Five reasons why you should visit Athens’ Ancient Agora
The Agora of Athens, namely the city’s ancient political and business center, lies below the Acropolis Hill at the very heart of ancient and modern Athens and it has been known since the American excavations began in 1931.
Today, after almost a century of exploration and research, the archaeological site is open year-round, and therefore, we await with pleasure the opportunity to show it to you in detail!
Since the beginning of the 5th century BCE and throughout antiquity, the Agora of Athens was not only of particular importance as the place of influential political decisions but as the center (together with the hill of Pnyx) of the most extraordinary political experiment of the ancient world: of The headquarters of the Athenian government, the senate chamber, the public courts, and many public office buildings were all placed around Agora’s open square. Their remains are still there to remind us of all aspects of Athenian civic life.
On the western side of the Agora stands the best-preserved temple of antiquity: the so-called “Thiseion”, a Doric-style temple that was dedicated to both Athena and Hephaestus. Built around the 430s BCE on a low hill, a prominent position on where the Athenians came probably every day, the temple was adorned with fantastic high reliefs depicting several well-known mythological scenes – all of them still present at their original position. Thankfully, the temple survived over the centuries, and nowadays, it is doubtlessly the best evidence for us to understand and appreciate the various elements of how to build such an ancient classical structure.
On the opposite eastern end of the Agora stands the famous Stoa of Attallos, namely a two-stories, 380ft long portico. The initial building was erected in the mid-2d century BCE and it functioned as a shopping center. In the years 1953-1956, the portico was rebuilt (by the American Archaeological School of Athens) to serve as the Agora Museum. Although entirely modern, this reconstruction offers to all visitors the opportunity to experience a wonderful walk inside such a building. Moreover, the various artifacts found at the Agora excavations and now exhibit at this small museum reveal the site’s long history and the multiple facets of ancient Athenian politics.
Nowhere is the history of Athens so fully illustrated as in the Agora, the focal point of life in the city. The remains of buildings, altars, statues, and inscriptions are scattered all around. Their presence manifests in the best way the pivotal moments of the city’s history – from the overthrow of the Tyrants at the final decades of the 6th century BCE, to the democratic reforms, the destruction by the Persians, its reshape during the famous Golden Age (mid 5th BCE) and later by the Romans; and eventually to the city’s final transformation during the early medieval era.
Finally, a visit to the ancient Agora is simply a wonderful stroll amidst ruins and trees: an oasis in the center of Athens during the hot days of summer. Walking at the same lanes where ancient philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Zeno did once, and following the footsteps of the most important visitors of the ancient city –from the famous Roman scholarCicero to the iconic figure of Saint Paul the Apostle– the ancient Agora is doubtlessly a place worth visiting.
Author: Nota Karamaouna (Archaeologist – Tour Guide)