The city of Athens sits cradled between two almost parallel and seemingly endless mountain ranges. The range to the east stretches far down the coast, reaching the most southern Athenian neighborhoods. This historic and venerable mountain range is called Hymettus, and has been mentioned in myths and stories for millennia. Its highest peak stretches over a thousand meters into the sky and forms the picturesque and towering backdrop to this ancient city.
Its vegetation and springs supported the life and work of ancient Athenians, as the water and plant life flowed down into the valley that housed the ever-growing city. The mountain is home to a diverse array of plant and tree species. In certain parts it is a mountain paradise with dense forests of pine trees, while in other parts it is a true Mediterranean haven of olive trees. Its natural beauty is heightened even more through the abundance of herbs and wild flowers that fill the land, like poppies, chamomile, rosemary, and oregano.
The Ilissos river that still runs through Athens, although now underground due to urban planning, is fed from springs originating on Mount Hymettus. This historic river touched the hands of legendary scholars and teachers like Socrates and Plato.
The river was the site of many temples and places of worship for gods and demigods and the mountain is still a source of spiritual protection, as it houses many monasteries and churches in its hills and forests. One of the best known is the Monastery of Kaisairiani, located up the mountain adjacent to the neighborhood Kaisairiani. From the center of town, follow the road by road called Leoforou Eth. Antistaseos east towards Hymettus mountain and it will take you to this enduring place of worship. If you passed the Kaisairiani Fire Lookout Station, you are heading in the right direction.
The Monastery of Kaisairiani was established in the Early Christian era, although it is suspected the area was also used to worship the ancient Gods, like Aphrodite. The current structure we see today was built around the 11th century. This holy place has witnessed the ever-evolving state of Greece, surviving wars and oppressive occupations. Its library once housed manuscripts from ancient thinkers, but these unfortunately did not survive the hard-won battle for independence and freedom. All was not lost however, as the monks who inhabited the monastery found ways to sustain their lives on the mountain. They became bee keepers and began producing and selling their fresh honey. This is a practice common to many Greeks who have plots of land in the mountains throughout Greece, and can set up organized bee hives.
Behind the monastery is a gorgeous and well-kept botanical garden. It features name tags for each of its treasured plants and a leisurely path around the garden. Be mindful of the hours of operation of the monastery, as the garden is included as part of the property and may be locked after a certain hour. If you’re hungry after your visit, there are picnic tables and the municipal snack stand Kalopoula just down the road from the monastery. Feel at ease leaving your car at the parking lot located on the road about 650 meters before the snack stand.
Surrounding this monastery is a protected forest, which houses several other smaller churches or ruins of churches and structures. Walk along the extensive and secluded hiking trails organized on the mountain to discover these ruins. The hiking trails that line Mount Hymettus reach all the way to the summit. Beginning at the Monastery of Kaisairiani, the trek should take about two hours, give or take depending on how many times you stop to soak in all the views.
As you ascend the heights of the mountain you will be met with a panoramic view of Athens facing to the west. It is not wise to go through these hiking trails in the evening or night hours, as it could put you in a challenging situation in the dark and secluded forests away from immediate help. The paths are straight in some stretches, and winding in others. Be mindful, if you decide to hike these trails, that some parts might be steep and difficult. Always bring adequate amounts of water and other first aid and wilderness supplies you may need.
If you are not interested in hiking the trails, there’s also a road that leads up towards the peak of the mountain. Beware of a fenced off area at the end of the road, as this plot is the site of a group of large cell phone towers. The surrounding area is a vast space dotted with rocky paths and edges as well as green shrubbery and grass. It is classified as a wildlife park and gives the adventurer the feeling of total seclusion from the nearby bustling city. Along this road there are a few areas that have space to pull your car over and park for a minute. From that angle, you can catch the sunset as it paints the whole city with its colors.
The mountain is the backyard for many neighborhoods and developed areas in Athens. At its base sits one of Athens’ esteemed universities, the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. But it is also home to incredible geological features, like the Peania ‘Koutouki’ Cave located on the west side of the mountain on the outskirts of the town Paiania. Open for tours, you are able to explore this incredible display of stalagmites and stalactites. Schedule this as your morning or afternoon excursion as the cave closes around three in the afternoon. It’s a nice activity to add to your exploration of Mount Hymettus as ticket prices are minimal, listed online as only two Euro per visitor. From the west side of Mount Hymettus, you have views of major towns like Koropi, as well as Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in the distance. The west side of the mountain does not have organized and maintained hiking trails as the east side does. Any excursion up the mountain should be approached with caution and careful planning.
BREATHTAKING VIEWS OF ATHENS AND THE COAST
The views of Athens city from Mount Hymettus are truly unique. It’s a metropolitan paradise located on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Unlike many other European cities, Athens has a generally classic and simple architecture throughout the city. As you stand on Mount Hymettus far from the noise and car pollution, you are gifted with the sight of this sea of white buildings almost pieced together like a puzzle. In-between the residential and commercial buildings that all seem to blend together, the jewels of the city stand tall and stand out. Atop the Acropolis, you have a clear view of the Parthenon, framed in front of the other endless mountain range to the west. As you look a little more to your right, you see the sharp peak of Mount Lycabettus, and the outline of its little chapel of St. George on its peak. High up on Mount Hymettus you see Athens in all its beauty, with all its distinct hills and peaks, and endless views of white buildings and urban jungles. The climb may be difficult, but the view from the top is sure to become a treasured memory.