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The Propylaia and the small Temple of Athena Nike (right) at the northwest corner of the Acropolis.
The spring and ancient sanctuaries
on the north slope of the Acropolis
Gateway to the Klepsydra spring
|At the northwest corner of the Acropolis, just below the north hall of the Propylaia, a Roman stairway leads down from the terrace on which the Pedestal of Agrippa stands to a small gate (now walled up), used to access the sacred cave containing the spring known as the Klepsydra (or Clepsydra, Greek κλεψύδρα), one of Athens' ancient sources of water. Its name literally means "stolen water" (also translated as "water thief"), apparently because the water occasionally disappeared, particularly during the summer months. However, some scholars now believe that the name actually signified "secretly" or "stealthily flowing" water because of its underground course. 
The Klepsydra stood within the ancient defensive walls of the Acropolis (the Bronze Age "Pelasgicon") so that it could be accessed during a siege. In ancient times it was reached by another stairway descending from the northeast side of the rock. Its water has been reported to be brackish (salty), and it is likely that during times of peace it was used for cleaning and purification purposes rather than drinking. 
It was one of three springs on the Acropolis created by rainwater seeping through the porous Cretaceous limestone which forms the top of the Acropolis hill, until it reaches the non-porous marls known as "Athens schist" beneath. Water pressure and erosion carved natural caves, clefts, reservoirs, channels and springs.  These springs, considered sacred by ancient Athenians, supplemented water supplied by wells and cisterns, as well as the Kiffisos and Ilissos streams which could only be relied on in winter.
The underground water was already being exploited in the Neolithic period (3500-3000 BC), during which 22 wells were dug in Athens. The Klepsydra cave is thought to have been discovered in the late 13th century BC when the area was cleared of rocks and rubble during the refortification of the Acropolis.
From at least Archaic times this spring was named Empedo (steadfast, continual) , after one of the Naiades (Ναϊάδες, from the Greek verb νάειν, naö, to flow) , divine fresh-water nymphs who were protectors of water supplies as well as of girls and maidens.
The worship of nymphs was widespread in Greece, and through myth and legend nymphs became associated with local places and people, often woven into the history and genealogies of tribes, villages and towns. Rituals of these cults involved nympholeptic possession and prophecy .
A poros boundary stone found in the ancient Agora of Athens, dated to the first half of 5th century BC, is inscribed "boundary of the sanctuary of the Nymphs". It is thought that the inscription referred to the Klepsydra. 
There were several caves and springs sacred to nymphs in Attica, one of the most famous of which was the Athenian Kallirroe (or Callirhoe; Καλλιρρόη, lovely flowing), to the south of the Acropolis, near the River Ilissos. Another spring dedicated to nymphs was on the south slope of the Acropolis, near the Asclepieion.
See a plan of this corner of
the Acropolis and the stairs
to the Klepsydra below.
See more photos of this corner
of the Acropolis, including
the top of the stairway,
on gallery page 10.
See a plan of the entrance to
the Acropolis, with the Beulé
Gate, the Propylaia, the Temple
of Athena Nike, the Pedestal
of Agrippa and the top of the
stairway to the Klepsydra,
on gallery page 6.
Athenian coin showing the north
side of the Acropolis, with the
Parthenon, the colossal statue of
Athena Promachos, the Propylaia,
"the Pelasgian stairway" and
the Cave of Pan, in which the
rustic god is seen crouching. 
Gateway to the Klepsydra spring, now walled up.
A thick cable or pipe in front of the gateway supplies restoration workers above.
"Cave A" above the Klepsydra.
Archaeologists have imaginatively named the group of cave sanctuaries along
the north face of the Acropolis "caves A-D" (from west to east) because of
uncertainty as to which gods each was sacred.
The shallow caves to the west, directly above the Klepsydra, housed
the sanctuaries of Zeus, "Apollo under the Heights" (Apollon Hypakraios
or Apollon ipo Makrais), and the cave of Pan, Apollo's companion.
According to Herodotus, the worship of Pan was introduced to Athens
from Arcadia in thanks for his aid at the battle of Marathon in 490 BC. 
"Pan, the dear son of Hermes, with his goat's feet
and two horns - a lover of merry noise."
The Homeric Hymn 19, to Pan.
|The spring appears to have become known as Klepsydra sometime after the Persian wars, and a fountain house and paved court were built around it between 470 and 460 BC, during the rebuilding of the Acropolis following destruction by the army of Xerxes I in 480-479 BC. From this time also this area of the Acropolis became more associated with the cults of the male deities Zeus, Apollo and Pan, whose sacred grottoes were above the spring.
