|AN OASIS IN THE CONCRETE SPRAWL|
a refreshing view of this sprawling city, a walk up the hill of
Lycabettus can be invigorating in many ways. It is steep on the side,
so much so, a funicular railway was built to assist the inveterate
climbers. On the other, it is gently sloping, with some rocky outcrops.
Licavitos as it is known, altitude 909ft, was once reputed to be the
home of wolves (Lykos-wolf) and fortunately this is no longer true.
Although Lycabettus is basically a limestone rock, thanks to the Philodasic Society and the Municipality, the slopes are thickly wooded. Legend has it that Lycabettus was a rock which Athena was carrying to Athens to form a bulwark for her citadel.
The walk up can be attempted from three routes. Either (for the gentler ascent) from Sarantapichou ( the Periferiako or circular road) above Asklipiou St., or from Daskalogianni St. ( behind the Panathinaikos Football stadium) or for the lazy way up by Funicular from Aristippou Street. The steeper route is from Kolonaki, up Ploutarchou Street through the woods.
The development of Lycabettus was undertaken by the Municipality of Athens many years ago and the wooden log bridges, seats and shored-up stone walls, have added to the natural beauty.
From the summit you see westwards another smaller hill, the Strefi and the Museo (National Archeological Museum) and further away, the Areos Park. In the distance Mont Parnes (4631ft) stretches across westwards to Mt. Egaleo.
Southwest you see the Acropolis with Thissio and Philopappou Hill in the background, Faliron Bay and further still Piraeus and suburbs. Further west is Daphni Monastery and the suburbs of Egaleo and Peristeri.
Southeast overlooks the Zappeion in a sea of vivid green which is the National Gardens. The Panathinean white marble stadium (where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896) and further west the suburbs of Pagrati, Vyrona, and Kessariani, with University city in the distance before the imposing violet-hued Mt. Hymettus range.
Northeast are the green suburbs of Paleo Psyhico and Filothei, Agia Paraskevi and Holargos. In the foreground you will see Athens' first and only skyscraper, the Athens Tower, the Athens Hilton, Megaron Mousikis and the U.S. Embassy. Nearer still the Lycabettus Open Air Theatre where many concerts are held during the Athens Festival every summer. The backdrop is Mt. Penteli from where the marble for the Acropolis came and still visible are the chalk white cuttings where the quarries were.
Atop the hill a restaurant and pastry shop both with excellent panoramic views over the city are very popular with people who come for an ice cream or coffee or a good meal. Further downhill leading towards the south, is an ouzerie and snack bar which are usually more popular around sunset, the panoramic view being part of the attraction.
St George Day sees the celebration for the 19th century Chapel of St. George which perches on the hilltop like a cherry on the cake. At Easter time this is a very popular place for Athenians to celebrate the Resurrection.
By today, the first wild cyclamen will have sprouted and dispersed among the pine trees. By the 1st of May people will have climbed all over the hillside looking among the myriad wild flowers to choose their flowers for the "stefani" or wreath to place over their door for good luck. Lycabettus has always been a favourite getaway spot for busy Athenians and will probably attract nature lovers and idle strollers for many centuries to come. Its also a reminder of how much this city has sprawled.
If you are tired of crowded beaches filled with tourists or those cosmopolitan island bars, then maybe it's time to look into another way to spend your holidays.
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