June 2nd, 2014
At the foot of the Acropolis, was a rock out-cropping, known as Mars Hill (after Mars, a god in Greek Mythology). Pretty nondescript, but known as the place where the Apostle Paul once preached.
After Rome conquered Athens in 86 BC, Mars Hill was used by the Athenians for matters of minor governance. In the first century AD, Paul seized this platform to speak to the citizens of Athens against their worship of false Gods. The Athenians were not very receptive, however, and Paul only won a handful of converts, before moving on to Corinth, where he was better received.
We are not Bible scholars, but this was fascinating to us…..
So we climbed the steps up to the top of the hill, being very careful of our step on the very slippery stone which had been worn smooth by time.
As we stood where Paul once stood, we could feel the presence of this great man…….
Next up, the Agora (or gathering place) – the real heart of ancient Athens. For 800 years, from its founding in the 6th century BC to it destruction by barbarians in 267 AD. the Agora was the center for socializing, commerce, even politics and minor sporting events.
We kept trying to put ourselves in the frame of reference of ancient Greece, picturing the people and the city of Athens as it was in its Golden age. It was here, at the Agora, the center of everyday life, that we could really get a 'feel' for ancient Athens.
This is the great Panathenic Way, the wide road through the Agora that leads up to the Acropolis. It is quiet now, but this would have been a bustling thoroughfare. Ancient Athens probably had a population of 100,000, and this was the main intersection in town.
Anyone and everyone spent time here. It was here that the philosopher Socrates, and his student Plato wandered about, talking with and learning about people. (I don't know about you, but this just gives me 'chills'). And here that the Apostle Paul probably had his greatest influence.
The Agora developed over time from an open air marketplace, to a kind of shopping mall, with stores and offices. These ruins are what is left of the columns and supports that would have been where a Stoa, or enclosed shopping center, would have stood. This is where one might come to buy groceries, clothes, household goods or any of a number of other items.
The Agora was also the center for politics. The broken column in the center of these ruins marks the Tholos. The Tholos was a rotunda shaped building with a conical roof, which held Athens city council, or ministers, who ran the day to day affairs of Athens. The Tholos housed the headquarters, offices and meeting hall for the ministers. Many of the 50 ministers lived here, as well, as the law required that a third of the ministers be on the premises at all times.
Athens originated the first model of Democracy. It was a new idea at the time that issues that concerned the people should be voted on by the people. Thus, people were allowed a platform to speak, and voting took place on everything from electing leaders to setting the price of commodities. When a leader became too powerful in the peoples opinion, a vote was held by writing that person’s name on a broken shard of pottery – an ostrakon- and when that person garnered enough votes, he was banished, or ‘ostracized’. I just find it amazing how much of our culture we owe to the Athenians.
The Agora was also a center for minor religious observances. One might stop by a temple to make an offering to the gods.This Temple of Hephaistos is one of the best preserved and most typical of the temples of its time. Built in 450 BC, it is similar in design to the Parthenon, only much smaller and less elaborate.
Like the Parthenon, this temple was decorated with marble friezes along its perimeter.
These marbles are more intact, and depict different stories and myths.
The Stoa of Attolos, is a good example of the kind of ‘shopping malls’ that dominated the Agora.
Originally built in the 2nd century BC, this Stoa was reconstructed in the 1950’s. It is a typical 2 story Stoa constructed of Pentelic marble, with porticos and Doric and Ionic columns. The covered walkways of the Stoas provided protection from sun and rain for the shoppers and business people.
This Stoa has been turned into a museum. There were so many amazing artifacts that I could not possibly post pictures of them all!
This marble carving was part of a monument base, celebrating a victory at the 4th century BC Panathenaic Games.
This is a bronze shield dating back to 425 BC.
Also on the grounds of the Agora is this little church, The Church of the Holy Apostles. It was built around 1,000 AD to commemorate St. Paul's teachings in the Agora.
It has a typical Greek- cross floor plan with 4 equal arms topped by a dome.
This church contains a number of interesting Byzantine style frescos…..though faded, they are still very moving.
From the Agora, we walked on through the streets of Athens……..