Queen Amalia’s park still provides a welcome oasis in the concrete jungle

In 1834, Athens was a small town, almost in ruins, which suddenly became the capital of the new Greek State. It was in that year that Queen Amalia conceived the idea of creating a large park worthy of the new capital, and with the generous support of her father-in-law, Louis I of Bavaria, she undertook the task of supervising the design and construction of the 12-hectare park that still stands on the site today. Before the park took root, the spot was a dry, barren wasteland. The foundation stone was laid in 1836 and after six years of intensive labor, was opened for the enjoyment of Athenians. With the help of Bavarian and French architects and botanists such as Gartner, Smarat, Barrault, Schmidt and Bayer and the invaluable advice of Theodoros Orphanidis, whose own famous garden was nearby, and of Karl Frall, the wasteland was transformed into a miniature paradise. Work proceeded only gradually as land had to be expropriated from its owners, rocks removed and the earth excavated and landscaped. Infrastructure had to be established, and wells drilled. Seven kilometers (4.5 miles) of pathways were laid and 15,000 ornamental shrubs planted. Of the 519 species of trees and shrubs, most (which some estimates put at 370, others at 420) were foreign imports from Genoa, others came from different parts of the world. A typical example of these imports are the tall California Washingtonias, just inside the entrance to the park. Many of the trees introduced in those years are still thriving, despite suffering from a lack of continuous care. The park remains a monument to nature within a particularly hostile urban environment.

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