Located about 500m to the west of the Acropolis, the Pnyx is a rocky hill surrounded by parks. It has a special place in the world history as one of the most important historic sites. Artificially carved out of the hill side is a stone platform or Bema (which literally means step in Greek), with stone steps leading up to it.
Pnyx is the place where the Athenians used to gather to talk on political issues and to take decisions on the future of their town. This was the first form of democracy in the world. It was the first time when all the citizens of a town, male citizens actually, were declared equal and had the right to vote and take part in decision-making. The Athenians believed that this task was very important to leave it to one person, the king or a governor, as was usually the case. This process was evolved as centuries went by and we have been led today to the present democratic forms.
It is believed that the Pnyx was founded in the 5th century B.C. It passed three construction periods. At first, the Pnyx was a plain, natural area with a retaining wall to the north. Then, a semi-circular retaining wall was built and two staircases were leading to the Bema, where the orators could speak. The area also had 500 wooden seats for the Councilmen elected by the Assembly. The third reformation of the Pnyx was based on the same design but was in larger scale. In the first century B.C., the Pnyx started to decline because Athens was getting bigger and it was difficult for many citizens to come to the Pnyx. The new Assembly of the Athenians was gathered in the theatre of Dionysos.
It is said that the Pnyx could accommodate 20,000 citizens, although a minimum of 6,000 Athenians was necessary in order for a discussion to start. The Assembly was usually gathered once every nine days to discuss on political, social and war issues.
Excavations on the Pnyx started in about 1910 by the Greek Archaeological Society. Other excavations were conducted in the 1930s by H.A. Thompson. Apart from the platform of the Pnyx, other ancient remains were also found, such as two large stoas, built to shelter people in case of bad weather, the altar of Zeus Agoraios and the sanctuary of Zeus Hypsistos.