Monday, 14 December 2009 19:17

The history

Mt. Hymettus Aesthetic Forest is entirely the work of the Philodassiki Society. The forest, now admired by many, did not preexist: it was created by Philodassiki from scratch. As early as 1924, Philodassiki  had  begun considering the creation of a forest in Kessariani. Reading back through the minutes of Philodassiki's executive committee meetings of that year, we notice the effort that was being made by Philodassiki for the creation of a new forest: "The green space of Athens is the victim of those who are responsible for its protection". "The Podonifti grove that once extended over 1000 acres has now been destroyed to be sold as real estate. The Pine tree wood of Polygono, Kessariani and Couponia were also transformed into plots of land for sale". Philodassiki decided to take action in order to save Kessariani and Mt. Hymettus. They managed to convince the government of the time to proclaim the region as a "Protected area". As Philodassiki had suggested, the Ministry of Agricultural Affairs" law (article 1.4029-12/2 on the 47th edition of the Government’s Newspaper) the best part of Hymettus was to be re forested. Further down is an extract of that very text, which states that the Ministry of Military Affairs in collaboration with Philodassiki will reforest "the large region across from the Syngrou area with pine trees and cypress trees”.

Then came World War II and the occupation which unfortunately did not spare the region. First, the occupying forces stripped the mountains of their trees, then, later on; the desperate inhabitants of the surrounding neighborhoods cut the trees in order to use the wood as heating fuel. Dido Kallergy writes in her book entitled "Hymettus" that only the private forest of Nastos, located on the right hand side of Kareas, was spared from catastrophe. The photos of Hymettus Mountain taken during that time provide undeniable proof of this state of affairs: the forest was completely barren, no matter what those who want to stake a claim on the Aesthetic Forest might affirm.


In the aftermath of the war when the country was in the process of reconstruction, a remarkable woman, Kaity Argyropoulou on her way back from the Middle East witnessed the extent of the damage: to her great sorrow the forest had completely disappeared. She then vowed to work at restoring it. Hence, in December of 1947 under the leadership of Kaity Argyropoulou, Philodassiki undertook to restore the forests in Kessariani and Vyronas areas with the modest means at their disposal.


All the Mountaineering Associations related to the Greek Touring Club Federation, the Greek Mountaineering Club (E.O.S), the Touring Club, The Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, all followed the Philodassiki's example and simultaneously contributed to the reforestation of the other parts of Mt. Hymettus.


The forest suffered a severe blow during the dictatorship as well: the government appropriated a large part of the forest lands in order to build a University Campus according to a plan that had been conceived as early as 1964, regardless of the vain efforts of Philodassiki and of those representing it, to ward off the catastrophe. As a result, as much as 68 ha of forest land was relinquished so that a massive unattractive University Complex could be constructed.


After the dictatorship, the new government was under pressure to build more and more in the areas surrounding the forest but this was successfully warded off by Philodassiki who fought tooth and nail against all attempts to encroach on the forest's land. It was unfortunately unable though to prevent the construction of the highway through the forest. Although its construction did effectively solve many of the city's traffic problems, the price was stiff: sacrificing yet another section of Hymettus, the city's main source of oxygen, the very source of life itself.



The forest today


The location of the site


The Aesthetic Forest is located on the West side of Mt. Hymettus, in Attica, and borders, to the North, the East and the South on the rocky slopes of Hymettus and, to the West, on the University Campus (Univ. of Athens), the Kessariani and Vyronas municipalities. It spans over an area of 446 ha.


The reason for which it was created

Philodassiki’s extensive reforestation efforts, along with the restoration of Kessariani Monastery, aimed at providing a harmonious entity where nature and culture coexist. The aesthetic enhancement of the environment is underlined and provides a place for recreation for the capital’s citizens. The whole area, successfully reforested by Philodassiki was declared an “Aesthetic Forest” in the Presidential Decree PD 71/94.


A brief description of the forest

The Aesthetic Forest spreads across the city from one side all the way to the rocky slopes of Mt. Hymettus at the height of 760 meters.  In that region, there is mainly steep and rugged relief with slopes between 30 - 65%. The Iridanos and Coutalas streams cut through the forest from east to west and are practically dry.

