Standing at the Pynx, one of the major sites where democracy was founded, I felt opposing emotions of appreciation and dread. Countries that pride themselves on being ruled for the people, by the people are under threat due to corruption, fear, misinformation, gerrymandering, sensationalized media, and a political milieu that works to divide rather than unite. It seems as though democracy is fragile and despite being a concept that has existed for thousands of years, it has yet to veer close to the true ideal of the word.
History of the Pynx in Athens
The Pynx is a large stadium on a hill in Athens built sometime in the early 5th century B.C. It could seat up to 12,000 Athenians at once who would then listen to the plans and ideas of politicians, who would speak from a stage carved from stone. Elevated over the main city yet placed below the Acropolis, the position of the Pynx simultaneously reminded orators to keep both the public and the gods in mind.
The Pynx represented a government where aristocracy gave way to the Greek concepts of equal representation as a voter as well as an equal opportunity to hold political office. One major caveat is that the Greeks did not establish a true democratic system and this portrayal is no doubt a romanticized ideal, as women and slaves were not represented in any meaningful form. Consider the fact that the first country did not grant women the right to vote until 1893 (New Zealand). Equal representation as a political concept was only seen as a free man’s right for over ~2,400 years.
The Pynx was built around the time that the ideas of Cleisthenes, a politician who is known as the Father of Athenian Democracy, came to popularity after Greek and Spartan troops overthrew a tyrannical king, Hippias who was notorious for enforcing executions over petty crime and high taxes. The concept of assembling and proposing ideas in a public forum took off quickly, with the Pynx expanding to include more seats as years went on.
Visiting the Pynx in Athens
Unlike most of the main ancient sites in Athens, entering the Pynx is free–and rarely crowded. Visit just before sunset to watch the sky change and witness the Parthenon light up, punctuating the skyline. Other vantage points like Areopagus, Mount Lycabettus, and the A for Athens bar become swarmed with tourists just before sunset–meanwhile, there’s enough space to relax and enjoy the view without having to dodge large crowds at Pynx Hill. Many free walking tours include a stop to Pynx Hill, where a local guide can explain firsthand the importance of the site.