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The Ancient Agora of Athens


Ancient Agora

North side


The Painted Stoa

The Painted StoaThe Painted Stoa or Stoa Poikile was located along the Panathenaic Way just across from the Royal Stoa (Stoa Basileios) on the northern boundary of the Agora. Its west end was discovered as recently as 1981. It was one of the most well-known and busy buildings in Ancient Athens.

The Painted Stoa was built in ca. 460 BC on the north side of the Agora along the Panathenaic Way facing the Acropolis. It was a large Stoa (36 m by 12,5 m – 118.1 ft by 41 ft) with an exterior in Doric style and an Ionic colonnade inside.

Reconstruction of the Painted Stoa - Photo © KronoskafThe Stoa was called “Poikile” (meaning painted) because it was decorated with a series of painted wooden panels. These paintings were the work of famous Athenian artists of the time: Polygnotos, Mikon and Panainos. The paintings depicted military achievements taken from the mythology and history of Athens: the Amazonomachy (the battle with the Amazons), the battle of Marathon, the siege and capture of Troy and the victory over the Spartans at Oinoe. Battle trophies were also displayed on the walls of the Painted Stoa, like the Spartan shields taken as spoils by the Athenians at Pylos in 425/424.

In contrast to the other Stoa, the Painted Stoa had no designated function. It simply served as a meeting place for citizens and it was only occasionally used for official public purposes such as the hearing of legal cases.

Often proclamations were issued in the Painted Stoa announcing those who had qualified for participation in the Eleusinian Mysteries. Furthermore, the Stoic, one of the most important philosophical schools of Antiquity, took its name from the Poikle Stoa. In about 300 BC the founder of Stoicism, Zenon from Kition in Cyprus, taught here. Top

Aphrodite Ourania on a flying goose (500-475 BC - Louvre Museum)The Sanctuary of Aphrodite Ourania

The Sanctuary of Aphrodite Ourania (Heavenly Aphrodite) was mentioned by the traveller Pausanias. It was here that he saw the cult statue of the goddess made by Pheidias. Archaeologists looking for the site of the sanctuary had searched on the northern slopes of the Kolonos Agoraios hill on top of which the Temple of Hephaistos is.

According to a more recent view, the site must have been to the west of the Painted Stoa (Poikile Stoa). The ruins of an elaborate Archaic (ca. 500 BC) marble altar dedicated to Aphrodite have been found there. The base of the altar (5,10 m by 2,40 m -  16,72 ft by 7.87 ft) can be seen in the excavation area on the northern side of Adrianou street. Top

The Panathenaic WayThe Panathenaic Way leading down from the Acropolis to the Ancient Agora

The Panathenaic  Way or Panathinaic Road led from the Dipylon Gate to the Acropolis, crossing the central square of the Agora diagonally. This was the route of the great processions and climax of the Panathenaic Festival from which it received its name. It was also known as the “Dromos”. it had a total length of 1050 m (0.65 mile) and its width fluctuated from 10-12 m to as much as 20 m (32.8-39.3 ft – 65.61 ft)

Today, only a few parts of the Panathenaic Way are still visible. The most characteristic section is that which ascends to the Acropolis, behind the church of Agii Apostoli (Holy Apostles). A large part of the Way is Adrianou Street now.

Although it was one of the main routes of ancient Athens, its construction was very simple. Throughout its long history, the surface of the Panathenaic Way consisted largely of packed gravel that had to be renewed many times. It was in the Hellenistic period that its south-western side was bordered by a stone pipeline. In the 1st and 2nd century the section in the south-east corner of the Ancient Agora and that along the west side of the Eleusinion was paved with stone. The planning of the Panathenaic Way is dated to Prehistoric times and it is known that, as early as the Iron Age, it led to the Kerameikos cemetery

The Panathenaic Way in the Ancient AgoraIn the 6th century BC it was incorporated in the plan of the Agora. It served to orientate the Altar of the Twelve Gods. Along the section that skirted the Agora, ikria (special wooden tears or grandstands) were later constructed to allow spectators to watch the Panathenaic festivities. Excavations along the two sides of the route brought the sockets to light that held wooden posts for supporting the tiers that were built in the 5th and the 4th century BC.

