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The Treasury of the Athenians

The Treasury of the Athenians not only was one of the most important buildings of the sacred place of Apollo; it was also a very impressive building, situated on Iera Odos (the “Sacred Way”), just beside the “bouleuterion” (the seat of the senate of the town of Delphi), and facing the equally interesting treasuries of the Knidians and the Syracusans. The building served to house the trophies of important victories, votive offerings and precious objects that the Athenians had dedicated to the sanctuary. It had been constructed in late 6th or early 5th century b.C., after democracy had been established in Athens and it had always been considered as a symbol of democracy and of the abolition of tyranny. However, as the ancient traveler Pausanias states, based on an inscription found at the southern façade, the treasury had been constructed just after the victory of the Athenians at Marathon in 490 b.C.

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As most of the treasuries, the treasury of the Athenians is a small building in Doric style, in the shape of a temple in antis; it is made of Parian marble. The relief decoration, going back to late Archaic period is of high quality, very elegant with the sense of analogy and vigorous movement.

The relief of the frieze of the back – northern – façade presents the labors of Hercules, whereas this of the front – southern – façade depicts the achievements of Theseus. Placing the two major heroes side by side, the Athenians intended to underline the importance of the establishment of democracy in their city-state. The terrace on which the building stands leaves a triangular free space at the south, at the main façade; it is there that the Athenians used to display the spoils from the battle of Marathon and other trophies, during the official feasts and great processions that took place at Delphi. The walls of the building are inscribed with important texts, still surviving; it is a precious source of information for the customs, the feasts and the four official processions that the Athenians celebrated at Delphi, the Pyrphoria, the Tripodiphoria, the Pythais and the Dodecais. We also get information about ancient music, thanks to two inscriptions, the only ones of this kind found so far, reciting the famous hymns to Apollo and accompanied with music annotations. Today the texts are displayed in the Archaeological Museum of Delphi. Moreover, inscriptions are found inside the treasury; they contain important honorary decrees dated in the 3rd  century BC and later; some inscriptions cite the names of pawnbrokers who used the premises during the Roman period.
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As the treasury and many architectural parts of it survived pretty well, the monument was restored in 1906 by French archaeologists; the cost of the restoration was covered by  Spyros Merkouris, then mayor of Athens; this latter was grandfather of the well known Greek actress and politician Melina Mercouris. Today, the original frieze has been removed from the monument and is housed in the Archaeological Museum of Delphi; what we see in situ is the casts of the original.

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