A new lease of life for Lycabettus Hill: More vegetation, improved facilities

One ancient legend says Lycabettus Hill, central Athens’s most prominent landmark after the Acropolis, was formed when the goddess Athena accidentally dropped a large rock she was going to use for the construction of the Acropolis. Its name reflects a popular belief that the hill was inhabited by wolves («lykos» in Greek). These days, the wolves are of a different breed and a good reason not to wander the wooded tracks at night. Lycabettus is, at 277 meters, the highest point in Athens. When there is daylight, it is a pleasant place to break a sightseeing tour. After the trip to the top of the hill in the funicular railway (the «teleferique,» as it is known to Athenians), you can take in a panoramic view of the city, have lunch or a drink at the restaurant and visit the chapel of Aghios Georgios. Then, you can descend the paved path that brings you near the beginning of the funicular, or take one of the other paths that weave down the hillside through the woods. The slopes used deter walkers because of the rough terrain, undergrowth, lack of clear paths and the fear of running into characters with more on their mind than jogging or walking their dogs. After a 4-million euro cleanup and planting program by the Municipality of Athens, begun last year and due for completion this November, the hill is becoming greener and more accessible to the public. Lycabettus was devoid of vegetation until about 1880, when the first pine trees were planted. Now there are also cypresses, eucalypts, olive and carob trees, as well as a variety of shrubs. The city’s current planting program also includes Mediterranean vegetation such as lavenders, laurels and myrtle bushes, along with the hardy pyracanthus and chaste trees, particularly along the sides of the tracks. Low-voltage lighting that does not affect plants has been installed along the footpaths. The paths also have additional fire hydrants and the resurfaced roads, Athens Deputy Mayor Chronis Akritidis told Kathimerini English Edition this week. Construction of a walking-jogging track is almost complete. An underground irrigation system has also been installed, the playground is being refurbished and new benches and picnic tables added. «No concrete is being used, just stone and timber,» said Akritidis of the benches, paths and retaining walls. Two cafes lower down the hill, one near the church of Aghios Isidoros and the other on the other side of the hill near the playground, are also being restored. Opn-air theater The municipality’s jurisdiction covers most of the hill – except for the open-air amphitheater beneath the peak, the summit restaurant and funicular railway. The theater is the venue for a series of concerts during summer months. However, access is a major problem for many people who cannot make the uphill climb, either by the path or the winding vehicle road. The road to the theater from the ring road leads to a large parking lot that fills quickly on performance nights. Traffic police stop private cars from turning up the hill as soon as the lot is full, meaning a long and exhausting climb for all but the earliest arrivals. Some parking spaces are reserved for people with disabilities, but many members of the audience who consider themselves in reasonable physical shape are daunted by the uphill slog on a hot night. Taxis are allowed up, although not all are willing to make the climb. An alternative is to take the funicular to the peak and walk down the path to the theater. It means an uphill walk after the show, but it is not nearly as far as the hike down the other way, either to find your car (if you remember where you parked it) or to compete for a cab. Once upon a time, the Greek National Tourist Organization used to run a bus route up to the theater from the city center when performances were scheduled. Perhaps it’s time to revive that practice. The main uphill path and the funicular rail station are at top of Ploutarchou Street in Kolonaki. The funicular runs every half hour.

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