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Index | H Πόλη μας | Ιστορικοί Χώροι - Αξιοθέατα | Ο Υμηττός

Hymettus


Up there in Hymettus …
"Up there in Hymettus there's a secret …", a song by Manos Hadjidakis used to say. And it is true! There is a secret, impenetrable, yet mysteriously enchanting, a secret of centuries that fills man with awe, as on this mountain the footprints of man can be seen, from his first appearance up to our days… Hymettus is an important component of Attica's greenfield, along with the other mountains that together form the circular plain. It takes up an area of 81.230 acres, of the whole 436.500 acres of the basin's greenfield. It begins from the point "Stavros" (N) and reaches up to cape "Poundes", in Vouliagmeni (S). Hymettus is particularly elongated (22 to 24 km.). The valley of Prinaris splits it into: the Great Hymettus of the Ancient, at the height of 1026 meters, and the second, Anidros (water-barren) Hymettus or Elaton, reaching 774 meters on its highest peak. It is also known for its caves and precipipices. The most common caves are "tou Liontariou" (Lion's Cave), the cave of Peania, of Archedimos, of Korakovouni, the great precipice of Asterio etc. 601 plant species have been found on Hymettus, among which are some rare ones, while more than 100 bird and animal species (amongst them foxes and rabbits) have been noted down. The mountain nowadays, is one of the few biotopes and places of natural amusement still left in Athens. At the same time, the existence of important archaeological sites makes the mountain an irreplaceable part of our natural and cultural heritance.
 
Prehistoric times
The history of the area of Kessariani is thus connected to the history of Hymettus. The magnificent western slope of Hymettus created propitious circumstances for the primitive man to settle. The archaeological excavations confirmed this, bringing to light blades and obsidian pieces, proper to the Neolithic age. The mountain's name looks to its long history. Probably comes from a series of words preserved in the greek vocabulary by the neolithic habitants of the hellenic ground. These habitants, "Kares", "Leleges", "Lykeoi", "Minnes", were named altogether Pre-Greeks or according to the Greek traditions, "Pelasgi". According to more recent research, these pre-hellenic races were not "Pelasgi", but "Kares" and "Leleges", coming from the area of Minor Asia. Reasonably enough, the place names coincide with similar from Minor Asia, pointing out a close relation of the first habitants in Greece to those in Minor Asia. According to the version reported by N. Nezis, the word Hymettus comes from the Pre-Hellenic "Umait" or "Hemyt", which meant hard, coarse, rocky place. Others derive its name from the alteration of the word "Thymet" (thymos/anger - thymari/thyme) Hymet-Hymettus.
 
HISTORIC TIMES
Ancient World
During the historic times, while Athens is economically and culturally growing, the large area of Hymettus appears to be a place of worship for the ancient gods, as well as healing place, due to the therapeutic properties of Hymettus' springs. Pausanias, the traveller, reports there was a statue of the "Hymettuous Zeus' " in Hymettus, as well as altars for "Omvrios" (pluvial) Zeus and "Proopsios" (end planned) Apollo. Finally, the altar of "Omvrios" Zeus, was used to propitiate the god to offer rainfalls, necessary for the agriculture. Hymettus had also been a religious centre for the gathering of the ancient demos (people/citizens). Venus' sanctum lied, according to information, at the area called "Kalopoula" nowadays. This sanctum is associated with the spring "Kilou Pira", which, according to tradition, facilitated pregnant women and caused progeniture to the barren. There are various aspects concerning its name, "Kalopoula", "Kalia", "Kilia", "Kilou Pira". Pausanias, the traveller certifies that the vegetation in Hymettus was appropriate for bees. Agriculture and stock raising were the alternative activities that took place. It should be noted that, the object of great exploitation, those years, was Hymettus' perse marble. In the 4th century B.C., the quarries of Hymettus were still active, while at the Roman times, a great demand had led to a great intensification of the marble production.
 
In the 8th century B.C., significant lands at the foot of Hymettus are being granted, and thereafter tithed (that is taxed for one tenth) over the fruit of the earth, by the state. On the 6th century, Pissistratos, the tyrant of Athens, exonerates the colonists of Hymettus from tithe, particularly stock breeders, farmers and others who used the area. In the Roman times Hymettus kept its radiance, up to a point, as a spiritual, philosophical and religious centre.
 
