The Roman Agora
You have probably encountered Opening and Closing Ceremonies in modern state-of-the-art hotels and venues. But have you ever experienced an Opening or a Closing Ceremony located at an ancient monument? Athens, the city brimming with monuments, provides you with this unique opportunity. Situated in the very heart of the city, the Roman Agora is an archaeological site of the Roman era that can be hired for the hosting of a concert or a performance. The area between Plaka and Monastiraki has been a commercial centre for a considerable length of time. The use of the land has not changed with the passing of the centuries.
The area operated as a base for trade in antiquity and Roman times just as it does today. The Roman Agora was built in the area which is known as “aerides” (“winds”), and is now open to visitors for a few hours every day. Even passers-by who do not wish to enter can slow down a little to take a look. They have a good view from the roads which surround the Agora, as the stone wall is very low. It should be mentioned here that it is possible to hire the space for events, on application to the relevant Inspectorate of Antiquities. Everyone who attends an activity or event there speaks enthusiastically about the use of the space for modern cultural and social activities. It is a strange feeling to visit a monument in such circumstances, to make good use of it for contemporary reasons. On 6-8th September, for example, the Roman Agora has been hired for a special tribute to composer Manos Hadjidakis.
The Roman Agora was an open square space with sides approximately one hundred metres long, and had the appearance of a colonnaded courtyard. There were closed-in shops along the eastern side, all of the same size, which were rented by a few traders. The remaining traders sold their wares in the free space remaining. The Roman Agora was not created by chance, that is to say it did not appear because of the spontaneous arrival of traders to the same area, as happened with the Ancient Agora. On the contrary, it was an architectural concept dating back to the 1st century BC, which was a predecessor of the modern mall. Everything was designated from the very start: the who and where had been worked out before the traders even arrived. According to the plans, there was even a fountain with fresh drinking water and toilets.
Visitors to the Roman Agora can see findings from the excavation which has been carried out over half the area. The most distinguishing feature is the four surviving columns, each eight metres high, which were located at the western gate. In the same place there is also an inscription which says that construction of the Agora was completed with funds supplied by the Emperor Augustus, and was begun with a donation from his predecessor Julius Caesar. Based on the inscription, this spot is considered to have been where the sanctuary of Athena had previously stood. However, the most important building in the Agora was the Clock of Andronicus of Cyrrhus, known as the Tower of the Winds, which gave the neighbourhood its name “Winds”. This is an octagonal building, 12 metres high with anaglyphic representations of the eight major winds. Two water tanks moved the metal mechanism which showed the time. Over the years, the building was used as a Christian baptistery and as a tekke (prayer space) for dervishes. Residents of Athens considered the Tower of the Winds to be a temple to Aiolos, the god of the wind, and this is why this name was given to the nearby road which has been a centre of trade for many decades from the 19th century onwards. Today, on Aiolou St, as in other roads near the Roman Agora, we can see the same view that they would have seen in Roman times: the outdoor flea market with the wares spread on the pavement existing harmoniously alongside the roofed traders and traditional shops.