Hadrian’s Arch, Downtown Athens

Like a Roman triumphal arch and lying just 325 meters (almost 1070 feet) from the Acropolis, this impressive gateway once lay over an ancient road and was most probably built to celebrate the arrival of Roman Emperor Hadrian to Athens.

The emperor, after all, had bestowed many gifts upon the city and was considered sympathetic to Greek culture by Roman emperor standards. Interestingly, the inscriptions on the arch name both Hadrian and Theseus (mythical king of Athens) as the city’s founders.

The symmetrical marble structure, which is 18 meters (60 feet) high and 6.5 meters (21 feet) high boasts Corinthian elements and is topped by Corinthian columns. Its design is original as far as Roman triumphal arches are concerned, with a soft, refined upper level devoid of any major decorative items or statues that others have. There might have been statues for Theseus and Hadrian on the lower level, but there’s no definite proof of this.

The arch was actually a gateway between the old city of Athens and then new section that was built by Hadrian, according to Greek scholars today. The two enigmatic and seemingly contradictory inscriptions on each side have baffled academics, but may in fact be very simple in their message: the one facing the old city reads ‘This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus’, while the one facing the new city reads ‘This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus’. Today the arch still stands between the old and the new, representing an endearing emblem for Athenians and travelers alike.

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