From Plaka (the Old Town of Athens) taking the other street at the Lysicratos monument crossroads, Lysikratous str. (Odhos Lysikratous) you emarge at the edge of Plaka near one of the most hazardous road junctions in Athens, the meeting of Dionysiou Aeropagitou, Amalias and Sygrou.

Across the way facing Leoforos Amalias, stands Hadrians Arch, erected by the emperor to mark the edge of the Classical city and the beginning of his own. On the near side its frieze is inscribed This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus and on the other This is the City of Hadrian and not of Theseus.

Since there are few obvious signs of a Roman city, this makes a little sense to today’s visitor, but there are Roman remains south of the temple of the Olympian Zeus and recent excavations suggest that the Roman city occupied at least the Zappion Area.

Directly behind the arch, the colossal pillars of the Temple of Olympian Zeus dominate their surroundings. The largest temple in Greece and according to Livy, the only temple on earth to do justice to the god , it was dedicated by Hadrian in 131 AD, some 700 year after the tyrant Peisistratos had laid its foundations.

Hadrian marked the occasion by contributing a statue to Zeus and a sutitably monumental one of himself, although both have since been lost. From the temple, a shady root up to Syntagma or Kolonaki leads through the Zappio and the National Garden.

This was built by the Athenians in honor of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who was a friend of the city of Athens. Hadrian himself passed under this glorious arch to attend the inauguration of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The Corinthian style gate marked the border of the old city of Athens in relation of the new district that Hadrian built. On the east frieze, and under the arch, one can still see today the inscription “ΑΙΔ’ ΕIΣΙΝ ΑΔΡΙΑΝΟΥ ΚΟΥΧI ΘΗΣΕΩΣ ΠΟΛΙΣ” (“This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus”). On the west side of the gate, the inscription says “ΑΙΔ’ ΕIΣΙΝ ΑΘΗΝΑΙ ΘΗΣΕΩΣ Η ΠΡΙΝ ΠΟΛΙΣ” (“This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus.”)

Hadrian’s Library

A rectangular building (122 x 82 m) built in 132 AD by the Roman emperor Hadrian. Seen from above, it comprised a peristyle courtyard (with a colonnade), with special rooms for keeping papyri and books, lecture halls, and so on. The impressive structure was partly destroyed by the Heruli in 267 AD, and repaired at the beginning of the 5th century AD. At the same time, a beautiful quatrefoil church was constructed in the grounds of the atrium; a luxurious structure with exquisite mosaics, thought to be the work of the empress Athenais-Eudocia.

Sometime between the 11th and 12th centuries, a small church was built on the west propylaeum of the Library, where Areos St is today. This was known as, the church of “Aghioi Asomatoi on the steps” (it is now demolished). Also in the 11th century, the early Christian church in the center of the atrium was transformed into the medieval church of Megali Panaghia.

During Ottoman rule, this was the location of the Upper Bazaar, the commercial center of the period, with more or less a hundred proprietors. On the southwest side was the Voevodalik, the residence of the Voevod (the Turkish Commander). Close by, near today’s Mitropoleos St, was the seat of the Demogerontia, or Kouseyio, the seat of the Greek Administration.

Until the end of Ottoman rule (1833), this area served a purpose similar to that of the ancient Greek Agora – an administrative and commercial center – for the Athenians. The bazaar at the east end of the Library was burnt down in 1884. Excavation and study of the monument then commenced, and it opened to the public for the first time in the summer of 2004.