It appears that the Panathenaic Way hosted athletic events at least until the construction of the large stadium in the Illissos area in 330 BC. In 1971 stone poles of the starting line, in use in the 5th century BC, were discovered east of the Altar of the Twelve Gods. It is said that during the Panathenaic festivals an event, called the “apovates dromos”, took place in which the athlete in full armor jumped on and off a fast moving chariot. There also was a training area for horsemen there.

The Panathenaic Way was the most significant thoroughfares. It served the needs of the civic and commercial center of the city from the 6th century BC up through the first centuries AD. Alongside the road there were significant religious structures (altars and temples) and buildings both public (the archon’s office, law courts) and private (houses and shops). Top

The Royal Stoa

The Royal StoaAt the north end of the Agora, near the Panathenaic Way and next to the present railway, is the Royal Stoa. The drawing shows a reconstruction of the Royal Stoa, or Stoa Basileios, the headquarters of the King Archon who was in charge of religious affairs, including murder. The statue in front is that of Themis (Justice). It was located in the northwest corner of the Agora. It was in front of this building that Socrates met Euthyphro and had the conversation that Plato recreated in his Euthyphro. Socrates came to this building to be formally charged with impiety by Meletus in the presence of the King Archon. Copies of the laws of the city were kept in this Stoa.

Reconstruction of the Royal Stoa - Photo © KronoskafThe Royal Stoa or Basileios Stoa was small (18 m by 7,5 m – 59 ft by 24,6 ft). The ruins of this Stoa are notaccessible to visitors. Theycan only be seen between Adrianou street and the Hermrailway tracks. It is said that Solon’s laws were set up inscribed on wooden stelae, the kyrbeis, in the Royal Stoa. The Stoa is of the Doric order. The roof of the building was decorated by terracotta acroteria (corner ornaments) depicting mythological scenes. Small wings were added to the north and south end of the Stoa facade during the 4th century.

The northwest corner of the Agora, in which the Royal Stoa was located, was known as the Herms because of the great number of Herms set up there. Herms which consisted of a bust of Hermes on top of a square bronze or marble pillar with male genitals attached. They were a familiar sight in public areas and in front of houses because they were believed to be protectors of houses and of the city. In 415 BC a scandal arose when vandals violated Herms in Athens, possibly the ones in the northwest corner of the Agora. This incident was one of the factors that led to the exile of Alcibiades. Top


Reconstruction of the Stoa of the Herms - Photo © KronoskafNumerous inscribed bases and parts of herms haven been found in front of the Royal Stoa. Based on the archaeological research, this was the Stoa of the Herms which was already known from written sources. Nevertheless, no trace of this Stoa was preserved. It was built possibly by Cimon, shortly after 479 BC, to house the Herms assembled in the area. Top

The Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios

The Stoa of Zeus EleutheriosThis Stoa was dedicated to Zeus Eleutherios (Freedom), a cult founded after the Persian Wars. It was unusual for a religious building to take the form of a Stoa rather than a temple and considering its central location it is likely that the building also served other civic purposes. The stoa possibly is one of the accomplishments of Mnesikles, the architect of the Propylaea on the Acropolis.

The roof, like those of temples, was decorated with statues (acroteria), at least one of Reconstruction of the Stoa of Zeus Eleutherioswhich was a statue of the Winged Niki, now housed in the Stoa of Attalos. The Stoa also celebrated democracy. In this building there were paintings of the Twelve Gods and of Theseus, the legendary king, whom the Athenian people believed (wrongly) to be the founder of democracy. In the fourth century a number of paintings depicting Athenian victories were displayed. Plato mentions this Stoa as a favorite resting place where one could sit and talk with friends.

The Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios was build ca 430-420 BC. Its floor plan had the shape of the Greek letter Π.  It had a Doric colonnade along its façade and an Ionic within. Pausanias mentions a statue of Zeus in front of the Stoa. In Roman times two chambers were annexed to the back of the Stoa. They probably were dedicated to imperial cult. Top

    Painted Stoa
    Sanctuary of Ourania
    Panathenaic Way
    Royal Stoa
    Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios
  As it used to be

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