Experience Lycabettus Hill

A hill full of contradictions and adventures from the days, but especially the nights of the Athenians. Once it almost became a casino. Once it almost looked like a hill in some Bavarian town. Once it was a well-known pasture. Once it was the headquarters of the anti-aircraft defense. Once half of Athens was made of its stones, and once a monk who wore no robes lived on top of it. The great balcony of Athens, which counts millions of visitors from all over the world and hundreds of concerts, is always present in the history and everyday life of the capital. The panorama of Athens, this stone giant, has watched it all from above and still remains a place of love, romance, companionship and psychoanalysis.

LONG TIME THEATRE, CONFERENCES, FAMILIES, FUN, corporate lunches, romantic dinners, tourists, Kolonaki, Exarchia, cable cars, canteens, taxi drivers running away from their post, couples legal and illegal, peeping Toms, dog walk, bike ride, walk on foot, romantic dates, first kisses, cannon fodder, stray cats, kangaroos on motorbikes, black pomegranates from burnt tyres and recently drive-ins. These are some of the images that come to mind when we hear the word “Lycabettus”.

Lycabettus, too, is the company at night or lonely people, like Mrs Vasiliki, who told us that she has been going up once a week alone for 25 years, winter and summer. It’s the destination after a night out when you don’t want to go home just yet. It’s the student late night of discovery and angst. It is the watchful observatory, the panorama of the big city that hears so many stories, sees everything and forgives everything. It is the hill that has seen Athens change faces, lose its rivers, be breached with tons of concrete. He is the stone giant who gave his body so that the capital could make its stone buildings. He is our forgotten grandfather who smiles when he sees fireworks. It’s the steamy windows on the cars of lovers. It’s the memories of sweaty concertgoers.

A major attraction for thousands of Athenians every year on the hill was the theatre, which remains closed. For four decades, when someone said they were going up to Lycabettus in the summer months, they were asked what concert they were going to see. For the last twenty years they’ve been asking if it’s a wedding or a christening.

Lycabettus hill is the teacher who will teach you better about Athens and you will probably love it a little more, as you gaze at its beauty without the noise. How many people will have made the big decisions of their lives on the hill! How many have stayed up laughing and how many have cried with beers from the canteen. In the last few days the canteen owner has been angry after seeing a police car come up early in the evening and chase people away to keep them from crowding!

How could the goddess Athena have imagined, when she dropped the rock she carried from Pallene to protect the Parthenon, that this famous hill, with its rich history and photographs travelling to the ends of the world, would become this famous hill, with the capital city as its backdrop and not the Katsikadika, as Kolonaki was once called because it was full of goats. Mythology says that while he was on his way back from Pallini, from where he had scraped a large rock to protect the Acropolis, he was informed of the birth of Erethion by the daughter of Kecropa (according to another version, the information was carried by a crow, which is why crows later became black). So, from the shock she felt at hearing the news, the rock fell from her hands. There are other mythological versions, but this is the most prevalent. One will wonder why she didn’t pick it up again to take it a few feet further down when she recovered from the shock – that’s how far she had carried it. But, okay, this is no time to deconstruct Greek mythology.

Hesychius of Alexandria, the 5th century BC lexicographer, reported that the name Lycabettus came from the expression “lycovite dyke” because of the wolves that had nests in many places. Another version states that the name comes from the wolf-light, while some historians attribute it to the Peloponnesian word ‘lukabetou’. Etymologically, Lycabettus is the rock on which the light (lyc) ‘goes’ and ‘atti’, i.e. rushes, at the moment when the sun rises.

At one time, in the area where the large parking lot is today, there were basketball courts – the oldest people may remember them (ask your grandparents). Once upon a time, you would hear rock and metal in the bandstand from young people gathering to have a beer and a cigarette. A few years later you’d hear dog songs and in recent years you’d hear trap. Over the years the music changes, but the groups remain the same average age. Up until the 1950s, Athenians would go up the hill taking food to spend the day there and light a candle to St. George at the top. At the edge of this peak once stood the “lantern of peace” or the “star of Athens”, as they used to say.

At 277 metres (1,000 feet) in altitude, Lycabettus Hill would be the highest in Athens (as it is often referred to) if it were not for the Turkovounia, which is higher by about 70 metres.

A major attraction for thousands of Athenians every year on the hill was the theatre, which remains closed. For four decades, when someone said they were going up to Lycabettus in the summer months, they were asked what concert they were going to see. For the last twenty years they’ve been asking if it’s a wedding or a christening.

Some climb up the highway to the great plateau for romance, others from the south side path and others from the east side path. Mostly tourists or those who want to go to the dining areas choose the cable car.

This is pretty much a description of the famous Lycabettus. But there is also the unknown. At some point in the trees we found a makeshift wooden swing tied to a pine tree, where you can swing and gaze at the Athens Tower (I wonder who made it? If you’ve discovered it, leave a comment). Behind the rock at the back of the theatre is a huge metal staircase with more than 150 steps. If you take a good walk from the left, as you face the theatre, or on the descent, by car, in a clearing on your left hand side, you discover a garden of carob trees, eucalyptus and other trees, which you can’t see and surprisingly was one of the cleanest parts of the hill. For more observant and mystery lovers, there is a large shelter in the bowels of the huge rock. It is 100 metres deep and was constructed in 1936 “with a view to the safekeeping of either the archives of the state or ‘high’ persons of national interest, in cases of high risk emergencies”. In World War II the climb was dangerous. Around the hill the Germans had placed mines which were removed after liberation.

The unknown Lycabettus has turtles courting away from the eyes of passers-by, it has a small spring from which water runs continuously (without a tap), it has the notorious, once arbitrary “Green Tent”, which is operating again under new management after seventeen years.



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