The Ancient Agora, located north of the Acropolis in Athens is often overshadowed by the Acropolis but for eight centuries was the primary meeting place of the city. It was at one time the heart of Athens and was the focal point of administrative, commercial, political and social activity.
The ancient marketplace was founded in the 6th century BC. It was the center for civic activities including philosophy, religion, arts, and athletics. St. Paul preached here and Socrates addressed his public here as democracy was born. Socrates was later indicted and executed in the state prison here in 399 BC.
The Ancient Agora was devastated by the Persians in 480 BC. A new one was built in its place almost immediately but was then again destroyed in AD 267 when it was destroyed by the Herulians, a Gothic tribe from Scandinavia. The American School of Classical Studies began excavations of the Ancient Agora in the 1930’s and the vast remains of public buildings have been revealed.
Today the Ancient Agora is one of the top tourist attractions in Greece. Unlike the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora is a grassy area and a nice escape from the congested city streets. Admission to the Ancient Agora is included with the purchase of a ticket to the Acropolis.
Some of the top Ancient Agora sights to see include:
Stoa of Attalos
The Stoa of Attalos was built by King Attalos II of Pergamum (159 BC-138 BC). It’s an impressive two-storey stoa. People gathered here every four years to watch the Panathenaic Procession. It was reconstructed in 1956 by the American School of Archaeology and now houses the Agora Museum that displays finds from the Agora.
Temple of Hephaestus
The Temple of Hephaestus is the best-preserved Classical temple in Greece. It was dedicated to Hephaestus, god of the forge.
Church of the Holy Apostles
The Church of the Holy Apostles was built in the early 10th century to commemorate St. Paul’s teaching in the Agora. It was returned to original form between 1954-1957.
Stoa Basileios was built in 500 BC. It housed the office of legal affairs concerning ancient cults. Most of it was destroyed when the Goths invaded Athens in AD 267.
Odeon of Agrippa
Odeon of Agrippa is a theater built in AD 15. It featured statues of serpent-tailed Giants and Tritons on huge plinths. Two Tritons and a Giant still remain today.
This is a circular building where the 50-member executive committee of the first parliament lived and worked. The name translates to “beehive”.
The still functioning Great Drain collects runoff from the Acropolis, Areopagos and Agora when it rains and sends it to the Eridanos River.
A few weeks ago a business trip took me to the large, modern and mechanised packing barn of a commercial plant nursery near Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Inside the barn, six-metre-high trees and voluminous shrubs were being manoeuvred by forklift, their root balls machine-wrapped in hessian and top growth neatly bound with twine before being lifted to the backs of waiting trucks. Amid the automated ballet of high-tech machines, a gnarled, contorted olive tree sat in one corner of the barn, its root system encased in a hefty timber box at least a metre tall and four-metres square. “That,” declared the nursery manager, “is 1,000 years old – probably more.”
The use of mature trees and shrubs in garden and landscape design is nothing new. Capability Brown shifted mature trees on the estates he worked on, while John Jacob Astor built an extension to the local railway line to his estate at Hever Castle in Kent, southeast England, to bring in mature trees transplanted from Ashdown Forest. In general, though, commercially grown mature trees are rarely more than 50 years old; above that age the logistics of shipping large, heavy plants make it financially unviable. Yet the idea of 1,000 years or more of history, boxed up in a modern warehouse, is a very different proposition to a commercially grown nursery tree that has always been destined to be shifted and planted.
The wild olive (Olea europaea) has been around for at least 50,000 years, and there are groves of wild trees from Anatolia through the Aegean and Mediterranean. The Roman agricultural writer and theorist Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella (AD4-c.AD70) described the olive tree as “Olea prima omnium arborum est” (the olive is the first of all trees) in his agricultural treatise De Re Rustica. By the time of his observation, the olive had been in commercial cultivation for several thousand years. Archaeologists have excavated olive pits at sites that are 8,000 years old. The first evidence of olive oil production was found at a 6,000-year-old site at Carmel in Israel.
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The Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion is one of the most stunning sights in all of Greece. Cape Sounion is surrounded by the Aegean Sea and according to legend, the spot where Aegeus, king of Athens leapt to his death off of a cliff when he thought that his son, Theseus, had been killed in his contest with the Minotaur monster.
