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  • Writer's pictureGiorgia Capra, MA

A Brief History of the Horologion of Andronikos Kyrrhestes

What is the Horologion of Andronikos Kyrrhestes?

The Horologion of Andronikos Kyrrhestes is an octagonal marble tower in Athens that was designed by the astronomer Andronikos Kyrrhestes, and acted as a water clock, sundial and weathervane.

Horologion of Andronikos Kyrrhestes

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Horologion of Andronikos Kyrrhestes

The ancient Greek word horologion means ‘hour indicator’. This structure probably served as a public timepiece for the city, being open and accessible all day to every Athenian. This unique building, designed by the Macedonian astronomer Andronikos Kyrrhestes during the 2nd or 1st century BC, is situated in the Roman Agora, the principal marketplace of Athens during the Roman period. The clocktower had a prominent position here, surrounded by other important civic buildings, and was probably useful for merchants frequenting the market. This area was at the time the most important and crowded part of the city, having replaced the old Greek Agora in many of its commercial functions.

The horologion is a complex structure whose mechanism is not yet completely understood. It originally served three purposes: housing a water clock in the interior, sundials on the external walls, and a weathervane on the roof.

The structure is also known as the ‘Tower of the Winds’. This nickname stems from the reliefs on its walls representing personifications of the eight winds, blowing in different directions, which can be admired on the outside of the building, below the eaves. The winds are portrayed wearing the clothing associated with their specific features: thus the cold wind of the North is wearing a thick, sleeved mantle and boots, while the mild sea wind of the South is depicted in lighter clothes. They also carry identifiable objects such as fruit, flowers and hailstones, symbolic of their seasons and of the places from which they originate.

According to the ancient Roman writer Vitruvius, a complex internal system of pipes set the 24-hour water clock in motion, while a cistern containing the necessary water was situated in a turret attached to the south face of the building. This complex mechanism is now gone, and we can only see the channel holes in the flooring, which used to carry the water. (Water clocks are known elsewhere in the Greek world, as they were used in law courts to time speeches.) The weathervane, sadly no longer visible, was located on the top of the tower in the form of a bronze Triton, a fish-tailed sea-god, that swung to indicate the direction of the wind.

In Late Antiquity, the tower was first used as a baptistry for a nearby church. Later, during the Ottoman Period in the 18th century, it was occupied by the dervishes, who used it for their ritual dances. Many other towers were based on the design of Andronikos’ work: among the most famous is Oxford’s Radcliffe Observatory, built at the end of the 18th century, which bears a close resemblance to the Athenian horologion.

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