The Ancient Agora of Athens is the second most important archaeological site in Athens, right after Acropolis Hill. And if you ask why, it is because the Ancient Agora was the beating heart of Athens’ public center. Literally, everything was happening in the Agora, as it was the meeting point in Athens where people gathered together for all kinds of reasons.
With the extensive findings from the excavations and written reports from ancient travelers we know today that the Agora was:
Ancient Agora of Athens facts
- A commercial center with many shops where potters, shoemakers, coppersmiths, and sculptors manufactured and sold their goods
- A religious center as the numerous small shrines and temples indicate
- A cultural center as there were a library and a conservatory. The Greek tragedy playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and comedy playwright Aristophanes all produced the first staging of their plays in and around the Agora of Athens
- An administrative, political, and judicial center: the Athenian Parliament was housed here and their court accused Socrates of impiety in 399 BCE and sentenced him to death
- A philosophical center: near Simon’s shoe shop, according to ancient writers, was the spot where Socrates met with his disciples. This is where Aristotle first listened to Socrates and became his student. Protagoras, Parmenides of Elea, and Anaxagoras argued cases and taught in the public buildings of Agora
- A social center, where friends would meet to discuss business, politics, or philosophy. At the time the Agora was a beautiful place (still is, all green) adorned with trees and gardens, monuments, and fountains
Ancient Agora of Athens is frequently referenced as the Birthplace of Athenian Democracy since it was here that the political discussions and arguments led to the forming of laws. The discussions were in reality a series of tactics that was a practice of the concept of Athenian Democracy.
The Ancient Agora of Athens
Greek History Time Frame
To understand better the time frame of the Ancient Agora operation, I have created this infographic of the major eras of the history of Greece. Around 550 BCE, the Agora of Athens was founded on 122 acres to the northwest of the Sacred Rock of the Acropolis, between the hills of the Arion and the Agoraion Kolonos. For (at least) the next four centuries Agora was the center of Athens in Classical and Hellenistic times.
Important Dates in Agora’s history
- From 1600-700 BCE the area was used as a cemetery and 50 of those graves have been excavated. There is evidence of Mycenaean Tholos Tombs
- By 520 BCE, during the Pisistratos tyranny, the first public buildings of the Ancient Agora of Athens, the Southeastern Fountain and the Altar of the 12 Gods had been built (from which all distances in Athens were measured)
- In 508 / 507 BC, Democracy was established and the authorities started the intense building activity in the Agora
- The Persians in 480 / 479 BC turned many of its buildings into ruins but restoration efforts began soon after, under the direction of Pericles. One of them was the Panathenaic Street, the “central avenue” of Athens that crossed the Agora and which was followed every four years by the procession of the great Athenian festival of the same name (Panathinea)
- From 475 BCE all the way to the 4th century, there were more and more public constructions, which is directly linked to the flourishing of Democracy
- Romeo Syllas destroyed the buildings of the Agora in 86 BCE as a punishment to the Athenians for supporting the King of Pontos and not the Romans
- Roman Emperors Octavios and Adrian, 27 BCE – 138 CE renovated and built odeons and added temples in the Ancient Agora, resulting in a period of prosperity
- According to the Book of Acts 17:16-33, Apostle Paul preached in the Agora the gospel of Jesus Christ in 51 CE
- In 267 CE the invasion of the Germanic tribe Heruli destroyed completely the buildings of the Agora, some were later rebuilt but the destruction came again in 396 CE by the Visigoths
- The last flourish of the Agora was during the 5th and 6th centuries CE when the Athenians built luxurious complexes of urban villas
- The successive attacks by barbarian tribes from the end of the 4th to the end of the 6th century AD led to the destruction of the buildings of the Agora yet again and this resulted in the final decline of the area
- It was reinhabited in the 10th century, during the Byzantine Empire when Athens was expanding (Solakis church was built during this period)
- Between the 13th and 17th centuries, the Agora is abandoned and everything but the Temple of Hephaistos (which had been turned into a church) is buried under mud
- In 1931, the American School of Classical Studies in Athens started excavations in the area and more than 400 residential houses had to be demolished.
Book Tip: Pausanias (110 – 180 CE) was a Greek traveler and geographer who lived during the reigns of Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius. He wrote 10 books with a compelling depiction and invaluable wealth of information about the ancient monuments of Greece while he was traveling between 150-180 CE. Book no 1 is devoted to the monuments of Athens and central Greece.
The Monuments in the Ancient Agora of Athens
The photograph above shows the Ancient Agora at its peak. Today, there are three complete buildings standing, the Temple of Hephaistos, the Byzantine Church of Agioi Apostoloi Solakis, and the Stoa of Attalos, which was rebuilt in the 1950s.
