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Parks and Green Walking Areas in Athens

Athens ever-increasing pedestrian streets and green areas are turning the city ento one of the most enjoyable in Europe. The Acropolis, Thission, the National Gardens, Psiri and the Plaka are all connected and this green area is being extended further and further.

Athens, Greece: Parthenon For such an unnatural setting as Athens, there is lots of open space and wildlife in the area around the Acropolis. Much of it is free and full of ancient ruins. There are miles of pathways to walk on and in the spring when the wildflowers are in bloom you can feel like you are out in the country or walking through an Athens that existed before the age of apartment buildings and traffic. There is a plan that is being carried out where all the archaeological sites will be connected by these wildlife areas and a series of pedestrian streets and you can see much of this coming into being on the road that separates the Acropolis from the neighborhood of Makriani, on the opposite side of the rock from the Plaka. What used to be a very busy street is now on it's way to becoming a park. There are even plans to take Amalias street and submerge it while at the same time exposing the ancient river which now runs under the city in a giant sewer-pipe.

Athens, Greece: Parthenon The area around the Acropolis is like a forest, with park benches, stray columns and stray dogs too. The area between the Roman Theater of Herod Atticus and the ancient theater of Dionysious is probably the most interesting and enjoyable in terms of coming across ancient stones and other evidence of the city's history.

If you walk from the entrance to the Acropolis down the hill bearing to your left and across the street you can climb the hill of Philipapou and spend hours wandering around the forests. This is where you can see some of the most impressive views of the Parthenon so be sure to have your camera with you. There are paths all over and this one section of wilderness goes on for miles. There is a quarry and a couple theaters, one for the Dora Stratou Dancers and the other for the Athens Sound and Light, and someone told me there is a waterfall but I have yet to find it. By the way, one of the best ways to spend an evening in Athens is to see the show put on by the works reknown Dora Stratou Dancers. Performances take place May through September at 10:15pm, with additional performances at 8:15pm on Wednesday and Sunday. There are no performances on Monday. You can buy tickets at the box office, Odos Scholio 8 in the Plaka, from 8am to 2pm and you can also buy them at the show. If you are using a travel agent they can get them for you too.

Athens, greece: Phillipappos The monument on top of Philippapos was built by the Romans in 114-116 AD in honor of Julius Antiochus Philopappos, a prominent consul and administrator and it is from here that you can get some amazing views of the city. If you walk down the hill past the Byzantine Church of Agios Dimitrios you will come to the hill of the Pnyx where such famous Athenians as Aristides, Demosthenes, Pericles and Themistocles used to speak to the Democratic Assembly in the 5th Century BC. Further on is the Hill of the Nymphs, where there is an observatory built in 1842 that used to be for watching the heavens until the haze of Athens made this impractical. Come here on Clean Monday after Apokreas (Carnival) and the whole mountain top is full of peope flying  colorful kites and there is even some live music going on. (See for some photos). On your way to the top keep your eyes open for what is known as the Prison of Socrates, carved into the stone face of the mountain. Whether it actually was the real prison or not I don't know but it certainly looks like it could have been so lets just let that myth continue. Actually the cave was a sanctuary of Pan. There are other caves in the rock, one of which was used to hide art and ancient artifacts from the Nazis during the occupation.

Pnyx Hill which is next to Phillipapos is considered the birthplace of Democracy because this is where the Athenians gathered to debate and govern the state of Athens. Though Athens was the first democracy there were problems that led to it's downfall which may look familiar to those of us who take an interest in current events. Athenian democracy was a great step foreword for mankind, however the rights of a citizen did not apply to all. Women were not recognized as citizens and there was a large slave population who had no rights and did all the hard work. But the key to the fall of Athenian democracy was their denial of the freedoms they enjoyed to the other city states which were under its protection from the Persian threat (which was more of a method to scare their neighbors than it was an actual threat). In the name of security, Athens built up political and military hegemony over the other Greek states, forcing them to make sacrifices that benefited only Athens. This led to thirty years of war with Sparta and in the end Athenian power and democracy was destroyed. But the decisions that led up to the war and those that were made during the war including the disasterous decision to invade Syracuse were made at the flat section carved into the rock called the Pnyx or Pnika.

