by Stafford North
A visit to Athens is one of the great experiences in travel. Since it was the capital of Ancient Greece, events in this city have had a major influence on western civilization. It was the center of Greek philosophy in the days of Plato and Aristotle. It is the site of such famous buildings as the Parthenon and Erectheum as well as the location for the Olympic Stadium of the first modern Olympics and the Olympics of 2004. It has a population of over 3 million.
Of special interest to Christians is the visit of Paul to Athens as recorded in Acts 18 were he walked in the marketplace, the agora, and came to Mar's Hill to speak. His sermon given there shows intimate knowledge of the city and one can see even today in ancient remains connections to his sermon.
Among the many places to visit today are these.
1. Acropolis. The acropolis in Athens is one of the most famous sites in the world. Pictures of the Parthenon are known world-wide. Acropolis means "high city" and it was common for Greek cities to give special importance to such a high place. In Athens, the site rises abruptly 230 feet above the surrounding area. For thousands of years, it was the political center and residence of kings. With the arrival of Greek democracy, however, the old walls were torn down and the political center was moved down to the Agora. Then the Acropolis became the site for sacred shrines.
a. As one enters the Acropolis, the first structure is the Propylaea, built in 437 BC. This is an elaborate entrance way with beautiful Doric and Ionic columns, each composed of several "drums" stacked on top of each other.
b. To the right as one enters is the beautiful small temple to Athena Nike, the goddess of victory. Built in 427 BC, it no longer houses the wooden statue of Nike (victory) that once was inside it.
c. Ahead is the Parthenon, which you are approaching from the back. A huge statue to Athena stood outside the building, to the left, and another large one, 40 feet tall, on the inside. Completed in 432 BC, this temple had a number of features that made it special. Its design is unusual in using curves rather than straight lines. The row of seventeen Doric columns down the sides, for example, bows out slightly toward the middle to counteract the tendency of the eye to make horizontal lines dip in the middle. These columns and the ten across the front all tilt inward slightly and are slightly larger in the middle. The effect from this gives the building unusual strength. Also the Parthenon is famous for its beautiful carved figures. There was a frieze that ran around the top of the entire outside wall that depicted the procession of Athenians to bring gifts to Athena every four years. Nearly all of this frieze is today in the British Museum. It was truly a masterpiece. Paul may well have referred to this procession to Athena when he said his God was "not served by men's hands as though He needed anything." The Parthenon was partitally destroyed in 1687 when gun powder stored there exploded.
d. Directly opposite the Parthenon lies the Erectheum, completed in 406 BC. This smaller building was dedicated to Poseidon who held a special place in the mythology of Athens. The most celebrated portion of this building is the porch of maidens with six carved women serving as columns of the Ionic order. None of the original karyatids is still in place because of their deterioration but the replicas show the beauty in the conception of this temple.
e. To the far end of the acropolis is a Museum with many original pieces from the Parthenon and other interesting exhibits.
f. Along the southwest side below the acropolis is the Odeon of Herod Atticus, built in 160 BC. This theater has been restored and seats 5,000 for events today.
g. On the southeastern side below the acropolis is the Theater of Dionysos, the god of wine. Built in the sixth century BC, it could hold 17,000. In this theater the rituals to Dionysos emerged into drama and so this theater is regarded as the birthplace of western-type drama.
2. Agora. The ancient marketplace of Athens lies below and northwest of the Acropolis. Once cover ed entirely by dirt, it has been excavated to reveal many buildings and altars. It was not only a place for shopping but for worshipping the gods, civic affairs, public events, and philosophers who taught as they walked around. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were once here. It was also here that Paul came, according to Acts 17, and engaged the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in conversation. In the picture, one can see the close proximity of the Agora to the Acropolis which sits above it.
a. On the west side of the Agora sits the Thession or Temple of Hephaestus, built about 440 BC. Built to honor the god of fire, it is the best preserved ancient temple in Greece. The temple has Doric columns with six in the front and thirteen down each side. Statues to Hephaestus and Athena were inside.
b. Just east of the Thession are government buildings and altars to Zeus, Apollo, the twelve gods, and Mars.
c. The Odion, a building for entertainment lies near the center and the restored Stoa of Attalus is on the east. The first floor of this stoa houses a museum for pieces found in the Agora. The second floor houses the American Institute, which led in the excavation of the Agora. The second floor has some excellent models of the Agora and Acropolis but access to these is difficult to obtain.
3. Mars Hill. After Paul's discussion with the philosophers in the Agora, they took him to Mars Hill (also called the Aeropagus) and asked him to speak. His masterful sermon given on that occasion is recorded in Acts 17:19-34. Paul compliments the Greeks on being very religious and shows a good knowledge of their religion and culture. He contrasts, however, th e God he serves with their gods by saying his God is the Creator, that He sustains all life, and that He is not serve d by men's hands as needing their assistance. As he speaks of these Greek gods, he could easily have pointed or looked at the Agora with its many altars or at the Parthenon with its depiction of the procession to bring gifts to Athena. Mars Hill rises above the Agora and today the steps to its top are worn slick by those who have wanted to stand where Paul stood.
4. The Olympic Stadium was originally built in 330 AD, fell into ruin, and was re-built in 1894 to accommodate the first Olympic Games of modern times. It holds 60,000. It will be used ceremonially in the 2004 games but a new stadium has been built for the events.
5. The National Archaeological Museum is an excellent museum with finds from as early as 1500 BC. It contains many early Greek statues, reliefs, and artifacts.
6. The Plaka. Shops of all kinds along with taverns are found in an area called the Plaka. Shopping here is one of the standard activities of tourists.