Agora of Athens

Travel Guide at a Glance
Destination best for: major archaeological site, sightseeing, relaxation, historical site, museum, family vacation
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Ancient Agora of Athens
The ancient Agora of Athens is a major archaeological site and a very important place in terms of its influence in the world. That's a big statement, but well deserved for a place that was the heart of idea exchanges during the classical era. The ideas forged in this marketplace have influenced the way we think to our day.

The entire site is relatively level with many foot paths which meander pleasantly around small trees and historical events, betrayed by scattered ruins of all shapes and sizes.

"Agora" in Greek literally means "a place of gathering" and the Agora of Athens was the heart of Athenian life in Ancient times. For centuries It served as a busy marketplace where merchants and artisans congregated to buy and sell, but it also provided a platform for the Athenian political and intellectual life.

This is the place where Aristocrats and Tyrants enforced their rule on their Athenian subjects, and the place where the concept of "direct democracy" was forged.

The Agora was the physical place where every Athenian citizen gathered to conduct their business, participate in their city's governance, decide judicial matters, express their opinion for all who cared to listen, and elect their city officials. For every free Athenian citizen participating in such "common" activities was not merely a duty, but a privilege and an honor. In fact, the term "idiot" (idiotis=he who acts on his/her own) was used to mock those who avoided participation in the common citizen activities.

Doric column in the Agora of Athens
Doric column

Strolling through the ruins of the Agora one can't escape the unbearable weight of history that hovers about the place, and yet, the form of the landscape reflects none of the splendor of magnificent buildings that once adored the landscape. The lacy arguments of ancient Greek philosophers who strolled the ground leading their pupils scattered in the winds throughout the globe, and the ruined stones speak of fiery orations only in a silent sort of way. Despite the magnificent rock of the Acropolis that commands the landscape of the Agora from above, and the majestic presence of the Temple of Hephestus that balances the Parthenon across the plateau, the Agora remains a shy, humble and tranquil place.

The Agora displays the tranquility that comes only from having stared at the height of absolute Greatness and into the depths of infinite Cruelty.

Its presence transcends centuries and cultural influences from prehistoric times to the modern era, and has witnessed the spectacular transformation of prehistoric Mycenaean civilization to the Athenian Golden era, and the Roman culture. It has also suffered through invasions of every imaginable foe who took its vengeance out on the Agora grounds for over a thousand years.

The buildings of the Agora were destroyed in 480 BC by the invading Persians, only to be rebuilt again in the subsequent years of the 5th century BC when Athenian culture flourished into a superpower with immense cultural, political, and military influence. It was again plundered in 86 BC by the Romans, and was slowly rebuilt by the same conquerors who added many new buildings like the Odeon which occupies the center of the excavated Agora. In the next few centuries the place remained the center of activity in Athens and suffered several times at the hands of a multitude of invaders, until it was razed by the Slavs in 580 AD and remained uninhabited until the middle of the 19th century when modern Greece won its independence from the Ottoman empire.

The Ruins of the Agora

Triton statue from the Agora Museum
Triton
Sculpture from the Agora Museum

Most of what has been excavated and is visible on the site bears witness to its turbulent history, and the unearthed artifacts juxtapose the diverse cultural influences which at different times imposed their customs on the landscape.

The most visible monument is the temple of Hephestus (or Thesion) which still adorns a low hill in the Northwest end of the Agora. The temple's construction begun in 450 BC and it is still preserved in remarkable shape to our day. In many ways The Thesion resembles the Parthenon with its Doric form, though it was built much smaller in scale.

The Stoa of Attalos which dominates the East end of the site was built around 150 BC and was reconstructed in the 1950's in order to shelter the artifacts that were unearthed from the surrounding area. It frames the Agora on its East end and separates it from the Roman Agora, and the rest of Athens. It is a museum worth visiting for its exhibition of a variety of statues and common artifacts from the Agora excavations.

The Byzantine era Christian Church of the Apostles is well preserved in the Southeast corner and it houses several wall frescoes, while all other buildings expose only their foundations.

Among those, there is a great variety of buildings that one would expect to find in a marketplaces such as stores and workshops, as well as many structures that housed public events and government functions.

Practical information about visiting the Agora

If you plan to visit other ancient sites in the area, follow our walking tour of ancient Athens. You can enter the site with the "unified ticket" that allows access to other archaeological sites in the area, most notable of which are the Acropolis, the Roman Agora, Hadrian's Library, and Kerameikos.

Allocate anywhere between 30 to 60 minutes for visiting this archaeological site. It's best to walk around the open air ruins first and visit the museum later. As with all archaeological sites in Greece, it's best to visit around 9:00 AM before the heat and the crowds become an issue.

Buy bottled water when you exit the Metro station at the nearby kiosk. There is water faucet, a small shop, and bathrooms near the museum entrance inside the Archaeological site.

You can reach the Acropolis on foot after you are done with your tour of the Agora by following the footpath up the hill, and you can reach Monastiraki and Plaka by exiting on Adrianou street. Adrianou street is a good place to sit for lunch or to have a drink before of after your visit to the archaeological site.

Getting there

The archaeological site of the ancient Agora is in the center of the historic center of Athens and easily accessible by Metro. Use Line 1 and get off at either Monastiraki or Thesion. Both stations are about the same walking distance from the main entrance of the site. From both stations, walk about five minutes on Adrianou street to reach the entrance of the site. Arriving by taxi or car would leave you with the same walking distance since Adrianou street is a pedestrian road so no car can approach the entrance.

What to wear

In the summer the heat can be considerable even under the shade of the few trees that adorn the place. Wear light clothes and comfortable shoes. The site is relatively flat and easy to walk around in flip-flops, and you would need a hat and sunglasses in the summer.

Conclusion

The Agora of Athens emanates a serenity bestowed by the relentless grinding of history on ancient landscapes. For the unprepared visitor, no loud declaration exists of the Agora's contributions in the history of the western civilization. Instead, a mass of silent ruins invite us to follow the historical clues and to unravel our own mind's Ariadne's thread all the way back to the Theseus' era of heroes. With a little bit of research, visiting the Agora can be a very rewarding experience.

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