This celebrated Greek city was named after its patron goddess Athena, and was a very ancient site. The hill known as the Acropolis was settled first, perhaps c. 6000 B.C., but only many centuries later did the city become famous for its learning and democratic institutions. Athens was the principal city of Attica in ancient Greece and was at its height in the fifth century B.C. under Pericles. It enjoyed revival under Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, and was a renowned center of philosophy. Athens was a busy cosmopolitan city, and the temples on the Acropolis were marvels of engineering and sculpture. Excavations in Athens have done much to recapture its splendor in the biblical period.
The city was visited by Paul on his second missionary journey. Of special interest is the Agora (marketplace) which figured prominently in both commercial and civic activities. It was located North West of the Acropolis. Paul spent some time in this area endeavoring to convert Jews and other Athenians to faith in Christ (Acts 17:17). Little has survived of the Agora except the foundations of buildings and the Stoa, or porch, which has been reconstructed. The Stoa was a narrow, lengthy building with a colonnade along one side, opposite which was a blank wall. It was the setting for lectures, conversations, and philosophical discussions.
The Areopagus from which Paul addressed the assembled philosophers (Acts 17:22-32) was a rocky hill about 400 feet high, situated South of the Agora. The Acropolis lay to the South East within sight of the Areopagus, so that as Paul was criticizing superstition and worship in temples made with human hands he could see the Parthenon, along with its associated temples that were decorated with pagan deities. The altar “to the unknown god” was one of many in Greece. An altar recovered from Pergamum in 1909 was similarly inscribed. The synagogue where Paul preached (Acts 17:17) has not been discovered in Athens. Paul’s efforts to present the Christian faith philosophically unfortunately won few converts.