, who since then received the title Lord of Athens (Dominus Athenarum, Sire d’ Athenes).

Engraving showing the venetian siege of the Acropolis in 1687 / Hellenic Foundation for Culture

After the surrender of Athens and the exile of Choniata, the city was utterly under the Latin dominion and hence had lost any possibility of political or ecclesiastical protection from Greeks. During the two and half centuries of Latin dominion Athens transformed to a small town, which located inside the post Roman wall and included only the Rizocastro. The external wall was completely abandoned and it surrounds now only the ancient ruins together with Byzantine churches and devastating houses.

In thirteenth century there were little interventions in the Athenian urban area. In the Acropolis the Burgundian lords of the city in the middle of the century, were closed the main gate, known as the Beule Gate, and they use the second smaller gate, which located under the tower of the temple of Apteros Nike. From this place was the ascendance to Acropolis since the prehistoric years. In order to protect this place they also built a small wall, a part of it remains until today.

At the same era was established the fortification in the source of Clepsydra, opened a path in the north wall of the Propylaea and established the stairs, which provide the connection between the Propylaea and the fountain of Clepsydra.

Moreover, in order to reinforce the fortification of Acropolis established at the south side of Propylaea the Frankish Tower, which demolished in 1875. Thanks to this tower was possible the looking down of all Athenian basin and the surveillance of the Acropolis walls combined with another one tower established in the eastern side, known as Belvedere.

During the establishment of the Frankish tower was destroyed a old Christian church at the south side of Propylaea, but built up a new one.

The Catalans became owners of Athens after the battle of Kephissos River in Beotia in 1311. They turned the Propylaea to a government house (Palau del Castell de Cetines) and also established the St. Bartholomew chapel. In the Acropolis was also established the government, the garrison and some special nobles as well as the Latin bishop of Athens who lived there with a corps of twelve priests of the Cathedral of Athens.

The Florentine dukes of Athens, the Acciaiuoli family, increased the building activity of the city. Particularly, Nerio I Acciaiuoli (1387-1395) repaired the walls, opened up new roads and turned Propylaea to a ducal mansion. These repairs had as a result to transform Propylaea to an independent mighty fortress. Nerio also interested to renovate Parthenon and the church of Mother of God, which was there, and it was now a church of the Latin doctrine. In the same period was probably established the church of St. John of Magoutes, which was also turned to Latin doctrine.

Besides all the above, the restoration of the Orthodox Church and the reestablishment of metropolitan throne by Nerio I, has as a result the development once more of the building activity. The majority of the Athenian churches were repaired this period and moreover new ones has established. During this period established the small church of the Transfiguration at the north side of Acropolis, the church of St. Elias in the Roman Agora, which unfortunately do not exist anymore and the church of St. Frangus at Ilissos river, near the Stadium, known by traveller’s reports.

Around the same time, it seems to be that bell towers were new accretions to the Athenian churches. After the short Venetian dominion (1395-1403) the building activity continued in Athens during the regime of Antonio I Acciaiuoli. Although despite this activity, which took place during the Latin dominion, Athens has not mainly expanded outside of the post Roman wall and Rizocastro and remained a small town, which was laid on 400.000 m2 and the circuit of the town walls was 2.170 m.

However, this small town was accompanied by its illustrious past, which confirmed by the ruins of the Antiquity’s monuments, the interspersed ancient foundations, the innumerable inscriptions and apart from all the above monuments of the old Christian period, were the churches of contemporary Byzantine times, which confirmed once more the cultural continuity of Athens.
Hence, it is not odd the fact that Abulfeda a famous Arab warrior, historiographer and geographer of the first half of fourteenth century, was astonished by the city and described it as the fountain of Greek philosophy and as the land, which Sciences and philosophical tutorials of the Greeks still existed.

During the same time Ludolf a German priest who came from Sutheim in Westphalia and was a pilgrim to the Holy Land (1336-1341) came to Peloponnese and collected all information about Athens, without of course visited it.

This city, Ludolf quotes, was previously illustrious and famous but in nowadays is almost deserted. (Haec civitas quondam fuit nobilissima, sed nunc est quasi deserta). Ludof proceeds by explaining that this city’s devastation was a result of the transportation of the entire Athenian ancient ruins to Genoa in order the maritime city decorated with these. Ludolf quotes that in Genoa there nothing else but only the Athenian marble columns and statues, which were transferred in the city. Exclusively Athenian marbles built according his opinion Genoa as Trojan stones established Venice.

