Temple of Hephaestus in Athens

Would you go to the Acropolis or the Agora in Athens? Wait, what is the Agora?

The Acropolis is one of Athens focal points, recognised by most travelers in Greece, and has well over a million visitors each year.

The Acropolis I had heard of, the Agora I had not. I had even walked past it multiple times before deciding to go in! So obviously, it wasn’t high on my priority list, but it should be on yours. While everyone swarms to the Acropolis, you will often find that there is no line at all at the entrance to the Agora. So, grab a ticket, walk straight in and enjoy all that this historical site has to offer.

First Stop – The Stoa of Attalos 

You’ll want to start your tour here, as the ruins on this site have little to no descriptions, so taking a walk through the stoa is necessary to orient yourself before you explore.

The original stoa was built around 150 BC by King Attalos but was reconstructed much later in the 1950s, and is what you’ll see there today. The stoa now functions as the Museum of the Ancient Agora. Dedicated to this ancient site, it houses the remains that once formed this bustling center. 

As you enter the Agora from Adrianou street you will see the stoa on your left, immediately identifiable as the long rectangular building adorned with columns, faithfully replicating that of its original form. Follow it to the far end and enter the museum here. This way you’ll see everything in the appropriate chronological order. Entrance to this onsite museum is in included in the price of your ticket.

Stoa Attalos Athens
© Canva Library
Stoa Attalos Athens
© Canva Library

A Place For Socialisation

The word agora in Greek means “assembly place”.

The magnificent Stoa of Attalos would have once contained rows of shops where Athenians would go about their daily duties, sheltered from the harsh rays of the sun. The Agora would have been a sight to see, electric with activity, as people bought their groceries, haggled on prices and completed every aspect of business that needed to be taken care of. They could even watch a show at the Odeon of Agrippa.

Here, ancient Athenians also gathered to socialize. Socrates was even said to stop passers-by and question them on the meaning of life! The pillars of the stoa were recreated with their original structure, with fluting of the columns only beginning above six feet, inviting people to lean against them and chat.

A Place For Politics

One of the most interesting archaeological finds of the Agora, which further affirmed its importance as a hub for political proceedings as well as social, was a ballot box.

Believed to be one of the first of its kind! The bronze ballots used for voting, found inside this ballot box, are displayed in the museum. If you’ve been frequenting museums or learning some Greek history, as I have, you’ll often hear Athens named as the “birth place of democracy”. Nothing enforces the significance of this saying more than seeing the very ballots and systems ancient Athenians used.

Ancient Agora Sites in Athens
© Canva Library

The Temple Of Hephaestus 

After visiting the Acropolis and seeing the Parthenon, it was a wonderful contrast to see the incredibly well preserved temple that resides on the Agora. The Temple of Hephaestus. It is said to be one of the most intact temples of the Golden Age in Athens. This alone is worth seeing. As the name suggests, this temple was dedicated to the god Hephaestus. This remarkable preservation can be partly attributed to its position. Nestled beneath the Acropolis its lower altitude meant it wasn’t used as a military base, unlike the Acropolis on higher ground, therefore escaping the destructive damage of warfare.

Temple of Hephaestus in Athens
© Canva Library
Temple of Hephaestus Agora Athens
© Canva Library

Acropolis or Agora in Athens – The Verdict  

While the Acropolis is a marvelous and ancient wonder, it is constantly teeming with tourists.  At the Agora, however, you won’t find yourself shoulder to shoulder, won’t be battling to keep strangers out of your photos and you can even walk straight through the gate, no waiting required. If you only have a few days in the capital and are wondering what to tick off your Athenian bucket list, I strongly recommend you check it out. You won’t be disappointed. The real winner though? That comes down to you! 

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