The oldest street in Athens, and the whole of Europe, is about 2,500 years old — and is located in the Plaka neighborhood on the storied slopes of Acropolis Hill.
A large part of today’s Tripodon Street is a continuation of the ancient way and, amazingly, it maintains the same name. This incredible fact is even mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Tripodon Street was one of the broadest streets in ancient Athens, six meters (about 18 feet) wide, and was the shortest way to travel from the Theater of Dionysus to the Agora. It began at the entrance of the Temple of Dionysus, went around the Acropolis to the east, crossed the northern part of the hill, and ended at the Agora.
The ancient street was regularly crossed by the nighttime torch processions in honor of the god Dionysus. It took its name from the copper tripods that were placed along its sides. The street’s name was even mentioned by the ancient historian Pausanias.
The tripods were sponsors’ prizes in the theater competitions which were often dedicated to the god Apollo. That is why the monuments were sponsored and placed on the street outside the theater.
The tripods were placed on bases, which in the 5th century BC were of a simpler form, while in the 4th they took on the more elaborate form of a small temple. Sadly, most of the monuments on Tripodon Street were destroyed over time.
The Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, built-in 334 BC, is the best-preserved to this day. The name of the sponsor-winner of the drama contest that year is on an inscription on the peristyle of the cylindrical building. The tripod prize was based on a pointed rod on the roof.
The monument of Lysicrates on Tripodon Street was purchased in 1669 by a group of Capuchin monks, who had founded their monastery right next door. In the first decade of the 19th century, Lord Elgin – who had taken the Parthenon sculptures – offered to buy the Monument of Lysicrates from the monks — but thanks to the abbot — he was turned down.
After the Greek War of Independence in 1821, during which the Capuchin Monastery was burned down, the monument remained the property of the French government, until it was exchanged for a plot of land on Didotou Street. Ever since that time, it has belonged to the Greek state.
In ancient times, Tripodon Street was known for its extraordinary beauty because of the theater and the temple along its length — and this has remained true through the years.
Lord Byron, who was hosted at the Capuchin Monastery on Tripodon Street, states in a letter about the striking loveliness of the street: “In front of me, I have Hymettus (mountain), behind me the Acropolis, to my right the Temple of Zeus, in front of me the Stadium, to my left the city. Well, sir, this is what we call picturesque. There is nothing like it in London, not even in the residence of the Lord Mayor.”
All modern Greek artists, writers, actors, academics, and intellectuals have walked the stones of Tripodon Street in Plaka countless times. Kostis Palamas, Georgios Drosinis, Alexandros Papadiamantis, Melina Merkouri, and Dimitris Horn were only a few who have frequented this famous street.
(With Information from the book by Tonia Kafetzaki and Thanasis Giochalas, “Athens: Tracing the City with History and Literature as a Guide”.)