The lifeblood of ancient Athens was the agora, called the gathering place in ancient Greek. The agora was the lifeblood of the city and was the perfect viewing distance from the Acropolis where Athena could keep watch. The agora is said to have been considered more important than the Acropolis.
The site of the agora is easily accessible by foot or by Metro. I personally preferred to walk from the Acropolis where most tourists enter to reach the Parthenon to the other side of the hill. If you take the Metro, I would recommend getting off at the Monastiraki stop. There are a lot of little shops, cafes and restaurants to enjoy in this area.
If you’re hungry, eat before you enter the site. As with all other ancient sites, no food or drinks (except water) are permitted inside. There are also no restrooms or garbage cans. I would say on average most people will spend 1-3 hours here. I spent about 2 hours myself.
If you have purchased the combo ticket for the Acropolis, Kerameikos, Lyceum, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s Library and Roman Agora then you are covered here. If not, the entrance fee will vary depending on the time of year. You will see a ticket booth at the entrance. If you already have your ticket, rip off the Agora coupon and preset it to the agent in the booth.
Hours for the agora will also vary depending on the time of year. I liked being able to go early in the morning when there were very very few people around. I like empty photos and being able to enjoy the atmosphere of the agora without tourists.
When you first enter the site, you will see a big white building off to the left hand side. I would recommend beginning there in the Stoa of Attalos. It is a reconstruction of where the market stalls would have been in ancient times that serves today as a miniature museum. There are many smaller vases, coins, statues and other artifacts that have been recovered from the agora housed inside. You will not feel like making your way back inside the building later.
When you have finished there, you should just start walking. There isn’t really a map to follow, but most of the buildings or important points of interest are labeled. Just a word of caution; be careful to stay on the marked paths. The grounds can be crumbly and you also do not want to get yelled at by an angry Greek guard. Everything has been carefully excavated.
I started my exploration by going on the ruin side closet to the Acropolis. There was a magnificent church set of ruins you could get close to, but not go inside. The Church dates back to 1000 AD and was build on the 2nd century ruins of a nymphaeum. The ancients hoped that the nature spirits of the nymphs would come to live in their spring or well and make it lucky.
You will pass several baths along the way towards the imposing Temple of Hephaestus. The baths were for worshipers who looked to enter the temple to cleanse themselves.Continuing on, imagine a busy downtown city. The path you walk once was an ancient road that served the ancient courthouse, state prison, civic offices and state archives. These buildings housed debates between Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and even Pericles.
A smattering of ancient alters are marked in dedication to the gods including Zeus, Ares and other gods. You are approaching the most important ancient sites. I’ll return to the Temple of Hephaestus in a moment.
I want to point out that you should look out for markers indicating the Tholos of Propylaea gate to the Bouleuterion. Why? These building ruins are where the heart of the Athenian government met. In other words, this is the birthplace of democracy. The Athenian Senate would meet here and would have received foreign dignitaries and ambassadors. It should not be overlooked.
That is unless you appreciate ancient temples. The jewel, in my opinion, of the agora is the Temple of Hephaestus. It is the best preserved temple in Greece dating back to 415 BC and was commissioned during the Golden Age of Pericles. It survived largely due to the fact that it was turned into a church. But you can see many of the freeizes in tact and columns standing in their original glory.
I really wish you were able to walk inside of it, but if you get close enough and peek inside you can see that the interior is largely one empty room. The details on the ceiling must have made this temple a formidable site to see in its glory days. I would recommend sitting and enjoying the peace and quiet if you can. Another reason to come in the morning. This temple is easily one of the most photographed and viewed after the Acropolis and is a tourist trap.
When you’ve finished exploring, head towards the entrance. You will pass several Roman statues and some impressive columns decorated in the Corinthian order.
Thoughts and Wrap Up
There is a lot that I want to express, but I can’t. The ancient agora is just one of those places, like the Acropolis, you need to visit in person to appreciate. Walking through it, you will need to use a lot of your imagination. Remember that a lot of the foundations of the buildings were not excavated or exposed until the 19th and 20th centuries. It’s hard to believe that Athens actually had to destroy some of the ruins in order to get their Metro line up and running. It’s such an old city.
The ancient agora will tire you out and is larger than you think. Brush up on your Greek history a little bit before you go. Afterwards you will be hungry. I would find a souvlaki stand in the Monstiraki and enjoy a light meal and coffee or tea there. Until next time, happy travels!