The Heart of Ancient Athens
The Agora (market) was the economic, social and political heart of Ancient Athens. After the Parthenon on the Acropolis rock, this is the next most important stop where every visitor to Athens should pay a visit.
Today, the Agora resembles a seemingly chaotic collection of ruins, temples, and such scattered over a huge garden of stone and weed. This however, should not deter visitors from the magic and historical importance that this site has to offer.
To fully appreciate the greatness of this site, one has to use their imagination, and spend time, walking around the site, picturing the scene many years ago. The market place was filled with shops and stalls, selling everything from oil, fruit and fish, to tools and crafted items. The streets were lined with buyers and sellers from all over Athens and Greece.
The assembly point at the Agora was were the men would met to discuss everything from politics to the goings-on of the previous day, as well as conduct business. As well as being able to take part in some physical activities such as wrestling, other may have taken a brief stroll over to the School of Philosophy for an exchange and discussion with the scholars of Plato and Socrates.
The Agora was the focal point of everyday life in Ancient Athens and the Athenians spent the most part of their day here. As well as the market and shops operating here, it was also a place were festivals and celebrations took place, as well as theatrical and athletic performances.
In the 6th Century BC, when the Agora was first laid out, if was first used merely as a market place, with boundaries set out by stones. Prior to that, it was an area used as a cemetery. However, over the years, between the 6th Century BC and the 5th Century AD, many changes took place, transforming it into this huge complex of interlinking buildings, which so dominated public life in the city.
Historically, there were several events that took place in the Agora, which shaped life in Ancient Athens. The Judicial Process took place here, and along with the town hall and other official buildings, democracy was administered to the people of the city. The Agora also had a large prison, situated in the south-east of the Agora, where the philosopher Socrates, after being condemned to death by jury, committed suicide by poison towards the end of the 4th Century BC.
Socrates was accused of introducing new Gods and of corrupting the young. Though he could have been released by simply paying a fine, he refused. Whilst in prison, he was supported by the public, who pushed for him to escape. However, he refused to break the law, and finally ended his life by drinking the poisonous plant hemlock.
During the 2nd Century BC, when the Agora was reaching it's final phase of development, the various buildings and temples were crossed diagonally by the “Panthenaic Way”. This pathway separated the “Stoa of Attalos”, which ran the entire eastern side of the Agora, with the rest of the area.
The Stoa of Attalos
The Stoa of Attalos was a two-storey arcade that was built in the 2nd Century BC, and was funded by Attalos II, King of Pergamon. It could be claimed that this was in fact the world's first department store, with over 20 various shops located inside. The Stoa of Attalos was approximately 116 meters (380 ft) in length and 116 meters (65 ft) in width. The inside of the Stoa has the same plan for both the ground and first floor. The only difference was that on the ground floor, Doric columns were used, and on the first floor, Ionic columns.
Today, it acts as the museum, after being immaculately restored by a $1.5 million project undertaken by the “American School of Archeology in Athens” in 1956. The museum houses a variety of findings and artifacts from the excavations of the site. Though size-wise, the museum can be described as being fairly small, it has the opportunity to offer visitors a wonderful insight into how life was in Athens in Ancient Times.
Some excellent displays in the museum include various bronze voting stones, which date from the 4th Century BC, and a water clock, dating from the 5th Century BC, which was actually used to limit speeches that were made in trials by opposing sides to just 6 minutes.
The Temple of Hephaestus
The West side of the Agora is as equally impressive as the east. The most dominating and impressive building of the west side is the “Temple of Hephaestus”, (also known as the “Theseion”), which is actually the best preserved Doric temple in all of Greece. Pearched on a 65 meter high mound, the “Theseion” catches your attention immediately.
Along friezes on the temple, there are depictions of Heracles and Theseus, and many believed that this temple was actually in dedication of Theseus, son of Aegeus. The district today is still known as Thiseion, including the nearby Metro station.
