The Areopagus, a rocky outcrop approximately 115
m. high, is situated between three other hills, the Acropolis, the Pnyx, and the
Kolonos Agoraios. Its name probably derives from Ares,the god of war, and the
Ares-Erinyes or Semnes (also called the Eumenides), underground goddesses of
punishment and revenge. A judicial body, the Areopagus Council, met on this hill
to preside over cases of murder, sacrilege, and arson. The Areopagus was also a
place of religious worship. Among the several sanctuaries located here was that
of the Semnes or Eumenides, probably located in a cavity at the northeast side
of the hill. In the Mycenaean and Geometric periods (1600-700 B.C.) the northern
slope of the hill served as a cemetery which contained both vaulted tombs and
simple cist graves. From the 6th century B.C. onwards the hillside as a whole
became a residential quarter belonging to the fashionable district of Melite.
Cuttings still evident in the bedrock attest to the district's many roads,
wells, drains, reservoirs, floors, and irregular buildings. Access to this
neighbourhood was provided by stairways cut right into the living rock.
By the Late Roman period (4th-6th centuries A.C.) four luxury houses, which
probably served as philosophical schools - located at the north slope of the
hill - had supplanted the houses ot the Classical era.
The Areopagus is also associated with the spread of Christianity into Greece.
Some time near the middle of the 1st century A.C. the Apostle Paul is said to
have converted a number Athenians by teaching the tenets of the new religion
from the summit of the hill. Among the converts was Dionysios the Areopagite,
the patron saint of the city of Athens, who, according to tradition, was the
city's first bishop. Remains of a church named in his honor are preserved on the
northern slope of the hill.
The church of St. Dionysios the Areopagite was a three-aisled basilica with a
narthex at west, central apse, diakonikon (the apse terminating the southern
aisle) and prothesis. (the apse terminating the northern aisle). Built in the
middle of the 16th century, it was probably destroyed by an earthquake in 1601.
The church and grounds were completely enclosed to the north and west by the
monumental Archbishop's Palace. This two-storey Palace was built between the
middle of the 16th and end of the 17th century and consisted of a complex of
rooms which included warehouses, a kitchen, a dining hall, and two winepresses.