The ancient Greek Agora.
"Agora" in Greek means "a place of gathering" and the Agora of Athens was the heart of Athenian life. For centuries it served as a marketplace where merchants and artisans congregated to offer their goods to all, and it also provided a platform for the Athenian political and intellectual life. This is the place where Aristocrats and Tyrants enforced their rule on their Athenian subjects, and where later the concept of "direct democracy" was born and flourished. The Agora was the physical place where every Athenian citizen gathered to conduct business, participate in their city's governance, decide judicial matters, express their opinion, and elect their city officials. For every free Athenian citizen, participating in such "common" activities was not merely a duty, but instead it was a privilege and an honour. In fact, the term "idiot" (idiotis=he who acts on his/her own) was used to mock those who avoided participation in the common activities.
Strolling through the ruins of the Agora one can't escape the history that hovers about the place, but the form of the landscape reflects none of the splendor of magnificent buildings that once adored the place. Nothing eludes to the arguments of ancient Greek philosophers who strolled about leading their pupils, and the exposed stones speak of the fiery orations of Athenian politicians. Despite the magnificent rock of the Acropolis that commands the landscape of the Agora from above, and the majestic presence of the Temple of Hephaestus that balances the Parthenon across the plateau, the Agora remains a humble and tranquil place.
The Agora's presence transcends centuries and cultural influences from prehistoric times to the modern era, and has witnessed the spectacular transformation of prehistoric Mycenaean civilization to the Athenian Golden era, and the Roman culture. It has also suffered through invasions of every imaginable foe who took its vengeance out on the Agora grounds.
The buildings of the Agora were destroyed in 480 BC by the invading Persians, only to be rebuilt again in the subsequent years of the 5th century BC when Athenian culture flourished into a superpower with immense cultural, political, and military influence. It was again plundered in 86 BC by the Romans, and was slowly rebuilt by the same conquerors who added many new buildings like the Odeon which occupies the center of the excavated Agora. In the next few centuries the place remained the center of activity in Athens and suffered several times at the hands of a multitude of invaders, until it was razed by the Slavs in 580 AD and remained uninhabited until the middle of the 19th century when modern Greece won its independence from the Ottoman empire.
Most of what has been excavated and is visible on the site bears witness to its turbulent history and the diverse cultural influences. The most visible monument is the temple of Hephaestus (or Thesseion). The temple's construction begun in 450 BC and it is still preserved in remarkable shape to our day. In many ways The Thesseion resembles the Parthenon with its Doric form, though it was built much smaller in scale.
The "Stoa of Attalos" which dominates the site was built around 150 BC and was reconstructed in the 1950's in order to shelter the artifacts that were unearthed from the surrounding area. It separates the Greek Agora from the Roman Agora, and the rest of Athens. It is a museum worth visiting for its exhibition of a variety of statues and common artifacts from the Agora excavations. No loud declaration exists of the Agora's contributions in the history of the western civilization. Instead, a mass of silent ruins invite the visitors to follow the historical clues.