Saturday, May 14, 2011

Heart of the Polis—the Agora

AAthens is governed by an assembly of 500 elected members— called the Boule—who meet in the New and Old Bouleuterion. A “steering committee” of 50 selected Boule members, called the prytani, meets in the circular Tholos, which also houses the official weights and standard measures. B The old law court (top right) fell into disuse early on and cases are heard in the Hellaea, which is incorporated in the new south stoa. C The ancient race track has disappeared under the agora’s center, which is filled with market stalls and small stores.

The Greek agora, or marketplace, is a natural place for exchanging gossip, debating matters of state, and for public discussion. It is the center of trade and of politics, where the government meets and from where wars are conducted.

At the heart of every Greek city is the agora. It is the center of a city’s commercial life, and a social focus where people gather to meet friends. The finest agora in all Greece is found in Athens, which was once the place where an ancient race track existed for the annual religious games. Gradually, it developed into a market, and from there to the political hub of the city.

Farmers from the surrounding region still come to the central open space, erect their stalls, and sell meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, cheese, fruit, and eggs. Around the edges craftsmen have their numerous workshops, while here and there knots of men looking for work gather in spots where employers are known to hire for particular trades.

The political hub
To the east and south are the great stoas, or porches, colonnaded arcades that offer welcome shade and also provide space for small shops and business offices. The shops are open rooms with a counter across the front, and since they cost more to rent than a market stall, they tend to sell luxury goods.

On the western side of the agora sit the various government buildings that house the Boule and the Strategion. This is the center of the Athenian military command. In times of war, the Boule appoints a supreme commander—the strategos—who is responsible for the navy and the army. In other times, there were a number of strategoi, who acted as generals.

Together with altars and temples, you have in one place the essence of a Greek city.

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