CULTURE

Diomidis Botanical Garden, a treasure of nature

diomidis-botanical-garden-a-treasure-of-nature

If you’re looking for peace and quiet, the Diomidis Botanical Garden is the place to find it, even on Sundays when children romp around its grounds.

Its 186 hectares of greenery are a haven for leisure-seekers and a popular jogging spot, as well as an ideal open-air classroom for creative teaching sessions.

The garden’s administrator, Athens University forestry professor Stelios Soulios, says that 30,000 students visit the Diomidis Botanical Garden each year, with hundreds of local residents making use of its grounds to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

One of the first known botanical gardens was created in Athens in the 4th century BC by Aristotle’s student, Theophrastus, considered to be the founding father of botany.

Around 1840, in the area known today as Votanikos (which means botanical in Greek), Bavarian botanist Karl Nikolas Fraas founded modern Greece’s first such gardens, a small section of which still survives thanks to the University of Athens.

The Diomidis Botanical Garden is located on the western outskirts of the city, in Haidari, and it is the Eastern Mediterranean’s largest of its kind, named after its donors Ioulia and Alexandros Diomidis. Diomidis served both as governor of the Central Bank of Greece  and as the country’s prime minister (1875-1950).

Its story begins in 1950, when Diomidis willed a part of his sizable fortune to the University of Athens for the creation of a foundation in his name, administered by the university ever since. Diomidis’s dream came to fruition after a 1961 decision by the Ministry of Agriculture to grant the foundation a forested area, the entrance to which is today located at 403 Iera Odos before the busy Athens thoroughfare joins Athinon Avenue.

The grounds contain more than 500 species of flora. Bordering the park, one of Attica’s earliest Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) and kermes oak (Quercus coccifera) forests stands majestically, defying time. The garden’s vast expanse has been enriched with Turkish pine (Pinus brutus) and Mediterranean cypress (Cupressus sempervirens).

Of special interest to experts and amateur aficionados are the endemic chasmophytes that grow in the crags of the garden’s limestone hills. Visitors will surely appreciate the sight of resilient bellflowers (Campanula saxatilis), sprouting among the sturdy rocks, Fritillaria lilies, wild cyclamen, winter lilies and numerous native orchids, adding their bold colors to the autumnal ocher. Kept in the Diomidis Botanical Garden’s herbarium are over 19,000 dried plant samples, the majority of which were collected from nature reserves, while the foundation’s genetic bank hosts gametes from more than 800 species.

Numerous research projects are carried out on the grounds of the Diomidis Botanical Garden by the university’s graduate students, although the garden’s greatest contribution is its ability – thanks to University of Athens guided tours – to sensitize the younger generation to the beauty of nature and the urgent need to preserve it.