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Pnyx (Pnika)

Pnyx (Pnika) (31)

It may not be one of the city's most popular destinations and, at first glance, may not seem like a particularly interesting place, but the Pnyx holds hugely important symbolic value. Here, before your very eyes, is the origin of Greek democracy. Now, armed with this information, take another look and allow yourself to be transported to over 25 centuries ago. 

Here, figures such as Themistocles, Demosthenes and Pericles became leaders and not only shaped, but actually created history. The word Pnyx means “tightly packed together”. The ecclesia, the popular assembly of Athens, convened on this semicircular hill.

Following the reforms carried out by Clístenes in the late 6th century BC, the assembly began convening on the semicircular esplanade approximately every nine days. These meetings discussed various matters established by the Council, or Boule. All citizens were entitled to an opinion, and there was a platform from which they addressed the public. Finally, decisions were taken by vote, which required a quorum of 6000 people. If you are shocked by today's poor attendance of MPs at some sessions of parliament or by the poor turnout at elections, do not worry, because this has always been the case. By all accounts, democratic Athenians were sometimes required to comb the Pnyx looking for attendees for the assemblies to meet the quorum. Between 5th and 4th centuries BC, the Pnyx changed focus and was expanded. Some of the smooth white rocks are still visible today, a reminder of the era.  

Among the remains still standing is the Altar of Zeus Agoraios, the protector of the assembly. Fragments of the propylaea (the entrance) and two stoas, one nearly 150 metres high and the other 60 metres high, have survived. Parts of the Diateichisma wall, dating from the 4th century BC, have also survived, including the 5th-century BC Meton's Clock, the first sundial in Athens.

While most tourists flock to the Acropolis, you must not pass up the opportunity of visiting this hill, if your busy schedule permits it. It is not just one of the city's most stunning green spaces, a peaceful spot and a fantastic vantage point over the monuments and the sound and light shows of the Acropolis. The stones on the Pnyx provide a poignant reminder of the major contribution Greek civilisation made to democracy.

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