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Athens Tower of the Winds Is World’s Oldest Meteorological Station

Tower of the Winds, Athens, meteorological station and clock
Tower of the Winds below the Acropolis Hill. Credit: NikosFF/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

The Tower of the Winds in Athens is the oldest meteorological station in the world, and one of the most important ancient monuments in Greece.

Standing just below the Acropolis in the middle of the ancient Roman Agora, the Tower of the Winds was built in the 1st century BC. It is also called Αέριδες (Aerides) by the Greeks, meaning winds.

It is a beautiful-looking octagonal tower, standing 13.5 meters (44.3 feet) high with a diameter of about 8 meters (26 feet) and is made of the well-known Pentelic marble.

The Tower of the Winds is classified as belonging to the Corinthian style (from the capitals) while its interior is in the Doric style (heavy strict).

To this day, the exact reason for its construction and placement in the particular point in the Roman Agora is not known exactly.

What is known from testimonies of the time is that the Tower of the Winds was designed by astronomer Andronicus of Cyrrhus of ancient Macedonia.

A clock tower and meteorological station

Research indicates that the height of the structure, the sundials, the wind-vane, and its placement at the specific point in the Roman Agora make it an early example of a clock tower.

However, archaeologists believe it is probably both a clock tower and a kind of meteorological station likely used by merchants to calculate the time and the prevailing winds that affected the trade routes through which their merchandise would arrive.

At the top of the roof of the Tower of the Winds there was a brass wind-vane in the form of a Triton, which rotated to indicate the direction of one of the eight main winds.

Specifically, the frieze depicts the eight wind deities: Boreas (N), Kaikias (NE), Apeliotes (E), Eurus (SE), Notus (S), Lips (SW), Zephyrus (W), and Skiron (NW), and there are eight sundials.

In the interior, time was measured by a water clock, driven by water coming down from the Acropolis through a pipe. Researchers believe that the height of the tower was such that the sundials and the wind-vane would be visible on the Agora.

We can conclude that the maker of the monument combined the inventions of previous watchmakers, such as Archimedes, Ctesiphon, and Philo.

Tower of the Winds, Athens, first meteorological station and Clock
Another view of the Tower of the Winds. Credit: Joanbanjo/Wikimedia Commons Joanbanjo – Own work
CC BY-SA 3.0

The tower through the ages

The history of the Tower of the Winds monument inside the Roman Agora followed the history of Athens itself.

In Christian times, the Aerides became an Orthodox church and a cemetery was built in the surrounding area.

When the Byzantine Empire collapsed after the fall of Constantinople, Greece was taken over by the Ottomans.

The monument became a place of prayer for the Order of the Mevlevi Dervishes and was named “Brakis’ tekke.”

It was then that dervishes opened the windows that did not exist when the tower was built.

Ironically, it was for the sake of the Mevlevi Dervishes that the Tower of the Winds is still standing in Athens.

Lord Elgin, the man who removed and transferred the Parthenon Sculptures to England, had his eyes on the particular monument as well.

Lord Elgin wanted to move the whole Tower of the Winds to England, but the Mevlevi Dervishes did not allow for it.

After the liberation of Greece from the Ottomans, the Athenians of the time believed that the structure was a temple dedicated to the god of winds, Aeolus, hence the name of Aeolus Street that ended at the Roman Agora at the time.

Following maintenance and restoration work by the Ministry of Culture, the monument is now open to the public.

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