Although this perception is exaggerated and based on false rumours, can be explained by two real facts: first of all the westerns’ inclination to stealing from Greek peninsula the works of Antiquity and secondly the fact that the mighty Italian cities such as Genoa and Venice tried to outshone the glory of Ancient Rome and also provide themselves as the heirs of the illustrious cities of Greek Antiquity.

At the end of fourteenth century, the Italian notary from Capua Niccolò da Martoni visited Athens during his voyage to Italy after his pilgrimage to Middle East. He arrived in Athens in 1395, February twenty fourth and he stayed there for two days. During his stopover in the city he has the opportunity to see and admire the monuments of Athens. His report is an important source as far as concern the Athenian area of this period. As Martoni referred the city is between two mountains and encircled by a marvellous plain filled with beautiful olive oil cultivations (plura et pulchra oliveta). Moreover, Martoni also referred to the amount of ancient monuments and described the size and the area that the city had during old times. The author also focused on the fact that the city now, after the last destruction, remained a small settlement next to Acropolis.

According to Martoni’s testimony the city has more or less thousand houses. Moreover, Athens has no inn or other place for accommodation of travellers. Hence, Martoni had to stay in the house of Latin archbishop. The Italian visitor during his short stopover in the city showed a special interest to Athenian antiquities. Therefore, he visited the Hadrian’s aquaduct in the feet of Lycabettus hill and the named school of Aristotle. Then he descended the Ilissos riverbanks and reached to Olympeion, which he thought that it was Hadrian’s palace. He also described the elegant Hadrian’s Gate, the ruins of Stadium and the roman bridge of Ilissos river. Next stop in his tour was Acropolis. Martoni there admired the ducal palace of Propylaea and also astonished by the Parthenon, the great Church of Mother of God as he called it. The Martoni’s description of the building is quite detailed and has references to previous traditions regarding the Parthenon.

Athens Olympeion / Wikimedia Commons

During the first half of fifteenth century had visited Athens twice in 1436 and 1444 the Italian antiquary Cyriaco de Pizzicoli from Ancona. Cyriaco observed more deeply the Athenian area and describe the antiquities, drawing them and transcribe the ancient inscriptions. In his first visit he saw the Hadrian’s aquaduct and he also thought that was the Aristotle’s school. Moreover, he also believes that the Olympeion was Hadrian’s palace and described the monuments of Lysikrates, Thrassylus and Philopappos. Cyriaco also referred the New Walls of Athens (nova moenia), which according to his opinion were established by Catalans or Florentines. It is obvious that Cyriaco described the post Roman wall of Athens, which had repaired during the Latin dominion.
Outside of the wall Cyriaco had visited Theseum and he referred to it as a temple of Ares. During his second journey to Athens, eight years later, Cyriaco described the Horologion of Kyrrestus the octagon temple of Aeolus as he quotes, and then he ascended to Acropolis and there he described the Propylaea and is astonished by Parthenon that excellent and marvellous temple as he quotes (exilimium illud et mirable templum). It is worth to note that Cyriaco is the first visitor of Athens who used the term “Acropolis” instead of the medieval term of “Castle” (Castrum).

Few years after the middle of fifteenth century, an unknown Greek author made out a guide for the Athenian antiquities with the title Theatres and Schools of Athens. This guide entitled as the Anonymous of Vienna consisted of real documents along with myths, legends and stories.

Of course the main purpose of the guide’s author was not to describe the Athens but to identify the monuments and the places of the ancient city. Also he intended to identify the Schools of great Philosophers and tragic Poets using the description of the place and recalling the ideas of his era.

Therefore, he locates at the suburban of Athens, some of the greatest Philosophical Schools. Hence the Academy was located at the place of Vasilika at the south of the city. The Plato’s College was located at the Paradeision, known in nowadays as Patissia. The Eleatic School was placed at Ampelokepi where the ancient municipal of Alopekis was established. Finally the schools of Diodorus and Polyzelus were placed on Hymettus hill. According to the guide inside the walls of Athens was the Socrates school in the Horologion of Kyrrestus and western of it were the Themistoclian palaces as it called the ruins of the Roman Agora.
The guide also referred to the area of Ancient Agora and in the whole area, which expanded in the south side of Acropolis. There were the ruins of Herodes Odeum that in guide were identified as the Miltiades palace. Moreover, the Stoa of Eumenes was identified as the Lyceum of Aristotles. In the eastern area of the Acropolis among others monuments standing also the Lysikrates Monument known nowadays as the “Lantern of Diogenes”.

