Every Clean Monday, no matter what the weather is like, Philopappou Hill fills with people of all ages and their kites. The beginning of Lent is an excellent reason to come to this spot with an elevation of 147 metres and enjoy a few hours of relaxation in the oasis of wild vegetation intersected by pathways, right in the heart of the city.
The monuments on the hill
The hill lies southwest of the Acropolis and was known in antiquity as the Hill of the Muses. At that time, there was a temple dedicated to the Muses at that location, and at the top of the hill, the foundation of a fortified enclosure from 294 BC, serving to safeguard the city, is visible. Even more prominent is a mausoleum at the top. The Athenians built the memorial in 115 AD in honour of exiled Syrian leader Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos, a descendant of the Seleucids who became an Athenian citizen and assumed public and religious offices.
The view and impressive landscaping
Famous architect, artist and visionary Dimitris Pikionis initially designed the landscaping of the public open space that includes two pathways starting at the intersection of Dionysiou Areopagitou and Apostolou Pavlou streets. One of these paths winds up to the Acropolis and the other leads to the opposite direction to provide a view from a distance. Stone construction, sloping roofs and visible carvings allow nature and culture to dominate while managing to visually unite buildings, rocks, stone, and greenery along a route that has etched its own history on the minds of those who traverse it.
Philopappou Hill has been open to one and all —Athenians and visitors alike— since it was first laid out (1954-57). So whenever you’d like to find a place to rest both body and mind, perhaps Philopappou Hill will be just the spot.
Saint Valentine is officially celebrated by the Anglican and Lutheran churches, but regardless of religious convictions, 14 February is a day of celebration for lovers all over the world. The saint, who is believed to have married Christian couples in the 3rd century during the reign of Claudius Gothicus, was either stoned to death or beheaded on 14 February, the day reserved for honouring lovers. Nevertheless, even those who ignore the saint’s feast day can’t help but expect a special day or a gesture that expresses love from their other half.
An excellent opportunity for a relaxing stroll through the city
Forget about flowers, heart-bedecked cards and soft toys with messages of love, or make them more meaningful with an outing with a difference. Meet at one of the most beautiful spots in the city and, armed with a cup of hot chocolate, stroll around without a car to enjoy the ambient sounds. Experience the blessing of being able to walk through the Athens streets in mid-February under the clear, bright Attica sky, alongside the Acropolis, through the Anafiotika district at its feet, Plaka, Aerides, Hadrian’s Stoa, or up to the top of Lycabettus Hill next to St George chapel along the charming route that leads there. Even better, venture to Pnyx Hill, along Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, or up to the Acropolis rock, or the light-filled Acropolis Museum, and further along to Thissio and the National Observatory of Athens. If the weather unexpectedly turns bitter —a rare occurrence for Athens— you can always gaze at the stars in another sky. Head for the Planetarium at the Eugenides Foundation on Syngrou Avenue and get a look at our solar system with one of its special shows. After the show, take the road towards Athens and stop in at the Café Vienna at the Athenaeum InterContinental. Enjoy a cup of hot chocolate, fragrant sweets, and a quiet, relaxing atmosphere that lends itself to idle chat to pass the time. The sounds of voices provide the background to the magic of the moment.
Dinner under the stars
And if the stars at the Planetarium are not enough, the InterContinental terrace in Athens awaits you with 5 stars of flavours and aesthetics. The premium restaurant Première, with its minimalist aesthetics but enriched flavour of its Mediterranean cuisine with French touches and quality ingredients recognised by critics and the public alike, invites you to satisfy your palate while feasting your eyes on a view of the Acropolis. Complete your evening with one of the impressive wines from the Première’s cellar and let Valentine's Day give you a reason to enjoy an exquisite night out.
The guide to the Eugenides Foundation’s Planetarium states: “The planetarium […] became an excellent way for millions of people to learn things they believed were beyond their learning abilities, for older generations to share their knowledge with younger ones and for experts to come into contact with the layman.” This incredible opportunity provided by the Planetarium makes it a modern scientific centre for everyone, a simple, accessible and entirely comprehensible vehicle for everyone, young and old, to explore the wonders of the universe and of the world we live in.
A journey through space
Thanks to the Planetarium’s enormous dome (25 metres in diameter with a surface area of 950 square metres) visitors can explore the life of the cosmos, understand our solar system and the universe beyond, discover hidden worlds, learn about the dinosaurs (their life and disappearance), meteor showers and the Northern Lights, asteroids and comets. The Planetarium’s programme is constantly being renewed and enriched with new shows and presentations, which are shown every morning Monday through Sunday (9:30 a.m. on weekdays and 10:30 a.m. on weekends) as well as afternoons and evenings (the last show is usually around 8:30 p.m.). These presentations are suitable for children age 5 and above – with suggested age limits established so that the presentations are clearly understandable.
New show: Polaris. The Space Submarine and the Mystery of the Polar Night
A penguin and a polar bear meet on the Arctic ice and become friends as they endeavor to unravel the mystery of “why polar nights are so long”. A charming story offering knowledge and entertainment for both children and adults. If you have kids, this is a must.
Theophany, “Epiphany” or the “Festival of Lights” as it is known to most Christians, underlines the triunal nature of our Orthodox faith and celebrates the manifestation of the three aspects of the Holy Trinity in one substance, in the one and only God. Theophany (Epiphany) is truly special within the calendar of Christian feast days, celebrating the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, an event which represents both repentance and the appearance of God on earth.
The traditions and rituals of Epiphany
On Theophany morning, both children and adults in rural towns and villages sing the Epiphany carols as a way to announce this blessed event. This festival is celebrated with great joy throughout the eastern Church and is marked by age-old religious rites and rituals, which take place both within and outside the churches – always close to the water: by the open sea, by lakes, harbors, in urban cisterns or by the running waters of mountain rivers and streams. Two of the most important of these rituals are the blessing of the Holy Water inside the church and the Blessing of the Waters and the immersion of the True Cross outside – an event attended by all of the religious and political leaders. In most regions of the country people of all ages (usually men and boys, but occasionally girls as well) dive into the cold waters after the cross is thrown in by the priest, and the one who retrieves the cross is considered to have gained good luck for the rest of the year. In some rural villages, moreover, the lucky person carries the cross through the town from house to house, giving and receiving blessings along the way.
Theophany in Athens and Piraeus
The most impressive celebration of Theophany takes place at the largest harbor in Greece – in Piraeus, in front of the Church of St. Spyridon. The Archbishop of Athens and all of Greece usually presides, accompanied by the Bishop of Piraeus, the city’s Mayor and thousands of priests, politicians and the civilian faithful, who throng the crowded piers of the harbor or watch from boats floating nearby. The moment the cross hits the water, all the boats in the harbor sound their sirens and bells, and this joyful sound carries for miles. And if you want to take part in this celebration, you should find a place on the pier around 10 a.m. – while the plunge for the cross takes place at around 11 a.m.
In Athens itself the Blessing of the Waters takes place in the Kolonaki neighborhood, at the foot of Mt. Lykabettus at Dexameni (The Old Cistern) as well as at the swimming pool of the National Gymnastics Association at #6 Vas. Olgas Street between the old marble stadium and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. These two events are held about an hour apart, so with a little careful planning (and a very pleasant walk), one could attend both. The Church service for the Theophany in Athens is held at the Church of St. Dionysios Areopagus on Skoufa Street in Kolonaki. For the Athens celebration of the Blessing of the Waters, it is best to be at Dexameni Square by 10 a.m.