The Greek historian Plutarch tells us that Marc Antony spent the winter in Athens before travelling to Syria to fight the Parthian King Hyrodes (37 BC). "When the time came for him to set out for the war, he took a garland from the sacred olive [of the Erechtheion], and, in obedience to some oracle, he filled a vessel with the water of the Clepsydra to carry along with him." 
During Roman times water from the spring was channelled to the Roman Agora where it was used to supply the water clock, also known as the Klepsydra, devised by Andronicus Cyrrhestes, which was housed in the Tower of the Winds. The name Klepsydra later became a general name for water clocks. 
The second century AD travel writer Pausanias described the way from the Propylaia: "On descending [from the Acropolis], not to the lower city, but to just beneath the Gateway, you see a fountain and near it a sanctuary of Apollo in a cave. It is here that Apollo is believed to have met Creusa, daughter of Erechtheus..." 
Landslides in the 1st - 3rd centuries AD destroyed the fountain house and blocked the entrance, after which a well and vault were constructed.
The water from the spring was considered holy by early Christians, and the Chapel of Agioi Apostoloi (Holy Apostles) was built here during the Byzantine period. The Franks carried out repairs to the spring in the mid 13th century, but during the Turkish occupation in the 15-19th centuries it was abandoned. However, the water from the spring continued to flow down to the Roman Agora where it supplied water to the Fethiye Mosque, as Stuart and Revett reported when describing the nearby Tower of the Winds in the mid 18th century:
"For there is a spring which rises at the foot of the rock on which the Acropolis is built, somewhat before you arrive at the Propylaea, and supplies a current, of which indeed nobody drinks, for the water is brackish; but it is conveyed, partly under ground, and partly in earthen pipes which are supported by walls, to the principle Moschéa; where the Turks use it for those ablutions which they constantly perform whenever they begin their devotions." 
In 1822, during the Greek War of Independence, Greek forces besieged the Acropolis. It appears that the Turkish defenders had sufficient supplies of food but, not knowing about the Klepsydra, suffered from a lack of water.
When they finally surrendered, the story goes that the Greek archaeologist Kyriakos Pittakis (Κυριάκος Πιττάκης, 1798-1863), who was born in Athens and had taken an early interest in its history, showed the Greek leaders the location of the spring. They had the rubble cleared away and secured the water supply, and in September 1822 the Greek commander in chief, Odysseas Androutsos (Οδυσσέας Ανδρούτσος, 1788–1825) had the area fortified with walls which became known as "the Bastion of Odysseus" (see illustrations below). The bastion was built with parts of ancient monuments, which were rediscovered by archaeologists when it was dismantled in 1888.
Article: © copyright David John, Athens and Berlin, 2007-2015.
Statuette of Pan sitting cross
legged on a rock covered with
an animal pelt. Found at the
Olympieion, Athens, near which
is another cave of Pan, on the
Ilissos River. Pentelic marble.
2nd century BC, perhaps
a copy of a 4th century work.
National Archaeological Museum,
Athens. Inv. No. 683.
Relief of Pan, on the side of
the "Little Arch of Galerius",
Thessaloniki. Marble, Roman,
early 4th century AD.
Pan on a floor mosaic from Ephesus.
Izmir Archaeological Museum, Turkey.
More information about this mosaic on Selçuk gallery 2.
Marble head of Pan,
said to be from Koropi.
Made in Athens around 440-430 BC.
British Museum. GR 1931. 6-15. 1.
The northwest slope of the Acropolis with the sacred caves of Pan, Zeus and Apollo
beneath the Propylaia. On the right is the gateway of the stairway from the
platform of the Pedestal of Agrippa down to the Klepsydra.
Plan of the northwest corner of the Acropolis and the stairway down to the Klepsydra spring.
|Around the spring itself is the outline of the medieval Chapel of the Twelve Apostles (see below).
The "Bastion of Odysseus" was built in 1822 by "Kapitani Odysseus" to protect the Klepsydra water supply.
After drawings by J. A. Kaupert, published in Die Akropolis von Athen: nach den Berichten der Alten
und den neusten Erforschungen by Adolf Boetticher. Verlag von Julius Springer, 1888.
