The Areopagus Hill is a rocky hill near the Acropolis in Athens, a place, where the ancient Greeks held the court hearings. It is a popular site among travelers and pilgrims as it is exactly the place, where the Apostle Paul announced his “The Unknown God Sermon.” People often regard the hill as “The Hill of Ares” or “Mars Hill” in honor of the Roman and Greek gods of war.
The legend states that the name of Areopagus derived from Ares, the god of war (the Romans called him “Mars”). That is exactly the place, where he was convicted and then acquitted. The legend says, Alcippe, the daughter of Ares, was raped by Halirrhothius, the son of Poseidon. Ares killed the rapist. After that, Poseidon turned to the other gods, accusing Ares of a terrible crime. The trial took place at the same place, where the murder occurred. Later, the Greeks started to call the hill as Areopagus.
Another version states that the hill served as the ground for the court trial over Orestes who was accused of killing his stepmother, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus. There is also the third version. It says, the underground goddesses of vengeance committed trials over killers on this rock. This fact explains the existence of the shrine dedicated to them at the foot of the hill. It served as a shelter for the killers who were trying to hide from persecution and execution.
In pre-classic times, before the V century BC, Areopagus in Athens served as the Council of Elders of the city, its functions were similar to the ones of the Roman Senate. Its membership was limited by people, helding senior government positions. It included no more than 300 members.
In 462 BC, Ephialtes, the Greek politician, carried out the reforms, removing almost all functions of the hill, except for the ones, related to the Murder Tribunal. The right to comply with the laws passed to the People’s Assembly, the Council of Five Hundred, and the Dicastery (the Assize Court). Later, the Areopagus performed the functions as the main murder court in the city. In the IV century BC, its judges also reviewed the cases on corruption here.
With the assumption of power by Pericles on Areopagus, the city experienced several reforms, diminishing the significance of the hill. Only in 404 BC, after the Peloponnese War, Areopagus regained its power. It kept on preserving such status during the era of Roman rule either. This period was marked with the speeches of prominent speakers, politicians, and public figures. At the same time, Areopagus became a famous place thanks to the speech of the Apostles Paul, which later became the basis for Christianity in Greece. Moreover, this speech was memorialized on the bronze memorial plate. You can see it at the foot of the rock.
Another prominent event, which took place on Areopagus, was related to Socrates. The local court passed the death punishment to him as he did not honor the gods and corrupted the youth with his speeches. Luckily, the decision had never come to an execution – Socrates was poisoned.
There are many “must-visit” places in Athens you cannot miss exploring. The “Hill of Ares” is one of them. First of all, the views from Areopagus deserve the most glowing reviews. Here, at an altitude of 115 meters, everything looks like an open book: the Acropolis, lively Athens, and the Ancient Agora.
As of today, Areopagus cannot boast of having the monuments, which preserved until the present days in their authentic form. Even the marks left by the stone benches, standing in a semicircle at the top of the hill, are now almost removed by travelers. Only the steps have preserved their forms as they were cut down in the rock, and several foundations of the houses, which were once set by at the foot of Areopagus.
Interesting fact. When the Council Areopagus was making decisions, there were two white stones in front of the benches – they stood for dignity and shamelessness. The prosecutor occupied the first stone, while the accused person stepped on the second stone.
Areopagus sits in the center of Athens, between the Acropolis and the Ancient Agora. You should better take a walk here to admire local nature and the most famous Greek attractions to the fullest extent. We recommend that you start your sightseeing tour with the Ancient Agora. After that, you can go along the direct road, leading to Areopagus and the Acropolis.
The hill is surrounded by a low protection fence. One of the entrances to Areopagus is set opposite the market square. The second one sits opposite the Acropolis. They are open all day long.
The easiest way to reach Areopagus is the route from Athens city center. It will take you about 10 minutes. If you plan to access it from other districts of Athens, you can use the facilities of Athens Metro. Catch the train and leave it at the Thissio station. You can also use buses: 025, 026, 027, 035, and 227. You should get off the bus at the Monastiraki station. Another mode of transport that will easily deliver you to the landmark is the trolleybus 21. You should leave it at the Palia Agora station. If you are afraid of missing the required stop, you should ask a driver to tell you about that when he reaches the stop.