Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.09.35 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.09.35

Hermann J. Kienast, Der Turm der Winde in Athen. Archäologische Forschungen, Bd 30​.   Wiesbaden:  Reichert Verlag, 2014.  Pp. xii, 231; 42 p. of plates.  ISBN 9783954900244.  €98.00.  

Reviewed by Pamela A. Webb, Bryn Mawr College (

Table of Contents

This large, handsomely produced volume is the long-awaited and welcome re-analysis of the Hellenistic Tower of the Winds (Horologion of Andronikos of Kyrrhos) in Athens by its most recent investigator, Hermann Kienast. The octagonal monument (once furnished with sun-dials, a weather vane, and a water-run mechanism) is structurally unique in the canon of Greek architecture, is remarkably well-preserved, and performed diverse functions throughout nearly two millennia. What the classical building has required, and finally has received, is the thoroughly competent technical examination that Kienast—with expertise in architecture, engineering, and archaeology—has brought to his subject.

The volume is divided into three sections. The first seven chapters, by Kienast, deal primarily with the history of the building, analysis of the classical architecture, and suggested reconstruction of the water-run mechanism. Section two, by Pavlina Karanastasi, presents the relief sculpture. Section three is a technical study of the sun-dials by Karlheinz Schaldach.

Chapter One offers a historical overview of earlier commentaries and research. The Tower was remarked on briefly by two ancient authors, Varro (De re rustica 3.5.17) and Vitruvius (1.6.4-5), but then does not appear again in written accounts until the later 15th century. First excavated by Stuart and Revett (1751-53), their publication The Antiquities of Athens provided, for its time, a fairly complete description of the architecture and sculpture.

Chapter Two presents a discussion of the site. The Tower stands amid several Roman structures, including the great marketplace on the west (figs. 31, 32, 34). While Kienast acknowledges it is impossible to reconstruct the site as it was in the Hellenistic period, he believes the immediate area surrounding the Tower was free of buildings. Most importantly, he elucidates the fact that the major east-west road at the time ran to the south of the octagon (fig. 37), a fact that has a significant effect on how one views the orientation of the building (see below).

Chapter Three offers a detailed description of the Horologion, a tall (14 m) octagonal windowless tower of Pentelic marble, on a north-south axis, with two pedimented porches on the northeast and northwest walls, and a semi-circular annex on the south (pls. 2, 3, 39). While column capitals from the distyle porches have not survived, fragments of one pediment with a triple-fascia architrave and lion-head water spouts (fig. 122) and the lower halves of three monolithic shafts are extant. The columns were of a mixed order, with twenty Ionic flutes but no bases. Kienast believes the capitals would have been Corinthian. There is no dedicatory inscription on the pediment.

The exterior walls comprise four zones, separated by headers (fig. 58). Engraved on Zone 3 are eight vertical sun-dials, with a ninth dial on the curved surface of the annex. Encircling the upper exterior walls in Zone 4 is a sculptured frieze, each side depicting a personification of the wind blowing from that direction. Their names are inscribed above, at the left. Atop the eight-section pyramidal roof (with lion-head water spouts; fig. 67) is a Corinthian akroterion (figs. 92-95) on which stood a bronze weather vane in the form of a Triton (not extant) who would point toward the currently blowing wind.

The round annex attached on the south (figs. 130,132; pls. 2, 6, 39) contained a water tank and pipes that powered a mechanism inside the building. Since the south side faced the road, Kienast suggests the dedicatory inscription was located here on a projecting course below the annex roof, visible to passersby. Thus, he considers the annex to be the front of the monument.

The walls of the interior chamber are divided into four zones, corresponding to the exterior wall divisions (fig. 76; pls. 12-14, 26, 40). The interior faces of the headers comprise projecting geisons in various styles (Zone 1—three unadorned fillets; Zone 2—two fasciae and dentils above curved consoles; Zone 3—a smooth circular band). Zone 4 contains eight small (1.12 m) mixed-order columns, each standing at a wall join (fig. 79; pls. 28, 29). The shafts have Ionic flutes (the lower third filled in), no bases, and Doric capitals. The entablature comprises two smooth, wide bands.

