NEWS

Athens yields further ancient secrets

It was a tough but productive year for the First Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, which is responsible for the Acropolis area. In the ephorate’s annual report on May 27, director Alkistis Horemi said that some excavations had resulted in unexpected finds, such as a sanctuary of Pan carved into the rock along Apostolou Pavlou Street. Other finds at the Roman Agora have added to our knowledge of its extent, structure and settlement phases. What archaeologists believe to be a sanctuary of Pan was found during the work on creating a new approach to the Pnyx archaeological site and shaping the area surrounding the junction of Aiginitou and Apostolou Pavlou streets. On the northern wall of a newly discovered rock-cut chamber is a relief of Pan, seated on a rock, and a dancing nymph. «Between the two figures,» said Horemi, «is the shape of a tree, and to the left is a dog sitting on its hind legs, facing the two figures. The image is unique. It probably depicts the myth of Pan and the nymph Pitys, who was turned into a tree. This is probably a sanctuary of Pan. «On the external wall of the chamber is a large relief, with a band of imitation marble facing on its base, surmounted by floral decoration.» Work is currently under way on the project of landscaping the 70 hectares of Philopappou Hill. This is part of the overall unification of archaeological sites, and the objective is to create «a visitable site with the double identity of an archaeological park and a green area for recreation, with the accent on the monuments, temples, fortifications, road grid and water system.» The monument known as Socrates’ Prison has been cleaned up. A protective cement wall erected during World War II to make a hiding place for the antiquities of the Acropolis and the National Museum was pulled down, revealing what proved to be «the back of a monumental two-story house, the rear rooms of which had been cut out of the rock, although the front rooms were more conventional masonry.» Temple of Zeus The demolition of the Bastia Theater – started in the 1930s and never completed – brought a surprise. The theater had not destroyed the antiquities beneath it, and a large portion of the ancient Koile road was uncovered, together with the rock-cut dwellings on either side of it. On the archaeological site of Aghia Marina, ancient rock carvings from a temple of Zeus which had been discovered in 1830 but later covered over by earthworks, were rediscovered. At the Ancient Agora museum, housed in the restored Stoa of Attalos, conservation work was done on the roof tiles, the marble guttering decorated with a lion’s head, and the decorative frontal tiles. Statues were cleaned and repairs were made to 200 of the 500 vases that had suffered damage in the 1999 earthquake. Work on the site of the Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Library has concentrated on freeing the two large Roman monuments. To the east and west of the Fetihye Mosque was found part of the stylobate of the eastern peristyle, with six columns. The corresponding portion of the eastern peristyle and shops were freed from cumbersome architectural additions. «Another important find,» said Horemi, «was the remains of three apses and the north aisle of the early Christian church which preceded the Fetihye Mosque. These had been excavated in 1964. The central apse of the basilica is based on part of the stylobate of the eastern peristyle of the Roman Agora. Basilica and mosque «When a large tree was removed from the central apse, the lower part of a pentagonal niche was found, which must be the mihrab of a mosque. This means the basilica was once used as a mosque. So when Mohammed the Conqueror came to Athens in 1456, he would have seen this mosque in the basilica, and not the Fetihye Mosque, which must have been built later.» After the destruction of the central aisle of the basilica, the northern apse was used as a chapel in the middle Byzantine period, and the masonry altar, part of the floor and remnants of a casket-shaped tomb are among its remains. Most of the antiquities found on the Makryianni site where the new Acropolis museum is to be built (including a densely populated part of the ancient town with buildings from the seventh century BC, an early Christian house and a third-century AD Roman bath) will be displayed in situ. The 2001 excavation uncovered the continuation of the ancient Road I, remains of middle Byzantine era installations, and part of a building complex erected in the mid-seventh century AD on the ruins of older early Christian and Roman housing. One notable find was the marble head of a philosopher. The western portion of a late Hellenistic marble sculpture workshop was found next to a group of storage tanks. These contain fragments of unfinished sculptures and vases, which show what types of goods were produced. West of Road II in two bell-shaped tanks that belonged to a late Hellenistic house were a large number of vases, together with a table and cooking utensils from two successive evacuations of the site which took place in the second century AD and early Roman times.