Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Alexandra Alevizatos Kirtley

Athens of America

In the decades after American independence, the atmosphere of liberty in Philadelphia spawned an artistic spirit that earned this city its reputation as the Athens of America.  Here, enthusiasm for the arts grew with the same fervor and in the same houses, streets, and shops where the seeds of political freedom had been sown and cultivated a generation earlier. Philadelphia began to grow into a vibrant, varied, and long-lasting center for arts and culture.

To many, there were clear parallels between Athens in the Great Age of Pericles (480 BC-404 BC) and Philadelphia in the early national period (1790-1840).  Athens’ architectural monuments, sculpture, wall painting, pottery, furniture, literature, music, and theatre established the fundamental elements of these arts for more than two thousand years.  Philadelphia was poised to take the lead artistically for America in the same way Athens inspired the ancient world.

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