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  • Writer's pictureGiorgia Capra, MA

A Brief History of the Agora Museum in the Stoa of Attalos

What is the Stoa of Attalos?

The Stoa of Attalos is a reconstructed covered portico in Athens that was built in the 2nd century BC by King Attalos II as a gift for the Athenians, and which now hosts the Agora Museum.

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Stoa of Attalos History

This reconstructed stoa, situated here on the east side of the Agora, was erected by the king of Pergamon Attalos II, who donated the elaborate building to the city, as stated by an inscription on the architrave (just above the lower columns). Attalos had studied in Athens with the philosopher Carneades and built the stoa as a gift to thank the city for the education he received. We can think of it as a present from an alumnus who wanted to remember his college days in the educational capital of the ancient Mediterranean.

It consisted of a long gallery, with a double marble colonnade on two floors; the two levels were connected with staircases and housed many rooms. Interestingly, the doors of the rooms were all lockable, suggesting that at least in some of them valuable products such as perfumes and spices were sold. This was not the first gift that the Athenians received from the Attalid dynasty, as Attalos’ predecessor, King Eumenes II, had previously built another stoa on the south slope of the Acropolis.

Agora Museum Exhibition hall

Stoas were very popular buildings in ancient Greek marketplaces (the Athenian Agora had at least five of them during the Classical period), offering shelter from the elements, protecting people from the sun in the summer and from rain and wind in the winter. The rooms in the stoa served various purposes: they were not only used as shops, but they also housed offices for merchants, ship owners and bankers, and the Stoa of Attalos was exceptionally large and long, including over 40 rooms on two floors, being the longest building in Greece at the time of its construction. This stoa was more than an ancient shopping mall: the covered galleries were also the perfect location for business meetings, informal gatherings and philosophers’ lectures. The galleries, offering a great view of the Agora, were also an excellent place to assist the contests and religious festivals celebrated here.

As we know from several decrees on inscriptions, the place was also used for the display of portraits and statues of the benefactors of the city. Several monuments stood in front of the stoa, as we learn from the various pedestals found outside, and one of these was dedicated to Attalos.

Bas Relief Sculpture in the Agora Museum

The building was in use for centuries, until its destruction in the 3rd century AD. The original stoa is now lost, but it was fully reconstructed in the 1950s by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and now hosts the Agora Museum, which exhibits many sculptures, inscriptions and other objects found in the Agora excavations, mostly connected with ancient Athenian democracy. Thanks to this reconstruction we can still appreciate the great spaces of this building and imagine the Athenian citizens walking under the porticoes, meeting people and conducting business in an open but protected environment.

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