Blog 69 15/09/2018 Strolling through Athens: The Tower of the Winds.

Posted in on 15 September, 2018 in News

Strolling through Athens: The Tower of the Winds.

Tower of the Winds 1840

One of my greatest loves is to walk through antiquity when there’s hardly anyone about, which usually means siesta time or the early hours of the morning in the Mediterranean. It doesn’t matter which season either. Each one has a unique mood. There are many walks in Athens, but a favourite is to walk around the Roman agora towards the Tower of the Winds. So much so, that I set a scene in The Embroiderer here. From here, I would always end up in a sidewalk taverna and have a drink where I could soak up the past. The Roman agora is set against a stunning theatrical backdrop of the Acropolis. One side leads to Monastiraki, the other to the Tower of the Winds.

The Tower of the Winds was built sometime between the first and second century BCE by Andronicus, an astronomer from the Syrian city of Cyrros and was known as the Clock of Andronicus Cyrristos. It is said to be the first weather station and was used by merchants to tell the time – even in darkness.  An octagonal building almost 40ft high, it is a combination of a bronze weather vane, a sundial, and a hydraulic clock. The time was read from the level of water in a pipe. The Greeks invented the weather vane and the Romans used them in the belief that the wind’s direction could foretell the future. The sides of the tower are decorated with a marble frieze, meant to indicate the eight points of the Athenian Compass. Each point is represented allegorically – Boreas – North, Kaikias – Northeast, Apeliotes – East, Euros – Southeast, Notos – South, Lips – Southwest, Zephyros – West, Skiron – Northwest.


It is also thought that the tower was used as a planetarium. It is made almost entirely of Pentelic marble; the same used for the Parthenon and rarely found in buildings other than temples.

Edward Dodwell 1821. Tower of the Winds Dance of the Dervishes

During the later Ottoman times, the tower was used as a Sufi Teke by the Mevlevi Dervishes who surrounded the interior walls with a mihrab niche and Ottoman inscriptions from the Koran. Every Friday the Dervishes performed an impressive ceremonial dance here. Its use as a Muslim place of worship saved it from the hands of British diplomat Lord Elgin, who made plans for it to be transferred to England in 1799. Because it was considered a sacred place, the Ottomans refused permission.

Illustration 1808

The design of the tower was described by the Roman architect, Vitruvius, and later found its way into fanciful reconstructions in the 16th-century Europe. It was influential in later Greek revival architecture. The Radcliffe Observatory building in Oxford, England, which now forms a centrepiece for Green Templeton College, was inspired by the original. The tower was completed by James Wyatt in 1794.

William Cole 1833

Martinus Rorbye


John Fulleylove.