Hadrian´s Arch

Located very close to the Acropolis of Athens, Hadrian’s Arch is one of the most significant monuments of the Greek capital.

Did you know that…

  • the Greeks were close friends of the Roman emperor Hadrian ?
  • Hadrian’s Arch separated 2 different Athens ?

In this article I will tell you the meaning of Hadrian’s Arch for the Athenians; besides talking about its curious architecture, a little bit of mythology, historical context and share a few curiosities with you. Let’s get to it!

History of Hadrian’s Arch

Although it is unknown who gave the order to build Hadrian’s Arch, it is believed that it was a gift from the Athenians to the emperor to commemorate his appointment (2nd century AD). However, Hadrian’s relationship with the Athenians began much earlier….

It turns out that the emperor Hadrian, of Hispanic origin by the way, had obtained Athenian citizenship two decades earlier. We can and do affirm that Hadrian was a “Philhellene” (lover of Greek culture). And I want to take this moment, dear reader, to tell you where this beautiful word comes from:

  • “Filos” (“φίλος”) means “friend” in Greek, although in the old days this term was also used to define a kind of love.
  • While “Hellene” is the predecessor of the gentilicio “Greek”. It was the Romans who literally renamed the Hellenes-Greeks. Although I must emphasize and stress that this “new” term comes from a region called “Magna Grecia” (founded by Hellenic emigrants to the south of Italy).

Now back to the subject…

There are two different and apparently contradictory inscriptions on top of Hadrian’s Arch. On one side it says “Welcome to Athens, the city of Theseus”; while on the other side we find “Welcome to Athens, the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus”.

I have already told you who Hadrian is, but who was the Theseus mentioned in his bow?

Well, none other than the hero founder of the millenary city of Athens… In fact his name (“Θησεύς”) in ancient Greek means “he who founds”). Although the best known feat of Theseus, and this is already part of Greek mythology of course, is that of ending the life of the Minotaur of the island of Crete.

Features of Hadrian’s Arch Architecture

Built in the years 131-132 A.D. Hadrian’s Arch is a combination of: a Roman triumphal arch in its lower half, and a small Greek Propylaea in its upper half, the latter characterized by its Corinthian columns.

I want to highlight a point that seems very important to me, and I am referring to the way in which its construction was carried out:

Hadrian’s Arch is composed entirely of Pentelic marble, however no cement or any other type of material was used and would have helped the assembly of the solid marble pieces. Instead, only clamps were used to connect the different cut stones.

The result is an arch 18 meters high, 13.5 meters wide and 2.3 meters deep. In addition to achieving a totally symmetrical design, from side to side and front to back.

How to get to Hadrian’s Arch

Leoforos Vasilisis Amalias 50, Athina 105 58

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