What is that monument in the Botanic Gardens?

August 15th, 2018

Have you ever noticed the classical monument standing in a prime position near the water in Sydney’s beautiful Royal Botanical Gardens? What does it mean, and what is it doing there?

Well it’s quite a long story. First of all, it’s not an original design but a copy of a monument that still stands in Athens, more than 2,300 years after it was erected on the Athenian Plaka. In those ancient times a great theatre festival was held every year in the Theatre of Dionysius.

In order to compete in the week-long festival, performers were assigned to a ‘chorus-leader’. These ‘chorus-leaders’, or choregoi, were members of the economic elite of Athens, and they funded the training of the performers and their often lavish costumes. Numerous performers and performing troupes – each sponsored by a wealthy citizen – took part, and all the people of Athens came to watch.

The winners in each category were chosen democratically, by audience vote. The winning choregos was awarded, on behalf of his tribe, a trophy in the form of a great bronze tripod. Over many decades, choregoi strove to outdo each other in erecting grand monuments on which to display their trophies. The area where these monuments stood became known as Tripodes, the street of tripods.

One particular choregos, called Lysicrates, built a very beautiful choregic monument to display his trophy, awarded at the Dionysia of 334 BC. The monument of Lysicrates is the only one still standing in Athens today. To give you an idea of its scale, the 7-metre high monument stands on a podium 3 metres high, and the tripod which originally stood on top was itself 3 metres high.

It is a replica of this Lysicrates monument, without the podium and tripod, that stands in Sydney’s Royal Botanical Gardens today.