In the middle of Athens, nestled under the Acropolis, is the ancient agora, once the center of athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life of the city. Later, it would also serve as a marketplace, where merchantsÂ wouldÂ set up their stalls in the colonnades of long, covered buildings called stoa. Â (The Romans would go on to call this conglomeration a forum; we would call it a mall.) A large open area surrounded byÂ buildingsÂ of various functions, the agora was a daily part of public life in Athens, whether you were coming to shop, pay homage to a particular god, visit the law courts, use the library, or even go swimming in the great bathhouse. Laying mostly in ruins today, the agora has the feel of an overgrown park or an English country estate. (I can’t help but think of Richard Payne Knight, Uvedale PriceÂ and the Romantic notions of picturesqueÂ landscape architecture, constructed in imitation of wild nature, which was once in fashion and stillÂ survives in the gardens at many a stately British home.) Yet onÂ theÂ top of Agoraios Kolonas hill, keeping watch onÂ theÂ northwest side of the square is perched the Temple of Hephaestus, a well-preserved temple that remains largely as it was built. Like a Parthenon in miniature, it presents a serene sense of what this all must have looked like in the full-flower of antiquity.