ATHENS – Panayioti Alexiou, who stands guard into the night atop Philopappou Hill overlooking Greece’s Capital, said he was shocked but not surprised when the latest incident of violence, the mugging of a Greek student who was living abroad but had returned home for a visit, turned deadly when he fell from a cliff trying to avoid three men who confronted him and a female friend.
“I have no gun, I must look for fires and protect the environment,” he said, near the little shack next to the Philopappou Monument, an ancient 32-foot high mausoleum dedicated to Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos who died in 116 A.D.
He’s across from the Acropolis atop a 482-foot high site, 173 acres of forested trails giving a commanding 360-degree view, a quiet and serene area – until being nearly overrun this year by gangs, many said to be unlawful immigrants, menacing visitors with force, demanding money and cell phones.
Despite that, there had been little police presence, few seen this summer afternoon, a week after the victim was confronted at a rock outcropping about 100 yards below the monument.and the victim was said to have fallen during a confrontation with the attackers, with three migrants picked up trying to flee the country.
“We threatened him with a knife and a broken bottle. He tried to avoid us and fell into a gap. We did not want to kill him,” the suspects in the students death said, police told Kathimerini.
“There are a lot of attackers here,” Alexiou, 61, told The National Herald as he stood outside his shack waving his arm around the area, pointing to the spot of the deadly attack.
“The police don’t go there,” he said. “I don’t feel scared, I just do my job and stay here,” he said, a veteran of 29 years of guarding the country’s archaeological sites.
With so many assaults having been reported in the months leading up to the deadly encounter, he said, “We were waiting for this (to happen). The area is not protected.”
Walking up the hill through rocky trails where it’s easy to slip, Anna Martines, 30, and her friend and fellow worker in a microbiology lab in Spain, Aisha El Bouudi, 23, said they were not aware of the danger or the incident.
“Now we’re scared,” she said, but not enough to stay away because the hill “has the best views of the city,” she said. Had she known of the death she said, “I would not have been reluctant. Bad things happen everywhere.”
Nearby, Mark Kleiber and his wife Monica Gabriel, from Germany, visiting the hill with their two children, had them stay off the top. “We were afraid of the kids with the cliff,” he said. Hearing the news of the deadly incident, he said they were undeterred, even with reports of muggings. “We were not afraid,” he said.
Getting to the top is not an easy trek. The trails are steep, rocky, with few handholds. The trees afford plenty of shade amid scrub brush. From the top, you can look across at lines of crowds snaking through the Parthenon and the Acropolis, but here you have few other people jostling for spot on a rock.
“For the perfect view across to the Acropolis, Mount Lycabettus and out to the Saronic Gulf, visit the monument and park on Philopappos Hill. You probably won’t have to share it with anyone else,” the British newspaper The Guardian advised.
That’s what drew Saradjini Lewis, 34, from The Netherlands, traveling alone and weary of the crowds on the Acropolis, attracted by the shade and green of the hill. “I was a bit tired of all the tourists. I saw this park and I thought how wonderful,” she said.
Hearing of the violence that had occurred, her face took on a different hue and she said she would tread carefully there, looking around to spot any potential trouble as a person alone among all the trees is easily isolated and a target.
“I would still come here but I would be more cautious,” she said, as a woman alone and with no help nearby for anyone who could be accosted and with so few tourists in the park even on a warm day when throngs are just outside.
It’s been a bad summer here. In June, police detained four people after an attack on a couple who said five people confronted them, two brandishing knives, robbing them of cash and other valuables, one of a number of assaults.
The victim’s mother wrote an open letter to related ministries and Athens municipal authorities, blaming them for failing to boost security around Philopappou Hill.
Labrini Moustaka said her son, who had been away from Greece for several years, “did not know about the dangerousness of that area, which you are to blame for creating and perpetuating.”
She said the government should provide more protection for citizens and tourists “rather than allocating half the police force to the protection of politicians and their families.”
After the death, senior police officers visited and said there would be regular patrols on foot and using off-road motorcycles, but the initial presence had police in a pedestrian walkway at the base of the hill, with the crowds, and this day there were none at the time among the trees or at the top where there were perhaps a dozen or so tourists – and with Alexiou watching out.
“I don’t feel secure,” he said. “But I must do my job and stay here.”