Posted by: Bay Presbyterian Church | December 1, 2010

A Walk with Paul – Athens

Areopagus a.k.a. Mars Hill

The Areopagus or Mars Hill is a bare marble hill next to the Acropolis in Athens.  It is especially popular with travelers as it was here that the Apostle Paul gave his famous sermon.


According to Greek mythology, Ares (the god of war, known to the Romans as Mars) was tried here by the gods for the murder of Poseidon’s son Alirrothios.  It is because of the legend that the hill has various names. Another legend says that the hill was the site of the trial of Orestes for killing his stepmother and her lover, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus.

Near the base of the stairs is a bronze plaque with the Greek text of Paul’s sermon. From the top you have a view of Athens on one side and the Acropolis on the other.

History of the Acropolis

In pre-classical times (before the 5th century BC), the Areopagus was the council of elders of the city, like the Roman Senate.  Like the Senate, its membership came from those who had held high public office, such as that of Archon.  In 462 BC, Ephialtes put through reforms which deprived the Areopagus of almost all its functions except that of a murder trial.

The Areopagus served as the homicide court of Athens. At the foot of the Hill was a temple dedicated to the Erinyes, where murderers could find sanctuary.

Paul in Athens

The Areopagus, ruled during Roman times.  It was during this time period that the Apostle Paul gave his speech identifying  “the Unknown God.”  As he was talking, a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to argue with Paul.   They wanted to know what he was saying.  Yet others were intrigued because he seemed to be presenting a new, foreign god,  and in truth he was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection of which they had never heard.

He was taken to a meeting of the Areopagus and was asked exactly what he was proposing.  They wanted to know about this strange God they were hearing about and what it meant.  Paul addressed the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”

…When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

The Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens

Acropolis – The upper fortified part of an ancient Greek city.  Many cities in Greece have an Acropolis.  The one in Athens is popular because of the Parthenon built on its peak.

Parthenon – is a temple of the Greek goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their protector.

The Parthenon on Athens’ Acropolis 

The Parthenon is a temple located on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.  It is dedicated to Athena, a Greek goddess who was thought to be the protector of the people of Athens.  At the time construction began in 447 BC the Athenian Empire was at the height of its power.  The temple was completed in 438 BC but special touches continued to be added until 431 BC.  The temple’s main function was to shelter the monumental statue of Athena that was made by Pheidias out of gold and ivory.

The Athenians sought to build a temple like no other in the world using extravagant sculptural decorations and impressive dimensions never before used.  The doors were elaborately decorated with gorgons, lion heads and bronze relief ornaments.  Needless to say the Athenians were proud of the outcome and how it placed them in comparison to other cultures.  They thought of themselves as being the civilized among barbarians and that their achievements would change the history of all people.  They developed a system of government never before seen in the world.  They called it Democracy. 

This Democracy was in place while the Parthenon was being constructed.  Each citizen had a voice on most issues and could be heard at the Assembly which met 40 times a year on Pnyx Hill or Mars Hill next to the Acropolis.  Policy issues, whether domestic or foreign were made at these times.  

Reconstruction of the Acropolis and Areios Pagos, by Leo von Klenze, 1846

 The Floor Plan

The Parthenon is surrounded by columns and has a rectangular Doric floor plan with steps around the whole periphery.   There are two entrances, one in the front and one in the back and each have six columns.  As seen below, there were two rooms. The larger room was the naos, which is where the cult statue was located. The smaller of the two rooms (the opisthodomos) was used as a treasury.

Parthenon Facts

Built:  447-432 BC


            Width East 30.875 m

            Width West 30.8835 m

            Length North 69.5757 m

            Length South 69.5115 m

Stones Used:  13,400

Architects:  Iktinos, Kallikrates and Phidias


The cost of construction was 469 silver talents. To best understand what that means we need to look at other costs of the time. One advanced war-ship of the era, a trireme, cost one talent.  One talent would pay the crew of the warship for a month.  Around the time of the Peloponnesian War, Athens had 200 triremes in operation. The annual income for the entire city of Athens was 1000 talents.  They had an additional 6000 talents in reserve in the treasury.

The History

The structure that is seen today is a replacement of the older temple of Athena which was destroyed during the Persian Invasion of 480 BC. 

6th Century – The Parthenon was a Christian Church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

After the 1460 Ottoman Turkish Conquest – It became a mosque with a minaret placed on its top.

September 26, 1687 – The structure was used by the Turk’s as an ammunition dump.  It was ignited by the Venetian bombardment resulting in an explosion that severely damaged the Parthenon and its sculptures.

In 1806 – Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin asked the Turkish Government if he could move some of the surviving sculptures.  Permission was granted and the sculptures were sold in 1816 to the British Museum in London.  The Greek government is making every effort to have them returned.


These Caryatid columns are part of the Erechtheion.  It is roped off to keep visitors from climbing on its fragile structure.

The Erechtheion was a complex building intended to house the cults of local divinities and heroes that were intimately associated with the Acropolis. Its architect is believed to be Mnesicles.


Repairing the marble of the Parthenon

 In 1975, the Greek government began restoring the Parthenon.  The white marble seen in this picture is where the new repairs are taking place.  The original marble was white, but over time has aged to a beige color.  Historians agreed to the repairs as long as the difference was noticeable.  The projects for restoring the lateral walls of the cella began in 1992 with the aim of correcting the inadequacies of the earlier interventions of 1841-1844, 1913 and 1927-1928.  As result, 440 additional cella wall blocks have been identified.  With the new restoration, the walls will regain the form they had at the beginning of the 19th century.

Because none of the lines of the temple were straight, many theories have come about as to why.  Some believe that the columns were built slightly tilted inward so that the gods that lived there couldn’t escape.  If they tried to climb over the top they would be unable to reach the columns and would fall.  The Athenian people were very superstitious.


 The back of the Parthenon

Herodes Atticus Theatre 


The theatre was built-in 160 A.D. by a rich Roman in memory of his dead wife.  The front of the theatre was originally several stories higher.  It is also located on the Acropolis of Athens.  If you were to stand facing the front of the Parthenon, the theatre would be on the right.


Front of the Theatre



 A peek at the inside of the Theatre from one of the entrances


Sources:  Sacred Destinations; Wikipedia; Academic Reed

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