The floor of the chamber is marked by a number of cuttings, all of which Kienast assigns to the classical period (pl. 3). A hole in the center (50 cm diameter) penetrates the foundation to connect with a channel running beneath the building (figs. 49-51). Footings for three columns the same diameter as the porch columns lie in an arc—on N-S, NW-SE and NE- SW axes—1.10 m from the center hole. Kienast thinks the lateral columns were connected with the mechanism since grooves for (Roman) water pipes lead to them; he suggests no function for the center column. Encircling the hole (at the same distance as the columns) are curved grooves that anchored a balustrade (0.90 m high), of which fragments are extant (figs. 52, 53). A ninth groove lies inside the circle of the balustrade, which Kienast thinks is intentional, connected somehow with the mechanism (pp. 38-39). Leading from a drain in the annex floor through a makeshift hole in the octagonal chamber’s south wall (as part of Roman repairs) is a groove for a water pipe that jogs east of the center column, then trifurcates to the center hole and the lateral columns. Lying outside the balustrade grooves is a ring of eight small holes (6 cm wide; 5 cm deep); fifteen holes of the same size encircle the perimeter of the room except in front of the northeast door (whose threshold is significantly more worn than the northwest threshold). Kienast suggests the small holes functioned as anchoring points for a temporary wood floor.

I would suggest the balustrade may have been a later Christian addition. Unlike all other elements, the curved grooves (as Kienast himself points out) do not align with the eight sides of the building. Their lack of axial alignment seems to contradict the design and execution standards of this architect (e.g., the Tower is a mere1.6 mm off due north). Four grooves lie between and/or abut the three column footings, clearly indicating to me that the columns were in place before this barrier was erected. I wonder if the small holes, which are axially aligned (on and midway between floor joins; fig. 169), may have anchored metal posts from which chains were suspended, thus performing the function Kienast sees for the balustrade in protecting the mechanism from visitors. Unlike the balustrade, this system would have facilitated access to the device when needed. The worn northeast threshold shows that the northwest door was used much less frequently over some period of time. If a post-and-chain system were in place it may account for the differences in wear, having made it possible to control entry through the northwest door while still allowing light and air through the open portal.

Of great importance is Kienast’s discussion of color and light. While much of this volume is, understandably, a re- analysis and clarification of earlier investigations, most of this information has not (to my knowledge) appeared in print previously. The reliefs and various moldings, one assumes, were painted, and Kienast includes a colored reconstruction of the exterior (p. VII). In the interior, however, he found extant remains of an anthemion on the entablature of the miniature columns (figs. 138, 139; pl. 40). Even more significant is the recovery of color on the ceiling (fig. 140), which was a glittering Egyptian blue. Indentations on its surface indicate it likely was adorned with stars fashioned in gold leaf.

Without windows, light in the interior would have been limited, supplied by the two north-facing doors when opened. Consequently, the architect worked the wall surfaces in a manner that increased the reflectivity of the Pentelic marble (the exterior blocks were intentionally finished in a similar manner). He also included narrow slits through which small amounts of light would be admitted, for both practical and aesthetic purposes—on the west side of the annex (fig. 127), gaps at the joins of the Wind relief blocks (ca. 3 cm wide) illuminating the areas immediately behind the miniature columns (figs 99, 100), and slits (ca. 60 cm long and 5 cm high) above each relief figure. The interior faces of the slits above the Wind sculptures were much taller than on the exterior, and they angled upward, thus increasing, I assume, illumination of the gold stars (figs. 98a, 140; pls. 2, 22, 23).

Chapter Four presents a mathematical analysis of the design and its execution—an investigative approach for the Tower that is not only original but at which Kienast is particularly adept. The discussion includes examination of the bases for certain of the architect’s choices: the number and placement of the doors (fig. 146); the octagonal form that provided surfaces for sun-dials; and the geometric foundation of the design (especially three squares set within one another) that fixed the orientation and limits of the ground plan (figs. 147-161).

