Lycabettus: Past, Present, Future

Central Athens’ highest point is undergoing a makeover to improve facilities for visitors.

One of Athens’ most instantly recognizable landmarks is being given a makeover, thanks to redevelopment works that will upgrade and protect both its natural and historic features. The work will make the hill more attractive and easier for the public to access, and it will also provide greater protection from adverse weather conditions.

Lycabettus Hill constitutes a significant natural feature of the landscape of Athens. In ancient times, the wide and open view from the hill’s barren peak helped protect the city from surprise assaults. During the 19th century, it was affected by the same urban transformations that began to reshape the capital’s character and appearance.

Starting in 1885, a series of successive tree plantings took place in order to safeguard the site from urban development. The hill now features several different ecosystems and boasts a rich spectrum of biodiversity that includes a carob grove, a wood of eucalyptus trees, a thyme garden, a gravel patch with Euphorbia cacti, a gorge with prickly pears and pine groves. There are 21 official entry points to the park that covers the hill.

Much of neoclassical Athens was built using stone from the quarry on Lycabettus. It also features a mountain shelter, still in good operational order. At the foot of the hill, Dexameni Square is home to Hadrian’s Reservoir, which once provided the city with much of its water.

The aim of the “Lycabettus Program: The Present and the Future of the Urban Forest of Athens” is to create high-quality public spaces that will provide pleasant and safe environments for leisure activities.

The redevelopment is focused on environmental renewal and will address issues such as the excessive use of private vehicles, a steep rise in tourist numbers and the need for crucial infrastructure upgrades.

The project has been collaborative in nature, with innovative methods of participatory planning that has drawn on the knowledge of many different experts, including agronomists, architects, environmentalists and others. In total, it received more than 1,450 individual submissions and more than 250 people took part in workshops and other activities related to the planning process.

Major challenges the project has faced have included a lack of historical records, the wide range of specializations involved and the sheer number of individuals and public bodies which had to be identified and invited to take part.

Many innovative practices were drawn from the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Network, which supports selected cities to become more sustainable through formulating case-specific strategies. The project’s aim was to explore and enhance the ways in which Lycabettus Hill could contribute to the successful management of the diverse difficulties Athens is facing now and will face in the future.

Planned redevelopment works will apply cutting-edge anti-flooding and anti-erosion measures (designed to high aesthetic standards), such as replacing tarmac surfaces with a new layer of water-permeable materials that will make walking on them a more pleasant experience; restoring the 3km peripheral path (using non-disruptive methods and natural materials) so as connect the different sectors of the hill; and rebuilding the historic Prasini Tenta (“Green Awning”) lodge on the north-west side of the hill.

Perhaps the greatest challenge will be to encourage a move away from private vehicles and towards greater use of public transportation which, it is hoped, will also benefit the soon-to-reopen Lycabettus Theater, and to coordinate this change with the redevelopment of accessible areas, so that the natural environment of the hill no longer suffers from unregulated public use.

We would like to thank Maria Kaltsa, director of the “Lycabettus Program,” for her generous help in creating this article.

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