The pink bicycle was leaning against the trunk of a tall eucalyptus tree and a young child was playing quietly on the edge of the riverbed. Once in a while, he would show his mother a well-formed rock, and she would take it and place it next to the others already in the water, creating a passage.
My dog, Roxy, was just as happy and carefree. It was on our walks that I got to know Halandri Creek better, during the first lockdown. And this is where we returned, once again.
One can access the creek from many points, either from Pendelis Avenue (from Dasous and Kifisou streets), from Profitis Ilias and Rododafnis streets, from Kosta Varnali Street and others.
A circular route stretches almost 4.5 kilometers, though how long the walk will take you depends on whether you follow the pathways along the riverbank, or whether you opt for those through the woods and along the riverbed. Unfortunately, it is not possible to walk directly alongside the creek from one end to the other, as there is fencing and obstacles that block the way and force you to take detours.
SOS Rematia, the Association for the Environmental Protection of Pendeli-Halandri Creek, has recently published a map of the creek for walkers (available here as a pdf although all text is in Greek). The paths that lead to dead ends have been marked with red dots.
There are stone embankments along the creek near the bridge on Gyftopoulou Street just before it disappears into the earth. From there, we walk uphill to Varnali and to Dasous Street, next to Pendelis Avenue, an ideal spot for picking up coffee and snacks to go.
Arriving at Nymfon Street, wooden steps lead back down to the creek. We cross the metal bridge towards the opposite bank, a large plateau under the church of Profitis Ilias, which has benches and picnic tables. This is a safe place with easy access for people with disabilities or prams, where children can play and dogs can run free; it also plays an important role in the event of flooding.
If you are partial to birdwatching, look up and try to locate the wild parrot nests – they look like straw and hang from the tall pines. From here to Dafnidos Street, many of the paths lead to dead ends.
But on the next portion of the route, from Dafnidos Street to the Polydroso district, you will see young and old alike engaging in a variety of activities such as mountain biking, running and walking in an area without too many challenging inclines.
Walking along this route offers opportunities to discover the hidden treasures of this natural wonder. Throughout much of the year the ground is covered in acanthus plants, the leaves of which inspired the famed Corinthian capitals of ancient columns.
You will also notice that among the pine, cypress, eucalyptus, olive and almond trees, just to mention some of the flora found around the creek, you will see plenty of ailanthus trees. This particular tree, native to China, came to Greece from America when Queen Amalia wanted to fill the Royal (now National) Garden with ornamental plants. It propagates very easily, and thus there are hundreds growing here today.
Continuing our walk, always in the direction of the Attiki Odos motorway, the route is equally pleasant no matter which riverbank you choose to walk along. We enter the bed of the creek to observe the ruins of an aqueduct, the stone piping that was discovered when sections of the slopes collapsed.
Walking along the bridge at Evripou Street, we continue down to Kifisou and turn onto Rododafnis Street, heading back. This section of the creek is very well kept, as SOS Rematia and other associations regularly organize volunteer clean-ups.
The descent to Varnali Street is uninterrupted, a fast and pleasant walk.
The construction of Hadrian’s Aqueduct was begun in AD 134 by Roman Emperor Hadrian and was completed in AD 140 by Antoninus Pius.
The discovery of lanterns near Kifisias Avenue led to the uncovering of the aqueduct, now part of Halandri’s cultural heritage. The municipality has managed to obtain 3 million euros in funding from the EU’s Urban Innovative Actions initiative (UIA) to preserve and showcase the site.
In antiquity, the creek was the northern border of Demos Flias (a subdivision of Athens, corresponding to modern-day Halandri) with Demos Athmonon (modern-day Maroussi), as the ancients used natural landmarks to delineate their borders.
Athens still has rivers
“Parks are the key to good public health and to the environmental health of cities,” I had read in an article during the first lockdown. “A 10-minute walk can improve our physical condition, reduce the risk of chronic diseases and help in brain and memory function,” experts state.
Of course, I am aware that Halandri Creek is not as impressive as Central Park in New York, for instance. But on my Sunday walk I remembered the British architect who, impressed by the small, neighborhood parks that dot urban centers throughout Greece, adopted the idea and proposed it in a public spaces competition in New Zealand.
Perhaps the time has come for us to also show more love what is nearest to us, just 10 minutes from our house.
Halandri Creek is one of the few, surviving traces of the rivers that once flowed through Athens. It is part of Polidroso Creek, stretching six kilometers, which starts on the slopes of Mt Pendeli and flows southwards through the districts of Nea Pendeli, Melissia, Vrilissia, Maroussi and Halandri.
In the riverbed one can see the traces of Hadrian’s Aqueduct, which in Roman times provided the city of Athens with water, transporting it from Mt Pendeli to Hadrian’s Reservoir (Dexameni) in the foothills of Lycabettus in central Athens (see box).
This article was first published in Greek on kathimerini.gr