A ROYAL MYSTERY IN THE NATIONAL GARDEN
Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world, with its recorded history spanning over four millennia and although its ancient history and contribution is widely known and praised, little is known for its modern life.
Today Athens is a big city bustling with life and as in every modern metropolis, the once lush and green landscape that used to occupy the area of the city, has given way to residential buildings, modern monuments, streets and highways and all the features of a modern day urban landscape making the historical centre of the city an amalgamation of concrete, iron, marble and the frequent sour orange trees you will find flourished in almost every corner.
Now imagine having a nice little walk up Ermou street, on a hot summer day, arriving in syntagma square. The sun reflects on the marble that covers most of the square and the massive neoclassical parliament building is emerging from the horizon as you walk past the fountain and over the massive stairs. You find yourself in Amalias street, right on the other side you can see the monument of the unknown soldier with the Evzones wearing their foustanela, a kilt like garment, standing immovable and proud guarding the monument and the parliament along with all the virtues they represent. You now feel exhausted by the summer heat and the sun is not doing you a favour as he reflects off the white marble making everything shine brightly. As you walk along Amalias street you notice the treetops of the national garden situated right next to the parliament building and you decide to walk through the main entrance as you suddenly find yourself inside the small piece of paradise you craved for.
The first thing you notice is the sun dial among the beautiful flower bushes that decorate the entrance area. You follow the instructions and you are able to tell the time using that simple yet ingenious piece of engineering and the time travel begins. Who needs clocks after all when you have this glorious sunlight. The national gardens of Athens were once called Royal gardens and for a very good reason. The park was commissioned by queen Amalia, wife of Otto the first modern king of Greece, in 1838 and it was completed by 1840. Five hundred different species of plants were imported from many corners of the earth, to decorate this 38 acre botanical paradise, by the German agronomist Friedrich Schmidt. Up until 1920 this was the private garden of the royal family and entrance was allowed only to royalty. It is said that king Alexander (the modern one), son of king Costantine I, was bitten by someone’s pet monkey while walking in the gardens resulting to his death. Queen Amalia herself planted the 12 palms that you can see right in front of you as you take your eyes off the sundial and start walking towards the well trodden and idyllic paths that unfold through the whole garden, hiding a surprise behind each turn.
Connected to the garden is the Zappeion megaro, an awe inspiring building designed by the Danish architect Theophil Hansen. In 1874 the cornerstone of the building was laid and its purpose was to decorate the historical centre for the revival of the Olympic games in the modern world. The building was finished in 1888 unfortunately its benefactor Evangelos Zappas wasn't alive to witness it whole. It served as the main fencing hall during the 1896 summer Olympics, the first international Olympic games held in modern history, but lets go back into the gardens because the Greek sun is unforgiving.
The walk through the gardens is a roller coaster of natural beauty, modern and ancient history and sweet relief from the Greek hot summer sun. In the park you will find 6 lakes all springing from Ilissos river, the sacred river of Athens named after the demigod born of Poseidon and Demetra. On its banks the nine muses would gracefully pass their time inspiring artists of antiquity. You will also encounter more than 500 different species of plants and trees either endemic or imported. Take your time, relax, forget about the hustle and bustle of city life and become royalty for some brief moments, taking a stroll and admiring the colourful flowers, viewing the busts of important men, politicians and royalty, feeding the ducks in one of the ponds or visiting the small library where you can find and read more than 6000 books. If you are not so much into royalty imagine that you are in ancient Athens and walk around the labyrinth paths while you discover ruins of ancient columns and altars, stone carvings in ancient languages hiding meanings and virtues long praised and relax under the shade of an age old olive tree or pine.
Either way the national garden of Athens is an ideal place to let your fantasy go wild and the best way to do it is to introduce a pinch of mystery.”My Greek experience walks” offers an unforgettable experience with “The lost pendant”, an interactive tour that puts you in the shoes of an archaeologist and lets you use your wits to solve puzzles until you find the lost pendant, an artefact of unthinkable value, that her highness queen Amalia lost in the garden and as the legend goes it is yet to be found. Witness all the amazing secrets of the garden hidden in every corner by interacting with history itself through a masterfully crafted array of riddles designed to make you discover all the wonders that this garden has to offer. The benefits that such an interactive tour has is the fact that you yourself are an integral part of the tour, you don’t just listen to the history, you get to experience the history first hand and therefore internalise the information and create a unique experience unlike any other. The tour is playful yet witty, light yet deep, focused and yet imbued with humour and creativity.