Byzantine world
After the appearance and consolidation of Christianity the city of Athens was associated with idolatry. This, of course, diminished all intellectual and spiritual activities in the city. The area of Kessariani, thus, went through a period of stagnation and, thereafter, a period of changes. This long transitional stage in the history of Kessariani meant the end of the ancient world. At this point, the remarkable monastic societies were formed, on the foundations of the ruined idolatrous temples.
 
Byzantine monuments of Kessariani
The Monastery of Kessariani
The Monastery of Kessariani, as well as most of the monasteries, is situated in an idyllic environment. The monastery, dedicated to the Presentation of Virgin Mary, is built in the forest, at an altitude of 350m.Distinctive places in the monastery are the fount of the Ram (tou Kriou) and at its entrance the holy water, the Ascension. There are different versions, about the origin of the monastery's name. The main temple must have been built - on the foundations of a palaeo-Christian temple of the 5th - 6th century A.D. - either in the 11th century A.D. or in the early 12th, and it is of escribed cruciform style. The temple's vestibule was added obviously, approximately at the period of the Turkish rule, as well as the chapel of St. Antonios, south of the temple. The wall-paintings inside the temple, estimated to be of the 16th century A.D., retain the conventions of the Cretan painting and the paintings of Ayio Oros. The monastery of Kessariani had a rich library and became a great philosophical centre, where great philosophers and literary men of that time had been tutoring (Georgios Plithon Gemistos et al.). The Monastery ceased to function (as well as almost every other monastery on Hymettus) in 1832, under the command of the regency of Otto.
 
The Monastery of Michaelmas (Taxiarchon) - Asteriou
Ascending to the top of Hymettus, passing at first, by the monastery of Kessariani and then by Kalopoula, we reach the Monastery of Michaelmas, widely known as Moni Asteriou, at an altitude of 545 m. The monastery of Michaelmas is said to be named "Asteriou" after St. Lucas "Stiriotis", founder of the homonym monastery in Viotia who came in Athens as a teenager in 920 A.D. The monastery of Michaelmas dates approximately to the 11th century A.D., and according to sources it was a glebe of the monastery of Kessariani. The old monastery is preserved to this day intact, including a fort-like parvis, 2 buildings' wings and the catholic. The internal surface of the temple bears wall-paintings of the 16th century.
 
The monastery of St. Georgios (Koutalea or Koutala)
The monastery of St. Georgios (near the municipal cemetery of Vironas) is said to be a glebe of the monastery of Kessariani and was obviously founded later than that. According to mythology, its name derives from Hercules' deeds. In particular, one of the deeds was also the killing of the lion that lived on the peaks of mount Kitheronas. According to the myth, Hercules killed the lion with a huge club made of strong wood, called "koutali", which he brought to the area that was named Koutala. The historian K. Orlandos notes that the original name is Koutalas and derives from the famous family of the Koutalas'. Despite the fact that information on this monastery is very little, it seems though, it was a sacred place of worship from ancient times.
 
The monastery of Ayios Ioannis Prodromos
The monastery of Ayios Ioannis Prodromos is situated on a marvellous site, just outside the populated area of Kessariani, at an altitude of almost 300 meters. The monastery is dedicated to the ablation of the caput of Ayios Ioannis Prodromos. According to very few records, the monastery must have been founded in the 11th century or later, as well as the rest of the monasteries in Hymettus. Its architectural style is similar to the others'. The monastery of Ayios Ioannis Prodromos still functions as a monastic community. The alterations made to the monastery from the 1950s onwards, have certainly brought the monastery to a better shape, but made its history indistinguishable.
 
Frank - Turkish rule
The conquest of the Hellenic ground by the Franks and the Venetians, followed by the Ottomans defined a series of changes, delays and expulsions on the Hellenic ground. During this period naturally, the functions and the activities of Kessariani were diminished too. Hymettus' name, during the Turkish rule was different for every nationality. The Greeks named the mountain "Trelos" (crazy), the Turkish "Delly Dayh", that meant Crazy-mountain, and the Franks "Monte Matto" (Crazy-mountain), which was obviously an alteration of the original (Monte Ymeto). These three terms reveal the instability of the clouds at the top of the mountain. But according to another version its name derives from the alteration of the French phrase "tres long" (elongate).
 
Modern times
Nowadays Hymettus regardless of the encroachments made from time to time, regardless of the growth of the residential district, despite the occasional fires that burned it, despite the property disputes, and despite the unreasonable appropriations of significant grounds made by private individuals, especially by the Philo-forestal Union of Athens (F.E.A.), still remains a living ecosystem.