In the guide also mentioned the Hadrian’s Gate, the Olympeion and the Enneakrounos spring of Kallerhoe. Also mentioned the temple of Demeter and her daughter, the Stadium and the Hadrian’s water supply and in the end mentioned the Acropolis, there the temple of Apteros Nike considered as a small college for musicians established by Pythagoras of Samos and also mentioned the illustrious palace of Propylaea in which was the Chancellery.

In the area where was the ancient gallery mentioned the arcade of Stoics and in the opposite side was the college of the Epicureans. Finally mentioned the Parthenon the temple of the Holy Mother of God.

In 1456 the hordes of the Ottoman commander of Thessaly, Omar, conquered the city and the ducat of Athens was overthrown and the new Ottoman dominion was established. Two years later in the autumn of 1458 the sultan Mahmed II the second visited Athens, guided in the monuments and inspected the harbours. Mahmed was excited by the view of the Acropolis and of the other monuments and he also expressed his favour to Omar because the latter managed to conquer the city.

The ottoman conquest took place without demolitions and destructions. However, few years later in 1464 Athens suffered by Venetians riots and the Venetians tried to seize Acropolis without though any success. As a result the rest of the city was destroyed and demolished.

Few years later around 1470 an unknown Venetian visited Athens and he made out a remarkable description of the city. He mentioned in the city’s location, he described the Castle –Acropolis- that is very beautiful and being astonished by Parthenon, which considered as a temple of the Roman times and by the palaces of Propylaea.

The fortified city is expanded northern of the Castle and outnumbered ruins and relics of the ancient buildings are inwards and outwards of the walls. The ancient walls are destroyed though are still impressive.

The Venetian visitor mentioned the Olympeion and he described the Hadrian’s Gate as a nice triumphal arch (un bel arco triumphale) and also he transcribed the Gate’s two inscriptions. The visitor in addition saw the Hadrian’s water reservoir at the feet of Lycabettus, mentioned as a School of Aristotle, he described Lysicrates’ monument as a fine marble building shaped as a lantern and established not far away from the walls of the inhabited area. He also mentioned the Thrassylous and Thrasicles two monuments and the Philopappos monument too considered as Hadrian’s Library.

As the tour proceeds the visitor mentioned the entrance of Hadrian’s library, which used as the northern city’s gate, the Horologion of Kyrrestus described as a remarkable building and finally he visited Piraeus where the marble lion was still in its place.
It is quite obvious from all the above that all documents despite the differences among the visitors based on their culture, lifestyle, interests and information, have some common elements that provide specific conclusions.

Therefore, the most important conclusion is that Athens was restricted inwards the post-Roman walls and Rizocastro. Moreover, in all documents mentioned the destruction of the ancient wall, the survival of certain edifices and monuments of Acropolis and some others in down town. It is also quite clear in all documents the focus on interest about antiquity and the lack of any kind of information as far as concerned the medieval monuments of Athens or at least their existence.

The Monastery Of Kaisariani And Koutouki Cave / Wikimedia Commons

In the suburban there were impressive medieval monuments such as the monastery of Kaisariani, the monastery of Asterius and that of St. John Kynegos, which still established in Hymettus hill. Apart the monasteries there were medieval chapels too such the Omorfokklesia in Galatsi and the remarkable monastery of Dafni in which were the Cistercian Order and also been used as mausoleum for the Frankish Dukes of Athens. Quite impressive monastery was also the Monastery of Kleiston, which was established in Mount Parnes.

All those monasteries were established from the middle tenth century until the beginning of thirteenth century and of course they are splendid monuments of Byzantine architecture.

During medieval era the shape of the Athenian landscape changed thanks to human interventions. The Athenian olive groves, the vineyards, the gardens, the pine trees fields were usually destroyed during the riots and what remained was only burned ground and ruins.

