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Athens' Natural Skyscraper

221128-acropolis Acropolis view from Mt. Lycabettus

Unlike most other metropoles Athens has so far resisted skyscrapers, the idea being not to block one of the best views in the world, especially if you are fond of direct democracy, the Parthenon. (The military dictatorship (1967-74) that was not particularly fond, did allow two tallish buildings!). In this spirit, a court last month ordered a naughty hotel developer in Koukaki, near the old city, to demolish the hotel's top 2 floors. But there is a skyscraper standing here for many millions of years, Mt. Lycabettus, a natural skyscraper (277m, a steep hill with two peaks) right in the middle of the city, the world's oldest or second oldest (cf. Damascus) continuously inhabited capital, as that has expanded in all directions. Mt. Lycabettus name origins are lost in pre-history, but are probably related to twilight (lycavges), wolf (lycos) "path of the wolf?", or the hop (lyciscus) the herb used in beer - Lycabettus was celebrated in antiquity for its herbs. If you are in Athens just for a few hours, or just for orientation purposes, climbing Mt. Lycabettus is the quickest and greenest way to see the city. It takes a 15-20 minutes walk to reach the base from Syntagma square and another 15-25 to hike to the top, depending on fitness level. Those with sharp eyes, clear glasses, or a clear view of history and geography will spot, apart from the Acropolis, the Temple of Hephaestus, the National Garden, the Parliament, the 1896 Olympics all-marble stadium, the old town 'Plaka', and of course the blue sea of the Saronic gulf with Aegina island and Salamis, where the famous naval battle took place, and all too frequently in recent years, a mega cruise ship entering Piraeus. There are many circular and shady paths, mostly enjoyed by joggers and people with dogs, as well as steep paths all the way to the 18th c. chapel of St. George at the top (the place to be during Easter celebrations), along with an expensive restaurant. The smart, affordable choice is the newly reopened cafe-bar 'Prasini Tenta - Green Tent' preserving the original name when it was just a green tent serving ouzo and meze in 1931! Off season and early on a Saturday morning there were a few people, mostly locals. Courteous service, with a wonderful aromatic mountain tea in a generous-sized kettle with a biscuit at Eur 4.50. Amazing views and subtle house music included. If you have time, you may also visit the medieval temple of Hagioi Isidoroi inside a small cave used for worshipping since time immemorial. The large open air Lycabettus theatre, a temporary structure built with iron and wood in 1964 at the site of an old quarry, just below the peak, shut in 2008 due to safety fears, will be renovated and reopen by Summer 2023, according to the Mayor of Athens. It seems Athens will finally get a couple of regular, some say banal, skyscrapers thanks to the coastal Ellinikon mega-project at the site of the old airport near Glyfada. Hopefully they will not be too visible from the natural skyscraper, with a little help from its taller brother, Mt. Hymettus (1026m).

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