The Tower of the Winds

The Tower at dusk.

I think that if I had my choice of gods – it would have been a wind god. Of the eight wind gods I would have liked to be Boreas, strong and fierce coming from the north, or a softer more subtle wind from the west whose name alone sings a sense of adventure – Zephyrus.  I would be free to blow when I wanted or just breeze by. Pass over land and sea – spread seeds, fill sails, whistle through marble temples, whisper through silver olive leaves, tousle the hair of Alexander as he rode Bucephalus over the plains of Macedonia.

Boreas -The mighty Wind God from the North
Boreas -The mighty Wind God from the North

Greek mythology had eight wind gods called Anemoi. Each wind god had a direction from which it blew from and was responsible for a specific season and weather conditions. The four major Anemoi were Boreas from the north associated with the icy winds of winter, Notus from the south, responsible for storms and the season of late summer and autumn, Zephyrus, a spirited wind from the west bringing light spring and early summer breezes, and Eurus from the east. The lesser wind gods – knows as Tempest Winds or Anemoi Thyellai (which in Greek means wind storm) were less benign and known as the demon winds. They were Kaikias from the north east, Apeliotes from the south east, Skiron hailed from the north west and Lips blew from the southwest.

Anemographica -1650 Jansson Wind Rose, Anemographic Chart, or Map of the Winds
Anemographica -1650 Jansson Wind Rose, Anemographic Chart, or Map of the Winds

If you are visiting Athens on a sun drenched spring day such as this you will most likely want to take a walk through the historical center of Athens. Passing by Hadrian’s Library and heading towards the Roman Agora you will surely notice the exquisite Tower of the Winds made of Pendelic marble and depicting friezes of all eight wind gods.

The unique architectural design of the Tower has fascinated archaeologists, architects, engineers and astronomers for centuries. It stands at a height of 12.8 m and 7.9 m in diameter and has an octagonal shape. Each side of the tower faces a compass point and is decorated with friezes depicting the personification of the Anemoi. It is these depictions that gave the tower its name.

The Tower as seen by Julien David le Roy
The Tower as seen by Julien David le Roy

It was built around 50 – 100 BC by Andronicus Cyrrhus a famous Macedonian astronomer  for measuring time. On the sides facing the sun are the lines of a sundial. Atop the structure was a weather vane in the shape of a bronze Triton and contained a water clock  (clepsydra) to record the time when the sun was not shining. The Tower of the Winds in Athens is also known as the Horologion (meaning clock) of Andronikos, as sundials fixed on the outside were created so that wherever you were standing outside the tower you would be able to tell the time. Apart from telling time, the tower could also tell the direction of the wind. The Romans later used it believing that the direction of the winds could somehow predict the future.

Notos the Storm Bringer
Notos the Storm Bringer

The tower had a Doric interior and a Corinthian exterior and had a 24 hour mechanized clepsydra and indicators for the eight wind directions. The tower displayed the seasons of the year as well as astrological dates and periods. The clepsydra on the interior was driven by water from the Acropolis.

Over time the building has been used for many purposes. During the early Christian period it was used as a bell tower. During Ottoman rule it was used as a Tekke, a place used by the whirling dervishes as a place of spiritual retreat and education.

Tower of the Winds
Tower of the Winds

Today in Athens a fair wind blows for us mere mortals. The air is sweet, carrying delicate aromas of orange and cherry blossoms and the still shy jasmine. So it must be Zephyrus…

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