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The Lion’s Dribble

February 11, 2013

By Artemios Miropoulos

The following is a post from Linkage global partner in Greece, who shares his unique perspective on ancient Greece and modern shopping malls.—Ed

The Agora of Athens owns the heaviest heritage of Greek classical history than any other place on earth. Right under the northern downhill of the Acropolis, it is a beautiful thirty acre garden full of scattered broken marble, statues and ruins of ancient buildings that stays peaceful even in August when hordes of tourists make the surrounding streets impassable.

Greek statesmen, orators, philosophers, playwrights, and tradesmen flourished here during the 5th and 4th centuries B.C and Hellenistic kings and Roman emperors adorned it with precious artifacts, fountain houses, and public buildings. Herulian barbarians who invaded from the north shattered it in A.D 267 and the oblivion of the Ottoman times buried this unique landscape under fifteen feet of dirt. Impoverished Athens of the nineteenth century stretched its shabby neighborhoods on its top and the memory of the Agora seemed to have been lost.

Craig Mauzy however, the photographer of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens who served as my guide on this gloomy November morning seemed to have his doubts. He pointed at a long rectangular stone base of a perished construction and said: “This is what’s left of the Monument of the Eponymous Heroes.”

Athenians were assigned to ten tribes named respectively after ten Athenian Heroes who had been picked by the oracle of Delphi among a hundred options. Membership in one of these tribes defined citizenship, service in public administration, military responsibilities, and participation to festivities. From the ten bronze statues standing on this rectangular stone altar stemmed lines of descendant and power for all Athenian citizens. The Monument of the Eponymous Heroes was a pedigree and the symbol of the new Athenian democracy. “Do you know what was the name of the nineteenth century street on top of the very point we are now standing? ‘Eponymon Street’, Street of the Eponymous. How could anyone have known what was buried underneath at the time?” He stared at the debris puzzled once again on the mystery of the Eponymous Street. Another notion on how enduring in time memories of such powerful imprints in history, residues of valued concepts or deeds of great men might prove to be.

The Agora was the center of the civic activity of the city—a large open square space surrounded on all four sides by Stoas, colonnaded walkways that provided promenade space to literally thousands of people while sheltering them from the summer sun or the wind and rain of winter. It was the focal point where citizens could assemble, exactly the original meaning of the word Agora, a marketplace in modern Greek.

The Stoa of Attalos, the most prominent structure of the Agora, is clearly described by the American School of Classical Studies as a “shopping mall.” The city rented out its forty-two shops together with dozens of other retail spots where all sorts of merchandise, perfumes, utensils, pottery, statues, terra cotta figurines and weaponry made of bronze and iron were sometimes made and sold on the spot. Apart from its commercial use, the Agora housed administrative, religious, and all sorts of public institutions from the council chamber, the senate, the state archives, the courts of law where a water-clock was used to time speeches, a library and a concert hall along with numerous small temples and shrines.

The main road that crossed the Agora, the Panathenaic Way, was used for parades and a great annual procession that led on to the Acropolis as well as the training ground for young recruits of the Athenian cavalry. The Agora was the place to be and this was not the result of a master plan rather than the evolution of life in an urban center, knitting trade with administrative, religious and all sorts of public interaction that is unlike a modern shopping mall where retail activity stands on its own, cut off from any other form of civic function.

The Gruen Transfer in shopping mall design is the moment when consumers enter a shopping mall and, surrounded by an intentionally confusing layout, spatial cues, music and sounds, lose track of their original intentions, forget what they came for and become impulse buyers. Named after Victor Gruen, the Austrian architect who designed the very first shopping mall, the effect of the Transfer is marked by a slower walking pace while Gruen himself disavowed such manipulative techniques he called scripted disorientation.

No matter how sophisticated the layout of a modern shopping mall is, shop windows, decoration and all, you know it is a scenery that aims in creating and facilitating retail demand, it is all about making visitors spend. Society however identifies and rejects artificial set ups; in deadmalls.com one counts 429 dead malls in the US alone and there are arcade games called “zombie shopping mall experience.” How successful in business, environmental, and social responsibility terms can this be considered?

[King Cyrus speaks] : ‘I have never feared men who have a place set apart in the middle of their city where they lie and deceive each other. If I keep my health, the Hellenes will have their own sufferings to worry about…’ “This threat he uttered against all Hellenes because they have agoras and buy and sell there; for the Persians themselves do not use agoras, nor do they have any” Herodotus Book I. 153 ‘THE ATHENIAN AGORA’ by JOHN McK CAMP II

As studies show that average mall life drops below ten years, there is talk about “demalling,” regeneration of shopping malls by dismantling roofs, enclosing walls and endless corridors to let the air and light in, incorporating them into an urban and social context. Time will show whether these intentions are truly sincere or an attempt to create another more advanced Gruen Transfer effect.

“What if” questions are always a challenge. What if in modern malls one could find administration offices, churches, libraries, colleges and workshops? What if working people, executives, employees or students would daily walk in and out to go to work? High real estate value is currently preventing this from happening, but developers could evaluate the effect such a blend would provide to consumer traffic and long term results.

Once again we are faced with the short term, narrowly defined return on investment dilemma versus long term sustainability and the artificial corporate social responsibility “add on” initiatives versus true social blending of business.

As our tour was coming to an end, both Craig and I lingered looking upwards, staring at the unique Stoa of Attalos rebuilt in blue and white marble by the Americans in the ’50s, a double colonnaded, two story high building originally presented as a gift to the city of Athens by Attalos II king of Pergamon. The lower part of the front columns still bearing the marks of goods and carts rubbing and banging against them, the steppingstones curved by the wear of twenty-century old in and outs. “You must be really proud.” I was sincere in a mixture of admiration and gratitude for the structure in front of us was a masterpiece of restoration.

“The lions dribble,” Craig replied dryly still looking up.

“I beg your pardon?” I followed his look and saw what he meant. At the edge of the tile roof, a line of marble lion heads served as rain water sprouts; a black stain started from the hole in their mouths downwards. The lions dribbled. “They should have their tongues out.” From the ninety three lion heads, only one was original, still in place, the mane, ears, eyes all carved clearly, providing a prototype for the rest. A huge hole however gaped where its snout should have been, shattered and lost. The modern sculptors did their best improvising the missing part, but they missed the tongues that would have shot rain water to a safe distance. We separated and I walked slowly away as the first drops of a late autumn rain started to fall, in my mind ninety three lions sticking out their tongues, I am sure I saw one of them smile mockingly.

Suggested Reading

  • Camp, John McK., II. 2003. The Athenian Agora, American School of Classical Studies at Athens
  • Casimir, J. 2010. The Gruen Transfer, ABC Books
  • Crawford, M., 2002. Suburban Life and Public Space, Sprawl and Public Space:
  • Redressing the Mall, Edited by Smiley, D.J., Robins, M., Princeton Architectural Press, New York

More about Artemis
Artemis is Managing Partner of Linkage Greece. He has an extensive background in consumer products and services. He spent eight years in the Sales and Marketing departments of Johnson & Johnson and as National Sales Manager with Beiersdorf in Greece. During this period, he actively contributed to changing the European retail environment participating in global task teams on European price harmonization, international account planning, and efficient consumer response initiatives.

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