Monument of Lysicrates. The miniature library
Monument of Lysicrates. A widely copied monument
Seems familiar? On one hand, it’s very flattering for the Greeks. But those who built it forgot that ancient Greek monuments can’t be detached from their environment.
An American version. Hall of Architecture, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, USA. Choragic monument of Lysicrates and caryatids
And an Australian version. Originally in the garden of Sir James Martin (1820-1886), it was transferred to the Royal Botanical Gardens of Sydney in 1943. Copyright Whiteghost.ink, 13 March 2016
But let’s see the original.
The monument of Lysicrates today. Lysikratous Square, Plaka, Athens
The monument of Lysicrates in ancient times
In 335-334 BC, Lysicrates, sponsor (choregos in Greek) of a play at the theatrical contest of the Great Dionysia (in honour of Dionysus), built the monument to celebrate his victory. This is why they call it a choragic monument.
On it, they placed a bronze tripod. They did the same with all choragic monuments that were arrayed on the same street, starting from the theatre of Dionysus. This is why the street’s name was Tripods Street, the same as today.
For obvious reasons, the monument depicted a mythological scene with Dionysus. Tyrrhenian pirates have captured him, not knowing who he is. He punishes them by turning them into dolphins.
The monument became known as the lantern of Diogenes, perhaps because of its shape. They said that Diogenes went about with a lantern, searching to find a (real) man. Of course, he had nothing to do with the monument.
The monument in modern times
In 1669, French Capuchin monks came to Athens (it’s not them who invented the cappuccino coffee. The coffee got its name from their characteristic brown cap). The Capuchins founded a monastery there and turned the monument into a library. This is why it survived, unlike all its neighbouring choragic monuments.
The building was extensively reproduced in the 18th century and became known worldwide. Even “improved” versions of it appeared in many places , like those we saw.
The monument of Lysicrates in the court of the monastery of the Capuchins. 1762, James Stuart και Nicholas Revett. The monks hosted Lord Byron
The interior of the monument as a library of the Capuchins. 1819, Edward Dodwell. Its height shouldn’t surprise you. At that time the monument was half buried in the ground
The Capuchins made the first topographic plan of Athens, in 1670. In 1818, the monk Francis planted in the gardens of the monastery the first tomato plants in Greece.
Of course, the monument did not escape Lord Elgin’s eye. He tried to take it, but fortunately without success, because the Capuchins stubbornly refused to sell it.
The monastery burned down during the Revolution and the monument remained in ruins for many years.
In the years 1876-1887, the architects Francois Boulanger and E. Leviot directed its restoration under the guidance of the French government. France inherited the place from the French Capuchins and then exchanged it with the plot where the French School of Archaeology was built, in the quarter of Kolonaki.
The ruined monument in a photo by James Robertson, 1853-1854
The monument of Lysicrates became a model of the Corinthian order. The capitals of the Zappeion Exhibition Hall in Athens copied it faithfully
And a Greek example inspired by this. Frysiras Museum, Plaka, Athens
About the author
Hello! I am Denis, an architect based in Athens, Greece. I teach history of art and architecture in higher education. That’s one passion of mine. The other one is hiking, in and out of town. If you follow me, I’ll share my discoveries with you.
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