As with many areas surrounding the city of Athens, their existence or settlement has been mentioned in ancient texts and records. In the suburbs north of Athens center is the town of Kifissia, known in antiquity as Cephisia. The town is located about twenty-five kilometers from the center of Athens, and sits at the base of Mount Pentelicus in Eastern Attica. Accounts state that Kifissia was a gathering place for philosophers and bright minds.
During the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian in the second century AD, a Greek scholar named Herodes Atticus was appointed the high rank of consul in the Roman government. Herodes remained close to his Greek roots and beliefs and eventually returned to Athens. He built a beautiful villa oasis in the area that we know today as Kifissia. He was born in Marathon on the other side of Mount Pentelicus from Kifissia. A densely wooded and green area, and therefore cooler than the more southern center of Athens, it was at this secluded home called Villa Cephisia that Herodes would give lectures and instruction to young people interested in philosophy and the arts. It was a gathering place for the elite and the leaders of the city.
During the Ottoman occupation, Kifissia became a melting pot of Greek and Muslim inhabitants. The area then had a dedicated space for a church and also a mosque.
Kifissia would again be vulnerable to people seeking to occupy Greece during the Second World War and the Nazi invasion. During the Cold War era, Americans also had their military forces stationed in Kifissia along with other areas of Athens. The Americans brought with them certain delights from home, like a movie theater and a restaurant bar that served American dishes. Despite often unwelcomed visitors and the terrors of war, Kifissia remained one of most affluent neighborhoods in Athens, perhaps thanks to its complex history.
Kifissia is still considered a privileged area today owing to its roots of affluence and old money. It is home to many Greek celebrities and influential people in a wide range of industries. Kifissia is about a twenty-minute drive from the center of Athens and is reachable through trolley bus service from the Monastiraki metro station. The first thing you will notice when you reach Kifissia is how much breezier it is than the center of Athens. This is thanks to the abundance of greenery and trees scattered throughout the historically appealing town. The narrow brick lined streets dotted with fully grown trees remind me of a colonial city street that can be found in Philadelphia or Boston. The architecture and overall design of the town and its streets gives an air of a classic and affluent Greece, one many of us may have only heard of but have not yet seen.
This near but far seeming neighborhood of Athens has all the life of the city. There is a variety of restaurants and bars offering vegan dishes, sushi, and other trendy eats, along with the traditional and classic.
It is a popular hangout area for people from all demographics, due to the clean open streets lined with shops, trees, and beautiful buildings. If you are interested in shopping, Kifissia is a good place to spend the day browsing and buying gifts for yourself and your loved ones back home.
For those who enjoy history, Kifissia has plenty of cultural monuments and museums. The Goulanris Natural History Museum is located at the intersection of Levidou and Othonos streets, and aims to educate about the importance of our connection to the natural environment. The museum provides educational programs for kids, as well as creating publications and contributing to research that aims to understand and enhance our handling of our natural resources. If your need for history and culture is to actually be out in nature, then you will enjoy Sygrou Grove, located at the edge of Kifissia. It is a fairly large-sized dedicated green space dense with trees and plants, with winding walking trails throughout. More towards the center of town you can also enjoy the park Alsos Kifissias, with gravel paved walkways and decorative fountains and statues. If you are planning to visit Athens but want to stay in a quieter area, Kifissia is perfect for you. There is a large selection of accommodations, some are affordable and others are more upscale.
The area north of Kifissia is called Ekali, and is home to the very wealthy. Here most residences are full-size homes with yards and pools, much different from the largely populated and squished apartment buildings in the center of Athens. Ekali is primarily a residential area with many green spaces and a swanky country club. It sits at the base of Mount Parnitha, which hugs the northeastern side of Athens. As you continue towards the forests on Mount Parnitha, you will discover that this was once the home of immense wealth, surpassing anyone who lived in Kifissia or Ekali.
In the forests at the base of the mountain, stands in infamy the Tatoi former royal palace. Younger generations may not know that Greece was once a monarchy up until its abolishment in 1973. It was in these forests now known as Tatoi, that the royal family built their sprawling estate. The whole estate stretches over 10,000 acres of land and is hidden within the largely untouched pine forests. The property was purchased by King George I in 1872 and was purposed as a summer escape from the city, just forty-five minutes and 30 kilometers away. It was more than a palace; it was more like a small village and featured many luxurious amenities. The property had its own vineyard, stables, churches, and even its own cemetery where many of the royal family have been laid to rest.
This mountain paradise would only house the Greek elite for less than one hundred years. In 1967 a military coup overpowered the monarchy and forced them into exile. From them on, the property and all its buildings and facilities would sit in ruin. Today, overgrown paths lead to some of the buildings but the main residence has been blocked off. Getting here is only accessible by car or bike, as no major public transport station reaches this far up the mountain.
The still accessible ruins are reachable through secluded wild paths. The entrance closest to the main residence is adjacent to the Forest Friends Group building on the road Tatoiou. There are no markings that indicate the entrance, so it is a matter of exploring. Exercise caution when entering these paths as some may be labeled private property. The growth of trees and plants may obstruct some paths and lead to dead ends. If you do manage to follow the path to some of the abandoned buildings, it is advised not to enter any of them as the foundations are not stable and this could be dangerous.
After decades of neglect and failed attempts to preserve the palace and create a museum, the buildings still sit in ruin. The New Democracy government lead by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has expressed plans to revive the once dreamy palace estate. The development could become a popular place of interest and historical education. The surrounding forest is lush with trees and life and has trails for hiking or biking.
Kifissia and its surrounding areas have a long and even ancient history of richness in culture and material wealth. It is still a neighborhood of Athens but feels like a distant forest, a suburban haven. Kifissia is great for a day of shopping, enjoying a quality dining experience, and exploring the history and culture of the town. For nature lovers, its proximity to Mount Parnitha and its forests is a bonus. Athens spreads far and wide past the Acropolis and has a unique gathering of towns and neighborhoods, each town having its own history and charm. The next time you are in Athens, branch out a little further – you will be in awe over what you discover.