Chapter Five offers Kienast’s interpretation of the water-run mechanism, although he candidly admits it is hypothetical. He dismisses the instrument as having been a water clock because such a large amount of water under high pressure (as indicated by the estimated size of the pipes, and the size and elevation of the tank in the annex) was not necessary for such a device. Kienast lists a number of uncertainties, but he is firm in his conclusion that the south wall had no opening from the chamber into the annex. The water ran in pipes under the floor and emerged from the center hole, supplying power to the complex mechanism. (I must admit that, for a person without Kienast’s engineering expertise, restricting access to the system in this manner is difficult to comprehend.) He believes the device, standing on a base above the hole in the center of the room, would have been viewed in the round with visitors circumambulating the perimeter of the chamber. The three columns, I suggest, whatever their height, would have provided a definite backdrop to the scene, each lateral column directly on one’s sightline when entering one of the doors.

In defining the device, Kienast suggests Andronikos viewed the entire Tower as a symbol of cosmic order. Citing the transition from octagonal chamber to hemispherical ceiling with its depiction of the heavens, the architectonic framework thus would have supported an apparatus that had a relationship with the stars in the cosmos. Also, the Wind gods were not just decorative; they, too, are an allegory of world order. Hence, Kienast proposes the mechanism was a large bronze armillary sphere of the heavens that depicted planetary and stellar orbits (fig. 165).

Chapter Six deals with the date of the Tower, about which Kienast admits one can only make rough arguments. Varro and Vitruvius give a terminus ante quem of ca. 50 B.C. The sack by Sulla (87/86 B.C.) left Athens in no position for new construction in the following few decades. The second century, however, was a time of relative peace and prosperity, amenable to erecting a costly edifice. For purposes of dating, Kienast finds the architectural style of the Horologion to be unique and incapable of being assigned a temporal classification. The door frames, lion-head water spouts, and other elements have no close comparisons. He does note, however, that the second interior geison—except for the consoles—follows Pergamene examples (p. 136).

Kienast states that the letter forms in the Wind gods’ names are also not useful in determining date because they are too crudely carved to be compared with more official inscriptions. Figures 66 a and b do show the engraving to be merely competent; the assistant perhaps should have drawn himself a ground line. Kienast omits here, however, reference to his statement from an earlier publication in which he asserts: “The letter forms of the inscriptions naming the winds (CIG I 518) are almost identical with those on the architrave of the Stoa of Attalos (IG II2, 3171), except for the rounded cross-stroke of the alpha on the latter….” [H.J. Kienast, “The Tower of the Winds in Athens: Hellenistic or Roman?” in: M. Hoff and S. Rotroff, eds., The Romanization of Athens (Oxford 1997), 64 n. 36.]

A great deal of emphasis is placed on the content of the inscription on a sun-dial on Tinos that is considered to have been made by Andronikos. This, Kienast believes, provides evidence that the architect/astronomer was active in the last quarter of the second century B.C., and this is the date he assigns to the Tower. The Tinos inscription does not, however, indicate the length of Andronikos’ career, so does not preclude the possibility that he may have been near the end of a long and active life.

Kienast does not address the sculptural style of the Winds in his chronological analysis. Comparisons can be made, however, with the figures from the Pergamon Altar (ca. 165 B.C.—unruly hair, deep-set eyes, modeled foreheads, footwear) and the Magnesian Amazonomachy frieze (ca. 160-150 B.C.—stocky bodies, striated leg muscles, awkward torsion, nearly identical boots). One can view other details of the Winds (e.g., wing feathers) as slightly later, thus suggesting, I propose, a date for the Tower of ca. 140 B.C. Kienast’s earlier statement comparing the letter forms to those on the Stoa of Attalos would support this possibility.

Kienast strongly argues that Andronikos was the donor of the monument. The architectural design, materials, sculpture, and interior mechanism made this a very costly enterprise. There is no evidence to suggest how the architect could have possessed such wealth. If one accepts a date of approximately twenty years earlier, however, an obvious possibility for the patron is Attalos II. While the Ptolemies were great patrons in Athens in the third century, it is the Attalids who were major donors in the second—as well as benefactors of science and invention at home and abroad.

