The Ancient Agora of Athens
The Agora was laid out in the center of the city as a public space in the 6th c. BC. Earlier, a more primitive version may have existed elsewhere in Athens. The final site was located at the intersection of three existing roads with the Panathenaic Way, the main road in Athens. The Panathenaic Way extended from the Dipylon in Kerameikos to the entrance to the Acropolis, cutting diagonally through the central square of the Agora. Every four years, the Great Panathenea Procession would follow this course. The Agora was best organized by Peisistratus, who removed private houses from the area, closed wells, and made it the center of Athenian government. He also built a drainage system, fountains and the Altar of the Twelve Gods, next to the Panathenaic Way, in the open area of the Agora. Archaeologists have identified additional temples dated in the 5th and 4th century BC dedicated to Hephaestus, Zeus and Apollo.
at the Ancient Agora of Athens
at the Virtual Reality Theater "Tholos" of Hellenic Cosmos
The spectators visit the site of the Ancient Agora and, under the guidance of a special Museum Educator, have the opportunity to choose the course they will follow. The representation of the Agora in three different stages in history provides visitors with the opportunity to perceive the development and the changes in the site's function through time, as it is recorded in the changes in its architectural and city-planning. The Agora in classical times emphasizes the importance of public administrative buildings and the existence of a large outdoors area for gatherings and athletic activities. During the Hellenistic Period (approximately in 150 BC) the dominant feature is the large commercial buildings (stoas), while emphasis is placed on the beneficiary activity of the Hellenistic rulers. Finally, the Roman aspect of the Agora (approximately in 150 AD) records its gradual weakening as an administrative and commercial center, something that allowed the development of its religious and cultural character, since new temples were constructed, the odeon, the library and the nymphaeon.
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The altar stood within a rectangular sacred enclosure, with a paved foundation and a stone superstructure of low vertical posts and slabs; those next to the entrance bore carved reliefs. It is from this altar that milestones mark their distance from the city.
The Royal Stoa, one of the earliest and most important public buildings of the Agora, was probably built in the 6th c. B.C. It is a small building, with a double colonnade on the east side. In the 5th c. it was rebuilt and two projecting wings were added. It served as headquarters of the Archon Basileus, second in command of the early Athenian government, responsible for religious matters and the law. Here, inscribed copies of the code of law of Athens as set by Dracon and later Solon were on display. On a stone in front of the building the archons stood once a year to take their oath of office, swearing above all to preserve and abide by the laws.
In addition, some public forums to discuss ostracism were held there. The law courts were located there, and anyone who happened to be in the agora when a case was being heard would probably have been able to witness it. The Agora was further the location of a temporary theater and of burial sites.
Starting in 480 BC, the Second Persian invasion of Greece caused many Athenians to flee the city, leaving it largely abandoned. The city was almost completely destroyed by the Persians, but the Athenians returned following the defeat of the Persians in 478, and the Agora was rebuilt.
There were no more major changes until the 2nd century BC when the east and south sides of the square were remodeled by wealthy foreign rulers. After unsuccessfully aligning with King Mithridates of Pontus in 86 BC, the fortified walls of Athens were heavily damaged. They were never rebuilt to their full strength prior to this conflict.
The Agora remained the center of Athens until 267 AD, when it was once again sacked, this time by invading Heruli; the weakened perimeter wall was not a sufficient defense. After fighting had ravaged much of the city, the Athenians quickly reconstructed the wall, but enclosed a much smaller area. The Agora and the Acropolis were left on the outside of the wall and were susceptible to further damage. This reconstructed wall is of great archaeological importance because it contains pieces of ruined buildings including the Library of Hadrian and the Stoa of Attalos. After centuries of periodic barbarian invasions, the Agora was abandoned after the Slavic invasion of the 6th century.
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