In fact, the temple was actually dedicated to Athena, and her brother “Hephaestus”, who was the God of Blacksmiths and Metalworkers, of which many resided at this time in the neighbouring areas. The temple was also the first building in the programme of Pericles, though it was actually not the first to be completed.
Though much smaller than the Parthenon of Athens, the temple was, and is, still impressive and stands at 32 meters (105 ft) in length and 14 meters (46 ft) in width, with 13 columns each along the side, and 6 along the front and back. The temple was also built at around the same time as it's big brother, the Parthenon. The fact that it is the best preserved temple in all of Greece could be explained that, between the 7th and 19th century, it was actually used as a Christian Church. Following this, it was also used as an archaeological museum until 1889.
Like the “Temple of Hephaistos”, the main public buildings were situated on the west side of the Agora. Just in front of the temple was the “Tholos”, a circular building, built around 470 BC, that housed a type of executive branch of Athenian democracy, known as the “Council of the Prytaneis”. The importance of the “Tholos” should not be underestimated. In fact, it was only when the “Tholos” was discovered in 1934 that archaeologists were finally sure that they had found the Agora.
The “Council of Five Hundred”, which was the Assembly of Athens, would meet up in the chambers at “Bouleuterion”, just north of the “Tholos”. The “Council of Five Hundred” was the most important body in the community, and was set up in the early 6th Century by the democrat Cleisthenes. The “Metroon”, a temple to the Mother of the Gods, located next to the “Bouleutrion” is where the state records and archives were kept.
Odeon of Agrippa
The “Odeon of Agrippa”, once a huge covered performance hall seating 1000, was built in around 20BC, and commissioned by “Agrippa”, the son-in-law of the Roman Emperor Augustus. This site was destroyed in 267 AD, but was later rebuilt, in 400 AD, and became the Gymnasium or Athens University.
Though it's reputation went much further than simply the city of Athens, it was ordered for closure in 529 AD by Emperor Justinian. Located behind the “Odeon of Agrippa” was the “Middle Stoa”, which was the largest building in the entire Agora. It's length was nearly 150 meters (500 ft). Sadly however, very little remains of this once grand structure.
In the Agora, you will also find one of the most beautiful Byzantine churches to be found in Athens. The church of “Agii Apostoli” (The Holy Apostles), built in the late 10th Century, houses some extremely beautiful frescoes dating from the 16th and 17th Century, which were originally inside the Spryridon Church. When that church was demolished in 1939, the frescoes made the “Agii Apostoli” church their new home.
The exterior of the church was originally decorated with decorative patterns, but these were severely altered during the 19th Century. However, it was restored to it's former glory in 1956. An interesting fact about this church is that beneath it are the remains of a mint, dating from the 5th Century, where the earliest Greek drachmas were pressed.
The Ancient Agora of Athens is a fantastic sight to visit, and one should really try to spend at least half a day there, to fully explore and appreciate the area. Though much of what you will find today are mere ruins and scattered pottery and marble, it is truly a remarkable place from which one can gain a true insight into life in ancient Athens.
Map of the Ancient Agora of Athens
Below you will find a map which shows the location of the Ancient Agora of Athens. Click on the map image below to load the Google map.
Summer - Daily from 08:00 - 19:00
Winter - Daily from 08:30 - 18:00 (though sometimes earlier)
Entrance Fee / Prices:
4 Euros with Museum Admission - 12 Euros as part of the Acropolis Multi Ticket
The Ancient Agora is located beaneath the Acropolis in Monastiraki, with one entrance located on Adrianou Street, near Ayiou Philippou Square, and another entrance on Agiou Apostoli, the road leading down into Plaka from the Acropolis.
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Top Sights in Athens
- Ancient Agora
- Areopagus (Hill of Ares)
- Filopappou Hill
- First Cemetery of Athens
- Hadrian's Arch
- Hadrian's Library
- Hill of the Nymphs
- Kerameikos Cemetery
- Lycabettus Hill
- Lysicrates Monument
- National Gardens
- Panathenaic Stadium
- Roman Agora
- Syntagma Square
- Temple of Olympian Zeus
- Tower of the Winds