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The agora of Athens is the best-known, though the term was used in other city-states for their public spaces where events of the day were discussed, merchants had their shops, and craftspeople sold their wares. Agora is therefore also understood to mean an assembly of people as well as where they meet. The agora of Athens was located below the Acropolis near the building which today is known as the Thesion (the Temple of Hephaestus), and open-air markets are still held in that same location today. The site is frequently referenced as the birthplace of democracy since it was here that political discussions and arguments gave rise to that concept.
The agora was important because it was where the community congregated to discuss events of the day, politics, religion, philosophy, and legal matters. The agora served the same purpose in ancient Athens as the town square and town hall in later societies. Like the later town centers, the agora was a cultivated area adorned with trees, gardens, fountains, colonnaded buildings, statues, monuments, and shops selling assorted goods.
The Athenian agora played host to later philosophers after Socrates such as Diogenes of Sinope (l. c. 404-323 BCE) who actually lived there on the streets, Crates of Thebes (l. c. 360-280 BCE) and his wife Hipparchia of Maroneia (l. c. 350-280 BCE), who did the same, and Saint Paul (l. c. 5 - c. 64 CE), who preached there at the Areopagus. According to the biblical Book of Acts 17:16-33, Paul encountered the Stoics and the Epicureans at the Athenian agora and preached the news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to them there.
The area of the agora was in use in the Neolithic Period as evidenced by archaeological finds including tools. In time, the area came to be used as a burial ground, and this usage was developed further during the period of the Mycenaean civilization (c. 1700-1100 BCE). The Mycenaeans established themselves at Athens by c. 1400 BCE, constructing a large fortress on the Acropolis overlooking the area which would become the agora.
The fortress most likely served as the palace for the Mycenaean ruler and, in keeping with the tradition earlier established elsewhere, religious and funerary sites were located close to the palace, in this case, the area below the Acropolis. The Mycenaeans are well-known for their monumental tholos tombs and over 50 of these have been excavated at the agora site. Model of the Agora of AthensMark Cartwright (CC BY-NC-SA)
The agora became the center of political and social life in the 6th century BCE and developed accordingly. The main area became the marketplace surrounded by public and municipal buildings and carefully beautified with fountains, parks, trees, and statuary. All of this would be destroyed in the Persian invasion of 480 BCE.
The Greek tragedy playwrights Aeschylus (l. c. 525 - c. 456 BCE), Sophocles (l. c. 496 - c. 406 BCE), and Euripides (l. c. 484 - 407 BCE), and Greek comedy playwright Aristophanes (l. c. 460 - c. 380 BCE) all produced the first staging of their plays in and around the agora of Athens. The great sophist Protagoras (l c. 485 - c. 415 BCE) argued cases in the law courts there and taught in the public buildings. Philosophers such as Parmenides of Elea (l. c. 485 BCE), Zeno of Elea (l. c. 465 BCE), Anaxagoras (l. c. 500 - c. 428 BCE), and others all visited the agora and shared their visions with audiences.
Socrates regularly held court in the agora, questioning the people on their values and establishing the type of inquiry that lay the foundation for Western philosophy as developed by his student Plato. The agora during this period was the center of intellectual, artistic, cultural, religious, and political activity, and this legacy was honored by building projects at the time as well as those commissioned later.
There are many significant buildings whose ruins are still extant at the site of the ancient agora. These were mainly built (or rebuilt) with funds donated by wealthy benefactors. Among the most interesting are the following:
Rome took Greece as a province in 31 BCE after the Battle of Actium and held it until 1453 CE when it was taken by the Ottoman Empire. During that time, the agora developed further with structures such as the Odeon of Agrippa added and many more statues adorning parks and residences. The Roman emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138 CE) erected a number of statues throughout the agora and contributed to its development in other ways throughout his reign.
The agora continued as the center of Athenian community and commerce under the Byzantine Empire (the Eastern Roman Empire, 330-1453 CE) and then under the Ottoman Empire after 1453: the fall of Constantinople. When the Greeks rebelled against Turkish rule in the 19th century, the agora was damaged in the fighting, as was the Acropolis. By c. 1831, restoration of the area had led to a number of residences and modern buildings erected at the site of the ancient agora on top of older structures and so the remaining area was declared off limits for urban development and declared an important historical site.
In 1832, the Temple of Hephaestus became the home of the first archaeological museum in Greece. Since that time, excavations at the site of the ancient agora have been ongoing and its historical importance more fully recognized. The Monastiraki shopping district and Monastiraki Metro Station, both located at the site of the agora, have taken measures to preserve the ancient site. The metro station features exhibits of artifacts excavated while the stores of the area have installed glass floors through which the ruins of the ancient site can be seen and appreciated by people in the modern era. 781b155fdc