The reforestation  efforts in the Aesthetic Forest as a whole, resulted in the creation of a mosaic of plant formations in which the Pinus halepensis and P.brutia (pine trees) are dominant, in unmixed clusters or interwined with Cupressus sempervirens (cypress tree) and broad leaved trees such as Cercis siliquastrum (judas tree),  Ceratonia siliqua (carob tree) and Quercus pubescens (oak).  In the rocky areas there are pine trees together with Quercus coccifera (kermes oak) and Olea oleaster (wild olive tree).  The landscape’s variety is completed by elements of a particular appearance (on a limited expanse) as is the case with the “historic olive grove” and the cypress tree groves, the eucalyptus trees, growing especially south of the Kessariani’s Cemetery or the flora growing next to the streams. All these give the area a characteristic mosaic physiognomy.


The geological formations encountered in the region are Kessariani’s limestone (upper and lower marble) and schistes.  Their presence on the slopes of Kalopoula is characteristic.



   The regional climate is a Mediterranean climate with its characteristic, hot summer months and mild rainy winter. According to the Meteorological station’s statistics the temperature in the region fluctuates between 16,5-19,0 oC   the coldest month being January and the hottest are July - August. The yearly average rainfall is of 400 mm falling during the rainy season from October to April. The weather is otherwise quite dry. The average humidity factor is of 65% and hail is infrequent as is snowfall.

The flora of Aesthetic Forest consists of the following plant species which were used during reforestation efforts from the Philodassiki and the Ministry of Agricultural affairs.

  • Pinus brutia Ten.  (Calabrian pine)
  • Pinus halepensis Mill. (Aleppo pine)
  • Pinus pinea L. (Umbrella pine)
  • Cupressus sempervirens var. horizontalis L. (Funeral cypress spreading form)
  • Cupressus sempervirens var. pyramidalis L. (Funeral cypress columnar form)
  • Cercis siliquastrum L. (Judas tree)
  • Quercus pubescens Willd. (Oak)
  • Quercus ilex L. (Holm or Evergreen oak)
  • Ceratonia siliqua L. (Carob tree)
  • Cupressus arizonica var. glabra Greene (Cypress from Arizona)
  • Quercus coccifera (kermes oak)
  • Olea oleaster (wild olive tree).

Along with the above mentioned, the following plants were also sporadically planted in the Aesthetic Forest:  Quercus aegilops L. (Valonia oak),  Acacia cyanophylla (blue-leaved wattle),   Eucalyptus globulus Labill. (eucalyptus trees), Parcinsonia sp., Schinus molle, Pyrus amygdaliformis and Platanus orientalis L. (oriental planes).


In the open sites and in the recently reforested parts of the forest, the low thorny xerophytes and with a cusion shape shrubs called phrygana in Greece mainly contain the following:

Sarcopoterium spinosum, Phlomis fruticosa, Corydothymus capitatus, Cistus salvifolius, Cistus incanus, Euphorbia acanthothamnos, Genista acanthoclada, Fumana thymifolia, Hypericum empetrifolium, Inula viscosa, Satureja thymbra, Helichrysum sp., Calycotome vilosa, Tragopogon sp., Thapsia garganica, Verbascum undulatum, Anthyllis hermaniae, Globularia alypum, Thymelaea tartonraira, Balotta acetabulosa etc.


The pea family species encountered in the area belong to the family of shrubs called pseudo-steppes and came from the degradation of the natural forest flora. (Brachypodium ramosum, Poa bulbosa, Avena sp., Bromus sp. κλπ). There are important kinds of plants in the area, such as Cyclamen graecum, Colchicum sp., Asphodeline lutea, Asphodelus fistulosus, Allium roseum, Fritillaria graeca, Lloydia graeca, Ornithogallum atticum, Muscari comosum, Asparagus acutifolius, Smilax aspera, Crocus sp., Sternbergia lutea, Cephalanthera rubra, Serapias sp., various species of Ophrys and Orchis etc.


Within the framework of the EU directive 92/43 (Natura 2000) the following ecosystems can be found in the Aesthetic Forest and have been catalogued in annex I:

  • Olive and Carob groves (Code Natura 2000: 9320, Corine 91: 45.3)
  • Garigue rushwood of Sarcopoterium spinosum (Code Natura 2000: 5420, Corine 91: 33.3)
  • Types of Mediterranean Pine trees and endemic types of pine trees (Code Natura 2000: 9540, Corine 91: 42.8, 42.7)
  • Rocky ecosystems without vegetation (Code Natura 2000: 8250)

The whole region is of great importance for birdlife especially that of small birds. Among the species noted by the Hellenic Ornithological Society in a publication titled “Mt. Hymettus – one of the last lung of the green of Attica”, many nest, remain throughout the winter or stay temporarily. The following examples are given:



Alectoris chucar (Partridge choukar), Streptopelia decaocto (Turkish turtle –dove), Turtledove (Streptopelia turtur), Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), Owl (Athene noctua), Galerida cristata (Cochevis huppe), Erithacus rubecula (Robin redbreast), Turdus merula (Blakcbird), Phoenicurus ochruros (Black redtail), Luscinia megarynchos (Nightingale), Parus ater (Tit coal), Parus major (Coal titmouse), Pica pica (Magpie), Passer domesticus (House sparrow), Fringilla coelebs (Finch), Carduelis chloris (European verdier) and very recently a new species for Greece, Phylloscopus proregulus.