The English clergyman and classical scholar Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885), who travelled through Greece 1832-1833, noted the Greek inscription on a marble slab on the outside of the bastion:
ΠΡΟΜΑΧΕΩΝΑ ΤΟΝΔΕ ΠΗΓΑΙΟΥ ΥΔΑ
ΤΟΣ ΑΝΗΓΕΙΡΕΝ ΕΚ ΒΑΘΡΩΝ ΟΔΥ
ΣΣΕΥΣ ΑΝΔΡΙΤΖΟΥ ΕΛΛΗΝΩΝ ΣΤΡΑΤΗΓΟΣ
ΕΤΕΙ ΑΩΚΒ ΚΑΤΑ ΜΗΝΑ
"Odysseus, son of Andritzes, general of the Greeks, raised from its foundations this bastion
over a source of spring water, in the year MDCCCXXII and the month of September." 
View of the Acropolis during the 1840s showing the the Bastion of Odysseus
around the Klepsydra, bottom left.
Watercolour sketch by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780–1867).
Model of the Acropolis as it appeared in the 2nd century AD, viewed from the northwest.
The Klepsydra can be seen bottom right, below the caves of Pan, Zeus and Apollo.
Model in the Ancient Agora Museum, Athens.
A close-up of the above photo, with the the fountain house of the Klepsydra spring, bottom right,
below a rock. The Chapel of the Holy Apostles was later built over this outcrop. In front of this
is the area in which a paved courtyard was built around 470-460 BC, during the Classical period.
The model shows the stairway (left) down the north slope of the Acropolis from near the Erechtheion,
but not the stairs from the terrace on which the Pedestal of Agrippa stands (right).
See the plan of the Propylaia (gallery page 6) showing the position of
the Pedestal of Agrippa and the stairway down to the Klepsydra.
Drawing by Ernest Breton (1812-1875), made 1859 or earlier, of the Klepsydra spring,
over which had been built the Chapel of the Holy Apostles. The wall frescoes were still visible,
and at the far end stood a modern well which still exists. The faces of the icons in the chapel
are said to have been defaced during the Turkish occupation.
The chapel is currently (2014) being investigated by archaeologists , but is not open to the public.
|Notes, references and links
Marble votive relief dedicated to the nymphs, about 330 BC.
Found in the Cave of the Nymphs, Mount Penteli, Attica.
Figures set in a cave, from left to right: three nymphs; Hermes wearing a chlamys
and holding his caduceus; Pan holding his pan pipes; a nude youth pours wine
into the kantharos held by Agathemeros, the dedicator of the relief.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 4466.
The identity of Agathemeros is known by the separate base of the relief, Inv. No. 4466a.
1 and 4. Empedo. From empedos (ἔμπεδος), meaning "firmly set", hence "in the ground"; and by extension, "steadfast", "continual".
See: Jennifer Lynn Larson, Greek nymphs: myth, cult, lore.
Oxford University Press, 2001. Preview at Google Books.
Despite the connotations of unreliability associated with the later name Klepsydra, the American archaeologist Arthur Wellesley Parsons, who excavated the spring from 1937 to 1940, was of the opinion that it was indeed a steadfast and reliable source of water.
See: Arthur W. Parsons, Klepsydra and the Paved Court of the Pythion. Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 12, No. 3, The American Excavations in the Athenian Agora: Twenty-Fourth Report (July - September 1943), pages 191-267. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA).
2. In August 2014 I spoke with one of the Greek archaeologists working at the Klepsydra. She told me that during the Spring a geologist had investigated the area around the Klepsydra and the well in the Chapel of the Holy Apostles, and had tasted the water. He reported that it tasted sweet.
3. See: Michael and Reynold Higgins, A Geological Companion to Greece and the Aegean. Duckworth and Cornell University Press (out of print). Sample chapter: Chapter 3, Geology of Athens
5. Daniel Ogden, A Companion to Greek Religion. John Wiley and Sons, 2010. Preview at Google books.
6. The worship of nymphs
W. R. Connor, Seized by the nymphs: nympholepsy and symbolic expression in Classical Greece.
Classical Antiquity, Volume 7, No. 2, October 1988.
Jennifer Lynn Larson, Greek nymphs: myth, cult, lore. Oxford University Press, 2001. Preview at googlebooks.
Nadine Pierce, The Placement of the Sacred Caves in Attica, Greece. MA thesis, 2006. Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 5356. McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
7. Nymph sanctuary boundary stone
The fragment of the horos (boundary marker), made of poros stone, was found built into the wall of a modern (late Turkish period) house, northeast of the Temple of Ares, "Section P" of the ancient Agora of Athens, on 23 April 23 1937. It has been dated to circa 475-450 BC. The inscription has led scholars to believe it marked the boundary of the Klepsydra spring as a sanctuary of the nymph Empedo.
The three-line inscription on the stone reads:
(Nymphaio sanctuary boundary)
Inscription: IG I³ 1063 (= SEG 10.357; = Agora XIX H3)
The stone is now in the Agora Museum, in the Stoa of Attalos.
