Petit Futé's opinion on OLD AGORA
History. The Agora is certainly the centre of any large Greek city: it is here that political decisions are made, prisoners are tried and shops are also set up. Initially a simple esplanade, the Agora of Athens was gradually enriched with colonnaded porticoes where citizens could refresh themselves. It took the form we know it today in the 6th century BC. The buildings then lined the site on its western side, but were destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC. During the rest of the5th century, the Athenians rebuilt their Agora and decorated it with other buildings to the north and south. Shortly after 450 BC, construction began on the Temple of Hephaestus, better known as Theseion, the one you see still standing overlooking the entire site. The 4th century is marked by great building efforts, but it is only in the 2nd century BC that the colonnades (portico or stoa) that surrounded the Agora were added to it, such as the Attalos portico, rebuilt by the American School of Archaeology to house the museum of the Agora site. In 86 BC, the sack of Athens by the Romans of Sylla seriously damaged the buildings south of the Agora. Around 15 B.C., Agrippa had the Odeon built along the axis of the central square, and the temples of the Attica countryside were also dismantled and rebuilt on the Agora site, in particular the temple of Ares. In the 2nd century AD other buildings were constructed, such as the Library of Pantainos, the Nymphaeum and the Basilica. In 267 AD, the Heruli, barbarians from the north, sacked Athens. Stones were then torn from the monuments to build a wall around the Agora, the sophists built luxurious dwellings on the northern slopes of the Areopagus, and the Palace of the Giants was built on the ruins of the Odeon. Towards the end of the 6th century AD, the site was abandoned and gradually covered with thick layers of alluvium. Around the year 1000, the church of the Holy Apostles was built here.
Guided tour of the site. We propose you a guided tour of the Agora site, which starts from the southern entrance, i.e. the closest to the Acropolis. You enter the site by following the ancient Panathenaean Way, where a huge procession started from the Ceramics to reach the Erechtheion on the Acropolis by crossing the Agora by the Sacred Way. You can also see the traces of the marble paving that covered the road as well as the deep marks probably left by the passage of the chariots. On your right, before entering the actual site, a series of shops sheltered by a colonnade, on the other side of the road is the south-eastern temple whose deity is unknown. It is known, however, that these columns were recovered from the temple of Athena of Sounion. After passing through the gate of the site, you will see on your left, near the small church of the Holy Apostles, the foundations of the public fountain of the southeast, dating from the 6th century BC.
We suggest that you turn left to walk along the remains of the south portico of the Agora. This vast group of colonnades consisted of a first intermediate portico that framed, with a second portico further south, a vast rectangular square. To the west of this was a square building that served as a court, although inscriptions found on the site tell us that sessions were held outside under the colonnades. Adjacent to the court, known as the Heliée, is a square paved pit which is the remains of a water clock or clepsydra and probably dates from the 4th century BC.
Continuing westwards past the fountain, you will come across a building that may have been the prison of Socrates, as well as busts of prisoners, one of which may represent Socrates himself.
We now suggest that you go up north of the site, passing at the foot of the rocky promontory on which stands the temple of Hephaestus. You will then pass the western buildings of the Agora, the oldest of the site. You first pass in front of the circular base of the tholos. Built around 460 B.C., it served as headquarters and canteen for the Prytanes, the presidency committee of the Council of 500, or boulê. It also housed a set of standard weights and measures. Council meetings were held in the building whose foundations can be guessed behind the tholos: the bouleutêrion. The archives of the Council were kept on papyrus, parchments or in marble, in another building built next to the tholos: the metrôon. You will recognise it by the Ionic portico in the front, which dates from the 2nd century BC. In front of the metrôon, on the other side of the path provided for the visit, stands a large rectangular platform surrounded by a restored balustrade. This is the monument to the eponymous Heroes. In the middle of the balustrade stood the bronze statues of ten legendary heroes who had given their names to the ten tribes or political districts in the territory of Athens. Behind them, you can see the base of a huge altar that was to be dedicated to Zeus.
Continuing northwards, you pass in front of what remains of a small Ionic temple dedicated to Apollo Patrôos, built in 340-330 B.C., and then in front of a more imposing building composed of two wings: this is the portico of Zeus Eleutherios, god of Liberty. It was here that all the figures who contributed to the freedom of the city were venerated. Still to the right of this building stands the royal portico, which is smaller than its neighbour. It was probably built around 460 B.C., certainly first to house and display the laws enacted by Solon. It then served as the headquarters of one of the principal magistrates of Athens: the Archon King. It was here that Socrates came to answer the interrogation that was to lead to his death sentence.
Now we invite you to take a closerlook at the wonderful temple that stands above your heads: the temple of Hephaestus, better known as Theseus. The sculptures of the two pediments have been lost, but fragments of the Doric frieze and the metopes that illustrate the work of Heracles and the exploits of Theseus, from whom he took his nickname, remain. Let us now look at the buildings in the centre of the Agora. Going along the wall of the railway line to the east, we discover the corner of what was once the altar of the Twelve Gods, the rest of the monument being behind the dividing wall. Founded in 522 BC by Pisistrate the Younger, this sanctuary was dedicated to the twelve gods of Olympus and served as a landmark for measuring distances from Athens.
Let us now turn to the colossal statues that stand in the middle of the site: they represent newts (half-man, half-fish) and giants (half-man, half-snakes). These statues were taken from the façade of Agrippa's odeon, which has now disappeared. Passing between the giants, you come to the ruins of the odeon itself. Its architecture was remarkable for the absence of columns inside, which is probably the first cause of the collapse of its roof around 170 BC. Today you can admire the marble paved scene. The Heruli destroyed the Odeon in 267 AD and the Athenians used the stones of the building to provide the city with a new fortification. The cement foundations that now cover the old odeon square belonged to a large architectural complex known as the Palace of the Giants.
We now suggest you visit the stoa of Attale which now houses the Agora Museum. This portico owes its name to King Attalus II, king of Pergamum from 159 to 138 BC, a classic gesture of gratitude for a prince of Attica sent to Athens in his youth to receive a proper education.
The stoa consists of two floors with 21 rooms each. These rooms were occupied by shops but also by administrative offices.
Information on OLD AGORA
Every day from 8am to 8pm in summer. Ticket: 8 € (or 30 € combined with the Acropolis and other sites, valid for 5 days)
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