Have you ever wanted to visit Athens, Greece, and lay eyes on the magnificent Parthenon, standing proudly on the acropolis above the ancient city?
You can — though the ancient city is mainly paved with asphalt, and the Parthenon itself is encumbered by scaffolding. So much for those iconic pictures — but the restoration project on the Acropolis, ongoing since 1975 — will ensure that future generations can have an even better view of the classic structures, built under the leadership of Pericles in the 5th century B.C.
The Propyleia, a massive ceremonial gate leading to the promontory, has come a long way, though work clearly remains to be done.
The restoration of the “Nike Athena,” a small temple to Athena built to pray for a Greek victory in the Peloponnesian war, was completed in 2010. It looks amazing, considering that the entire building had been dismantled in the 17th century and built into a wall by the Ottoman Turks.
The Erechthion, a double temple on the north side of the Acropolis, was dedicated to both Poseidon and to Athena. Though the six Caryatids that welcome visitors are replicas of the originals, they remain impressive.
Christian visitors to the site are often drawn less to the classical wonders atop the Acropolis and more to the adjacent stony outcrop known as the Areopagus, or Mars Hill. The Greek name combines Ares, the Greek god of war, with pagos, the word for a big piece of rock. The Roman god of war was named Mars, so they called it Mars Hill.
Standing above the public agora, or marketplace, Mars Hill is a relatively small hill of solid rock that is slick, uneven, and difficult to walk across. Yet, the high visibility of the outcropping made it ideal for public trials, and from the fifth century, B.C., it served a judicial function. People accused of serious crimes were brought before judges seated on the hill, and verdicts were rendered. In Roman times, a council concerned with ethical, religious, and cultural matters was also called the Areopagus, after the meeting place.
It was such a debate that brought the Apostle Paul there during his visit to Athens, as recorded in Acts 17:16-34. Paul had created such a stir with his teachings in the synagogue and marketplace that a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers invited him to appear before the esteemed council. Paul, standing in full view of the temples on the Acropolis, noted that he had observed a number of altars to various gods and even one “to the unknown god.” He declared that he had come to teach them about the true god, the one they had sensed, but not yet known.
As is often the case, the proclamation had mixed results. A few believed; most did not. Remembering Paul’s defense while standing on the slick but uneven stone of Mars Hill, often struggling for balance, one cannot help but be thankful for the God Paul proclaimed, the one “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).