The Ancient Agora is below the slopes of the Acropolis towards the north west it is one of Athens' most interesting and popular tourists attractions, the word 'agora' means market place or open space and this is exactly what the Agora was during classical times. During ancient times the Agora was the centre, beating heart of political and public life for Athenians, everything from law courts, state prisons, shops, schools, theatres even the city mint that produced the cities silver coins were found here.
The majority of the buildings we see today date from classical Athens 6th century BC onwards but are many other buildings that were added to the site throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods and even later a Christian church. The area of the Ancient Agora has been in use as long as the city or settlement of Athens has been there, there is proof of use during the Neolithic period, during Mycenaean times (1600 - 1100 BC) it was used as a cemetery with about 50 Mycenaean Tholos tombs being discovered.
The site was set out as a Agora in the 6th century BC, there may have been another inadequate agora somewhere else in the city. The area was a flat piece of land in front of the slope of the Acropolis and Areopagus and was the perfect spot, also there was an intersection of three roads on the site, one was the very important Panathenaic Way which was the main road of ancient Athens. Being in the city the land did have houses, buildings and wells on it which were all moved to make way for the new buildings and centre of Athenian government.
The Ancient Agora lost its importance during the Roman period, as by this time the Greek Agora was hundreds of years old and the Romans looked upon it like we do today as an attraction from history. The Romans replaced it with their own Agora just further up in what is now between Monastiraki and Plaka - The Roman Agora.
During the Ancient Agora's long history it was destroyed 3 times the first was the Persians in 410 BC when Athens was abandoned and much of the city was destroyed. The second time was by the Roman General Sulla in 89 BC, and the third time was in the 267 AD when the city of Athens was sacked by the Heruli (a Germanic barbarian tribe). After all the invasions that followed the Athenians shortened their defensive wall which left the Agora outside the city walls and finally in 580 AD after the Slavic invasion the Agora was abandoned, forgotten and built on until excavations during the 20th century.
Much of the site was built on or converted such as the temple of Hephaisteion which was converted to a Christian church called Agios Georgios. The Christian church of Agioi Apostoli was built around 1000 BC as were many other buildings right up until the 19th century.
The once bustling Agora is now one of the most tranquil places in the city, with it's greenery and tree lined paths stretching out below the Acropolis. The Agora is dominated by three monuments the Stoa of Attalos, the Temple of Hephaisteion and the Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles.
The archaeological site of the Ancient Agora is very large and parts of the original Agora are in the area of Monastiraki with shops and other buildings built on top. Some of the shops and cafes actually have glass floors so that visitors can actually see the remains of the Agora below them. When building the Athens-Peiraeus Railway in the 1890's lots of ancient buildings were discovered and can still be seen today with the train track cutting straight through.
The Agora has been excavated on and off since 1859, Up to 400 hundred houses were demolished in the 1940's to clear the site for excavation, but the biggest excavation came in 1953 to 1956 when the Stoa of Attalos was reconstructed to be a museum for the finds of the Agora. There was also restoration on the Temple of Hephaisteion during the 1970's, Archaeological excavation on the site continues up until today.
The Stoa of Attalos was a two-storey arcade built between 159 and 138 BC by king Attalos of Pergamon as a gift to Athens which stood for nearly five hundred years until it was burnt down in AD 267 by the Heruli tribe. The Stoa was rebuilt between 1953 and 1956 on the original foundations using the original materials. Much of the original materials were used to build the defensive wall around Athens after the Heruli sack of Athens. It was and is now 120 metres by 20 metres and made of Pentelic marble and limestone, the colums of the Stoa are a mix of Doric and Ionic.
The Stoa is now used as a museum which showcases all the finds from the Agora and is one of the best in Athens. It displays such items as a klepsydra or water clock used for timing speeches and ancient ballot boxes for voting. They also have a large collection of everyday items like children's toys, sandals etc. The Stoa is in throwing distance of the busy pedestranized road in Monastiraki which is lined with bars and restaurants, and gives an amazing view to any onlooker.
The Temple of Hephaisteion is on the opposite side of the Agora to the Stoa of Attalos (north west side of the archaeological site) and is the best preserved monument in the Agora. The temple is on top of the Agoraios Kolonos hill and The temple is also known as the "Theseion" due to the legend that the ancient Athenian hero Theseus' body was laid to rest in the temple. This legend also gave the surrounding modern district its name "Thisseo".
