People living in or visiting Athens tend to feel overwhelmed by the concrete nature of the city. The Athenian apartment buildings make up much of the city, cramming in the over 4 million residents of this metropolis. Natural vegetation may be hard to find, yet a little north of the centre is a green oasis waiting to surprise you.
Two mountains make up the highest part of the Attica basin. Standing at a height of 338 meters, are the Tourkovounia or Turkish Mountains. The mountains were given the name as a reminder of the siege of Athens by the Ottomans in 1456. Prior to that, the mountains were known as Wolf Mountains due to the many wolves that once roamed the area. In ancient mythology, it was believed to be the dwelling of the God Zeus from where he controlled the weather and sent his thunder and lightning into the world.
Amongst the many caves, steep rocky cliffs and boulders is the Attica Woods. Until the occupation of Greece in 1941, the mountains had a rich vegetation and wildlife. Much of it was destroyed due to human intervention, pollution and negligence. Restoration of the 230 acres of green space began in the 60s and well into the 70s. Over the years, the ecosystem was restored and became once again a natural habitat for Athenian wildlife, especially that of birds. There are about 95 species of birds, 26 of which reproduce locally. The vegetation includes plants that are typical of the local flora; such as low bushy plants, pine, cypress and olive trees. Since 2003, it became a protected green space and a natural escape for all Athenians to enjoy.
The mountains and the Attica Woods are now a centre of education, amusement, athletics and quiet afternoon walks. Students can have a learning experience walking through the rich vegetation, athletes can jog along the many paths and visitors can go on picnics. There are volleyball and basketball courts as well as small soccer fields and tennis courts. In addition, the city of Athens has initiated an annual festival during the months of July and August which attracts thousands of people. The Athens Festival includes theatre productions, live music shows, dance, children’s theatre as well as world-renowned artists. In an effort to make the events available to all citizens and visitors, most events have little or no entrance fees.
If you are renting an Athens apartment or an Athens studio in neighboring areas, such as Chalandri, Tourkovounia are definitely within view. During the Festival, there are buses from the centre of Athens that can take you directly there. You can easily check the website for the schedule of activities and events and plan your trip accordingly.
The highlight of every visit to these mountains is found higher up the winding roads. As you make your way up, you will come upon a clearing that hosts a cafe waiting for you to lay back and rest. Further up, and you will come upon the most magnificent view of the city; 360 degrees. The contrast of the rich vegetation, human activity and the sprawling city below is breathtaking and must not be missed.
So for those who claim that Athens has no beauty, all they need to do is spend the day at the two mountains that separate eastern part of the city from the western part. They are sure to change their minds.