Botanical Garden: Athens’ Overlooked Treasure

More than 500 species of plants and trees can be found in the Botanical Garden.

If you’re looking for peace and quiet the Athens Botanical Garden is the place to find it, even on Sundays, when children romp around its grounds.

Its 186 hectares of greenery are a haven for leisure-seekers and a popular jogging spot, as well as an ideal open-air classroom for creative teaching sessions.

The garden’s administrator, Athens University forestry professor Stelios Soulios, says that 30,000 students visit the Botanical Garden each year, with hundreds of neighbors making use of its grounds for a simple stroll on weekdays and weekends.

The world’ s first botanical garden was created in Athens in the 4th century BC by Aristotle’s student, Theophrastos, considered to be the founding father of botany.

“ Kept in the Botanical Garden’s herbarium are over 19,000 dried plant samples, while the foundation’s Genetic Bank hosts gametes from more than 800 species.”

In the area known today as Votanikos (which means botanical in Greek) Bavarian botanist Karl Nikolas Fraas founded modern Greece’s first such gardens around 1840, a small section of which still survives thanks to the University of Athens.

The Botanical Garden proper is located a few kilometers to the west, in Haidari, and it is the Eastern Mediterranean’s largest garden of its kind, named after its donors Ioulia and Alexandros Diomedes.

Its story begins around 1950, with Alexandros Diomedes’s decision to donate part of his sizable fortune to the University of Athens for the creation of a foundation in his name, administered by the university ever since. Diomedes’s dream came to fruition after a 1961 decision by the Ministry of Agriculture to grant the foundation a forested area, today’s Botanical Garden.

The grounds contain more than 500 species of flora. Bordering the park, one of Attica’s earliest pine (Pinus halepensis) and kermes oak shrub (Quercus coccifera) forests stands majestically, defying time. Mediterranean pine covers the garden’s vast expanse, artificially enriched with Turkish pine (Pinus brutus) and cypress (Cupressus sempervirens).

Of special interest to experts and amateur aficionados alike is the endemic chasmophyte plant, growing in the crags of the garden’s limestone hills. Visitors will surely appreciate the sight of resilient bellflowers (Campanula saxatillis), sprouting among sturdy rocks, Fritillaria lilies, wild cyclamen, winter lilies and numerous native orchids, adding their bold colors to the autumnal ochre. Kept in the Botanical Garden’s herbarium are over 19,000 dried plant samples, the majority of which were collected from nature reserves, while the foundation’ s Genetic Bank hosts gametes from more than 800 species.

Numerous research projects are carried out on the grounds of the Botanical Garden by the university’s graduate students, although the garden’s greatest contribution is its ability – thanks to University of Athens guided tours – to sensitize the younger generation to the beauty of nature and the urgent need to preserve it.

Originally published in Kathimerini newspaper

Iera Odos 403, Chaidari 
Tel.: (+30) 210.581.1557
Opening Hours:  Daily: 08:00 — 14:00
• Weekends: 10:00 — 15:00 
Free admission

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