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The Agora was the beating heart of old Athens – the ‘meeting place’ of all commercial and social activity. This is where Socrates philosophised, where democracy was invented in the latrines and where, 2,000 years ago, the world’s first shopping centre was built. Walk among the ruins of the fascinating history of the Agora of Athens.
The residents of Athens gathered on the Agora’s main square not only to trade but also for democratic elections, theatre performances, sports competitions, military parades and religious events. The square was decorated with sculptures, monuments and fountains and surrounded by the city’s civic buildings: the parliament and senate, the court, the mint, temples and the church where Apostle Paul preached the gospel.
Similar to most ruins in other cities, the Agora in Athens is a bit of a mess. It can be tricky to navigate through the buildings and it may be hard to imagine what things were like 2,000 years ago. The Stoa of Attalos, originally built by King Attalos II of Pergamon around 150 BC, requires the least amount of imagination. The limestone and marble colonnade is 20 metres wide, 115 metres long and 2 stories high. The building used to be a market hall with 42 small shops – the first shopping centre in the world – and was the largest building in ancient Greece. In the 3rd century AD, the stoa was completely destroyed when the Herulians stormed Athens. The building was reconstructed in the 1950s and now houses the Agora Museum.
“The colonnade of 20 by 115 metres served as a market hall”
A scale model in the museum gives an impression of the shapes and functions of the surrounding buildings. Only the foundation remains of the Stoa of Zeus, where Socrates expounded his philosophical teachings. This is also the case with various other buildings, such as the Bouleuterion (where the 500 members of the senate gathered) and the round Tholos (the seat of government). Concerts were held in the Odeon and the well house was used for bathing. The only building that is still recognisable is the Hephaisteion: it is the best preserved ancient Greek temple.