In the heart of Athens, crowded with six million people and choked by exhaust-spewing traffic and cacophony, it’s hard to believe you can find a place of peace and solitude. But rising from the maze of streets and modern buildings are the hills and mountains of Attica, and for a relaxing afternoon, a chance to escape the buzz of the city, and for a unique way of sightseeing Athens, a walk in the hills of Athens is worth the effort.
Flowers bloom along the pathways under the cool shade of fragrant pine trees. Bees hum in the yellow broom.In the quiet, with only the sound of distant voices carried on a warm afternoon breeze, you can’t imagine there’s a city below.You are alone with the birdsong. You are in the Athens of ancient times, centuries apart from the modern world.
The hill of most importance is the Acropolis(156m). This limestone plateau was used as a fortress by the Myceneans and later crowned with magnificent marble temples in Pericle’s time.It is the most visited of the hills of Athens. Every time I’m in the city I make a trip up the steep marble steps into the ancient area dominated by the Parthenon.You look down over the red-tiled rooftops of the Plaka, Athens’ oldest district and spot familiar landmarks like the massive remaining columns of the Temple of Zeus. The city stretches out for miles below, extending to the mountains of Parnassus and Hymettus.
Near by is a hill known as Philopappou, named for a prince of Syria who was exiled to Athens by the Romans and died there in AD 116. At top you will see a monument commemorating him.Not even such great heroes as Perikles were given this honor. This is also known as the Hill of the Muses (147m). From the tops there’s a view that sweeps from the Salamis Gulf to the Argolic Hills, I’ve spent many a pleasant afternoon here enjoying the scenery. You are almost at eye-level with the Acropolis, with a breathtaking view of the Propylaia and the Parthenon.
Access the trails and footpaths of Philappou from the Dionysiou Areopagitou, a pedestrian mall that skirts the south side of the Acropolis.Opposite the tea pavilion and the rustic chapel of Agiou Dimitriou, the footpaths wind up through the pine grove. Wild flowers grow along the flagstone paths in a profusion of color: scarlet poppies, magenta anemones, orange chrysanthemums and yellow daisies. Doves coo sleepily in the trees. Philappou is a place to meditate, to stroll, to walk your dog, to picnic.There are areas set aside where you can sit, entirely alone, and contemplate the marvels of this grand old city.
Below, the hill has caves, cisterns and tombs.The downward trail leads to the Pnyx (110m), the originally the meeting place for the ancient Assembly.On its rock-strewn tribunal great orators such as Demosthenes and Themistocles addressed the citizens of Athens.
Beside the Pnyx is Mouseion Hill. Themistocles’ Long Wall ran south from here leading to the port of Pireaus.Opposite the Pnyx is the Hill of the Nymphs, site of the Observatory.
One of the oldest cities in the World, dating back to 3000BC. From the founding city of the Olympic Games to Europe’s first Cultural Capital, Athens is steeped with historical insights, quirks, and features.
Aereopagus (the Hill of Mars)
Walk back around the base of Philipappou, turn up past the street of Areopagitou, along the path below the Acropolis. You will come to the stone-cut steps leading up to the Aereopagos. This was the seat of the supreme court of ancient Athens. On this ancient Hill of Ares, the Orestes, son of King Agammenon of the Trojan Wars fame,was called to account for the murder of his mother Klyntamnestra..When the Apostle Paul came here in the year AD 50, he addressed the Athenians referring to Christ as “the unknown god” to whom one of the many altars on the hill was dedicated. The kings of ancient Mycenaean rule are buried in long tombs under the flank of the Areopagos, and near the Cave of the Furies where Orestes took shelter, there are the remains of a little basilica dedicated to St. Dionysos, the Areopagite, one of Paul’s first convert.
Follow the lower path, below the Aereopagos north side, beside the ancient Agora.There are the remains of a residential area and a section of old wall.This path leads to Apostoulou Pavlou Street. If you continue along this modern road toward the west side of the hill, 100 meters from the ancient Agora, you will find the villa where Socrates may have spent his final hours.Among the finds on this site were several small vessels — just big enough to hold a fatal dose of hemlock — and a statuette of the famed philosopher who was condemned to death in 399 BC on charges of ‘impiety’ and ‘corruption of youth’. Among the ruins of the courtyard, poppies bloom and little birds sing in the olive trees.
Retrace your walk to the footpath Peripates, that circles the Acropolis past the ancient Agora, or continue down Apostoulou Pavlou Street to the trendy area of Thission where you can stop at a shady tavern for a refreshing drink.
On the other side of town, the Lykevitos Hill can be reached by foot, car or funicular railway. There’s a restaurant on the top where you can enjoy the incredible views of Athens. There’s also a theatre where national and international artists perform for concerts and festivals.
Below the hills, the city throbs with life, but you have been in touch with the past.You have seen Athens in the beauty that was of the ancient times. And you probably have gotten a good workout! Sightseeing Athens just isn’t as good any other way.