The Acropolis of Athens, the wellspring of Western Civilization

“Please wait for me,” said our guide, “I will get the tickets.”

You have to buy tickets to enter the Acropolis in Athens, and its much easier with a guide. Our guide looked at the Irish family next to us, and asked how old the son was.

“Tickets to the site are free for European students,” she explained to us, “I will explain why later.” Before disappearing into the crowd to get our tickets.

She returned, sweating profusely, and handed us our tickets just as we had reach close to the head of the snaking queue to enter the Acropolis.

She continued with her point, “So European students get to come to these sites free, because it is considered part of the share culture heritage of Europe, many students in European schools still have to learn about the Greek mythology in their classes.”

The Irish student nodded his head, it turned out that they were assigned Homer’s Iliad as part of class. And through our trip it became clear that the student studied his assigned text well.

But why would Irish students study a Greek text? And how is the Acropolis the wellspring of such a civilization?

In Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations (1996), he presented a map of the world civilizations.

Major Civilizations in the Book Clash of Civilizations (1996, Source)

According to Huntington, the Western Civilization is defined as countries and cultures that are broadly Catholic-Protestant in origin. Huntington was not the first person to make such a classification, he was merely one of the more modern cases in a respectable international relations framework. Most people instinctively understand the point that is made, when one says western civilization.

Western Civilization can broadly speaking recall its culture origins to Classical Greece, with the Greek states, and later advanced and spread to all Europe by the Roman Empire that essentially civilized the other barbarian tribes all over Europe (Gauls, Norse, Celts, Visigoths etc), and introduced both a common Roman societal framework and a Christian heritage.

The Acropolis is at the centre of Western Civilization because it was here that some of the most important concepts of western civilizations began – Athenian democracy, western philosophy and the ways of organizing a society.

The Acropolis is a citadel built on the hill at the centre of Athens, which today forms a whole complex. It was here that the earliest settlers built homes, classical Athenian life was centred and where modern Athens expanded around. The complex went through years of construction with temples and buildings added to it. At the core of the Acropolis is the Parthenon, originally built as a temple to Athena, when it was decided to name the city after her.

The Parthenon, a major temple dedicated to Athena – the Patron of Athens

There are many other buildings to the Acropolis. Many of which came during the reign of Pericles, most of these constructions and decisions were created by committee, through what was known as Athenian Democracy.

A system instituted for the people, by the people. Although people then, were defined to only mean man with a strict definition of Athenian citizenship, and of a certain age). Universal suffrage and broad democracy across the western civilization was only achieved in the 1900s.

Because the historical text of democracy were best kept in Athens, and all other texts refer to Athens, the city is therefore considered the font of Western Democracy, its philosphers text preserved by muslim caliphs and christian monks during the middle ages) form the basis of governance, science and even the modern university that we know today.

The Propylaea, and entrance gateway into the Acropolis

The Erechtheion, a temple dedicated to Athena and Poseidon

The Theatre of Dionysus, the world’s first theatre

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a later theatre with better acoustics

The Asclepeion, a healing temple. The myth of Asclepius is a badge on medical universities and departments all over the world

It is quite striking to stand in a place knowing the millennia ago, the very ideas that founded society were made here. A system of organizing society, that has since through the fact of human history become the de-rigour system that many non-Western societies are managed, was born in this space.

Even I, as a non-Westerner, could not help but feel moved.



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