Mars Hill, also known as the Areopagus, is a corner of Athens from which you can enjoy spectacular views of the entire city. And many people do not know it!
It is a rocky hill located very close to the Acropolis of Athens, which also has a HUGE importance in the history of Ancient Greece and houses a host of curiosities:
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A bit of Greek mythology
You may already know that the ancient Greeks believed in the 12 gods of Olympus, with the almighty Zeus being their king. These deities, who shared human traits, were the rulers of the world.
Many of them had several children, not always in wedlock (fidelity was conspicuous by its absence…). The protagonists of our story are Halirrhothius, son of Poseidon; and Alcippe, daughter of Ares, the latter being the nephew of the god of the sea and son of Zeus.
According to legend, the son of Poseidon would try to rape the daughter of Ares… Who would think of messing with the daughter of the god of war (Ares)? Anyway:
Ares did not hesitate to murder the culprit, angering Poseidon. It was with the aim of judging the god of war, that the rest of the gods founded here the first tribunal in history to date.
Quick important note:
Mars and Ares are the same god, Ares is the Greek name (the original one by the way) whereas Mars is the name given by the Romans later on.
Mars Hill as a tribunal during Ancient Greece
That’s right, Mars Hill is believed to have started acting as a tribunal in 1500 BC, with none other than an Olympian god being the first to be tried….
But what happened to him in the end?
The rest of the gods declared Ares innocent for his actions, since the murdered had committed a dreadful crime (attempted rape). Far from repenting, the god of war threatened Poseidon (father of the murdered man) to spear him as well.
History of Mars Hill
According to history, Mars Hill would become the supreme court of the ancient city of Athens around the 8th century BC. The murder cases were being prosecuted here.
Its members were called “Areopagites”, of aristocratic origin. They were former chief magistrates (called Archons) and held office for life. In addition to the aforementioned, Mars Hill also witnessed trials for bribery and treason.
It should be clarified that the Areopagus was not the only court in Athens, but there was also the Boule and the Ekklesia. The latter were located in the ancient agora (called simply agora at the time…).
Later and in Roman times, Mars Hill continued to be a prestigious and powerful institution, with various administrative and religious functions.
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St. Paul the Apostle
It turns out that Mars Hill also played an important role for religion. In the early years of Christianity, shortly after the death of Jesus Christ, the apostles began a long journey with the aim of spreading the word of the Lord throughout the world.
In the year 51, St. Paul arrived in Athens. The apostle was confused by the great number of gods that the Hellenes worshipped, while he wanted to convince them that there was only one…
His most important speech took place on Mars Hill, where he had been previously invited. Curious anecdote:
The apostle Paul told how he had found an altar dedicated to a certain “unknown God”, while walking through the city. Certainly the Greeks had built such an altar, just in case and as a sort of “wild card”.
“Just in case there is some god we DON’T know, let’s NOT give him a hard time and build an altar to him too, lest he later get angry and want to punish us…”
St. Paul would very wisely use this vacancy the Greeks had established to convince them that: that unknown god they worshipped was about the Creator and Lord of all, the only real deity.
Of course, he spoke to them about Jesus Christ and his resurrection, as well as warning them of the day of judgment and the need to repent for their sins.
Although the Apostle Paul’s message was not as well received as he would have liked, it did serve to convert some people. Today, on one side of Mars Hill, we can find a bronze plaque where the words of this famous speech were engraved.
Visiting the Mars Hill
The Areopagus is an open place, and therefore, open 24 hours a day for free. My recommendation is to time your visit to coincide with sunset, as it looks stunning from up there.
It is worth mentioning that you will also have spectacular views of the Acropolis of Athens, which is elegantly illuminated at night. Sometimes there is a person selling cans of beer at the top, or you can also take it yourself, in any case it is a very interesting option.
Mars Hill is located in the center of Athens, very close to Monastiraki Square. You will have to climb some stairs and then a slope, for which I recommend comfortable and non-slip shoes. This is the exact location of the areopagus:
Definition of areopagus / etymology
The origin of this term can be found in the words “Areios Pagos“. And what do they mean?
- “Areios” comes from Ares, the god of war. What a surprise! Maybe it has something to do with what we mentioned before about Greek mythology…
- On the other hand, “Pagos” comes to mean “big piece of rock”…
As you can see, it’s a very original name hehe
Thank you very much for reading this far, we hope this information is helpful and that you enjoy a great vacation in this city. We also invite you to leave us any questions or doubts in the comments box, we promise to answer them as soon as possible!