Yesterday, I had an interesting adventure in Athens. I’ve been planning a visit to Lycabettus Hill, but it’s a steep climb, and the weather has been too hot. A substantial sea breeze made it seem deceptively cooler, so I decided to go for it. I took the Metro to Syntagma Square and walked the rest of the way.
To Mask or Not To Mask?
I’m getting fuddled about when to wear and not wear a face mask. I often forget to put my mask on until already inside the Metro station. Then, when walking outside in the heat, I forget it’s OK to take it off!? I’ve learned to carry several masks, because I keep losing them! Restaurants now require scanning a vaccine passport for inside dining – does that mean masking between bites? Although I have a document for scanning, I much prefer maskless outside dining. Thankfully, during summer all Greek cafés and restaurants have outdoor seating.
It appears that Moderna covid boosters are coming. Of course, I’m wondering where to get one, as I have no plans to return to the US for a while. Maybe the old saying, “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” applies?
Seven Hills of Athens
Mount Lycabettus is the tallest of Athens’ seven hills. Like the Acropolis that it towers over, “Lycabettus rises abruptly out of the middle of the city, visible from almost everywhere”. Views from the top are said to be the best in Athens, with jaw-dropping panoramas of the entire city, its suburbs, and the Aegean Sea.
According to Greek mythology, “Goddess Athena yearned for her temple on the Acropolis to be closer to the sky, so she seized a large rock to place on top of the Acropolis. While carrying it, she received startling news and dropped (oooppps) the 278 meter-rock, creating Mount Lycabettus”.
When I got off the Metro in Syntagma Square, the government buildings were swarming with police, and I noticed more guards placed sporadically throughout central Athens. So far, I haven’t seen any demonstrations, and didn’t understand why such a large police presence was necessary. I vividly remember a 2013 visit, when EU austerity protests were a daily occurrence in Athens, with riot-geared police stationed everywhere.
Even with Google Maps, I got off track a few times and asked the police for directions – they spoke minimal English, but were helpful. One insisted on walking with me to identify a partially-hidden turning point, and make sure I didn’t run amok.
Funicular and Fires
You can take the Teleferik Funicular up Mount Lycabettus, but that seems like cheating. I definitely wanted to climb on my own. One big downside to the funicular is that it “moves inside a closed tunnel, so there’s no view”.
After climbing what seemed like a gazillion steps, just as I was about to scale the final hill and pass through a pine forest, I noticed police everywhere! I asked them what was up, and was advised that the summit of Lycabettus was closed to the public as a fire precaution – #*%@!
Oh well, I needed the exercise, even if I couldn’t complete the climb. Despite the disappointment, I enjoyed the outing and a brief glimpse of the highest hill in Athens. It’s unknown how long the summit will be closed. Hopefully, I can complete the climb before leaving Athens.
Lycabettus Hill is located in upscale Kolonaki Neighborhood, where there are expensive homes and interesting cafés, shops, and locals. During the Classical Period, the hill was “covered by dense vegetation, and the top was crowned by a temple honoring Greek God Zeus”. After the Turkish occupation, Lycabettus Hill became deserted.
“Lycabettus means ‘Mountain of Wolves’ in ancient Greek. It’s believed that the natural elevation was once inhabited by wolves.” introducingathens.com
Flora, Fauna, Orthodox Chapel of St. George
Between 1880 and 1915, the area was re-planted. Today, it’s a habitat for native trees and plants. Covered with Mediterraneo Aleppo pine trees, the hill is known for its flora and fauna, including Greek tortoises. At the top, there’s a semi-circular amphitheater and the Orthodox Chapel of St. George.
On the way to Lycabettus Hill, I discovered the Athenian Trilogy on Panepistimiou Avenue! Stunning statues of Athena and Apollo “guard the three-building complex“. The splendid trio “epitomize neoclassical architecture in Greece“. The buildings were designed by the Danish von Hansen brothers – Hans Christian and Theophil – and built between 1864 and 1890.
“These three buildings have seen it all – from the urban planning visions of Greece’s first King Otto and the star architects of the time, horse-drawn carriages making way to trams and later cars, to apartment buildings popping up on all sides, and the evolution of Athens into a modern metropolis, complete with demonstrators, official guests, and distinguished academics, migrants, students, drug addicts, and peddlers.”
Artists throughout Europe participated in the trilogy project, which was initially financed by King Otto, and embellished by wealthy Greek businessmen. The buildings are “filled with magnificent art, murals, and statues”.
On the eve of a major Greek national holiday, Assumption, the trilogy buildings were closed, so I couldn’t go inside. I plan to tour them on another day and also visit the Stathatos Museum of Cycladic Art.
The Athenian Trilogy buildings include:
National and Kapodistrian University of Athens – first of the trilogy was constructed in 1864. It contains the Great Hall of Ceremonies, painted by Polish artist Eduard Lebiedzki. The Hall is where formal events of the University of Athens take place”.
Murals in the portico “depict King Otto, Greece’s first king and the University’s primary donor”. They’re surrounded by the arts and sciences personified in classical attire. Wealthy benefactors Simon Sinas and Nikolaus Dumba helped finance the murals. They were designed by Austrian artist Carl Rahl, and Polish Eduard Lebiedzki painted them after Rahl’s death.
Academy of Athens – is “regarded by many experts as one of the most beautiful neoclassical buildings in the world”. The Academy was “inspired by the Propylaea of the Acropolis, and the result of the efforts and talents of many European artists”.
Like the Library, the Academy also has beautiful murals inspired by Gods on Mount Olympus and ancient Greek scholars. It’s a major Athenian landmark and considered the “highest research establishment in the country”. The Library is supervised by the Greek Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs.
National Library of Greece – was created by architect Theophil Edvard Freiherr von Hansen to “complement the Academy building on the far side of the University”. The mission of the National Library is “preserving Hellenic intellectual heritage by locating, collecting, organizing, and describing the perpetual evidence of Greek culture”.
Impressive Greek neo-classical sculptor Leonidas Drosis created the Academy of Athens’ “principle multi-figure pediment”. His work is based on the Greek Myth, The Birth of Athena and a design by Austrian painter Carl Rahl.
Drosis also created the spectacular figures of Athena and Apollo with lyre on the Academy’s flanking pillars. Equally impressive “seated marble figures of famous Greek philosophers Plato and Socrates, were created by Italian sculptor Piccarelli“. The figures are enthralling, and I spent quite a bit of time admiring them!
It was a satisfying day in Athens, a beautiful city with so much to experience! I recently discovered a small Italian restaurant near my apartment and headed there for dinner. A day of walking was good enough excuse to eat pasta!