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One of the most incredible and mesmerizing sights in Greece is the Ancient Agora of Athens, which once used to be the center for trade, commerce, and politics. Today, situated in the heart of Athens, the Ancient Agora marks the architectural and cultural advancement of the early civilization of Athens.
Ancient Agora is the exact place where the Athenian direct democracy took its root for the very first time. Today, this ancient site is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Athens; and people from throughout the world visiting it are left wonderstruck.
They are astonished by the splendor of the building and remain as it truly reflects the culture, power, and glory of early Greeks.
If you are in Athens or planning to travel there, Ancient Agora certainly deserves a visit!
The History of The Ancient Agora in Athens
In Greek, Agora stands for an “open place of assembly”, thus, this Ancient Agora once used to be a gathering area for free-born Athenians, where they could meet, congregate and hold discussions on social, political, and economic issues.
The Ancient Agora dates back to pre-historic times; however, it reached its summit during the classical era in the 5th century BC. Throughout the entire history of this architectural wonder, the site witnessed the various transfers of power between various empires.
It all began with the nationwide cultural transition from the Mycenaean civilization in 1200 BC to the spectacular Athenian era; and continued later on with the transition from the classical Roman culture to the spiritual Byzantine centuries.
Over the course of time, the control of the Ancient Agora became a symbol of power among rulers, resulting in the site’s plundering and destruction by invading forces more times than its current state would have you think.
Back in 480 BC, it was first destroyed by the Persian invaders.
Fortunately, very soon, the Ancient Agora was enabled to flourish again in the 5th century BC when the Athenian culture thrived.
However, the plundering continued in later centuries when Agora was destroyed by Romans in 86 BC.
The Romans rebuilt the Ancient Agora with added buildings, including the imposing Odeon. It remained a center of activity in Athens with rich cultural and economic significance for a wide span of time and was finally razed by the Slavs in 580 AD.
Since then, it remained uninhabited until Greece won its independence from the Ottoman Empire in the mid-19th century.
The Excavation of the Ancient Agora
The process of bringing this magnificent archaeological site to light began in 1859 but it didn’t really produce any significant result until 1931 when the American School of Classical Studies got the green light from the Greek Government to start excavations on the location.
Up until the start of the 20th century, the site that is now known as the Ancient Agora was actually a significant part of the city center of Athens, full of houses and shopping streets.
When the excavation process began -funded by John D. Rockefeller- more than 360 residences had to be brought down in order for the ancient buildings to be uncovered.
Soon after, the Stoa of Attalos was rebuilt based on its original plans and the Ancient Agora Museum opened its doors to visitors from all around the world.
Where Is the Ancient Agora Located?
It is situated northwest of the Acropolis; while on the south and west, it’s surrounded by the hills of the Areos Pagos and Kolonos Agoraios.
Today, the Ancient Agora of Athens is a green area, with remains of scattered rocks and fountain walls; depicting the atmosphere of a busy marketplace. Certainly, it reflects the true beauty of the majestic past of the city of Athens.
Ancient Agora Sights
Some of the most remarkable ancient sights of Athens which depict the true prestige of Athenian can be witnessed at Ancient Agora including:
Stoa of Attalos
The Stoa covers the majority of the eastern side of the Ancient Agora, and the original building was initially built in 150 B.C.E, by King Attalos II of Pergamon.
Therefore, the Stoa is named after him only. Since then, it has been razed various times; however, it was reconstructed in an even more majestic way.
The building that still stands today is a result of the reconstruction of the site by the American School of Classical Studies from 1952–1956.
On the ground floor of Stoa, you’ll find the Ancient Agora Museum, which holds and exhibits a diverse range of artifacts including statues discovered from Agora excavations.
The museum clearly reflects the developmental stages of both the ancient Agora and Athens itself and demonstrates historical wonders from the Neolithic to the Post-byzantine and Ottoman periods.
In the article below, you can read any information you may need about the great and small museums in Athens, like ticket prices, opening hours, free admission days, and many more!
Temple of Hephaestus
The temple of Hephaestus (also called Theseion), is indeed one of the most phenomenal monuments in the Northwest end of Agora.
It is surely captivating enough to grab every visitor’s attention.
The temple dates back to 449 BC and, fortunately, is still preserved in an outstanding way, partly because it was later converted into a Christian Church.
The temple of Hephaestus depicts the cultural and religious views of ancient Athenians and is one of the oldest temples in existence. Visiting it is surely a must for every tourist in Athens!
Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles
On the left corner of the Ancient Agora of Athens, this little church is one of the most visited attractions of the ancient site.
This captivating church is extremely unique in design and architecture and a true example of the religious differences of the past eras.
The Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles has also been a target for vandalism and destruction through the centuries, but fortunately, it’s still preserved in relatively good shape.
The Panathenaic Way
The name Panathenaic way refers to the famous road passing through the Ancient Agora and winding towards the Propylaia of Acropolis Hill before climbing up to the Parthenon.
During the Great Panathenaia (one of the largest festivals of ancient Greece held to honor the patron goddess of the city Athena), the most prominent citizens of Athens would walk in procession on the Panathenaic Way towards the celebrations.
The House of Simon the Cobbler
Simon the Cobbler was but an ordinary citizen of the ancient city of Athens, but his house was far from an ordinary place.
It is said that this residence is where the great philosopher Socrates met with his students regularly, especially those that were too young to be allowed access to the Agora.
There are sources that claim that Simon the Cobbler documented the conversations that the famous thinker had with his students that were later published under the name “Skytikoi dialogues”, a title which translates into “dialogues of the shoemaker”.
The remains of the house of Simon the Cobbler are still visible today.
Bouleuterion and the Odeon
What remains of the Bouleuterion serves as a reminder that the Ancient Agora of Athens played a significant role in the first steps of democracy as a new political system that would soon spread throughout the world.
The Bouleuterion is where the Roman Senate would meet and where some of the most important generals and strategists of the time would lay out their plans for the city.
Nearby, the Odeon of Agrippa (that takes its name after the influential Roman general Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa) and its beautiful decorative statues stand as proof that Romans had conquered Athens by the sword, but the Athenian culture had reigned supreme even in times of foreign occupation.
Ancient Agora Ticket Prices and Opening Hours
The Ancient Agora opens every day of the week except for National Holidays, from 08:00 – 17: 00 and can be visited any time in between.
The last admission is allowed 30 minutes prior to the closing time, after which no one is allowed to enter. It would be ideal to visit the site around 9 am before the heat intensifies and Agora gets overcrowded with tourists.
Fortunately, the entry ticket for Ancient Agora is made reasonable for all, with just 8 Euros ($9), for adults and 4 Euros ($4.5), for students.
However, you can always buy the combined ticket, which costs 33 Euros for adults and includes entry to the Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Theatre of Dionysus, Kerameikos, Hadrian’s Library, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
How to Get to The Ancient Agora
The rich archaeological site of Ancient Agora is in the middle of the city, and easily accessible by metro.
Metro Line 1 to Thisseion or Monastiraki or Bus lines “025, 026 or 027” could be used to arrive at Monastiraki. Reaching Thisseion or Monastiraki, you will be able to find the Ancient Agora ruins within walking distance of 5 minutes.
Even if you reach the Ancient Agora by taxi, you’ll still have to cross that walking distance as no cars are allowed to reach the Agora’s entrance (Adrianou Street).
All in all, the Ancient Agora is one of the most unique and significant landmarks of Athens. And even though time has certainly taken its toll on the buildings, temples, and residences of the site, a walk through the ruins will feel like a trip through time; an experience we advise you not to miss on your next trip to Athens.
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