Chapter Seven is an overview of the post-classical Tower. Its use by Christians beginning in Late Antiquity and by Sufi dervishes beginning in the middle of the seventeenth century is given short shrift, but, to be fair, Kienast is interested primarily in the Hellenistic monument. He does make a number of strong statements, however, especially in downplaying the Tower’s function as a Christian building. Few opportunities exist in the study of ancient Greek architecture for such an extensive diachronic analysis as the Tower offers, and its role in the life of Athens for the fifteen centuries following the classical period still awaits comprehensive examination and definition. The section on the relief sculpture presents a detailed description in text and photographs of the Wind gods, a great gift to those of us who will never have an opportunity to be at eye level with these deities. Karanastasi concludes her analysis by dating the sculpture to the last quarter of the second century B.C., in agreement with Kienast. Earlier in her commentary, however, she finds comparisons between the Tower reliefs and the small Attalid votive monument in Athens, as well as the Telephos frieze, a giant in the north frieze of the Pergamon Altar, and the Poseidon assigned to its roof, which would allow for a somewhat earlier date.

Schaldach carried out a detailed technical analysis on the nine vertical sun-dials, explicated with the assistance of 50 graphs, tables, and charts. Such a large ensemble of ancient sun-dials is unique, as are the individual dials on the north, northeast, and northwest walls. The lines on the curved surface of the annex performed a cosmic function beyond simply giving the time of day (p. 222).

I would like to offer a final observation. Although Kienast does not present the Tower as a religious or cultic building, certain of his comments and comparisons suggest this topic merits further examination. As he describes it, the high, round ceiling painted blue with gold stars illuminated by slits beneath the roof is a representation of the firmament and should be considered a focal point, “on stage”. The non-structural miniature columns, which were lit from behind by gaps in the joins, are the distinguishing feature of the entire inner chamber. The Wind reliefs on their exterior are not merely decorative; they provide additional meaning to the monument (pp. 54, 123-24).

It is the building as a whole, however, that Kienast considers to be of fundamental significance, to have meaning. He finds it generally to be comparable to round buildings, heroa, and grave monuments, e.g., the Lion Monument at Knidos and the Maussolleion at Halikarnassos, with the Tower’s inner room clearly patterned after these building types. The main chamber reminds him of a Mycenaean or Macedonian tomb chamber. In the end, however, he is not persuaded that the Tower can be given a religious classification (pp. 50, 124, 138 and n. 480).

Kienast is particularly interested in comparisons with three Hellenistic buildings on Samothrace—the Hieron, the Arsinoeion, and the Doric Rotunda—because of their use of “mini-half columns” (p. 139). To this list can be added the Belevi Monument and the Ephesian Octagon, among others. Actually, the columns on the Arsinoeion are quite large, and it is not, I maintain, simply the use of these columns, but their placement that is significant. With the exception of the rectangular, one-storey Hieron, these are tall, centralized structures that are or appear to be composed of two or more storeys. Entrances (including that of the Hieron) almost always lie on or close to a N-S axis. Most importantly, all are adorned with a colonnade on the upper level—free-standing or engaged, on the exterior and/or interior. And all are cultic or commemorative monuments.

I agree with Kienast that these tall buildings with elevated colonnades have special meaning. I think their architectural vocabulary might possibly be interpreted as a portrayal of different realms—the lower or lowest level as the world of humans, and the upper level with colonnades as the realm of gods and heroes. Kienast approaches such an idea when he ponders the roles of the Horologion’s interior zones (p.105). He suggests the lowest zone was the region of the visitor, the middle zone was a framework for the orrery, and the third zone emphasized the height of the space leading up to the ring of columns [where deities are in flight on the building’s exterior face]. I would more definitely propose here that the Tower of the Winds, along with all its manifold functions, was also a cult building for the Wind gods.

The production values of the publication are excellent. Especially notable are the comprehensive and high quality photographs and drawings. The errors are few and relatively minor.1 There are two major drawbacks to this otherwise outstanding monograph. Only a much abbreviated bibliography is provided, which is problematic for a reader confronting more than 800 footnotes, where many of the full citations reside. But truly unfortunate is the fact that there is no index in this densely detailed manuscript. Once an onerous task, an index is relatively easily generated with digital publication software. Thus, its omission is an unpleasant surprise. It is especially frustrating to be instructed to “see above” without a referent page number when one does not remember quite where a passage appeared.


1.   E.g., the captions for Figures 9a and 9b give the erroneous date 1746, although both the text and note 38 cite correctly the year 1749; on page 139, the miniature stucco columns from the Hieron at Samothrace are incorrectly identified as Ionic, although they are correctly labeled Doric in note 491; note 379 gives the date for the imperial Villa of Hadrian as 130 B.C.

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