But let’s talk a bit more in detail about the monuments you can see today:
The Temple of Hephestos
The metro that passes from Monastiraki towards Thission and Pireaus is above the ground, so every time I use it I always manage to get a glimpse of this magnificent Doric temple. The Temple of Hephestos, widely known as Thiseion, is built on top of Agoraios Kolonos Hill, a natural western border of the Agora, so it is easily visible from around the area.
The construction of the temple (we don’t know the architect’s name) must have taken place between the years 460-420 BC, is made of Pentelic marble and you can see the ceiling and the frieze.
If you ask me why the Hephestos temple survived in such a great condition while many others are in ruins, I would say probably because in the 7th century AD the temple was converted into the church of Agios Georgios of Akamas. It functioned as a Greek Orthodox church until the liberation of Greece from the Ottomans in 1833. In 1834 the Ancient Agora of Athens was declared a protected archaeological site of high importance to Greek ancient history.
The Voulefterion (Parliament)
The Athenian Vouleuterion(or Bouleuterion) was introduced by Solon in 594 BC but was reformed by Clisthenes in 508/7 BC, the “Father of Athenian Democracy”. Clisthenes’ political body consisted of fifty citizens, the prytanes, drawn annually from each of the ten Athenian tribes (phylai). The legislative body of the Council of 500, as they were officially called, would assemble at the Vouleuterion to confer and decide about public affairs.
They also used the nearby Tholos. There is the Old (built in 508 BC) and the New Vouleuterion built to the west of the Old Vouleuterion, shortly before 412/411 BC. Ιt is one of the few buildings in the Agora that was repaired and put back into use after the raid of the Heruli in 267 AD.
Tip: Another famous Vouleuterion is that of Ancient Olympia
Tip2: Only male Athenian citizens (freemen) were allowed to vote
Tholos is an architectural feature that was widely used in classical Greece. The Tholos of the Ancient Agora, built in 460 BC was a circular structure with six columns inside and a propylon on the east. It was the seat of the body of the Council of 500 where they remained as such for 35 or 36 days and were then replaced by another 50 representatives of the other 10 tribes until all members had participated in the legislative procedure. It was also the dining place where the Prytanes took their meals at public expense.
Tip: Other famous Tholoi in Greece are:
- The Tholos in Delphi archaeological site
- The Philippeion in Ancient Olympia
- The Tholos in Asklepion Sanctuary of Epidaurus
The Byzantine Church of Agioi Apostoloi Solakis
Towards the Acropolis hill and near the Stoa of Attalos, sits the gorgeous Byzantine temple of Agioi Apostoloi Solakis. It was built partly on an ancient monument dedicated to the Nymphs in the late 10th century. It is the only medieval monument that survives in the area of the Athenian Agora and it was restored in its original form in the years 1954 – 1957.
The construction of the Church of Agioi Apostoloi Solakis marked the beginning of a “bright” era for the city of Athens, which ended with the arrival of the Crusaders in 1204 A.D. The Church operated for 1000 years until 1931 when the excavations started and it was turned into one of the monuments of the Ancient Agora of Athens. However, once a year, on June 30th, there is a liturgy in the evening and it welcomes people.
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The Stoa of Attalos was built as a gift by King Attalos II Philadelphus of Pergamon (r. 159-138 BCE) to the city of Athens in 150 BCE. It had 2 floors with 21 shops on each floor and it was the largest building with a roof in ancient Greece(120 meters). It was completely destroyed by the Germanic Heruli and the Visigoths.
History tip: The Hellenistic kings were using all kinds of diplomatic gestures to keep the occupied Greek cities under their control. One of the diplomacy tools was to offer expensive gifts to the cities.
The Stoa was rebuilt as an exact copy of the ancient one. The restoration of the Stoa was carried out between 1953 and 1956 by the American School of Classical Studies, based on the studies of the Greek architect Ioannis Traulos. The excavation was realized thanks to the donation of John D. Rockefeller Jr. Today, the Stoa serves as the Ancient Agora of Athens Museum, exhibiting the findings from the excavations of the Ancient Agora site.
Exhibits in the museum include important remains of the Bronze and Iron age burials from the earlier periods, and objects from Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine times representing the post-classical Agora.
Two of its most important exhibits are the statue of Apollo Patroos (4th century BC), and the column with the famous resolution against Tyranny (337-6 BC), which called on the people to disobedience and armed resistance if the democratic constitution was threatened.
