The Dipylon (‘two-gated’) was the largest and most important of fifteen gates into the Classical city of Athens. The road leading through it, simply called the Dromos (‘Road’) was more than 20 meters wide and formed the major route to Athens from Boeotia, leading via Plato’s Academy into the city and on to the Agora and Acropolis.
The Dipylon is an example of a so-called corridor gate, where a long interior court – in this case measuring 41 by 22 meters and overlooked by four towers – would have acted as a death trap to attackers.
In times of peace, the Dipylon Gate had a more welcoming and a sacred aspect. As it marked the transition from countryside to city, the interior court housed an altar for Zeus Herkeios (‘of the Courtyard’), for Hermes (the divine protector of wayfarers and gates) and for Akamas, the local hero of the inhabitants of the surrounding township of the Kerameis. On entering the city, the weary traveler could refresh himself at the fountain house on his left.
In the form presently visible the Dipylon Gate dates to the late 4th century BC, but the plan is largely the same as that of the original gate built under Themistokles in 478 BC. The main difference is that the first Dipylon gate was built of stone foundations with upper courses of sun-dried mudbricks. In its second incarnation it was built entirely of stone, with thicker walls and more monumental towers.
Probably at the same time as the rebuilding of the Dipylon Gate, in the late 4th century BC, a moat and proteichisma (‘fore wall’) were added as a second line of defense.
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