Location: The Areopagus is one of the three hills located on the west side of the Acropolis hill, between the ancient Agora and the entrance to the complex or “Propylaea” [see map].
Geological characteristics: It is a solid marble rock, of dark blue and red colors, reaching 115 m in height.
Name: Ares was the god of war, one of the twelve gods of Olympus, and the son of Zeus and Hera. In ancient Greek, “Areios Pagos” (Άρειος Πάγος) means “hill of Ares“, and it was to him that the Athenians dedicated the place. According to legend, Ares was put on trial here by the gods for having killed Halirotios, son of Poseidon. Another etymology attributes the name to “Ares-Erinyes Pagos” (Άρες-Ερινύες Πάγος), or “hill of Ares – Erinyes” – the Erinyes being demonic goddesses of punishment and revenge. Nowadays, the Greek Supreme Court of Civil and Criminal Law retains the name:”Areios Pagos”.
Use: The Areopagos was the place where, during the Classical Period (5th Century BC), the Council of Elders met. Later it was the site of the Athens Judicial Court, dealing with cases of murder and other serious crimes. It was also a place of worship to the Ares-Erinyes goddesses, and another part of the place was used as a city cemetery. Among the IV-VI centuries AD, philosophical schools operated there. In the 17th century a church dedicated to St. Dionysius “the Areopagite” was built, which was destroyed by an earthquake at the beginning of the 18th century.
On May 4 2001, during his jubilee pilgrimage to Greece, Syria and Malta, Saint John Paul II, Pope, held an ecumenical ceremony with the Orthodox Archbishop of Athens Christodoulos on the hill of the Areopagus.
The preaching of St. Paul: Around the years 50-51 AD, on arriving in Athens from Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul met with a great culture – and what a culture! It was perhaps one of the most complete and highest cultures in the history of humanity. There, on the Areopagus hill, he began the great task of the evangelization of one of the most advanced cultures in the ancient world. Before an audience composed of refined intellects and artistic sensibilities, that is, philosophers, poets, writers, historians, politicians, sculptors, painters, actors, musicians, singers, businessmen, priests and warriors, the Apostle proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He stood among them, and with the power of rhetoric, not scholarly but in a missionary spirit, began to straighten the course of that culture, which lacked the presence and vitality of the “unknown God”.
The text of Acts 17, 15-34 (NABE):
15 After Paul’s escorts had taken him to Athens, they came away with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he grew exasperated at the sight of the city full of idols.
17 So he debated in the synagogue with the Jews and with the worshipers, and daily in the public square with whoever happened to be there.
18 Even some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers engaged him in discussion. Some asked, “What is this scavenger trying to say?” Others said, “He sounds like a promoter of foreign deities,” because he was preaching about ‘Jesus’ and ‘Resurrection.’
19 They took him and led him to the Areopagus and said, “May we learn what this new teaching is that you speak of?
20 For you bring some strange notions to our ears; we should like to know what these things mean.”
21 Now all the Athenians as well as the foreigners residing there used their time for nothing else but telling or hearing something new.
22 Then Paul stood up at the Areopagus and said:
“You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious.
23 For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’ What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you.
24 The God who made the world and all that is in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands,
25 nor is he served by human hands because he needs anything. Rather it is he who gives to everyone life and breath and everything.
26 He made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth, and he fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions,
27 so that people might seek God, even perhaps grope for him and find him, though indeed he is not far from any one of us.
28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being, as even some of your poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’
29 Since therefore we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the divinity is like an image fashioned from gold, silver, or stone by human art and imagination.
30 God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now he demands that all people everywhere repent
31 because he has established a day on which he will ‘judge the world with justice’ through a man he has appointed, and he has provided confirmation for all by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard about resurrection of the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, “We should like to hear you on this some other time.”
33 And so Paul left them.
34 But some did join him, and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the Court of the Areopagus, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.