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Path of the Wolves


MY FRIEND who is a psychic and I were sitting on a veranda overlooking the pine forest on Lykavittos Hill. She told me she heard wolves.

I did some investigating. Lykavittos means "where the wolves go," but the modern ancient Greeks in the know call it "path of the wolves." It is said that in Periclean Athens, wolves roamed freely on Lykavittos as this was their last haven in the Attica basin.

Nowadays it is thought that civilisation has made the wild and beautiful creatures extinct, but this is not the case. Sweet little Fluffy and Fido, who offer you their belly to stroke at home, get intoxicated by their ancestral wolf spirits and go for each other's throats when released from their leashes at the corner of Kleomenous and Irofilou Streets.

The screams of their owners and the yelping dogs can be heard clearly by the monks at Moni Petraki monastery in nearby Petraki street . The dogs' owners start running, either after their dogs or for refuge at St George church at the top.

Legend says that the goddess Athena tore Lykavittos Hill from Mt Pentelis to help fortify Athens . She fumbled it, as the Greek gods often did, and it fell to its present location where it has been ever since.

The ancient Greeks obviously respected wolves because they didn't build on this hill. The only ancient monument nearby, which was dedicated to Zeus, is on one of the little surrounding hillocks called Schisti Petra ("broken rock").

The church on top originally was called Profitis Ilias, or Prophet Elijah for English speakers. The name is not surprising, because this guy was probably the craziest prophet of them all if his churches are any evidence to go by. In Greece , at least, they all seem to be situated in dangerous mountain peaks or hazardous spots, probably inspired by his own exit from this life when he disappeared in a pillar of fire.

Once the last wolves had left for the surrounding mountains, the church was switched over to the not-so-crazy St George.

During this time, the place was reportedly barren until it was forested by man in the 1830s, when they also used quarried parts of it to build their neoclassical structures.

The captivating amphitheatre on top, where you can hear different kinds of howling during the Athens Festival, was built in 1965 at the same time as funicular railway. This is still used by those too unfit or afraid to hike the path of the wolves. It's well worth going up just for the stunning view and/or to catch one of the famous bands that come to town.

Lykavittos air is sweeter than the usual Athens asthma-inducing variety, which makes it an ideal place for the modern ancient Greek fitness fanatics to get in their early morning session sprinting in front of Fluffy's fangs at their Achilles heels. What makes me certain that the wolves are still there is that my dog is affected by the wolf spirit. When I unclip her leash at the edge of the forest, she takes off as if possessed by spirits. I have asked a number of other dog walkers if they've sensed the presence of wolves.

They look at me and edge away.

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