Other Important Monuments in Agora
The above-mentioned monuments might be the most prominent but you have to walk around the area to discover all the hidden treasures of the Ancient Agora of Athens. Keep an eye for those ones:
- The surviving torso of a statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (117-138 CE)
- The fence that surrounded the Monument of the Eponymous Heroes (circa 330 BCE)
- The Klepsydra (water clock) that was used to time speeches – nobody wants to listen to someone lecture for endless hours, especially the ancient Greeks 😀
- The Altar of the Twelve Gods
- Near Klepsydra you will see the Dekasterion or Courthouse
- The Altar of Zeus Agoraios (4th c. BC)
- The Southwest Fountain House
- Nomismatokopio (where the coins were cut)
- Monument of the Eponymous Heroes, a marble pedestal approximately 16 meters long. Dated to 330 BC, in it were placed the bronze statues of the mythical heroes of each of the ten tribes of Athens: Akámas, Aigéas, Aías, Antíochos, Kékropas, Erechthéfs, Ippothóontas, Leós, Oinéas, Pandíon.
- Public Baths
- Agrippas Odeon
Ancient Agora Opening Hours & Tickets
Ancient Agora of Athens Tickets: The entrance fee to the Ancient Agora is €10 euro per person for the time between April and October and €5 between November and March.
If you are visiting Athens for the first time, then you should buy the ‘package’ ticket that gives you access to 7 major sites for the current price of €30 which is valid for 5 days. The sites that you can visit are:
- Acropolis Hill and Slopes
- Ancient Agora of Athens and its Museum
- Roman Agora
- Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos
- Hadrian’s Library
- Lyceum (Lykeion) Archaeological Site
- Olympieio (Temple of Zeus)
Half Price Entrance (not valid for the combo ticket): All archaeological sites in Greece have a half-price ticket from November 1 to March 31. All sites take both credit cards and cash and offer an official ticket.
Free Entrance: From November to March, admission is totally free on the first Sunday of the month and on the dates March 6th, April 18th, May 18th, the last weekend of September, and October 28th.
Ancient Agora of Athens Opening Hours 8:00-20:00. For details on the free entrance days, if you would like to purchase the ticket, and info about the days the site is closed, please visit the Official website of the Ministry of Culture.
Tips for Visiting Ancient Agora of Athens
Is Ancient Agora Accessible?
Yes, it is. There is flat access at the entrance followed by a 15 m long ramp going down into the Agora.
Is there a WC inside the Ancient Agora?
Yes, there is, free of charge
Can I drink or eat inside the Agora?
You are not allowed to eat or drink inside the Agora, only water is allowed to carry around. There is no café/restaurant inside the site.
Recommended Guided Tours for Athens
I would highly recommend you book a Guided Tour of the Acropolis of Athens, Ancient Agora and Agora Museum (4 hours) with a local licensed guide (from the Greek Ministry of Culture). It will bring into life how Athens of the 5th century BC was.
If you would like to enjoy a full-day, private guide to all Athens Highlights, (8 hours) then this tour is highly recommended with a Badge of Excellence from Viator.
How much time do you need in Ancient Agora?
If you prefer to visit the site by yourself, how much time you will spend in Ancient Agora mostly depends on you. It’s quite an experience to wander around the ground and imagine that this is the place that Socrates, Apostle Paul, and so many others walked like you do this day. The Agora is covered in trees with benches, a lovely quiet and peaceful area, and you can almost forget you are in a city of millions.
Other Agora in Greece
- Roman Agora in Athens, very close to Ancient Agora in the Plaka area
- Roman Agora of Thessaloniki, located on the upper side of Aristotelous Square
- Ancient Agora of Kos island
- Ancient Agora of Thasos island
- Ancient Agora of Corfu island
- Ancient Agora of Megalopolis
- Ancient Agora of Argos
Where to Stay near Ancient Agora
L’Avventura Athens (Booking rate 9.1, doubles from €86), is a fabulous hotel with a double terrace and amazing view, 5 minutes far from the Ancient Agora of Athens.
How to Get to Ancient Agora
Ancient Agora is conveniently located right in the middle of 2 metro stations and is only 5 minute’s walk from Monastiraki or Thision stations, on the pedestrian street of Adrianou 24, 10555 Athens (landline +30 2103210185 & +30 2102314825). The visitors to the Agora usually walk downhill from Acropolis which is 15 minutes far on foot. On your way to Ancient Agora, do not miss out on the Roman Agora.
What else to visit near the Ancient Agora of Athens
On the parallel street, you will find Ifaistou st, which is flanked by many shops, selling all kinds of clothes, shoes, and things. Go to the Psyrri area, which is hardly 10 minutes far, and choose one of its taverns for less touristic food.
Did you visit the Ancient Agora of Athens?
Let me know what you think about visiting Ancient Agora in the comments, I’d love to hear whether I managed to get it onto your bucket list!
- American School of Classical Studies in Greece
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- Greece Packing List – What to pack for a 10-day trip to Greece
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