The Arch, standing in front of the once magnificent Temple of Olympian Zeus (the Olympieion), formed a symbolic gateway between the old city district and the new Roman-built city, erected by Hadrian. Notably, two inscriptions feature on the sides of the arch: the western side, looking onto the old city reads ‘ This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus’ and the eastern side, facing the Olympieion, reads ‘This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus’. The exact meaning of the latter phrase is hotly disputed – some say it is simply naming the new city as that of Hadrian; others insist it was a deliberate contradiction of the former statement, indicating that the entire city was now ruled by Hadrian.
Today the main structure of Hadrian’s Arch remains remarkably preserved and is one of the most popular attractions of modern Athens. Towering at a height of 18 meters, the fully symmetrical Roman-style arch is an impressive sight – sculpted entirely from Pentelic marble, adorned with Ionic architraves and crowned with a row of Corinthian columns and pilasters.