Cape Sounion is an ideal location for the worship of Poseidon, the powerful god of the sea according to classical Greek mythology. Poseidon ranked second in power after Zeus. The temple is a marble shrine that was built in the 5th century BC at the same time as the Parthenon. It is uniquely designed to combat the effects of sea-spray erosion. The columns were cut with only 16 flutings instead of the usual 20, thus reducing the surface area exposed to the elements. The temple is located 70km south of Athens and stands on a craggy spur that plunges 65m down to the sea. It is thought to be built by Iktinos, the architect of the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens’ Ancient Agora. Local marble, taken from quarries at nearby Agrileza was used for the temple’s 34 slender Doric columns. 16 remain today. The present temple stands on the site of older ruins.
The views both of and from The Temple of Poseidon are equally impressive. The gleaming white of the temple can be viewed from long distances and out at sea. It comforted sailors in ancient times, telling them that they were close to home when they saw that first glimpse of white. Visitors to the temple can see Kea, Kythnos, and Serifos to the southeast and Aegina and the Peloponnese to the west on a clear day. The site is a popular day-excursion for tourists from Athens. Visitors are urged to visit the ruins early in the morning to avoid crowds or at sunset, just before it closes, to enjoy spectacular and unforgettable views over the Aegean Sea.
British poet Lord Byron, fell under the spell of The Temple of Poseidon in 1810. He composed poetry in its honor and carved his name on one of the columns. In doing so he set an unfortunate precedent of vandalism, as many not-so famous people that have come since have also left their signature on the columns.
The site also contains remains of a propylaeum, a fortified tower, and to the northeast, a 6th century temple to Athena. An Ionic frieze, made from 13 slabs of Parian marble is located on the east side of the temple’s main approach path.
Cape Sounion is one of the most expensive areas in Greece and has become an upscale summer home location for Athenians. Construction thrived between the 1960’s and 1970’s. Many choose to visit just for the day and take the bus from Athens. Buses run both inland and scenic coastal routes out to Cape Sounion from Athens. There are plenty of tavernas to enjoy just below the site of the temple.
Who knows if Greece will be able to make a repeat of their winning performance at Euro 2004? After losing 3-0 to Colombia in their first game the signs aren’t good, but there’s no better cuisine to eat while watching the footie than Greek food. Full of flavour and vibrant colours, and always great for sharing.
That’s why I chose Greece for Jamie’s Foodie World Cup. I’m a huge fan of Greek food, having been introduced to it properly during my time at Reading University. I never expected the town to be such a haven for the Greek community, but I had loads of Mediterranean food at all the parties they held – they are such hospitable people!
The Greek diet is regarded as one of the healthiest in the world because it’s based largely around fruit and vegetables, wholegrains pasta and rice, fish, and a small amount of cheese and yoghurt. Non-meat protein sources include beans and legumes like fava, split peas and lentils are also a popular staple, usually used in soups, stews and salads. You might notice these array of foods don’t differ hugely from what I regard as a healthy balanced diet.
The Greeks are also famous for their love of olive oil, which is lower in saturated fat than butter, so a good choice for cooking. If you’ll forgive some geeky science, recent evidence published by the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) journal shows that the combination of olive oil and leafy salad or vegetables is what gives the Mediterranean diet its healthy edge, because the formation of nitro fatty acids between the two food groups lowers blood pressure. So I recommend that as a side whatever you’re eating!
Sadly though, even Greece appears to have become a victim to the global obesity epidemic and has struggled to stick to its healthy lifestyle and image. According to the World Health Organisation, 33% of 11-year-old boys and girls in Greece are overweight, which is actually the highest prevalence in Europe.
It’s likely down to the pop up of fast food outlets in the major cities and increased access to processed food high in fat, sugar and salt. Also, if you’ve ever tried saganaki – basically a fried hard cheese – then you’ll know it’s a wildly indulgent dish, but delicious all the same. A nod should also be given to tiropita, otherwise known as cheese pie.
For some delicious Greek-inspired recipes to watch when the footie is on, my favourite is Jamie’s twist on Greek chicken with couscous, which everyone can tuck in to and help themselves.
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