Invoice No. I 4773.
Height 26.1 cm; width 36.5 cm.; thickness 22.1 cm.
Height of letters circa 5.4 cm.
Benjamin D. Meritt (1899-1989), Greek inscriptions, Hesperia Vol. 10, No. 1, The American Excavations in the Athenian Agora: Nineteenth Report (Jan. - Mar., 1941), pages 38-64. American School of Classical Studies at Athens. At jstor.
Gerald V. Lalonde, Horoi of sanctuaries (H1-H24), page 22, in The Athenian Agora, Volume XIX: Inscriptions. American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1991. At jstor.
Arthur W. Parsons, Klepsydra and the Paved Court of the Pythion. Hesperia, Vol. 12, No. 3, pages 191-267 (see note 1 above).
Walther Judeich (1859-1942), Topographie von Athen (2nd edition), page 302. Beck, Munich, 1931.
Attic white-ground, black-figure
lekythos, attributed to the
Gela Painter, with a fountain
scene. From the Ancient
Agora, Athens. Circa 500 BC.
Height 26.5 cm.
A man draped in a himation
waits for his large hydria to be
filled with water from a lion-
shaped spout in a Π-shaped
Agora Museum, Athens.
Inv. No. P 24106.
8. Athenian medallion showing the Acropolis from the north
"Pl. X. Médaille du cabinet de Paris, amplifiée.
Elle montre l'Acropole avec la grotte de Pan, l'escalier pélasgique, les Propylées, la Minerve-promachos et le Parthenon."
Émile-Louis Burnouf (1821-1907), former director of l’École française d’archéologie d’Athènes, La ville et l'Acropole d'Athènes aux diverses époques, Planche X. Maisonneuve et Co., Paris, 1877.
There are examples of this coin type in le Cabinet des médailles, Paris, and the British Museum. Those in the British Museum are not on display, but one is described on its website:
Alloy coin minted in Athens during the Roman Provincial period.
Topographic representation of Acropolis (Athens).
Weight: 8.06 grammes
Museum number: TC,p130.79.Ath
They are also described and illustrated in a British Museum catalogue:
"Obverse: Head of Athena r., wearing crested Corinthian helmet.
Reverse: Northern view of the rock of the Acropolis, on the summit of which are, l., the Parthenon, and r. the Propylaea, with the statue of Athena Parthenos* between them; a flight of steps leads up to the Propylaea: in the side of the rock is the grotto of Pan, in which, a seated figure of Pan.
* See K. Lange, Arch, Zeit., N.F. xiv. p. 199. From the prominence given to the flight of steps we may infer that this type was intended to commemorate the paving of the staircase with white marble in the reign of Caius [Augustus]. (C.I.A. iii. 1284, F)."
Barclay V. Head, Reginald Stuart Poole (editor), A Catalogue of the Greek coins in the British Museum: Attica, Megaris, Aegina, 805, page 110; Plate XIX, 6 and 7. British Museum Dept. of Coins and Medals, 1888. At archive.org.
The coin type is mentioned by several authors, including James Stuart, Jean Jacques Barthélemy, Martin William Leake, Peter Oluf Bröndsted and Taylor Combe.
Some describe the stairway as that between the Acropolis and the Klepsydra, while others believe it represents the great stairway to the Propylaia built during the Roman Imperial period.
9. The Cave of Pan beneath the Acropolis
Herodotus tells us that the legendary runner Pheidippides was sent by the Athenians to ask the Spartans for their help against the invading Persians before the Battle of Marathon (490 BC). On his journey he met the ancient rustic god Pan who wanted to know why the Athenians had forgotten him. After their victory they dedicated the shrine in the shallow cave next to that of Apollo.
"First of all, while they were still in the city, the generals sent off to Sparta a herald, namely Pheidippides, an Athenian, and for the rest a runner of long day-courses and one who practised this as his profession.
With this man, as Pheidippides himself said and as he made report to the Athenians, Pan chanced to meet by Mount Parthenion, which is above Tegea; and calling aloud the name of Pheidippides, Pan bade him report to the Athenians and ask for what reason they had no care of him, though he was well disposed to the Athenians and had been serviceable to them on many occasions before that time, and would be so also yet again.
Believing that this tale was true, the Athenians, when their affairs had been now prosperously settled, established under the Acropolis a temple of Pan; and in consequence of this message they propitiate him with sacrifice offered every year and with a torch race."
Herodotus, Histories, Book VI, 105, translated by G. C. Macaulay.
MacMillan and Co., London and New York, 1890. At gutenberg.org.