The rebuilt of the area after the riots followed different rhythms that focused on circumstances and the population’s needs. The peasants’ houses devastated and they did not repair because the needs of the people had changed. However, in some cases in the place of previous buildings they were established new ones.

As far as concern the needs of Athenians regarding communication between the city and suburban had changed little during medieval era. The ancient road web still was in use and supports the needs of people.

The roads of medieval town of Athens went through the gates of post Roman wall and crossed the road web of ruined urban space of Athens and together reaching the gates of external ancient wall, there the roads radiated guiding outwards of the city.
In the west the road that previously went through the Piraeus Gates of the ancient wall now was reaching in the harbour by following the direction of modern Piraeus Street.

In the north from the Sacred Gate went through the Hiera Odos (Sacred Street), which reached to Eleusis and Peloponessus. At the Dipylon another road leaded to Academy. In the northern part of the wall, at the conjunction of the Aeolou and Sophocleus Street, were established the Acharnian Gates that went through the road leading to Acharnai.

The eastern part of the city, was crossed by a road that had the same direction with the modern Apollon Street and went through Diochares Gates and proceeds to Mesogea and Kephesia by following the Streets of Mourouzi and Vassilissis Sophias.
Another road began from the eastern gate of the post Roman wall and proceeded until the entrance of the Stadium by following the Flessa, Nicodemus and Souris Streets, crossing the National Garden and going through the gate of the Hadrian’s Wall.

Moreover, another road crossing in the axon north south the area of the ancient city connecting at the same time the Acharnian Gates with the Diomean Gates in the Olympeion.

The line of this road is identical with the modern streets of St. Mark, Evangelistrias, and St. Philotheis along with Adrianou, Phrynihou, Athanasiou Diakou and Anapauseos Streets.

At the southern part, from the Gate of Ragavas of the post Roman wall was a road that reached to Phaleron by following the lines of modern streets of Tripodon, Selley, Byron, and Makrigianni.

The line of an ancient road that reaching to Dipylon in nowadays followed by the streets of Chatzichristou, Galli and Agiou Pavlou.
The tracing of ancient roads followed in nowadays by the streets Hadrian and Pandrossou, the streets of Agiou Filippou and G. Karaiskaki and also the Pallados Street.

Modern Athens provides little help to inhabitants to understand and realise the structure and morphology that the city had during medieval era.

The modern Athenian who lives in a suffocating atmosphere, hardly can realise that pitchy has covered the remains of ancient traces that despite were less hurry, though they had same direction. It is also a shame that municipality of Athens have not placed inscriptions or labels indicating the ancient roads and the gates of the walls of the city.
From the 140 churches that are classified and existed in Athens during the medieval and post medieval era, in nowadays few they have remained. The majority of those churches demolished during nineteenth century. An example of this demolition was the church of Mother of God Rodakiotissa in the Ermou Street. The church of Kapnikarea was saved by the intervention of Ludwig, king of Bavaria and King Otto’s father.

The greatest disaster took place during nineteenth and twentieth century thanks to Neoclassicism, which in order archaeological excavations take place, permits the destroy of previous Byzantine churches. Hence, remarkable churches as the Ypapanti, the Christ of Metroon, and the Panagia Vlassarou were demolished.
The situation was more dangerous when foreigner archaeologist, knowing almost nothing about the medieval city of Athens, they decided the fate of the monuments. Therefore the remarkable church of Ypapanti was demolished even though there was indication that established in ninth century.

Of course even though a Byzantine church do not demolish it is necessary to regain its previous use as temple instead been a soulless monument.

During the Byzantine and post Byzantine era Athens were a small town and its daily life was following the race of its era. The urban web of Athens sometimes was small and other was expanded regarding to special circumstances that era had. However the city still wears the illustrious dress of Antiquity and been crowned with the most remarkable crown of all the Acropolis the most precious jewel of the world as the poet king of Aragon and duke of Athens Peter IV mentioned in 1380.
Magnificent buildings utterly complete transformed though in order to serve the new uses were accompanied by elegant Byzantine churches along with an amount of ruined ancient monuments. The glory of Athens causes the admiration of the visitors and makes proud its conquerors.

In 1423 Niccolo Macchiaveli an ancestor of the famous Florentine Macchiaveli had sent a letter to his uncle who was in Leukada describing Athens and quoting “My dear you have never seen such a beautiful place than this and never seen such a fine castle”.

Comments

comments