The Site before Excavation
The Agora lies on sloping ground northwest of the Acropolis, below and east of the extraordinarily well-preserved Doric temple of Hephaistos, popularly known as the “Theseion” (a). The marble giants (b and below), reused as the facade of a Late Roman complex, were always visible, as was the north end of the Stoa of Attalos, preserved to its full height. The other ancient remains were not so well preserved, however, and their ruins lay as much as 8 meters below the modern surface, covered from the 10th century by an extensive neighborhood of private houses. The houses were repeatedly rebuilt, after successive invasions by Franks, Ottomans, and Venetians. The last destruction occurred in 1826, the result of a siege of the Acropolis during the Greek War of Independence. Once again the neighborhood was totally rebuilt, and only limited archaeological excavation was possible.
The Stoa of Attalos (c) was cleared of debris by the Greek Archaeological Society in 1859/1862 and 1898/1902, the extension of the Athens/Piraeus railroad (d) cut through the northern part of the site in 1890/1, and other areas (e.g., e) were opened up by German and Greek archaeologists in 1896/7 and 1907/8. Except for these scattered and limited attempts, the remains of the center of ancient Athens lay deeply buried, inaccessible, and largely forgotten.
The challenges of excavation were considerable. The site has been occupied almost continuously for close to 5,000 years, so the stratigraphy is disturbed and complex. In addition, as well as sharing all the logistical problems inherent in any large-scale urban excavation, the Agora site must be one of the few where a street and a railway divides the area of the excavations.