Athens, Greece: Church of Saint Dimitrios the Bombardier It is also on Pnyx Hill that you will find the small church of Saint Dimitrios the Bombardier. In 1645 Yusuf Aga, commander of the Turkish garrison, planned to massacre all the Christians of Athens while they attended the celebration of Saint Dimitrios on October 26th. He ordered all the churches of the city closed so everyone would have to attend the small church on Pnyx Hill, which he would then bomb with all the gunpowder he had collected and stored in the Propylea on the Acropolis. The night before the celebration there was a big storm and lightning struck the Prolpylea, exploding the gunpowder and killing Aga and most of his family. From then on the church was known as Agios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris. The church contains a large number of carved marble pieces as well as an unusual wooden veranda.

Next to Pnyx hill is the Hill of the Nymphs, crowned by the observatory and the church of Santa Marina. It is believed that in ancient times this was the Hill of Hyakinthos and the nymphs were the yenethliai who protected women in childbirth. Saint Marina is the patron saint associated with childbirth and the practice of bringing honey as an offering to the nymphs was replaced by the practice of changing and leaving old clothes of sick children in the belief that by leaving the clothes the illness would leave the child. Some believe the nymphs are still active on this hill.

Athens Greece: Thission or temple of Haephestus If instead of walking to your left when you leave the Acropolis, you walk to your right you will pass Aeropagus Hill and the famous slippery steps. (In other words be careful). There is a fantastic view of Athens from the top of the rock and this is a popular spot for watching the sunset over Pireaus. Below is the ancient Agora and the Temple of Hephaestus, still intact and acres and acres of paths through the ruins of the ancient market of Athens. You can cut right though here and get to the Monastiraki Flea Market if you want to do some shopping. There is also a museum in the impressive replica of the Stoa of Attalos, the long building you can't help but notice from the hill. This was the place we used to go to be alone with our girlfriends or to do other things that we did not want adults to see us doing when we were highschool students in the late sixties.

Athens, Greece national Gardens To walk from the Agora all the way to the National Gardens you need cross only three main streets, by cutting through the Plaka on Adriannou street, taking a left on Kydatheneon street and crossing Fileninon and Amalias. You will find yourself in a tropical paradise of plants and trees that were at one time the private gardens of the King of Greece but now belong to the people. In fact it was in these very gardens in the year of 1920 that King Alexander was bitten by a monkey and died, an event that altered the future in a way that made it one of the most important events in Greek history, leading to the expulsion of over a million Greeks from Asia Minor and creating the Athens that we know of today. But that is a long story that should be covered elsewhere. There are no more moneys in the National Gardens and no more kings in Greece but there is plenty of wildlife, especially if you like ducks. If you pass through the gardens to Herod Atticus street you can see the old Palace, still guarded by the Evzones.

Athens, Greece: Olympic Stadium By going right down Herod Atticus or if you are in the gardens by following the signs towards Zappion you can pass through another area of trees, plants and flowers, cross busy Vas Konstantinos or Vas. Olgas and be at the first Olympic Stadium, built in 1896 and also surrounded by forests. If you walk to the top of the Stadium you will realize that it is level with the top of Arditos hill where health-minded Athenians jog in the late afternoon. Even if you don't feel like jogging there is a spectacular view of the Acropolis from up on the top. Below there is a cafe which serves excellent frappes and espresso and the area around it is where the children from the neighborhood come to play. This was the stadium used in the 2004 Olympics for archery and the end of the Marathon.

Athens Greece: LycavettosFrom the stadium you will notice a large mountain across the way, opposite the Acropolis. If you walk straight up Herod Atticus street and keep walking through Kolonaki , or just cut through the park, you will eventually come to Mount Lykabettos which is actually two mountains and miles and miles of trails and several cafes at the top or near it . If you don't feel like climbing up you can take a train to the top and walk down. There is a large variety of plants and trees and the views are spectacular, especially at sunset. There is a church at the very top and there is also a theater that has rock concerts during the summer. (I saw James Brown, Roy Harper and a very strange incarnation of The Byrds here. One night I arrived in Athens and I could hear Peter Gabriel from the city below while he was playing at Lykavettos.)

Athens, Greece: Galatsi On the other side of Patission is the mountain known as Galatsi. Unlike these other areas the top of Galatsi, though wooded is full of farms and houses and has a very third-world atmosphere. Not exactly a tourist destination and without a car difficult to get to, the mountain is covered in trees and the views are spectacular though the abundance of radio and phone antenae made me a little nervous about micro-waves. But there is a big park, a sports center and even a movie theater on the way to the top and lots of barking dogs.

The next time someone tells you that Athens is nothing but a concrete jungle you can give them a good argument.

This is the view from the top of Philipappos looking towards Pireaus

This is the path that goes down from the top of Lykabettus.

This is the view from the top of the Olympic Stadium

This is the view from Philippapos Hill. These are the Lees from NYC.

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