The Stoa of Attalos

The Stoa of Attalos was originally built by King Attalos II of Pergamon (159–138 B.C.), as a gift to the Athenians in appreciation of the time he spent in Athens studying under the philosopher Karneades. What he gave the city was an elaborate stoa, a large two-storeyed double colonnade with rows of shops behind the colonnades. The building was made of local materials, marble for the facade and columns, and limestone for the walls; it measures 116 meters long and had 42 shops in all. The Stoa became the major commercial building or shopping center in the Agora and was used for centuries, from its construction in around 150 B.C. until its destruction at the hands of the Herulians in A.D. 267.

Oblique view of the Stoa of Attalos with the Acropolis in the background.
September 1956. The finished south end of the stoa at the time of the dedication. Clearly visible are the ancient stones that have been incorporated into the restoration of the building. The parapet has been painted as it was in ancient times.

It was chosen to serve as the museum because it was large enough and because enough architectural elements were preserved to allow an accurate reconstruction; in addition, the northern end stood to the original roof line, allowing precision in recreating the height of the building.

The building was reerected between 1953 and 1956. Quarries in Piraeus and on Mt. Penteli were opened so as to provide material similar to the original. As many as 150 workmen were employed, including 50 master masons, 20 carpenters, and 5 steelworkers. Where possible, remains of the original building were incorporated: the north end, the southernmost shops, part of the south wall, and the south end of the outer steps. Elsewhere the modern reconstruction rests on the original foundations and is an almost exact replica of the ancient building, with representative pieces of the original included in order to allow the visitor a chance to check the validity of the restoration for him- or herself.

The Stoa of Attalos in November of 1952
The Stoa of Attalos in December of 1956

The reconstruction leads the visitor to appreciate why stoas were such a common form of public building among the Greeks, used in agoras, sanctuaries, near theaters, and wherever many people were expected to gather. The spacious colonnades provided shelter for literally thousands of people, protecting them from sun in summer and wind and rain in winter, while allowing in abundant light and fresh air.

September 3, 1956. John L. Caskey, Director of the American School, delivering his remarks at the dedication ceremony.

The ground floor is given over to public display, sculpture and large marbles in the colonnades, small objects in a long gallery consisting of ten of the original shops. The first floor is used for the excavation offices, workrooms, and archives as well as for additional storage. More storerooms were created in basements at foundation level. Dedicated on the 3rd of September, 1956, the Stoa celebrates its 50th anniversary as the Agora museum in 2006.

The “Law against Tyranny” inscription (I 6524) was also erected in the colonnade before the dedication ceremony.
Excavations in the Athenian Agora are conducted by the American School of Classical Studies.
Primary funding is provided by the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI).