I spent a sunny Sunday last month in the grounds of Pyrgos Vasilissis (or “Queen’s Tower”) in Ilion along with some other urban explorers. The purpose of our visit was to tour the inner workings of one of the most unique (and generally unknown) monuments of Athens’ modern cultural heritage.
We learned that the main reason for the construction of the mini villa with king-size gardens was the creation of a model farm that would help spearhead the improvement and modernization of Greek agriculture and livestock. The estate, which originally covered 30 hectares, passed through various hands until it was acquired by the Greek royal family in 1848.
“The main reason for the construction of the mini villa with king-size gardens was the creation of a model farm”
It is now owned by the Serpieri family, who has restored the imposing tower, the auxiliary side buildings and the stables (if you are lucky, you might catch a horse during its exercise time on a special oversized treadmill). The family continues to cultivate the fertile vineyards of Eptalofou (a place name derived from the six natural and one artificial hills in the area) and has developed a landmark winery. A part of the land has been donated to the Greek non-government, non-profit organization Organization Earth, which runs a model open environmental education center called Center of the Earth on the site.
The imposing Queen’s Tower, designed by the French architect Florimond Boulanger (whose work includes the Old Parliament building in Athens), was unveiled on the birthday of King Ludwig of Bavaria, father of Greece’s King Otto, on 13 August 1854 (Old Style).
“The furniture, also designed by Boulanger, is minimal compared to the overall aesthetic style of this fairylike palace-cum-fortress”
The Athenian Garden of Eden
The tour, conducted by courteous staff, starts on the ground-floor reception area inside the polygonal tower with battlements, before going up to the central, gold-trimmed room on the first floor which features a chandelier and ornate lace and gold ceiling paintings.
Shoes are removed so as not to damage the best preserved parquet marquetry in Greece. The furniture, also designed by Boulanger, is minimal compared to the overall aesthetic style of this fairylike palace-cum-fortress and is upholstered in blue and white fabrics. The walls are painted in blue and purple tones and feature various seals and escutcheons of the royal houses of Bavaria and Oldenburg, a reminder of the royal presence in the newly established Greek state.
From the arched windows, plenty of natural light floods the room, which overlooks the lush, landscaped gardens which are adorned with statues, fountains, sarcophagi, horses and vibrant Asian parakeets in the foliage of the remaining palm trees (of which little has been spared due to red weevil infestation).
The second part of the tour involves a walk through the main grounds (with Mount Parnitha in the background), which contain fruit and pistachio trees (the nuts were a favorite snack of Queen Amalia, Otto’s wife), olive trees, century-old cypresses and, of course, flowering almond trees that herald the coming of spring. This is followed by a stop at the winery.
This interesting tour is completed in the stables – which once housed giraffes – with an excellent wine-tasting experience, which includes five types of white and red wines from the organic vineyards, accompanied by homemade pies, smoked cheeses and chocolates. Advice is offered on the perfect pairings.
Overall, a trip to Pyrgos Vasilissis is an affordable and well-rounded trip with a variety of stimuli and food for thought, and something definitely worth trying at the first available opportunity.
Ilion, 67 Dimokratias Avenue, | Tel: (+30) 210.231.3607
Access: by car via Attiki Odos (exit at Junction 7 and then head south to Dimokratias Avenue. Alternatively, take the Athens Proastiakos (suburban railway), disembark at Pyrgos Vasilissis station and then take bus A10, B10, 735, B12 or 711.
For more information on the guided tours, visit Pyrgos Vasilissis on Facebook
The tour costs €5 per person.