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Greek Agora (Arhea Agora)

Greek Agora (Arhea Agora) (32)

We all expect to find commercial establishments and political, economic, administrative and cultural centres in every city centre. In ancient Greece, this area was called the Agora, and the archaeological remains that unfold before you reflect the ancient heart of the rich, eventful Athenian lifestyle.

While the Acropolis represented the spiritual side and was only intended as the dwelling place of the gods, the Greek Agora was the true temple of man and almost a sacred place, metaphorically speaking, for Athenian politics, since this is where democracy was established and fervently practised. 

Luckily, this vast archaeological site was improved significantly in 2003 as part of the reforms and facelift carried out in the city for the 2004 Olympic Games. Thus, a path was built around the complex, the surrounding streets were paved and an expensive fence was erected to make the Agora look like a gift ready to be unwrapped. 

Several tours of this complex are available, but since the sheer number of archaeological remains here can leave you exhausted, we recommend the routes that start at the western entrance, via Apostolou Pavlou Avenue, or the old Panathenaic Path to the southeast, since you do not have to go back to complete the whole tour. 

Incredibly, after so many centuries of history, it was not until the 19th century that the Hellenic Archaeological Society started excavating the site and recovering the remains, a project that is still being carried out by the American School today. 

The foundations of the buildings, fragments of sculptures, inscriptions carved into the rock and, of course, the wide variety of objects from everyday life gone by have helped archaeologists place each object in the history of the Agora.  This history goes back long before the construction of buildings whose remains can be seen by today's visitors. During the Neolithic period, there was a large cemetery in this residential area of the city. It was not until the 6th century BC that the place became a public space more akin to the Agora as we now know it was. 

It had its fair share of invasions, disasters and occupations. The Persians attacks in 480 BC destroyed the Agora completely, and it was rebuilt in the Athenian golden age, along with the Acropolis. The majority of traces of the past that are still standing today are from this period, since it survived the invasion of the Heruli in the year 267 AD and, even worse, the long passage of time. 

There are two buildings that deserve special attention in the Greek Agora complex. One is the fantastically preserved Temple of Hephaestus, which dominates the western hill and causes the jaws of visitors to drop, since all they expect are a few random stones. The other, equally impressive building is the Stoa of Attalos, a reconstruction of the original building according to the plans and materials of the time. This was carried out by the American School in order to aid the study of ancient buildings. These two buildings deserve their own section in this audio guide. 

There are some other prominent sites within this nostalgic, almost romantic complex that mustn't be overlooked. These include the prison where Socrates was imprisoned during the last days of his life, after being sentenced to death by drinking hemlock. This is a large, 40- by 16-metre courtyard surrounded by cells. 

The Tholos, built in the 5th century BC, with its circular floor raised on six columns, was the meeting place for the 50 life-term senators. It also contained some bedrooms, since the senators sometimes had to stay overnight after an endless political session. 

Another curious place here was the Altar of the Twelve Gods, a small enclosure of which just one corner remains. It was said to be sacred, since it allowed those pursued by the judicial authorities to enter and escape this persecution. 

The Odeon of Agrippa was a Roman building constructed in 20 BC. Its 18 rows of seats had capacity for over a thousand people. In the 2nd century AD, a portico was built with large sculptures of giants and fish tails, some parts of which have been recovered in remarkably good condition. 

The nostalgic stones that dot the grounds, with varying degrees of preservation, call to mind the libraries, temples, galleries and offices that used to stand here. The social, cultural, political and commercial life has been replaced, after many centuries, with the equally crazy pace of the visitors who, camera in hand, rush around recording, photographing and chatting about every corner of this majestic archaeological site. 

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