Mammals such as Vulpes vulpes (Fox), Lepus europeus (Hares) and Erinaceus europeus (Porcupines) as well as a certain kind of bat have been observed in the region. As have the following reptiles: Lacerta trinlineata (Green lizard), Elaphe situla (leopard snake), Coluber najatum (grass snake of Dahl), Vipera ammodytes (Viper) and the Testudo marginata (turtle).


In February 2010, the Laboratory of Forest Hydrology of the Forest Research Institute of Athens ( has installed an automatic meteorological station in the Aesthetic Forest which collects data for temperature, relative humidity and air speed and direction. Every month the processed data is disposable on the Philodassiki’s website.


The forest management

Under the supervision of the local and regional Forest Service, the Philodassiki Society is responsible for the forest management which  aims i) at the protection, conservation and amelioration of the forest ecosystem, ii) at the maintenance of a suitable and attractive landscape for outdoor recreation and iii) at the provision of environmental education opportunities.

To achieve the above, the management will undertake the following:

·         Sylvicultural treatments
·         Complementary planting in special sites
·         Special treatments such as pruning and cutting the weeds by the road sides for forest fire prevention
  • Protection against natural threats such as pest control
  • Forest fire prevention during the summer with guards in two fire observation posts
  • Maintenance of the ten water tanks and the fire points for water provision in case of a fire
  • Maintenance and signalization of the forest road network
  • Care and improvement of the fauna and flora and any interventions required
  • Organizing the facilities infrastructure for outdoor recreation activities
  • Information provided for the public
  • Guarding the  Forest
  • Organization of guided walks in a botanical pathway
  • Organization of educational programs for children in the old nursery
  • Organization of educational programs for students in collaboration with the University of Athens (Faculty of Biology) and National Technical Univ. of Athens (School of Rural and Surveying Engineering).



Wood barriers after fire
Wood barriers after fire




 The chipping process
The chipping process


Cutting the weeds
Cutting the weeds


 Maintenance of forest roads
Maintenance of forest roads


 Water tank
Water tank


Fire observation post
Fire observation post


 Explanatory signs for the public
Explanatory signs for the public

Pest control
Pest control

 Guided visits in the educational botanical path
Guided visits in the educational botanical path


Guided visits in botanical garden
Guided visits in botanical garden



After the verification of the successful reforestation in 1954, the Greek State has deeded the ownership of the forest to the Philodassiki Enossi, by Ministerial decree.

The Forest Prohibitory Regulation (FPP 20/4294/96) of local Forest Service is applicable to the whole of the Aesthetic Forest area (PD 71/94). The following protective measures are also applicable in the region:

  • The Country’s Constitutional Articles 24 and 117 regarding the environment and most specifically the forests
  • Forest laws (86/69, 996/71, 998/79, 1734/87, 3208/2003 etc)
  • Law 1650/86 regarding the preservation of the environment
  • The Presidential decree 575/80 regarding especially susceptible areas to forest fires and therefore potentially endangered.
  • The PD of the Official Gazette A, 544/78 regarding the delineation of protected zones in Mt. Hymmetos.
  • The (urban) Master Plan of the city of Athens (law 1515/85, article 2 & 3)
  • The decision of the Ministry for the Environment, Spatial Planning and Public Works 9173/1642/3.3.93 (Official Gazette 281/vol. D’/ 23.3.92) with which the Iridanos river was declared of a particular environmental significance.
  • The EU directives 92/43/21.5.92 regarding the preservation of natural ecosystems and the fauna and flora (Natura 2000) in which the Mt. Hymmetos Aesthetic Forest region including all the Mount Hymettos and the Vougliagmeni lake have been catalogued with code number GR3000006 belonging to the Pan-European network of locations significant to the European Union as a whole.
  • Various provisions which forbid activities such as mining, stock farming and hunting.
  • Articles 12603/11.6.93 of Athens Prefecture’s Health Board concerning the water of the spring of Kessariani’s Monastery and that of Kalopoula.


Last Updated on Thursday, 28 January 2010 23:56