10. Plutarch, Parallel Lives: Antony at MIT Internet Classics Archive.
Detail of the votive relief in
the photo above, showing
Pan with his pan pipes.
Found in the
Cave of the Nymphs,
Mount Penteli, Attica.
About 330 BC.
Inv. No. 4466.
The goat-god Pan.
Detail of a statue of Aphrodite,
Eros and Pan from Delos.
Parian marble, circa 100 BC.
Inv. No. 3335.
Photo: © Konstanze Gundudis
The Sanctuary of Pan on Apostolou Pavlou Street, at the foot of the Hill of the Pnyx,
near the Fountain of the Pnyx (previously erroneously identified as the Kallirroe spring).
On the wall of the underground cave chamber is a relief depicting Pan seated, a naked nymph and
a dog, chiselled directly into the rock. In front of the cave is part of a Roman period floor mosaic (left).
This sanctuary was not mentioned by ancient authors, and before its discovery in 2002 it was unknown.
11. Klepsydra as water clock
There were other springs called Klepsydra in Greece, for example at Messene in the Peloponnese. How and when the name was applied to water clocks seems to be another history mystery yet to be unravelled. Water clocks were known since at least the second millennium BC, and an Egyptian device has been dated to around 1500 BC.
In Greece they were already in use during Classical times. A simple water-powered time-keeper, also known as a klepsydra, which worked on the same principle as an hour-glass, was used in Athenian law courts and political assemblies to limit the length of speeches. Two ceramic vessels were placed one above the other. The upper beaker had a hole near its base so that water trickled into the lower one; when all the water had run out, time was up (see photo, right).
See: Nikoletta Saraga, The Stoa of Attalos, the Museum of the Ancient Agora. Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Archaeological Reciepts Fund, Athens, 2011.
12. Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book I, chapter 28, section 4. At Perseus Digial Library.
Since Pausanias refers to a fountain, the fountain house may have been still standing when he visited Athens.
Further information about Pausanias in the PEOPLE section.
13. James Stuart, Nicholas Revett, The antiquities of Athens, measured and delineated, Volume 1,
Chapter 3, Of the Octagon Tower of Andronicus Cyrrhestes, page 15. Printed by John Haberkorn, London, 1762. Free e-book available at archive.org.
For more about Stuart and Revett and their study of the ancient monuments in Athens, 1751-1753, see Acropolis gallery pages 11, 12 and 35.
A klepsydra water clock reconstructed from
a late 5th century BC ceramic original,
found in the Ancient Agora of Athens.
The inscriptions "ANTIO..." and "XX" signify
that it belonged to the Antiochis tribe.
It had a capacity of 2 choai (6.4 litres)
and took 6 minutes to empty. This was the
time litigants in a law court had to deliver
their speeches. Such klepsydras were used
in Athens from the end of the 5th century
to the end of the 4th century BC.
Agora Museum, Athens. Inv. No. P 2084.
14. Christopher Wordsworth on the Bastion of Odysseus
Rev. Christopher Wordsworth, Athens and Attica: a journal of a residence there. John Murray, London. Second edition, 1837. Pages 84-86. At Heidelberg University Library.
The inscription appears on page 85. The date 1822 is written in ancient Greek numerals "ΑΩΚΒ": Α=1, Ω=800, Κ=20, Β=2.
It is typical of Wordsworth's style that he transcribed the ancient Greek numbering into Latin rather than modern Arabic numerals. Like many of his contemporaries, he continually used such archaisms, for example referring to Athena as Minerva.
The date of the rediscovery of the Klepsydra is given as 1828 on page 84. This is a printing error which does not appear in the first edition. In the second edition he adds in a footnote:
"M. Pittakys, the Athenian topographer of Athens, claims the honour of this discovery. Athènes, p. 155."
The credit seems grudgingly given, and from Wordworth's other references to Pittakis he appears skeptical of the Greek archaeologist's claims.
Pittakis' own account of the Klepsydra can be found in:
Kyriakos S. Pittakys, L'ancienne Athènes, ou La description des antiquités d'Athènes et de ses environs.
M. E. Antoniades, Athens, 1835. At archive.org.
Read more about Pittakis and his involvement in archaeology and restoration at the Acropolis on gallery page 12.
Odysseas Androutsos (1788–1825)
From: Amand Freiherr von Schweiger-
Lerchenfeld (1846-1910), Griechenland
in Wort und Bild, Eine Schilderung des
Heinrich Schmidt und Carl Günther, 1887.
|Photos, maps and articles: © David John
Additional photos: © Konstanze Gundudis
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