Despite the legend archaeologists are certain that the Temple was dedicated to the God Hephaestus as he was the patron god of metal working and craftsmen, the area was full of workshops and blacksmiths. Even up to modern times this area just north of the temple was workshops and factories, these were knocked down for the 2004 Olympics. The temple also had lots of inscriptions to the god carved into its marble just to confirm what archaeologists already knew.
The temple is a Doric temple and is made from Pentelic marble, it is the best preserved of its kind in Greece, construction on the temple began in449 BC and it was completed in about 415 BC. the temple is just short of 14 metres wide and 32 metres long with 6 columns at the short side and 13 on the long side. Like the Acropolis the Temple of Hephaisteion has many Friezes and metopes depicting scenes from Myths and legends.
Sometime around 700 BC, the Temple was converted into a Christian church called Agios Georgios (St George), as did many other ancient temples during this period. The last time the temple was used as a church was in 1833.
The Odeon of Agrippa is in the middle of the Agora and dates back to 15BC. Built by the Roman Statesman and general Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa as a gift to the people the odeon was a two-storey auditorium with a capacity of 1,000. Along the north side of the odeon are some huge statues of Giants and Tritons.
As with other structures in Athens and the Agora the Odeon was destroyed during the Herulian sack of the city, later in the 5th century AD a palace was built on top of the Odeon using the theatres pillars as an entrance.
The Altar of the Twelve Gods is in the north part of the Agora, it was built in 522BC by Pisistratus and was a place of worship of the twelve Olympian Greek gods (Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Apollo, Athena, Ares, Aphrodite, Demeter, Artemis, Hephaestus, Hermes, and Dionysus. The altar was used as a milestone for distances in the city and was considered to be the centre of Athens.
The Sanctuary of the Twelve Gods, as it was also known as was discovered in two separate excavations the first was in 1891 whilst building the Athens Piraeus railway they discovered two sections of wall. The second was in 1934 by the American school of classical studies of Athens who carried on digging at the sites of the walls on the railway and found an inscription 'Leagros son of Glaucon dedicated this to the twelve gods'. More excavations took place in 2011 when the tracks were taken up for repairs, despite much protest and legal battles the tracks were re-laid on the site.
The Monument of the Eponymous Heroes in the south-west of the Agora is the remains of a long pedestal which once stood ten bronze statues of heroes, these represented the ten tribes of Athens.
Also in the south-west of the Agora is The Bouleuterion and Metroon. The Metroon was the original Boule where the city council of 500 met, but at the end of the 5th century BC the Bouleuterion was built and became the new council building. Later the Metoron was dedicated to the mother goddess and housed the cities official archives.
South of the Metroon is The Tholos which is actually part of the Bouleuterion complex and built around 470BC. The Tholos is a round building (tholos means dome in Greek) and has a diameter of 18 metres and had 6 interior columns. The building was used as an all purpose function room for officials having both a dining hall and sleeping quarters.
Other than the main monuments and builds I have just mentioned there are lots of others, stoas, temples, even the cities mint. There is a building called the Strategeion and was the meeting place of all the Strategoi (general from each of the 10 tribes of Athens) of ancient Athens, it was built on top of 2 ancient graves at least 2700 years old and a cult arose around the graves as one of buried was a hero called Strategos.
There was also a Synagogue in the ancient Agora, archaeologists found a seven-branched Menorah on a door way not far away from Metroon, St Paul mentioned there being a Jewish Synagogue in Athens in his writing and this was probably the same one.
The Ancient Agora was once the hub of ancient Athens, now an important archaeological site and a great place to walk around. There is also a very good museum inside the Stoa of Attalos showing finds fron the Agora.
The Agora also has the Temple of Hephaisteion which is the best preserved ancient Greek temple in the world.
Location:The main entrance is on Adrianou street, there are other entrances just below the Acropolis .
Nearest Metro Station: Monastiraki and Thiseio.
Entrance Fee: 2 euros, but this and other sites are free if you buy the entrance ticket to the Acropolis and is valid for 7 days.
Opening hours: (summer) Tue - Sun 08:00 - 19:00. Monday - 11:00 - 19:00. (Winter) Tue - Sun 08:30 - 14:30. Monday - 11:00 -14:30. Closed on all public holidays.
Tips: The Ancient Agora is a perfect place to get away from the crowds on the Acropolis, the paths are tree lined and have plenty of shade to get out of the sun.