Two of the most important areas of ancient Athens. In the foreground is the site of the Agora. Agora means “market,” and this sprawling complex was the main commercial district. But it was also where eligible citizens governed the city-state through direct debate and voting— the “birthplace of democracy.” The Athenian version of democracy may seem a bit strange to Americans. Participation was limited exclusively to the wealthiest of men, those whose ownership of land, industry, and slaves gave them the wherewithal to participate in government. But come to think of it, 21st century American “democracy” does seem to be rapidly returning to its ancient Athenian roots.
In the background is the hill of the Acropolis, the “high city” that dominates Athens. The Acropolis was sacred to Athena, the goddess of wisdom and patroness of Athens. The buildings from the “golden age” of the 5th century BCE that honor Athena remain architectural treasures even as ruins. Besides its spiritual dimension, the Acropolis had a practical side. It was the fortress to which the population could retreat during the all-too-frequent attacks from other city-states.