Athens….Hot weather is not my favorite, I am a Slav and Slavs deal better with the cold. However, once a year I have a mental eclipse and I book a summer vacation to a typical summer location. After spending the summer holiday in 2015 at the French Riviera, I promised myself that I would never again pick a super hot location for July or August. Months passed and I forgot the attack of 44C heat, and I booked my summer holiday, this time to Athens Greece.
As predicted, Greece was an oven this July. A heatwave is not an issue for those spending holidays at the beach or by the pool. But it is, for those wanting to be active. The heat is best felt when you have to climb. Climbing seems to add 15 degrees to the temperature, or at least this is how I feel. Those who have been to the Greek capital know that seeing Athens requires climbing, at least a few times.
One of the hills I climbed while the heat poured down from the Athenian sky was the Philopappos Hill. The hill is named after a monument erected at the top in honor of Roman senator Philopappos. But hold on a second … Roman? At first, glance seeing Roman names might seem a bit surprising in Athens – the capital of Greece, the ancient Hellas, the cradle of civilization. After a few moments of consternation, one realizes that Ancient Greece was a part of the ancient Roman Empire. But the hill has also a more Greek-like name – The Hill of the Muses. The Greeks believed that the hill was inhabited by the nine muses and that’s why it was named after them. The Philopappos Hill offers spectacular views of Athens and you can see from here as far as to the sea.
The climb didn’t look masochistic at first, but the heat and the sun made it an experience that I can compare to climbing a mountain. Okay, I exaggerate, but this is how I felt at that moment.
Between trees covering part of the hill, I found the Prison of Socrates. I can’t say that I found it amazing. It is just a cave with three barred holes. The hill is crisscrossed by the net of paths, but my travel partner and I sometimes cut the road by climbing the barren slopes of the hill. I’m not sure if it was a good idea, as it was much harder to climb steep slopes than follow a regular and quite flat path. My legs reminded me about this surprisingly fast. We didn’t meet many people on our way up. I think I could have to count them on the fingers of one hand. While catching my breath and begging my legs to stop protesting I saw a man climbing together with his daughter. That gave me a kick. If a kid could reach the top, I could as well. I just had to stop acting like a sissy. I also saw sweethearts climbing the stony path slowly. The boy helped the girl with her handbag and gave her a hand asking if she needed help. It was a really sweet picture. My picture wasn’t as nice. I was advised to clench my teeth and climb if I wanted to get water.
We did not see any Muses while climbing the hill, but we had other companions. The trees were full of cicadas. It is very hard to spot them, as they blend with the tree’s bark. Yet, it was very easy to hear them. There were thousands of them, and they literally screamed out of the trees. I guessed they must complain about the heat. At that time, I so wanted them to shut up, but now, when I’m back home, I kinda miss hearing them.
The aim of the climb and the reason for my suffering was the Philopappos Monument named after the Roman consul and senator Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos, a powerful aristocrat and friend of the Roman emperor Trajan. His monument, built at the highest point of the Philopappos Hill is now in ruins. The only things that remained are the niches with statues of Philopappus and his grandfather Antiochus IV. It is hard to imagine how nice a monument it once was. I saw it for the first time from the Acropolis grounds and the vision of seeing it up close and personal seemed very tempting. However, after a long climb and seeing the monument from as close as possible, something that looked amazing from afar had lost its charm.
If the remains of the monument would be the only thing to be seen here, I would have been terribly disappointed. But luckily for me, there is something more the top of the hill has to offer. It is a view. Not an ordinary view. A view of Acropolis. Acropolis itself is a marvel and gem but it has one drawback. You can’t see the entire Acropolis from Acropolis, but you can from Philopappus Hill.
I sat on one of the rocks, the hill was so polite to make available for those who got to the top and marveled at the view of one of the most known ruins in the world. Perhaps I would have stayed longer but the sun had no mercy and I needed some shade. Even more, I needed the air conditioning. At that moment I would have done almost everything for air conditioning.
On the way down I found a spring for drinking water. I hadn’t expected that cold water would make me so happy. But it did. The fresh drinking water tasted like ambrosia. Normally, I would think that it isn’t that safe to drink from these little fountains, but at that moment I didn’t care.
The Hill of the Muses neighbors with two other hills which are known as the Hill of the Nymphs – formerly the site of a shrine dedicated to the nymphs, and the Hill of the Pnyx, where people assembled in the sixth century BC.
The Pnyx, a hill just north of the Philopappos, is the birthplace of democracy. This was the place where citizens of Polis of Athens assembled ten times a year to listen to orators and make political decisions. This place, overlooking the Acropolis and with the city of Athens laid out below, is where debates were held. From the still visible Bêma , the podium, the leaders like Themistocles or Pericles spoke to the crowd, who were seated in a semicircle and listened.
The Hill of the Nymphs, the third of the hills, from the ancient years, was a sacred location dedicated to the nymphs. Even after Christianity came to this land and displaced the Olympian gods, it did not displace the nymphs who stayed alive through the traditions of the Greeks. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any. Maybe it was too hot for them as well.
Although climbing the hills seemed like an endless journey into the sun, the way back seemed to end before it started. My hotel was located basically at the foot of Philopappos Hill so every step was bringing me closer and closer to what was the most important, the air conditioning!
Despite the heat that flooded every centimeter of my body, I loved this place. Mythology is one of my hobbies. I love reading about Greek, Roman, Nordic, and my native Slavic gods and heroes. In Greece, myths turn into a reality. They are so close, they are at your fingertips. You almost feel like walking on the soil where Olympian gods walked. And even if you know that they were not real, the place feels quite special, the experience is quite special and you feel quite special as well.